Applying to Law School
The law school application process can be stressful and competitive. A strong interest and motivation will help you handle the process. Take advantage of all resources available to you at Clark to research the law school application process and the legal field so that you are sure you really want to pursue law school. The Career Library has several books as well as alumni contacts - all there to provide you with information you will need to make your decision.
Once you have decided you would like to apply to law school, the next decision you will need to make is when to apply. Will you go directly after college or will you take a year or two off? There are some very compelling reasons to delay application to law school. If you plan to attend law school directly after college, the law schools will only see your first six semesters of grades during consideration of your application. If your undergraduate record is weak, a year or two in a field of undergraduate employment that allows you to make a significant improvement in your analytic abilities, motivation, judgment, and maturity will greatly enhance your chances for admission to law school. Law schools also seem to favor "older" applicants ( the average age of entering law students is 27 and going up).
As you being the process, keep in mind that the basic criteria used in determining an applicant's admission are:
- LSAT score [Remember: Your LSAT score and your cumulative grade point average are the paramount criteria.]
- college records
- the quality of your undergraduate institution
- letters of recommendation
- the personal statement or essay
When to Apply
Most law schools allow students to begin study only in the fall term. The application should be complete in November of the calendar year prior to the semester when you want to begin law school. For example, if you want to begin law school in the fall of 2008, then applications should be complete by November 2007.
You will note that most law schools have an application deadline in February or March. Do not wait for the deadline! Regardless of what the published deadline is, you should mail in your applications in late November so the law schools will have a completed application by December. (Remember they need time to receive your LSDAS report from Law Services, that's why we recommend the June or October test dates). Knowing your LSAT score helps to ensure you have selected a reasonable set of schools to apply to.
The earlier you apply to law school, the better. The logic behind applying early is simply that you stand a better chance of being admitted by doing so. If an admissions committee begins applications in early December when there are many spaces available in the class, they may be more inclined to take a chance on admitting a borderline student than they would be after the application deadline has passed and there is keen competition for the few remaining spaces.
It is important to apply during the year you intend to matriculate. Most law schools do not grant deferred admissions. The few that do have significant restrictions on such deferrals.
Where to Apply
There are a number of factors you need to consider when deciding where to apply. You need to establish a list of target schools to which you intend to apply. This list should be carefully chosen, based on your preferences in location, the type and size of the law school, and your chances for admission.
You should compile a list of schools that satisfy your personal preferences, based upon considerations such as geographical location, size, rural or urban setting, cost, reputation, and special programs the school may offer. Don't bother to apply to a school you don't want to attend. It is a waste of your valuable time and money. Also, your acceptance at such a school may prevent someone else from being accepted.
Once you have determined your personal preferences for law schools, you should then begin to consider the schools more carefully in terms of your admission possibilities. When targeting law schools, you should investigate the median GPA and LSAT score of the recently admitted students at these law schools. This will enable you to establish whether you will be competitive for admission. It is important that you apply to a cross-section of schools. A cross-section of schools means a few "reach schools" whose average statistics make admission a long shot, but not impossible; a few schools to which you stand a 50-50 chance of being admitted; and one or two "safety" schools where admission seems assured. The prelaw adviser can provide you with information that helps to easily determine which schools make sense based on your scores. Also, refer to the Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools for individual law school data.
As mentioned in the introduction to this book, nothing is certain when dealing with law school applications. You need to cover all the bases when you are dealing with legal admissions. All in all, it is not unusual to apply to anywhere from 8 to 12 law schools; it is an investment in your future, so plan accordingly.
The Application Process
In order for your application to be ready for review, the law schools must have:
- A completed application
- A check for the application fee or a fee waiver form
- A personal statement essay (or other essay as indicated)
- The required number of letters of recommendation.
Most law schools' applications ask for routine information such as your full name, social security number, mailing and permanent address, undergraduate institutions attended, major, and date of degree. While filling out the application is not intellectually taxing, you should exercise care when doing so. Admissions officers will inevitably be disillusioned by an application that is illegible or contains spelling mistakes, typographical errors, cross-outs or type-overs, or worst of all, completion errors. Applications that are incorrectly completed show a lack of care in preparing the application and an inability or unwillingness to follow directions. So, be sure to type all applications. Provide the information that is asked for where it is asked for and in the manner it is asked for. Enclose a check made payable to the law school for the amount of the application fee. Your application will not be processed unless you remit this fee. If you are unable to pay the application fee, follow the instructions outlined in the given law school's application materials or catalogue to obtain a fee waiver. Fee waivers are granted in circumstances of demonstrated need.
Personal Statement Essay
Almost every law school application asks for an essay. The great majority of law schools ask for a personal statement; a few, however, ask a specific question to be answered by you in an essay of specified length. Preparing your personal statement essay is the longest part of the application process. By the time a personal statement is good enough to impress an admissions committee, you may have spent several months doing 10 to 20 revisions of the essay.
The critical elements in writing the personal statement are what you say as well as how you say it. It is assumed that, as a college senior or graduate, you are capable of writing proficiently. Failure to do so, by committing grammatical or usage mistakes and/or spelling errors, will do irreparable damage to your chances for admission.
A good essay is rarely enough to compensate for an otherwise weak application, but it is the factor in helping to positively sway the committee on those cases that are "middle-of-the-road." The personal statement is the only opportunity you have to allow the admissions committee to get to know you as an individual. The personal statement is the vehicle that permits you to tell the law school anything about you that you want them to know. You should use this opportunity to the fullest advantage! Make yourself come alive; let the committee know something that they could not learn from reading the other parts of the application. Because very few law schools grant personal interviews in the application process, the personal statement is an opportunity to introduce yourself in writing to the selection committee.
