The below blog posts were written by Asha Rangappa in her capacity as Dean of Admissions at Yale Law School from 2006-2017. Over the years, hundreds of students have found her advice and insights on applying to law school helpful – they are offered here as a free resource to prospective law school applicants. Students are advised to always consult the individual websites of the schools to which they plan to apply to get the most up-to-date application policies and requirements.
I understand your frustration with the standard mantra about personal statements, but this is an equally frustrating question to answer from our end. After all, we review thousands of personal statements every year, and each one is so different that finding a common thread in all of them is practically impossible. Well, except that maybe the word "endeavor" is totally overused and should really be banned from personal statements generally.
In any event, I've given it some thought and I think there are some common themes to successful personal statements which can help you in approaching yours. Keep in mind that I'm basing my suggestions on what I see working in Yale's admissions process, and other admissions folks from different schools may disagree. But I think that there's a way to make your personal statement a good one, and a way to make a good personal statement a great one.
A good personal statement provides a coherent narrative of what has brought you to this point (in your life, of applying to law school, or a combination of these two). What this narrative consists of will depend on the person writing it. For some, it may focus on their upbringing or cultural background. For others, it may be an intellectual journey, where certain ideas or courses influenced you. And for others it may be one or several experiences, personal or professional, that were meaningful. Whatever the narrative is, the reader gets an idea of the major events, turning points, influences, or experiences that make up who you are. This personal statement functions essentially like an on-paper interview -- it's kind of like a glorified cover letter, in fact. We get an idea of who you are, what's gone on in your life, and -- implicitly or explicitly -- why you applied to law school.
(NOTE: I do see essays every year that don't take this approach and instead focus on an unrelated topic that doesn't necessarily provide the reader with an understanding of why law school might be a logical next step. I'm not saying that this approach can't be successful. But I'm addressing general strategies here, and while your experience auditioning for American Idol may very well make for a captivating, knock-it-out-of-the-park personal statement, I'm assuming that most people want the safer, tried-and-true approach. So on to the great personal statement.)
The applicant with a great personal statement takes the above personal statement, and goes a step further by relating the things they have chosen to mention to something that is larger than themselves. Now, I don't mean that they go on to pontificate about their own personal philosophy of life. I also don't mean that they have to choose some global issue or platform -- this isn't the Miss America contest. What I mean is that the great personal statement makes connections between the experiences or events that the applicant has highlighted and, say, a larger idea or theme that it made the applicant consider or explore further. Or, for someone who wrote about their upbringing or background, perhaps they now evaluate those experiences from a new and different perspective and can make a connection between those experiences and issues they later became interested in. Another way to put this is that this type of personal statement takes something that was merely descriptive -- a cover letter -- and makes it into something that is reflective -- an essay. This allows us to learn not only what you are about and what you've done, but also how you think and what matters to you. A reflective personal statement demonstrates an ability to think critically and analytically about one's own experiences, which in turn suggests that the person will be a thoughtful and insightful contributor to the classroom and the law school community -- and that's what we are looking for.
The question I get asked the most by prospective students is, "How can I stand out?" Usually the applicant is looking for me to provide a list of courses, activities or summer jobs that he or she can check off and be done with it. But two people with the exact same resumes, GPAs, and test scores can do very differently in the admissions process based solely on how they present themselves. The one who gives us a window into what really makes them tick will be the one who stands out from the crowd. And seriously, don't use the word "endeavor."
Where can I get a Yale application form? I don't see it in the brochure I received from the DC Law Fair.
Thanks for stopping by our table at the D.C. Forum and picking up a viewbook! You can also obtain a copy of our viewbook online, and if you have some time we encourage you to take a tour through our website, which can answer many of your questions about the academic programs and events at the Law School.
We’ve gone completely electronic with our applications, so you won’t find a paper application in the viewbook or online. You can access our e-app at www.LSAC.org. The application fee is $80; if you are applying for a need-based fee waiver, you should send an email requesting a fee waiver form to email@example.com. You should return this form along with your certification letter.
We’ll be addressing the components of our application in more detail in the coming weeks, but please note that our application is different from most schools’ in that we require not one, but two essays. One is the 250-word essay, which many students find to be both challenging and extremely fun to write (OK, maybe "extremely" is stretching it a little, but people do find it fun). The other required essay is a personal statement, for which most applicants submit the personal statement they have written for their other applications. We’ll send you an email once we receive your application, and will keep you updated on anything that’s missing until it is complete. Good luck!
Will my grades in grad school be weighted the same (or less or greater) than my undergraduate grades?
Generally speaking, your undergraduate grades will carry the most weight in your application. Your graduate grades will be taken into account, but if anything they will be given as much or less weight than your undergrad grades. This is for several reasons. First, we need a common basis upon which to evaluate applicants and, since most of our applicants do not have advanced degrees but all have a college degree, the undergraduate GPA is the best point of comparison. Second, the undergraduate GPA usually represents coursework over a span of four years, and usually across several disciplines, while a Masters is only for one or two years and in a very specific subject area (which is sometimes not very closely related to law). Finally, I rely a lot on the LSDAS report to give me data, and the data they give me -- for example, the breakdown of individual grades by units, the percentile rank of your GPA compared to applicants from your own undergraduate institution for the last three years, and the percentage distribution of GPAs at your institution -- is based on your undergradate grades (yes, we do look at all of that information!).
Honestly speaking, then, a stellar graduate transcript may not necessarily obviate the relevance of your undergrad GPA. However, doing well in grad schools does tell us that you are capable of doing well in graduate level work, which is important in assessing your academic potential. And you should not hesitate to provide a reference from a professor in grad school if there was a class in which you excelled or if you got to know a professor extremely well -- my comments above refer only to GPAs, not to the weight given to recommendations from grad school.
I know the deadline to apply to YLS is approaching, but I can't seem to figure out what to write about for my 250-word essay. I'm not sure what the Admissions Committee is looking for. Help!
Sigh. The 250-word essay. I remember putting off my Yale Law School application because of the 250, too (good thing that applying late to YLS doesn't affect your chances of admission!).
The 250 word essay, in case you haven't checked out our application, is an essay on any subject of your choice, which the Admissions Committee uses "to evaluate an applicant's writing, reasoning, and editing skills." In other words, this is your first exercise as a potential lawyer: say something meaningful in a limited space, and make it good. You'll be asked to do this repeatedly in the future: law school papers have page limits, and there are judges who will throw out motions or briefs that exceed their word number guidelines. Being persuasive and concise is the quintessestial lawyerly skill, and we want to see that you have it.
Honestly, though, the 250-word essay is really a gimme. It gives you a second bite at the personal statement—after all, given all of your goals, interests, opinions, accomplishments, backgrounds, and hobbies (just to name a few aspects of yourselves), you couldn't have possibly covered everything important about who you are in a two-page personal statement. So the 250 is a chance for you to explore something you care about that might have ended up on the cutting room floor in writing your personal statement. Maybe it's a policy argument. Maybe it's a piece about a hobby or passion of yours. Maybe it's a personal anecdote. There's not much you can't write about.
In fact, there are tons of "Dos" in writing the 250, and just a few "Don'ts." So it might be more helpful if I list the five major mistakes people make in writing their 250s and you can avoid them, thereby increasing your success rate exponentially. These mistakes are:
1. Not Keeping Your Essay at 250 Words or Less. Yes, it seems like it would be obvious that a 250-word essay should be, well, 250 words. I'm not sure why people choose to ignore this. Because they think what they have to say is so special that the limit doesn't apply? They didn't read the instructions? They don't know how to use the word counter on their computer? Not clear. Look. It's an excercise. The faculty who came up with this application requirement a billion years ago do not like to be mocked. Do I or the faculty reading your application actually count the words? Maybe—do you want to take the chance? Bottom line: Don't go over 250 words. If what you have to say is longer, edit it. And yes, definite and indefinite articles and prepositions count.
