Applying to Law School
Law schools are looking for smart, interesting students to fill their classrooms. They are going to search through your application file for evidence of what you will be like as a student and as a member of their student body. They will look to your undergraduate and/or graduate school performance (though only your undergraduate grades will be used to calculate your cumulative GPA) and LSAT score as predictors of your success in law school. If your grades or scores are not predictive (personal or family health issues, work hours, care of dependents or loved ones, or simple immaturity at the beginning of your college career), be prepared to include an addendum explaining why your grades or LSAT score are not indicative of your true ability. Admissions committees will also evaluate your letters of recommendation, your personal statement and your resume to see how you will fit into their community: Are you able to engage in respectful and intelligent classroom discussion? Do you show initiative? Are you a leader? Are you someone who takes advantage of all resources available to them?
The Law School Admission Council recognizes that applying to law school is an expensive process. To ensure access to the process for everyone, regardless of income, they instituted the Fee Waiver program. Students may apply for a fee waiver, which will cover the cost of two LSAT administrations, the Credential Assembly Service, four Academic Summary Reports and an LSAT prep book. While an LSAC fee waiver does not waive application fees, many law schools will automatically waive their application fee if you have been granted an LSAC fee waiver. Still other schools offer need-based fee waivers through a school-specific application process. Be aware that one should submit fee waiver applications at least six weeks before his desired LSAT administration date.
Many schools also offer merit-based fee waivers to students whose academic profiles (released through the Candidate Referral System) indicate they might be successful applicants. Although receiving a merit-based fee waiver is indicative of success in the application process, it is not a guarantee of admission.
Hard CopyApplications vs. Online Applications
Most law schools accept online applications and many prefer to receive their applications that way. You should use whatever method is most comfortable and convenient for you. However, you should also be aware that some schools waive the application fee for online applications, and that you can save a considerable amount of time completing your applications by using the common information form on the LSAC site.
The Credential Assembly Service (CAS)
Almost all law schools require the use of the Credential Assembly Service (CAS). The CAS will take your transcripts (from each and every higher education institution you attended), analyze them and provide standardized statistical information about your academic record to all of the law schools to which you are applying. The CAS can also serve as a distribution center for your letters of recommendation, allowing your recommenders to only have to write and send one letter. Once you sign up for CAS and send in your transcripts and letters, you can monitor your account’s status on LSAC’s website. Transcripts must be sent directly from the school to LSAC. You can print a transcript request form from your LSAC account or, if you are requesting your transcript online, have the transcript sent to:
Law School Admission Council
662 Penn Street
PO BOX 2000-M
Newtown PA 18940-0993
Including Your Resume When Applying to Law School
While you should never answer questions about your work experience or extracurricular activities with “see resume,” most schools will accept a resume as an addendum if they do not require one outright. It can be a useful tool to showcase your work experience or extracurricular activities and to highlight any special honors or scholarships you have received. Consider creating a resume your freshman or sophomore year and then adding your accomplishments and experience to it as needed.
Personal Statements, Optional Essays, and Addenda
The personal statement is the most important part of your application. It is your chance to show the admissions committee who you are and a chance to inject some personality (your actual personality, not what you believe an admissions committee wants to see) into your application; don’t simply rewrite your resume into prose form or reiterate everything that is already in your application. Your personal statement should illustrate to admissions committees what you will bring to their student body. It should also demonstrate that you are able to convey your thoughts intelligently, maturely, persuasively and most of all, concisely.
The best personal statements are those that are genuine, personal and specific. Don’t use vague generalizations about “want[ing] to help people” or “know[ing] you can succeed in law school.” Instead, show how you have a history of helping others or mastering difficult material by describing particular situations in which you have done so. Instead of listing your every success, try focusing on a particular situation or experience in your life and illustrating what you learned from it. Your goal is to have the reader walk away from your essay with the impression that you are intelligent and that you have a perspective that is, if not unique, than at least mature and thoughtful.
Do not use your personal statement to discuss poor grades or LSAT scores. While schools are not interested in excuses, they are always interested in the proper context in which to consider your grades and scores. Use a grade or LSAT addendum to show why your grades or LSAT score may not be predictive of your success in law school.
