I've been putting off posting the last of admissions-related posts this season. (I've chronicled my maiden admissions committee journey here, here, and here.) This post relates to pieces of conventional wisdom that were passed down to me in high school and college about law admissions that actually are not true. As with the other posts, I want to point out that the information I am passing along is meant to depict what does happen, not what should happen or what I wish would happen in the admissions process. So, I would like to dispel some myths, but of course most, if not all, readers of this blog are too far along in their law school admission journey to change courses. However, if you have younger friends, please do not continue to pass along these commonly-held misperceptions of the admissions process.
1. It does not matter where you went to college. This is false. Now, that does not mean that you have to go to an ivy-league school to get into law school, even an ivy league law school. This adage is true, but only to a point. Admissions committees like applicants who went to schools with which we are familiar. In addition, LSAC generates a sheet for every applicant that details facts about the undergraduate degree-granting school. So, if 49% of graduates from your college score in the bottom 10% of the LSAT, this shows up and instantly discredits your gpa. Committee members are happy to accept gpas from [Name your favorite private school] and from [Name your favorite state school], but get a little nervous when the gpa is from [School no one has heard of that appears to be unable to produce graduates who can complete the LSAT.] So, you may think it's shrewd to pass up a selective college for a college where you can "party" and get a 4.0, but it could come back to haunt you.
2. It does not matter where you went to college, Part 2. How many colleges did you go to? In my hometown, some common advice that high school teachers gave was to go to community college first, save your money, then transfer to a university. Let me just hint that most law professors did not go to community college. So, when admissions committee members see a lot of moving around on a transcript, people get nervous. Lawyers are very linear people. So, if you know you want to go to law school, start your academic career at a university. If you can't take the culture shock of being a freshman at a major research institution, then the first year of law school may be a little painful, too.
3. It does not matter what your major is. Again, false. But, like #1, this maxim is true to a point. It does not matter whether you major in Poli Sci, English, Business, History, Biology, Engineering, etc. However, it does matter whether you major in a subject that is widely recognized by admissions committees as an "academic subject." Again, the common advice in my hometown high school was to pick a major that you would like and that you would excel in. True, as among commonly known academic majors.
Law school is about reading, analyzing, and writing, so your gpa should reflect how well you do in those types of activities. So, a major that is unclear to outsiders as to the content of that major is not a safe choice. Admissions committee members get very concerned with applicants with high gpas in majors that seem either artistic (Dance, Theater, Design, Music (Performance)) or physical (Kinesiology, Corporate Fitness). If this is your love, minor in it or at least minor in a more traditional subject.
Admissions committees look at thousands of applicants with the same gpa. They have to distinguish them. Generally, distinguishing between majors is quite popular. High gpa in Engineering or Economics? Great. High gpa in Fashion Merchandising? Hmmm. Hard sciences stand out because so few applicants majored in the hard sciences. Criminal Justice is an odd major because I'm sure that some college students think it will help. It doesn't. Unless you want to be in law enforcement, major in something else.
4. Admissions committees respect work experience. Not really. Not unless your work experience is really interesting or amazing. Then the experience stands out as an interesting or amazing thing on your resume, not because it is work experience. I find it interesting when applicants were in Teach for America, Americorps, Jesuit Volunteer Corps, or the Peace Corps. Or people who followed a dream for awhile. But no one ever says, "Given this applicant's outstanding record of service for the past two years at [Name your favorite retailer], I think he/she would be an excellent J.D. candidate."
5. You can always take the LSAT again. I'm probably the only person who believed this myth, but I'll put it here anyway. I was advised to take the LSAT without taking a prep. If I did poorly, I could always take a prep class and take the LSAT over. Well, this could have been a disaster for me if I didn't have some weird, LSAT-type mind that luckily took to the standardized test like a duck on a June bug. If not, then I would have been hosed because most, if not all, schools average your LSAT. Oh, we look at both the LSATs, but we know that the average LSAT is the one reported to the all-powerful USNWR. So, take an LSAT prep!! Yes, I know how expensive they are. Start saving now. This is probably the single most important investment you can make in your application. Unfortunately, lots of other applicants are taking a prep course, so that ratchets up the scores. Sorry.
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