2. Writing the 250-Word Essay about Writing a 250-Word Essay. There are always a couple of hundred applicants each year who think they are pret-ty clever. So they write an essay which will go something like, "So I have to write a 250-word essay. Actually, now I have written 20 words so it's actually a 230-word essay! Wait, make that a 224-word essay!" And it will go on in this vein, subtracting numbers until the applicant has managed to write 250 words about absolutely nothing.
3. Giving 250 Words in Stream-of-Consciousness Prose. So, another couple of hundred people think that they can just barf out everything they didn't mention in their personal statement, putting a period after 250 words. As in, "I obtained my black belt at age 15. I like to sleep with my window open. My cat has fleas. I can bake an awesome apple pie." And so on. OK. So I indicated above that the 250 is an opportunity for you to talk about things you may not have mentioned in your personal statement. BUT YOU STILL HAVE TO INCORPORATE THEM INTO A COHERENT ESSAY. We are not asking for 250 words' worth of random facts about yourself. Remember: "writing, reasoning, and editing skills." This type of essay gets an F in all categories.
NOTE: I have never seen anyone using tactic 2 or 3 be admitted.
4. Not Proofreading Their Essay. Somehow, it seems, the 250-word essay is really prone to grammatical and typographical errors. Probably because people are putting it off till the last minute, therefore not going over it with a fine-toothed comb as they have done with their personal statement (though those sometimes have issues as well). Please ask someone to read your essay. There are things that spell-checker will not catch, but are still wrong. For example, "peek" vs. "peak," "Untied" vs. "United," "affect" vs. "effect," you get my point. Again, remember that this is a lawyerly exercise, and no one wants a sloppy lawyer.
5. Using the 250-Word Essay as an Addendum, or a "Why Yale?" Essay. This is not as egregious as the first four, but I mention it because I really think people who take this route lose an opportunity. First, you can add an addendum—about the C you got in Calculus, or the alarm that was going off during the LSAT—in addition to the required essays. The 250 doesn't preclude that (just keep it brief). Second, a listing of the courses or programs at Yale which intrigue you is nice, and shows that you've researched the school, but doesn't really add to the Admission Committee's knowledge about you (they already know Yale's courses and programs are great, they teach them!). You should really try to take advantage of the 250 to showcase your writing ability, and pursue a topic other than an explanation of the components of the application or a list of things that caught your fancy on our website. We want to find out more about what makes you tick!
I hope that the above pitfalls are helpful in guiding you in what not to do, and therefore in pointing you in the direction of what to do. The 250-word essay is rarely a dealmaker or breaker. Mostly, it offers the Admissions Committee a window into some small snippet of who you are, carefully and thoughtfully condensed into a few short, but meaningful, paragraphs. Think this isn't possible? Remember that the Gettysburg Address is only 272 words—22 words short (or long) of being the ultimate Yale 250.
I spent the holidays alone, in my office, reading files. Seriously. Not J.D. admissions files (I'm all caught up with you guys!), but L.L.M. files, which are an international bunch. L.L.M. files are . . . interesting. Especially the transcripts. For example, did you know that in Germany, the second-best grade of gut, which I am told colloquially means something between "meh" and "fine whatever," is actually the best grade you can get? Like, apparently NO ONE gets sehr gut, which is the highest grade available. I wonder what it must be like to have a grading system where you work your butt off to get the grading equivalent of a 'Nilla Wafer. Wait, that's kind of like the grading system we have here. Never mind.
Anyway, as I was perusing the file of an applicant from Burkina Faso, I started thinking about diversity. Yale of course strives to be diverse in the sense that most people associate with the word—we encourage highly-qualified applicants from underrepresented minority groups, for example, or self-identified LGBT students, to apply—because we want an incoming class to encompass a variety of backgrounds, and we want to signal that we are a place that welcomes these groups and provides resources and organizations for them. But when it comes to building a class, we also use a broader definition of diversity, as I have alluded to in a previous post about diversity statements.
For example, it's important to us as an institution to have a variety of viewpoints represented in order to foster robust and challenging classroom discussion—to this end, we're very interested in having ideological diversity in each class. Law students, and by extension law schools, are on the whole liberal-leaning, so it's up to admissions officers like me to make sure we identify and attract those students who might be more right-of-center. Now, it's harder to surgically target these students, since political affiliations aren't something that LSAC asks you to check on your profile. A few years ago we tried a desperate, shotgun approach and sent invitations to apply to highly-qualified students from the Red States. Our volume dropped that year. Since then, I keep having visions of angry mobs tossing our CRS letters into bonfires, with Handsome Dan being burned alongside Che in effigy.
If that is indeed what happened, let me clear up some confusion. First, the long lines of miserable people you see stretching down the sidewalk belong to the pharmacy at the only slightly-Communist Yale Health Plan, located a block away, not the totally non-Communist Yale Law School. Second, in addition to producing well-known conservative lawyers like Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey, Yale Law School is the founding home of The Federalist Society, now a national conservative and libertarian legal society that boasts over 40,000 members. Fed Soc, as the organization is known, is extremely active at Yale and hosts numerous events throughout the year, including a recent visit by Karl Rove who led a discussion entitled, "Should Obamacare be Repealed?" And, while it's true that the only tea parties we currently have at Yale are the staid faculty teas led by our professors, the 2010 U.S. Senate race featured YLS alum (and Federalist Society member) Joe Miller '95 as the Tea Party candidate for the Senate seat in Alaska. (Fox News, I should add, is available in the student lounge.)
Another group of people from whom we like to see applications is our servicemen and women. I personally have a soft spot for service academies, but my attempts to recruit on their campuses were unsuccessful (Navy and Air Force turned me down, West Point never returned my calls or letters). I didn't push the issue—I've seen War Games. But happily, we have nevertheless amassed a critical mass of veterans and active duty military officers, leading a few years ago to the creation of a new student group, Yale Law Vets. In addition to delivering a University address on Veteran's Day and presenting JAG recruiting officers with a petition against the (now moot!) Don't Ask Don't Tell policy, students with military backgrounds participate—along with students who have an interest in veterans' affairs—in the new Veterans' Legal Services Clinic, which assists local military veterans with obtaining VA benefits and other civil legal needs. The clinic, one of the few in the country and the first of its kind in New England, most recently filed a lawsuit along with the American Civil Liberties Union and the CT ACLU to compel the military's release of records pertaining to the prevalence of sexual assault in the military.
I like to think that Yale Law School is a place that shows that we all really can get along. On that note, and in the spirit of peace, love, and random product placement, I'll close with the Best. Commercial. Ever.
As we say here: Make love, not Law Journal. Happy New Year, from (203).
One of the things that is supposed to be great at YLS is the lack of traditional grades and class rankings. However, I've heard from students at other schools that getting an
I did an informal poll of my classmates from YLS and the reasons they chose to go to Yale. Two words always made the top of the list: No. Grades. To us, these words symbolized freedom to pursue interests beyond the classroom, learning for the sake of learning, not having success come at the expense of your classmates, and, as legendary YLS Dean Guido Calabresi put it, finally "getting off the treadmill." How is it that, all of a sudden, Yale has been Swift-Boated for one of its top strengths?