Please email Anne Dutia for help on personal statements. In the course of her work as an admissions officer, she read thousands of statements and is able to offer invaluable personalized feedback on your essay.
Letters of Recommendation and Evaluations
Law schools use letters of recommendation to get some idea of your academic skills, work habits, analytical ability, public speaking skills and character. For applicants who have been out of college for fewer than five years, an academic recommendation is strongly encouraged. Seek out recommenders who have had the opportunity to observe and evaluate your work and, ideally, have taught you in at least one upper-level class. Give them plenty of time to write the letters of recommendation and give them plenty of information about you so they can write the strongest possible letter. Recommendations from alumni, elected officials or personal friends who have not taught you in a classroom or interacted with you in a professional setting will not be helpful on their own but can serve as an extra letter if you have space.
Ideally, you should meet with the professor in person to ask if they would feel comfortable writing a strong letter of recommendation for you. If he or she agrees, enter their information on the LSAC site and print your waiver form, which must be included with the recommender’s letter. Give them a packet with your personal statement (or at the very least an outline or abstract), a copy of your transcript, your resume and, if possible, a copy of your best work in his or her class. For non-academic recommenders, you can follow the same format for the packet, but with the classwork omitted. Professional recommendations can highlight your analytical and problem solving skills, work habits and character. They can also showcase your leadership and organizational skills. You should also include stamped, addressed envelopes (addressed either to CAS or the individual school to which the letter will be sent) and your signed LSAC waiver form. Give them a timeframe in which the letter should be sent, and then politely follow up as the deadline approaches.
LSAC recently introduced the Evaluation in addition to its Letter of Recommendation service. Evaluations are not yet widely required but can be optional additions to letters of recommendation for many law schools. The evaluations allow your recommenders to rank you on a variety of cognitive and non-cognitive skills and attributes that law schools have indicated are important in their decision-making. Evaluators are also able to include written observations with their evaluations. Unlike letters of recommendation, evaluations are completed entirely online. Evaluators will be emailed a link through which they can complete the evaluation.
Because recommendations and evaluations will contain substantially the same information, do not use the same people for both. Once your letters are received by CAS or the law schools, be sure to thank your recommenders or evaluators in writing.
Law School Application Dean’s Certifications Requirements
Some law schools require a copy of your undergraduate disciplinary record from the Dean of Students. Please send all requests and forms for Dean’s Certifications to the Dean of Students, not the undergraduate dean or the assistant deans of various programs.
The Law School Application Process
You should begin by first registering for the LSAT and CAS. Once you have done that, be sure to send transcripts from all of the undergraduate institutions you have attended so CAS can process them and produce your Academic Report Summary. If you choose to have your letters of recommendation sent through CAS (as is preferred by most law schools), you should have your recommenders submit their letters to LSAC. Make sure before you apply that your LSAC account is updated and that you have paid for the necessary number of LSAC reports (one for each school to which you are applying).
Once you submit your applications to the schools, they will then begin their own internal processing of your application. Your data will be entered and your CAS report will be ordered. Many schools do not begin reviewing an application until it is complete – for most schools, that means the application itself, an application fee or waiver, a personal statement and any other required essays, a letter or letters of recommendation (your letter(s) of recommendation may come directly from the school or be sent with your LSAC Academic Summary report) and your LSAT score. To ensure that all of your application components stay together, be sure to put your name and LSAC number on all pages of your application.
The timeline for all of this varies according to each school’s internal process, but a school should typically order your report within about two weeks after receiving your application (You can monitor which schools have ordered CAS reports for you through your LSAC account). Depending on whether the schools receive LSAC reports electronically or through the mail, it may take another week or so for the report to arrive at the school and be matched up to your application. Many schools will send you an email or letter letting you know that your file is complete and ready for review. If you don’t receive this sort of confirmation within about a month of submitting your application, you can call the school to see if there is a problem with your application.
There is unfortunately no way to predict when you will receive a decision (unless you applied under an early action or early decision program) and calling over and over to check your file’s status is only going to serve to frustrate you and annoy the schools that you are calling. If you are up against a deposit deadline for another school and still haven’t heard from your top choice, you can call and let them know your situation.