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Applying to Law School
In brief . . .
The prospect of attending or even applying to law school can be intimidating. It is a time-consuming process that requires a good deal of thought, care, and preparation. The two most important factors for admission to law school are one's grades in college and LSAT scores. However, law school admissions committees consider a number of other aspects of your application as well -- letters of recommendation, your personal statement, significant outside activities, and meaningful work history.
Virtually all law schools require that you register with the Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS). The LSDAS is the organization that collects data related to your application and prepares it for easy use by law schools to which you are applying. LSDAS collects your transcripts and LSAT scores and helps law schools compare the credentials of all applicants. You must inform the LSDAS of those schools you intend on applying to so LSDAS can generate reports for these schools. Your LSDAS subscription only lasts a year, so make sure you register in the year you intend on going to law school.
All law school applications should be completed and submitted by January 1 of the year in which you would like to begin law school. It will probably work in your favor to file your applications much earlier than January 1. (Indeed, we typically advise Hope College students who are applying to law school to aim to have their applications completed and submitted by Thanksgiving.) Most law schools have rolling admissions; that is, they evaluate applications and make admissions decisions as those applications are received. Hence, applying earlier may mean more seats are available and could increase your chances of acceptance to the school of your choice. Filing your application early also gives you extra time to address any problems with your application packet. Remember, the most important thing is to have a high-quality and carefully prepared application; so start early.
The application is your chance to convince law schools that you deserve admission. Therefore, it should be meticulously prepared and well thought out. Neatness matters; type all of the materials that you send to the school. The application requests such generic personal information as name, address, and social security number. However, it also will give you the opportunity to share in more detail your unique talents, life experiences, and background. Your answers to these questions are important, as they allow you to sell yourself and show why you are someone who merits admission. The two most important parts of the application are the personal statement and the letters of recommendation.
The personal statement can be one of the more difficult elements of the law school application. It also can be quite important. It serves two primary purposes:
The personal statement allows the committee to assess if you have the commitment, motivation, and ability to thrive at legal studies. This is your best opportunity to set yourself apart and show what makes you unique from the thousands of other applicants. The personal statement is an essay that essentially serves as a substitute for an interview, so it should portray a positive and interesting image of you. It needs to be compelling without being gimmicky. More than anything it needs to ring true. What is it that distinguishes you? What experiences, traits, abilities, or passions do you have that set you apart? How might you as a person help to enrich and diversify an incoming law school class? What kind of person are you? What are your unique strengths?
Take the time to create a high-quality representation of yourself. The statement should be clear and concise, no longer than two pages. Remember, most admissions committee members will read thousands of personal statements. Be to the point! Don't ramble or repeat extraneous information; you want to leave a positive impression in the minds of the admissions committee. Make sure your statement is grammatically correct; it should be completely devoid of even the most minor spelling or usage mistakes. Revise, polish, and refine the statement multiple times and solicit people who know you well to read it over, both for any possible errors and to get reactions to the content.
Most law schools will request two letters of recommendation. These are another way for the committee to obtain in-depth assessments of your capabilities, intellect, and work habits apart from the objective admissions criteria. Strong academic letters from people who can speak to your strengths and your goals are preferable. The committee is primarily interested in your ability to succeed in the academic setting of law school, and your college professors' opinions on this are important. Do not opt for a well-connected friend of the family or high-ranking figure unless they can speak with specificity and authority to your accomplishments and potential to succeed in law school. Remember, it is never too early to begin cultivating mentor-student relationships with a professor who might at a later date write a recommendation letter on your behalf.
The letters of recommendation are an important piece of the law school application, and need to be taken seriously. Keep several things in mind with respect to soliciting letters of recommendation:
It is usually advisable to apply to a range of schools; they should include one or two dream schools for which it might be a stretch to get accepted, based on your LSAT scores and GPA. On the flip side, you should include one or two schools that are "sure things." Finally include schools where you want to attend and where you have a solid chance of being admitted, based on the GPAs and LSAT scores of their previous entering class. You can apply to as many or few schools as you choose. You do have to pay a fee for each application.
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