Before I go into the reasons that your sources' information is suspect, I think it would be helpful to understand how and why Yale's current grading structure evolved (courtesy of Guido himself!).
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away (i.e., circa the mid 50s), Yale Law School had a grading system which evaluated students' performance as "Excellent," "Good," and "Satisfactory." Although not grades in the traditional sense, these marks were assigned a value that allowed students to be ranked. The result was, among a very small group of highly accomplished people, a stratified system which fulfilled the egos of a few people at the top while creating, for the vast majority of the students, an enormous amount of anxiety. In fact, for many students who were used to being at the top academically, the designation of being at the bottom (or even the middle) -- a designation which in turn affected the course of the rest of their legal career -- was not only depressing, but encouraged them to simply "turn off" for the rest of their time in law school.
In the late 60s the students, being the rebellious baby boomers they were, organized against The Man, which in this case was the grading system. Specifically, the students felt that the grading and ranking systems created false pressure and were not conducive to a learning environment. Now, there were students who were in favor of the status quo (read: the few egos at the top), but the majority of students advocated the abolition of grades altogether, to be replaced by a system of Credit/Fail.
The question was, if this system were adopted, how would employers on the outside react in their hiring practices? So they went to the employers themselves -- partners in law firms and judges -- and asked them. The answers were not very promising. Some employers said they would simply hire all the Yalies who applied, then fire the ones they felt performed the worst. Others indicated that they would hire students based on "how presentable" they appeared (wink wink). Others said that they would use objective criteria like the LSAT, and some said they would come up with their own tests. This course of action, then, seemed worse than having grades.
The dilemma was thus how to create a system that had enough of a grade "hook" -- something that gave the appearance of relative performance -- but no more than was needed to satisfy the evaulative purposes of future employers. In other words, the goal was to discourage employers from substituting their own system of evaluation, but to also avoid creating distinctions among students that were not real. It was here that the current system of Honors/Pass/Low Pass/Fail (and no class rank), was born, and it has lasted longer than any other grading system used at Yale.
Now, to the effect of Yale's system in practice. So, in your first term, all of your classes are simply Pass/Fail. As I recall Dean Koh explaining to my Civil Procedure class, "You will take a final exam, and you will pass. If you don't pass, you will take the exam again. And you will pass. In other words, you will pass." Does everyone still study their butts off? Yes. Do the students still stress out the first term? Yes. Do they all really pass? Yes. Does everyone at that point finally chill out? Yes.
Beginning in your second term, you are evaluated under the H/P/LP/F system. I spoke with the Registrar, keeper of all Yale grades and transcripts since the beginning of time (and hence the most powerful person here), who told me that Fs are almost unheard of, and LPs are "absolutely rare." This means that almost all grades awarded at Yale are Hs and Ps (there is no curve so the number of each is up to each professor). The Registrar further informed me that only about 1 or 2 students graduate each year with straight Honors (though one year she saw a spike of about 4 students). Out of a class of 189 students, that's about 1-2%, max, of the class (to put it into perspective, that would mean about 100 people -- out of roughly 7,000 graduates -- since the system was adopted). Finally, she advised that it is equally rare for a student to graduate from YLS with all Ps. In other words, the vast majority of Yale graduates have a transcript littered with Hs, Ps, and CRs (given for first term classes and things like journals, reading groups, etc.).
If the overwhelming majority of Yale Law grads have very similar transcripts, how do we account for the fact that 50% of each graduating class get clerkships, or that 13% of each class get jobs in academia, and that practically everyone gets the law firm job of their choice? The answer is: the grades just don't seem to matter that much. Really. Since nothing you accomplish at YLS is linked to them -- things like being on the Law Journal or becoming a director of a clinic or becoming a research assistant -- they are really not that useful. At the same time, the fact that students are liberated from obsessing about grades and rankings allows them to tailor their law school path in such a way as to make themselves as attractive as possible to precisely the type of job they want to have. In other words, if a student wants to work in a law firm, there's no pressure to join the Law Journal to "prove" that she is at the top of the class -- the student can instead become involved in the Center for the Study for Corporate Law, making her stand out in a unique way to law firm employers. Similarly, a student who really wants to do immigration law can exchange hours spent worrying about acing an exam for time on a client or in the courtroom through a clinic, gaining invaluable experience for a future career. And for aspiring academicians, a P doesn't matter when you've had a chance to coauthor an article with a professor, or even publish one of your own papers, before you graduate. In addition, all students get to know professors personally(you kind of can't help it, if you actually show up for class), which allows for detailed references regarding your performance and abilities. As a result, the people doing the hiring have much more information on which to evaluate your potential than they would with grades alone.
I can understand how difficult it is for students at other schools -- particularly large ones -- to wrap their minds around the idea that grades don't matter. To be honest, I think this tells you a lot more about what life is like there than it does about Yale. That is, if you are in a place where professors are not particularly accessible, and where the markers of "success" are inextricably bound to grades, and where the sheer size demands that students be differentiated by rankings (since there are simply many more people competing for the same things), then grades become the most meaningful symbols of your law school career -- which probably explains why students at these schools spend more time thinking and talking about Yale grades than the Yalies do!
In conclusion: the Yale system was created by students. If, sometime in the last 40-ish years, it had become a liability for them, presumably it would have been changed again. But since it hasn't, ask the Yale students themselves what they think. You can find them next to the treadmills, relaxing.
I am interested in transferring from my current law school to Yale. Do you have any comments for those of us who are willing to make the jump and apply to transfer to YLS? In particular, what are you looking for in a transfer applicant that you would not look for in a regular applicant (I know law school GPA/class rank is a big part of the process)? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
You ask a great question, since our transfer application process is somewhat different than our process for first-year students.
First, as background, we accept transfer applications from May 1 to July 1 of each calendar year, for matriculation in August of the same year as a second-year student. In order to be eligible for transfer you must have completed the equivalent of one year of law school at an ABA-accredited law school.
Unlike our regular admissions process, our transfer admissions process has one centralized Admissions Committee that reviews all of the applications together. We release all of our decisions around the third week of July; there are no rolling admissions. In order to complete a transfer application, you must submit a $80 application fee, the transfer application, a transcript with your grades for your full first year of law school, and two letters of recommendation (and yes, the application still includes the 250-word essay). Note that since often spring grades do not make it on to your transcript by our application deadline, we will accept an unofficial version of your grades (e.g., computer printout/email) for purposes of review; these will be verified through an official transcript in the event you are offered admission.
You are correct that in reviewing transfer applications, we put a lot of weight on your first term grades and GPA. Your LSAT and undergraduate GPA are not particularly relevant: this is because these are predictors of your performance in your first year of law school, and in the case of transfers we actually have your first year grades in front of us. We also place a great deal of weight on your recommendations from your law school professors; more than wanting to know the grade you received in the class (which we can obviously see from your transcript), we are interested in knowing how you performed in class discussions, the quality of your writing, and how you compared with other students in the class and in the professor's experience teaching. To this end, it is important to try to get to know at least a couple of professors personally during your first year, in order to submit the strongest transfer application possible.
We do not have a fixed number of transfers that we take in any given year. Rather, we admit the strongest applications we receive each year, space permitting, which has in recent years ranged from 5 to 15 students from institutions such as Georgetown, Harvard, Pepperdine, Stanford, Tulane, and Washington University. Generally speaking, these students were in the top 5-10% of their first year class.
As with students taken off of our wait list, students who have been accepted for transfer will have a limited window of time in which to make a decision (usually about a week to ten days). We encourage transfer applicants to visit Yale early if seeing the campus will be critical to the decision whether to accept the offer. Unfortunately, we do not have classes over the summer and most students and professors are gone, but the building and library are open to visitors. Self-guided tours are available through the Admissions Office.