You may write on any topic you wish, so long as it is "personal," expressing information about yourself. This is not the forum to express your opinion on the ramifications of a Supreme Court decision. Nor is it the proper place to apologize for weak spots in your application. NEVER be apologetic in your essay. If you do have a weak spot or two in your application for a valid reason, explanations for them should be addressed in your letters of recommendation or in a supplementary statement from you. Let a dean or a faculty member tell the committee that your second semester, sophomore grades were poor because you had mononucleosis, or explain it yourself in a brief statement you add to your application. Through your essay, you should put your best foot forward to impress the committee in a positive way, not to elicit routine sympathy that will not help your chances for admission.
You may want to write on some details of a college activity that indicated your motivation and maturity as well as your abilities. Employment experiences, special family situations, and reflections on your semester abroad are all possible topics. Do not, however, write the essays, "Why I Have Always Wanted to be a Lawyer" or "Why I Believe Your Institution is the Best Law School." The best way to impress the committee is to write on something in a fresh light. Be as specific and detailed as you can. Avoid generalizations and cliches! Communicating an original idea in a clear, logical, and coherent manner will more than suffice.
A final word on the length of your personal statement. Some law schools do not indicate a specific word or page limit for the essay; others do. As a general rule, your essay should fit on one page, single spaced with inch margins all around on two pages, double spaced. Admissions officers have to endure the reading of thousands of application essays. They simply cannot and will not read a three or four page essay; there is not enough time. The good news is that you do not have to prepare the personal statement on your own. You have the resources of the Writing Center at your disposal. After that, you should share your essay with members of the Prelaw Advisory Committee for critique. The members of the Committee can offer suggestions for improvements.
Letters of Recommendation
Law schools typically require three letters of recommendation. The Prelaw Advisory Committee at Clark University suggests that at least two of these recommendations come from faculty members familiar with the applicant's analytical abilities, writing abilities, and critical thinking skills. The third letter of recommendation may come from another professor, an internship supervisor, an employer, or someone who is familiar with the applicant's academic or job-related skills.
The Law School Data Assembly Service (LSDAS), the same organization which reports LSAT scores to law schools, has recently started a letter of recommendation service. Law school applicants should now have their recommenders send their recommendation letters directly to LSDAS The applicant should give the recommenders the LSDAS form, and the recommender should include the LSADS recommendation form with their letters. If a recommender is writing a letter targeted only at a specific law school, then that recommender should send the letter directly to that law school, but should also send a general letter to LSDAS. Some law schools will not review applicant files until they have received at least two or three letters from the LSDAS letter of recommendation service.
Obtaining your recommendations
When obtaining your recommendations, you should approach instructors who are not only familiar enough with your work, but are sufficiently impressed with your academic abilities that they will write a letter in strong support of your candidacy for admission. Your recommenders need to be able to address your quality of work, motivation, maturity, and depth of personal growth. Law schools specifically look for letters that reveal positive information about the applicant's intellectual and analytical abilities, research skills, writing aptitude, commitment to the study of law, responsibility, leadership, and ethical integrity. Recommenders need to be specific about such information, citing examples, whenever possible.
Since sometimes faculty members are away from Clark on sabbatical for a semester or a year, the Prelaw Advisory Committee recommends that students do not wait until they are applying to law school to obtain letters of recommendation from their professors. Since the Office of Career Services maintains a letter of recommendation file service, students can ask faculty for letters of recommendation throughout their four years at Clark, It is always better to obtain letters of recommendation while the student's academic work is fresh in the minds of their professors.
The letter of recommendation is the proper forum for addressing shortcomings in your application. A professor or the prelaw adviser is the person who should explain your history of poor scores on standardized test or that you had mono during your sophomore year; hence, a semester of low grades. Such an explanation may persuade the law schools to overlook such a weak spot. Remember, your personal statement essay is not the proper forum to reveal such information. Your may want to share all such information with those persons writing on your behalf.
Giving your recommenders time
Give your recommenders adequate time to prepare your letters. A month should be considered the minimum amount of time to allow for the completion of your recommendations. If possible, you should approach faculty members from whom you intend to get recommendations in the late spring of your junior year. This will allow them the entire summer to work on your letter. In turn, you will not be delayed waiting for your letters when you are applying in the fall of your senior year. If doing so is not feasible, solicit your letters as early as possible in your senior year to have your applications ready to go out by December. Provide the date by which you must have the recommendations, and you may need to explain the importance of applying early to our recommenders. Your certainly don't want to wait until mid-winter to receive your letters!
Some schools have a special form known as the "Dean's Certification Form" or "College Questionnaire." The purpose of this form is to verify your status in college. It will ask a dean or deans to provide information on your disciplinary record and an estimate for class rank or percentile rank. ( Note: Clark does not rank its students.) While law schools are mainly interested in whether you were the subject of any disciplinary action during your time at Clark, most forms will also invite the Dean to add any additional comments which will serve as a supplemental letter of recommendation. Applicants should send all of these Dean's Letter requests to Professor Mark C. Miller in political science, who is the university's Pre-Law Advisor. The Pre-Law Advisor will forward these requests to the appropriate deans for their comments.
**You will need to allow at least two weeks to have letters processed and sent to law schools.