Lastly, transfer students who are interested in being on the Yale Law Journal can "try out" (i.e., take a Bluebook exam and complete a writing exercise) in the first few weeks of class. Only the Yale Law Journal has a competitive process; all of our other journals are open to any interested student, including transfers.
I plan to submit my application within a few days. However, I am just beginning some exciting projects that may come to fruition in the next few months. Depending on the outcomes, I may want to provide additional information to the Admissions Committee. Once my complete application is submitted, is it possible to supplement it?
It is possible to supplement your complete application. However, keep in mind that once your application is complete -- that is, once we receive the basic components of your applications, including your LSDAS report and two recommendations -- your application will enter the queue to be reviewed. Once it is under active review, during which your application is circulated outside of the Admissions Office to faculty readers, any supplemental material received in the meantime will be held until the file is returned. This means, of course, that we can't guarantee that your supplemental material will be included at the time that the file is reviewed. And, we will generally not re-review a file upon receipt of supplemental material.
If you feel very strongly that your file be considered only after you obtain any additional information you think might be relevant, I would suggest that you wait to submit your application until you have everything you are waiting for (but before our deadline of February 15). As I noted previously, there is no inherent disadvantage to sending in your application later rather than sooner, though it may mean that you will not get your decision until later in the season.
On the other hand, if your file is reviewed without the additional information and you are waitlisted, the supplemental materials may be useful in the event that we revisit your file. So, the decision is up to you -- best of luck!
I am planning on taking the December LSAT. Will taking the exam so late hurt my chances of gaining admission for Fall?
Excellent question. The short answer is no.
I realize this contradicts the common wisdom for law school applicants, namely that because most schools have a rolling admissions process in which slots are filled on an ongoing basis, it’s to an applicant’s advantage to apply as early as possible. I’ll delve into our file reading process, which also involves offering admission on a rolling basis, in more detail soon. But for now let me just say that based on the way we distribute files for review – which is unique, as far as I am aware – your admission chances stay more or less constant throughout the season. The most important thing is to have the strongest application possible, and if that means you need until December to prepare for and take the LSAT, so be it.
There are a couple of disadvantages to taking the December LSAT. The first is that it is the last LSAT you can take in order to apply for Fall 2008. So, if you are unhappy with your score for any reason, you either have to apply with what you’ve got or take the test again and wait to apply next year. The second is that since our application volume increases as we approach the deadline, and since our review process is fairly lengthy to begin with (we are very thorough), the later you apply, the longer the delay between when your application becomes complete and when you receive a decision. I mention this because some applicants receive scholarships with early deadlines from other schools, and depending on where your application is in the review process, we may be unable to expedite a decision based on such factors.
Finally, let me add a personal note about getting too anxious about the LSAT. Sometimes, when I am wading through hundreds of LSDAS reports, I have flashbacks to my own LSAT trauma back in 1995 (you don’t need to do the math, I’m 32). It was the last section, and I felt really good, having just eaten the Rice Krispies treat I had diligently packed for energy over the break. I sped through the last section just in time, sat back, and handed my test to the proctor…only to notice to my horror as I handed over the test that I HAD BUBBLED 27 ANSWERS TO 26 QUESTIONS. Yeah, those words went through my mind, too.
Whatever I wrote in the writing portion was gibberish, since at that point I was sobbing uncontrollably. I went home, tortured myself over whether to cancel my score, ultimately decided to keep it (it was the September test, see paragraph 2), and then spent the next six weeks wearing sweatpants and staring at the ceiling of my dorm room. This was back when you had to wait for your results to come in the mail. Yes, like in an envelope.
Anyway, the story ends well, i.e., I got into law school (though I still have major issues with Scantron answer sheets). The point is that I was once a neurotic law school applicant myself, and in the words of a famous Yalie, I feel your pain. But it’ll be fine…trust me.
I recently received a letter inviting me to apply to YLS (thank you!). However, I've applied early decision at another school, from which I have not yet heard. Should I still apply to Yale?
For those readers who don't know, most early decision (ED) admission programs are programs in which you apply by an early application deadline -- say, November 15 -- and are guaranteed an admissions answer by an earlier date as well. In return, you make a commitment to attend that law school in the event you are admitted. In effect, you are making an advance enrollment commitment by applying ED to that school. (Students who are not admitted in the ED pool are generally deferred to and re-reviewed in the regular application pool.)
Generally speaking, Yale makes admissions decisions later than most schools, and almost always after the ED decision date at most schools. Further, we honor ED enrollment commitments made by applicants. So, when we receive the list of names from our peer schools of people who have been admitted ED (yes, we get this information), we automatically withdraw those applicants from further consideration. From our point of view, if an applicant has already decided that his or her first choice is another school, has been admitted to that school, and has made a commitment to attend that school, it doesn't make sense to continue to use our resources to evaluate their application.
Every year, when I review the list of people we are withdrawing from consideration, I see applicants who are doing extremely well in our process and, sometimes, applicants who have in fact received the requisite scores to be admitted but who just haven't been notified yet. I always wonder whether those students would have applied ED to another school if they knew how good of a chance they really had at getting into Yale. Of course, I'll never know, and neither will they. Sigh.
So, L.B. to answer your question, the answer is, it depends. If you really know that your ED school is where you want to go, but still want to put in applications elsewhere in the event that you are deferred to the regular pool at your ED school, go ahead. Just know that you probably won't hear back from us before your ED school and, if you do get in to that school, we'll immediately withdraw you from further consideration.
If you are now second-guessing your top choice school and want to wait to receive an answer from Yale before commiting to a school, you should contact your ED school to see whether they can defer you to the regular pool now, before they make a decision on your file. I think that most admissions committees would prefer you to be honest now rather than offer you an ED spot and then have you waffle about your commitment afterwards.
Whatever you decide to do, I wish you the best of luck.
I took the LSAT in December, but had to cancel my score. Can I take the LSAT again and still apply this year, or will I need to wait till next year?
You're in luck -- this year, we are accepting February LSAT, so if you can take the test again next month, you can still apply this year.
Please note that our application deadline with respect to the rest of the materials is still February 15, so you will need to submit your application by that date. Once we receive your LSDAS report with your Februrary LSAT score, transcript, and recommendations, your file will be reviewed.
Note that as per our normal process, we cannot hold an already complete file for you to retake the February LSAT, nor can we re-review a file in light of a new LSAT score. In other words, if we have an LSDAS report on file with a valid LSAT score, and all of your other application materials are submitted and complete, your file will enter the queue to be reviewed, or may have already been reviewed. Due to the large number of applications we receive, this is the procedure we must follow in order not to create a backlog in reviewing files.
However, if your file is not yet complete and you have a previous LSAT score on file that you are unhappy with and are planning to take the February LSAT, what you should do is deactivate your recommendations for Yale -- this prevents your application from becoming complete. Once your Februrary LSAT score is released and on file, you can reactivate your recommendations, which will cause LSAC to release a new LSDAS report containing your recommendations and your new score, which will be included when we complete your file.
As I've mentioned in previous posts, due to our unique admissions process your chances of admission are not affected by applying this late in the process. However, due to our lengthy faculty review process, you will likely hear from us much later than the other schools to which you apply -- probably around mid (and possibly late) April. Just something to keep in mind if you have scholarship or other offers to which you must respond before then..
Lastly, keep in mind that you should not feel rushed to apply this year if you aren't ready. I know the economy isn't doing so great, but there's something to be said for taking some time to regroup and apply with the best package you can -- there are tons of interesting things to do in the meantime (especially if you don't mind eating Ramen Noodles a couple of times a day). But I hope this is helpful, and look forward to reading your application when you do decide to apply!
I received a confirmation e-mail that my application has been received, but have not yet received confirmation that my application is complete. Is this simply because it is early in the admissions season and applications are not yet being considered, or is it possibly indicative of a missing component in my application?
When you hit “submit” on your electronic application to Yale Law School, we receive your basic data and an indication that you have applied. Base on this data, we will send you an “application received” email. However, it will take us another week to receive your actual application in the mail. It may take an additional week or two for us to receive your LSDAS report, which contains your LSAT score, transcript, and recommendations.
Before October 15, LSAC will not release an LSDAS report to Yale until it contains at least two letters of recommendation. After that date, LSAC will release your report immediately and continue to send us updates as you provide recommendations.
Your application will be complete once we receive your application, LSDAS report, and two letters of recommendation. At that point, we will send you a “file complete” email and your application will enter the queue to be read. In early spring, if we still have not received all of the components of your application, we will send you an email letting you know what is missing from your file and give you time to provide those materials.
Although we have already begun considering applications, there are a couple of important things to know about our system. The first, which I have mentioned in a previous posting, is that your chances of admission will not be affected by when your application becomes complete. The second is that we will not fill up the seats in the class until we have given all applicants a chance to complete their files and we have read every last application. So relax—we won’t forget about you, we promise!
I'm interested in studying International Law, and am excited about YLS's course offerings. I did have some questions, which I'm hoping you might help with. Does YLS allow its students to study abroad at foreign institutions as part of their legal training? Are there summer and/or semester-year long programs? What do most students whose focus is international law do with their degrees? How do they serve?
OK, so right now I am so jealous that you are in Honolulu, because the weather here is starting to get pretty cold. Not that that's a bad thing: Sarah will, no doubt, be giving you some insight into the many things you can do on cold and snowy days in New Haven, so stay tuned!
Now, to your question. Yale does not offer a formal study abroad program during the academic year. While this is popular at the undergraduate level and some law schools do allow this, our program currently emphasizes the fostering of a strong community for the three years you are here, and with all of the courses, activities, journals, and independent research opportunities we have, we think it's important that you are in residence for all six semesters in order to take advantage of your time here.
With that said, there are opportunities to go abroad, apart from an exchange with a foreign legal institution. First, Yale offers the possibility of doing an Intensive Semester, which can involve spending a semester in a foreign country. To do an Intensive Semester abroad, a student must have a very detailed research proposal which would be impossible to carry out while remaining in residence at the Law School, which must then be approved by the Faculty Committee on Special Courses of Study. I should note that the bar for doing an Intensive Semester is very high, and only a few students are approved to do this each year. Nevertheless, it is an option for those of you whose specialized interests may involve foreigh legal systems and research.
In addition, the Law School has region-specific programs that can involve going abroad over the summer or during the school year. For example, the Middle East Legal Studies Seminar (MELSS) is an annual meeting bringing together students, academics, lawyers, and judges interested in Middle Eastern legal issues. You can read more about last year's meeting, which took place in Athens, Greece, here. In addition, the Law School sponsors a Latin America Linkage Program over the summer, in which Yale Law School students visit their student counterparts in Argentina, Chile, and Brazil—the Yale students then host the South American students in New Haven the following spring.
Finally, the most common avenue for students to go abroad is during the summer. The Law School's Schell Center for International Human Rights provides summer fellowships for students seeking to do human rights work over the summer: the fellowships cover travel costs, and are in addition to the Summer Public Interest Fellowships (SPIF) which cover living expenses for any student doing public interest work during the summer, both domestically and internationally. Students have used this funding to work in countries such as Uganda, Thailand, Israel, and China, just to name a few.
As for what to do with a internationally-focused law degree from Yale, the answer is: just about anything. Dean Harold Koh has made globalization a cornerstone of the Law School's future, and you'll find that almost any subject will have international implications. Students from Yale go on to become (among other things) human rights activists, journalists, attorneys specializing in international financial transactions, and environmental lawyers...the world is your oyster!
No, it is not too late to apply, and yes, you still have a chance.
First, our application deadline isn't until February 15, so you still have plenty of time to put your application together.
Second, as I've mentioned in a previous post, we have a unique admissions review system in which students are admitted in roughly equal numbers throughout the admissions season. In other words, although our admissions process is "rolling" in the sense that we give offers on an ongoing basis, your chances of admission remain roughly the same regardless of when you apply in the season. We do not fill the class until we have read all of the applications in the pool, so there is no way you can apply "too late."
So get to work and submit your application if you are interested in YLS -- we promise to give your application a thorough review!
I plan to submit my application within a few days. However, I am just beginning some exciting projects that may come to fruition in the next few months. Depending on the outcomes, I may want to provide additional information to the Admissions Committee. Once my complete application is submitted, is it possible to supplement it?
It is possible to supplement your complete application. However, keep in mind that once your application is complete -- that is, once we receive the basic components of your applications, including your LSDAS report and two recommendations -- your application will enter the queue to be reviewed. Once it is under active review, during which your application is circulated outside of the Admissions Office to faculty readers, any supplemental material received in the meantime will be held until the file is returned. This means, of course, that we can't guarantee that your supplemental material will be included at the time that the file is reviewed. And, we will generally not re-review a file upon receipt of supplemental material.
If you feel very strongly that your file be considered only after you obtain any additional information you think might be relevant, I would suggest that you wait to submit your application until you have everything you are waiting for (but before our deadline of February 15). As I noted previously, there is no inherent disadvantage to sending in your application later rather than sooner, though it may mean that you will not get your decision until later in the season.
On the other hand, if your file is reviewed without the additional information and you are waitlisted, the supplemental materials may be useful in the event that we revisit your file. So, the decision is up to you -- best of luck!
I have been admitted to Yale and am a little torn about where to go. Yale has a ton of great opportunities, but I keep hearing that you should only go to Yale if you want to become a professor. I don't think this is the path I want to pursue. Would I really be out of place at Yale?
You ask a great question. As I mentioned in one of my previous posts, Yale grads are ubiquitous in legal academia. About 10% of all law faculty are YLS grads, and about 13% of each graduating class has entered academia five years after graduation. But while it may be tempting to conclude from these stats that Yale is only seeking and producing aspiring academics, the reality is a little more complex.
I can tell you, from the surveys we do each year of admitted students before they matriculate, that the majority of students come to Yale intending to practice law. If you check out our five-year post-graduation surveys, most students do in fact follow this path: around 60% of our graduates go to work for a firm as their first non-clerkship job, while another chunk of about 30% go into public interest jobs. About 6% -- probably the students who came in with PhDs or did joint degrees while they were here -- go directly into academia.
So why does this number double for Yale graduates so soon after graduation? It's hard to say, but one reason is, I think, that a lot of people get burned out practicing. Let's face it, if you're given the choice (as in the case of working for a law firm) of keeping track of every hour of your time, for 15-18 hours a day, and working on cases that may be of marginal interest to you or, for about the same salary, being in complete control of your life, writing about ideas that completely excite you, and having your summers off with grants for travel and research...um, which one would you choose?
Frankly, I think a lot of lawyers discover that they might prefer to be academics. The difference is that when Yale graduates make this discovery, they find that they already have a leg up in this very competitive field. For one thing, they have had a chance, through the course of their legal education, to work closely with professors to produce at least two pieces of substantial legal scholarship -- one is the Substantial Paper, and the other is the Supervised Analytical Writing (SAW). Both are papers that you work on with one-on-one supervision from a faculty member, either through a class or independent research (the difference between them is just of length). Many students have even published their papers in a journal by the time they graduate. Since a major component of being able to compete on the legal job market is to have published scholarship, Yale graduates are not starting from scratch: either they've checked off this requirement already or have something they have already spent significant time on, that they can build on.
The second advantage Yale students have is that they are not navigating this field alone. As I mentioned above, all Yale students develop at least one or two close relationships with faculty members, if by nothing else than default. So when it comes time to brush up that paper to turn it into an article, or apply for a fellowship to spend a year working on a new idea, they have a faculty contact and mentor to help guide them through the process. The professors at Yale don't get more excited than when a former student of theirs wants to follow their own chosen profession and, since we have a small school with a smaller alumni pool, they aren't inundated with requests from tons of graduates -- so they're happy to respond, give feedback, and write recommendations. Don't underestimate the value of having professors who will actually remember you personally, 3,5, and 10 years down the road!
Finally, Yale is proud of its record in placing students in academia, and to this end, we make resources available to both current students and graduates. For current students, we have a Law Teaching Series, which is a series of workshops offered each year that cover everything from how to develop a research agenda to what, exactly, a "job talk" consists of. The Series can give students who might not have otherwise considered a career in academia a window into how to pursue this path, either directly out of law school or sometime down the road. For alumni, we have for the past couple of years offered a "Moot Camp," which brings together graduates with scholarly works in progress with current students and faculty to workshop (i.e. grill) the graduate on his or her paper. Finally, for both current students and alumni, our Career Development Office offers counseling and access to resources for students interested in this field.
I've listed some of the reasons Yale graduates are successful in entering legal academia, even if it's not something they considered when they came in or during the time they were in school. In fact, even students who do intend to teach usually practice for a little while...after all, you have to be a professor of something. Going out an practicing in the real world can help give context and depth to the intellectual ideas you've been playing around with, and can make your later scholarly work more nuanced. So pretty much everyone at Yale, even those who are interested in academia, have substantive interests that they pursue through journals, extracurriculars, centers and programs, and summer jobs.
The point is that if you don't plan to be a law professor, don't worry, you'll have plenty of company at Yale. And if you decide later that you do want to become a law professor, well, you'll have plenty of company then, too. Either way, you can't go wrong!
I have been admitted to Yale, as well as to a few other schools. I'm very excited about my Yale acceptance, but one of the things I keep hearing is that Yale is very
Ah, yes. The old "Yale is too theoretical" schtick. I remember when I was deciding between schools and found myself in the company of a Yale student and a Harvard student arguing over which was better. The Harvard student said, "Come to Harvard, you'll learn what the law actually is." And the Yale student replied, "But at Yale, you will learn what it ought to be." Then they started exchanging Heidegger jokes, which I found creepy and weird so I left.
My initial reaction is to say that this stereotype is hogwash, in that if you are looking at a handful of schools in the same tier which are all attracting the same general caliber of students, the level of theoretical discussion at those schools will presumably be very similar. That is, I seriously doubt that while the Yalies are contemplating life and the law over lattes, students at its peer schools are busy memorizing the Rule Against Perpetuities (which, by the way, there is no point in learning because you'll get it wrong on the bar anyway).
But let's assume, for the sake of argument, that Yale is a place filled only with theory heads. So you run screaming to some other law school, only to find out that 10% of law faculty in the United States are all Yale Law School graduates and that many of the people teaching you are still theory heads. You then further discover that the current deans -- the ones actually driving the legal academy boat -- at the following law schools are all YLS grads: Boston University, Brooklyn, University of Chicago, UCLA, CUNY Queens, Drake University, Florida International University, Gonzaga University, Hofstra University, Georgetown University, George Washington University, University of Hawai’i, University of Illinois, Inter American University of Puerto Rico, University of Iowa, Lewis & Clark, University of Miami, University of Minnesota, University of Michigan, UNLV, University of New Mexico, University of Northern Kentucky, Northeastern, Northwestern, NYU, University of Pennsylvania, Rutgers, University of South Carolina, Southern Methodist University, University of Tulsa, University of Utah, University of Virginia, and the University of Vermont.
It's kind of like the TV series V, where people think they are surrounded by ordinary humans, only to discover that most of them are actually giant man-eating lizards from outer space, disguised as humans. In other words, we will hunt you down and teach you anyway no matter where you go, so why not just come here and take advantage of the free booze and buffalo wings on Fridays?
That's not to say there aren't legitimate points of comparison. Is there more discussion in class, overall, at Yale than at some of its peer schools? I think so -- with an average class size of under 20 students, it's natural that the dynamic of many classes will tend more towards a collaborative conversation, rather than an extended Socratic dialogue with one or two students (though you'll find that, too, in the larger classes). Are discussions more focused on policy rather than doctrine? Possibly, depending on the class. In most classes at Yale, you have the option to write a paper, rather than take an exam. A lot of students utilize this option, not only to fulfill their writing requirements, but because it gives them an opportunity to work closely with a professor and explore a subject in depth -- and possibly even publish their work in a journal. So class discussions are a way for students (and professors) to flesh out the ideas that they are working on outside of class. Do Yale students really sit around a campfire and sing about unicorns while braiding flowers in each other's hair? Occasionally. The point is that it's important to look at the real differences underlying the broad-brush stereotypes -- smaller classes, lots of interaction with faculty, celebration of mystical animals -- in making your choice between schools.
As far as the whole "practice" thing, I'm not sure where that comes from, since there are arguably more opportunities to get hands-on experience here than almost anywhere else. We've outlined Yale's numerous clinics in a previous post. The clinics, which range from direct client services to appellate advocacy, are open to students beginning in their first year; about 80% of Yale students do a clinic before they graduate, and about 40% do more than one. Further, under CT law, first-year students can actually appear and present cases in court, under the supervision of a practicing attorney. Put it this way: you know that scene in Legally Blonde where Elle cross-examines a witness and wins her first court case? The only place where that could have actually happened is at Yale. In fact, Legally Blonde was originally set to take place at Yale Law School, until some boob denied the movie filming rights here. (I can only guess that this is the same person who thought it would be a fabulous idea to have Yale featured in the worst Indiana Jones movie ever made...the free booze on Fridays helps you to forget these more minor differences.)
We Yalies are certainly complicit in perpetuating the "Aw-shucks, the law? What's that?" stereotype that seems to surround the institution. And I can't guarantee that there's not a Yale Law grad out there somewhere who believes that a tort is a rich cake with a creamy, delicious frosting. But if you come visit, talk to the students and professors, and see the range of opportunities we have to offer, you can make an informed decision about whether Yale has the right theory/practice balance for you. I just hope you like s'mores!
I noticed that there are two new questions on the application that ask whether I took an LSAT preparation course or had any assistance in preparing my application. Will it hurt my chances of being admitted if I took an LSAT prep course? Is it still okay to have an admissions consultant give me guidance on my application?
I have a feeling that your questions are on a lot of applicants' minds, so I'm glad you asked! Let me address the LSAT and application assistance questions separately.
For the LSAT, it's become the norm to take some type of preparation course (this is a change from one or two decades ago, when a relatively smaller portion of the applicant pool took such courses). Taking a course -- which helps students understand the test, gives guidance and practice on the different kinds of questions, and gives test-takers a psychological confidence boost -- can significantly help one's score. Of course, applicants who have a lot of self-discipline and organizational skills can self-study with the same (and sometimes better) benefits. But my guess is that most people aren't always as organized or disciplined, and generally take a course if they can -- for which they won't be penalized. These courses, however, are pretty pricey, and not all applicants have access to one. So, if I am looking at an application where a student self-studied, to me it's another piece of data in reviewing the application. That's not to say that a student who doesn't take a course and gets a lower score will get a "pass," or will have a lower standard applied to him or her, but it does allow me and other file readers to consider the resources that were or were not available to the applicant in preparing for the LSAT and weigh that along with the strengths and weaknesses of the other parts of the application.
With respect to the assistance received in preparing your application, I want to make sure that all applicants are evaluated on a level playing field. Most students take the time to prepare their application on their own, and will probably reach out to friends and family or the prelaw advisor at their college or university for guidance on essay ideas or proofreading. That's fine, and we hope and expect that you'll use these resources (though you should still disclose it on your application). However, some applicants go much further. For example, some students pay a lot of money for professional consultants -- some of whom are former admissions officials -- to help package their applications, which usually involves significant help on their personal statements. Others may get a similar level of feedback and editing from people they know. Now, a student who receives assistance on his or her application won't be automatically penalized or rejected. But I would like to know if a student received any help and to what extent: after all, I'm interested in evaluating the ideas and writing of the applicant, not those of the people who helped him or her. Most importantly, I want students who don't get a lot of assistance, or choose not to spend $500 or $5,000 dollars on a professional packaging service, to feel confident that their application -- even if it is not as slick and polished as some others -- will still get due, and fair, consideration
If you are considering getting an admissions consultant, think about why you need one. There's no blueprint for a law school application, and the most important thing about a personal statement, in my opinion, is authenticity. The only way to achieve that is to write your personal statement yourself, in your own voice. Honestly, there's not a lot of feedback about your personal statement that a "professional" consultant can give that someone who knows you well -- a friend, family member, or a trusted professor or college advisor -- couldn't give as well. Moreover, your PS is not necessarily the most important part of your application. The other aspects of your application, including your academic record, and your recommendations, tell admissions committees volumes about you, and no consultant can change or package those. Finally, remember that whatever type of assistance you receive, you must certify that your essays are your *original* work, which means that no one should be redrafting or rewording your essays except for you. My advice? Save your money for law school -- you're going to need it.
I am a senior in college and am planning to work or teach for a year or two after graduation. If I know I will be taking time off, is it better for me to apply now and defer, or wait until I'm ready to go to law school? If the former, how easy is it to get a deferral from YLS?
Your question is a good one, and the answer really depends on how clear your reasons are for attending law school. There are advantages and disadvantages to each option, but there is a middle ground that might be helpful.
Basically, the advantage to applying while you are still in school is that you're probably in a better position to put together your application. Obviously, you need to take the LSAT, if you haven't already, and most people probably find it easier to prepare and take the exam while they are still in school, both because they have more time to devote to it and because they are already in an academic mindset. I do see often that people who wait to take the LSAT until after they graduate find that the demands of their job don't give them enough time to study, and many students who end up working abroad encounter a lot of logistical difficulties in taking the test.
In addition, it's easier to get recommendations from professors who know you well while you are still in school. Most of the professors from whom you are likely to solicit recommendations have had you as a student within the past year or two, and so your performance in their classes are still fresh in their minds. Again, I often find that students who wait until they are out of school for a few years sometimes have difficulty getting detailed recommendations from professors, or will submit employer recommendations instead, which, in our faculty-driven admissions process, could hurt them.
Finally, applying while you are still in school and deferring just gives you peace of mind, since you have already "locked in" your plans following whatever it is that you plan to do for one or two years. It can make for a much more relaxed time period, and you can focus more clearly on whatever path you've chosen to take in that time.
On the other hand, students who wait to apply until they've had some real-world experience tend to have richer personal statements and are better able to clearly articulate their reasons for applying to law school. Often, the experiences they have had working or teaching clarify a lot of things they are passionate about and interested in, and they just have more reference points -- beyond just coursework, extracurricular activities, or summer internships -- to draw upon. In other words, students who have been out of school have the opportunity to offer a slightly more mature and nuanced perspective on how the path they have taken thus far corresponds to their future path in law school and beyond (though that will, of course, depend on the self-awareness and writing ability of the individual applicant).
One possible middle ground you can take is to go ahead and take the LSAT while you are still in school, and to also get your recommenders to write letters for you while you are still fresh in their minds. Your LSAT score will be valid for five years, and if you open an account with LSAC you can also put your recommendations on file for up to five years as well (many schools also provide a service through their career development offices that will hold recommendations on your behalf). You can then pursue whatever job you would like to take and, in the fall/spring before you're ready to matriculate, you can put together your essays and submit your application. This sacrifices the "peace of mind" point I made above, since you will have to devote some time and endure some stress during your time off applying to law school and waiting for decisions, but this path can combine the best of both worlds.
If you do decide to apply while you are still in school and defer -- and many people do this -- you should note that we have a "tiered" approach to granting deferrals. Generally speaking, we are very generous in granting one-year deferrals, provided that they are requested by our deposit deadline. You do need to make a formal request, and outline why the experience you're considering will enhance both your personal development and your legal education, but unless you're planning on living in your parents' basement for a year playing Guitar Hero, you should be able to meet this threshold. Once our deposit deadline has passed, however, we do expect a little more structure and focus in deferral requests, since at that point we have more or less finalized our class and would need to fill your spot with someone else from our wait list. So we would at that point only grant one-year deferrals on a case-specific basis.
For two year deferrals, the bar is a little higher. We generally expect requests for two-year deferrals to involve a commitment that in some way requires two years to complete. Examples of this are scholarships like the Rhodes or Marshall, Teach for America fellowships, or the Peace Corps. Other types of programs and commitments will be considered but we will want to know why you need two years, rather than one.
I should note that if you are already working at the time you apply and are admitted, the need to stay in your current job for one or two years isn't looked on too favorably. In other words, we expect that if you have already been out of school doing something and have applied to law school, it's because you're ready to go to law school. If you think that you need more time to complete projects in your current job, get a promotion, etc., then please wait to apply until you're ready to matriculate.
We do not grant three-year deferrals except in extreme cases. In fact, the only time I have granted a three-year deferral off the bat is for military service. In rare instances I have granted an extension of a two-year deferral for personal or medical reasons, family hardship, or for academically compelling reasons, like you are just about to finish a dissertation. And, regardless of the reasons, we do not under any circumstances grant deferrals or extensions beyond three years: at that point, a student's only option is to withfraw from Yale and to reapply, and readmission is not guaranteed.
I hope this answers your question, and that you'll enjoy your time off, regardless of when you apply!
I went to the Washington, D.C. law fair last July and picked up a Yale brochure, but I don’t see an application inside. Where can I get one?
I have been out of school for several years and am concerned about my recommendations. While I will be able to secure a recommendation from my employer, I also have some recommendations from my undergraduate work filed with a credential service. Because these recommendations speak more to my academic ability and performance, would it be wise to include one from my undergraduate years, even though they are several years old?
YES. In fact, I would strongly advise you to include at least TWO academic recommendations, if at all possible. And if you have the option of submitting a third work reference or a third academic reference (note that we only require two, so I emphasize the word OPTION), I would go with the latter.
As I noted in a previous post, we have a fairly unusual admissions process, which is faculty-driven. Yale Law School is an academically rigorous place to begin with, but given that we have professors making the bulk of admissions decisions on top of that, recommendations which speak to your academic ability will carry the most weight and influence in your application. In other words, professors care most about what other (surprise!) professors have to say about you.
In fact, in my experience, work references -- though they don't hurt -- don't add much to your application, either. That's not to say that your work experiences don't matter -- they do. But the value of most work experience comes in what you gleaned from it and how it has impacted your perspective and goals, and that's something that comes through best in your personal statement or 250-word essay.
This may go against the grain of what your prelaw advisors/"How to Get Into Law School" book/well-intentioned but underinformed friends and family tell you: namely, that you should try to give references that show that you are "well-rounded," and so having one from each area of your life -- college, work, volunteer -- is the best way to go. This may very well be true for other law schools. But the honest truth is that all else being equal, an applicant who has two or more academic references that attest to the fact that s/he is an intellectual superstar -- particularly across different disciplines relevant to law, like history, political science, economics, humanities, etc. -- will have an advantage over another applicant who only has one recommendation which speaks to academic strengths and another that says that s/he was a great team player.
Keep in mind that it is the detail provided in the reference, and not the grade that you received in the class, that matters most. This is a little hard to control since you will (if you are wise) waive your right to read the recommendation. But know that even a detailed reference from a TA who can give specific examples of your superior analytical ability, your writing, and the insights you were able to make into the subject material is preferable to a general, perfunctory reference from a big-name prof who gave you an A but can't remember what you look like. And someone who has worked with you over a period of time -- for example, a senior thesis advisor -- who can talk about a particular topic you've explored, the depth of your research, and the cogency of your argument, is an ideal recommender.
Some of you may have been out of school for a while and did not have an undergraduate credential service like C.L. If you really don't have someone who can write a strong academic reference for you, the next best thing is to get a work reference that speaks to the kinds of things I mentioned above: writing, analytical ability, logical reasoning (those sound weirdly familiar from another part of your application...). The closer this is to the legal world, the better (e.g., a judge or lawyer), but other employers can give the same kinds of information.
And if you are currently in school and planning to take time off before applying to law school, take the opportunity to approach your professors NOW, while your brilliance is still fresh in their minds, and get their references filed with LSAC (with which you can get an account for five years). That way, when you finally do apply, your academic references will be only a mouse click away!
I plan to apply to Yale Law School this fall and have some questions about your courses and programs. I’ve looked through your website, but it would be really helpful to talk with someone from the Admissions Office. I live in Atlanta and won’t be able to visit in person – would it be best to call?
Although we would love to gab with you, the honest truth is that if you call, we won’t be able to get back to you for a while. The fall is our recruiting season, so we are out of the office most of the time (and when we are here, we’re frantically gearing up for the next trip!).
The good news is that since you live in Atlanta, you can chat with one of us at the LSAC Forum in Atlanta on Friday and Saturday, October 26 and 27. Someone from the Admissions Office will also be at each of the other LSAC Forums in Boston, New York, Houston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco (for a complete list of dates and locations, please visit www.LSAC.org) as well as at law fairs in Miami and Philadelphia. We’ll also be making visits to several individual schools – please check our recruiting schedule to see whether we’ll be coming to your city or campus this fall.
If our paths won’t be able to cross at one of our recruitment events, you can send your question to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll respond as soon as we are able, though given our email volume it may take a few days. I hope we’ll get a chance to meet sometime this fall!
I'm interested in designing a joint JD/PhD program with Yale's Department of English. Can you tell me anything about whether Yale encourages individually designed programs? Does my unusual profile make me a more or less desirable candidate?
I’ve received a number of variations on the question of joint degrees, so I hope my response to this one will answer most of them.
First, let me explain how our joint degrees work. If you would like to do a joint degree with Yale Law School and another program, you must apply and be admitted to each program separately. During your first year or second year at Yale, you can petition the Faculty Committee on Special Courses of Study to do your joint degree with the other program. If you are approved, you will be allowed to use up to 12 units of coursework (about one term) from the other program towards your JD. This thus reduces your total in-residence time requirement at the Law School to five semesters, rather than the usual six.
The other program may, at your request, allow you to credit Law School coursework towards its program. In such a case, your total time required to complete that degree would be reduced as well. Certain programs, such as the Graduate, Divinity, Forestry, Management, and Medicine schools at Yale, as well as the Woodrow Wilson School for International and Public Affairs, have in practice approved such an arrangement. However, you may also pursue a joint degree with other programs and institutions; the caveat is that Yale Law School can only approve and grant credit for work completed for your JD; we have no control over whether the joint program will reciprocate. So, always check with the program or institution with which you are considering a joint degree to find out what their policy and requirements are and whether they will give you credit for Yale Law School coursework.
In considering a joint degree, you should think about a few things. First, as I mentioned previously, you must be enrolled at Yale to petition to do a joint degree, and at the time you petition, you must be accepted into the other program. This means that you either need to apply to the other program at the same time you apply to law school (or already be enrolled), or apply no later than your second year at Yale. The second thing to keep in mind is that you may only receive Law School credit for coursework completed prospectively, i.e., you cannot receive credit for any work you completed before you matriculated at the Law School. In this vein, if you are a PhD candidate who has reached ABD status, you cannot pursue a joint degree, and if you defer your entrance to Yale Law School to begin another program, you cannot use any of the work completed during your deferral towards your JD.
With respect to individually-designed programs, Yale encourages coursework outside the Law School within the parameters described above, if you are a joint degree candidate. If you are not a joint degree candidate, you can still take up to 12 units of class outside the Law School at the undergraduate, graduate, or professional schools (including up to two semesters of language courses!). There are also numerous courses cross-listed between other programs and the Law School each semester. So there are ample opportunities to get an interdisciplinary legal education without doing a joint degree.
Finally, an intention of doing a joint degree will have no impact on your chances for admission. We do ask on the application whether you are considering a joint degree—this is mainly for us to get a sense of students’ interests. However, at the point of admission, you will be evaluated solely for the JD program, so keep that in mind as you put together your application!
I have heard that Yale does not have a traditional Admissions Committee, like at most schools. Can you please explain how the admissions process works?
Sure thing. Basically, at Yale, the entire permanent faculty -- over 60 people -- serve as the "Admissions Committee." It works like this. First, I review each file. Files are read in the order they become complete -- in other words, we do not sort by grades or LSATs. At this stage, I am looking for whether you can 1) perform extremely well academically at Yale and 2) make a significant contribution to the composition of the incoming class, in terms of (among other things) experience, perspective, leadership, special skills, and future goals.
We are very fortunate to have many more people who fit the above criteria than we have room for in the incoming class. To this end, I send about 25% of our applicant pool -- close to 1,000 files -- to our faculty "Committees." At this stage, each application is sent, in a stack of about 50 files, to three faculty readers. Each faculty member uses his or her own criteria to rate each file on a scale of 2-4, with 4 being the highest. Each faculty member reads independently -- that is, the faculty member does not know who the other two readers of the file will be and so there is no discussion of the files with other people --and his or her scores are kept confidential from the other readers.
Once the application is circulated through the three readers, we add up the scores in the Admissions Office. All applicants who receive a 12 (straight 4s) and most who receive an 11 (two 4s and a 3) are admitted.
There are roughly 50-80 applicants each year who are "presumptive admits" and who bypass the three reader process. Instead, they are reviewed by myself and a a faculty member who serves as the Chair of the Admissions Committee. These are students who are truly outstanding in every way, not just scores -- again, we are trying to fill the class with interesting and well-rounded students, not just students who can take tests well! It's hard to articulate what places a student into the presumptive admit category, so I'll just borrow Justice Potter Stewart's view: I know it when I see it.
As you can see from our process, we have a very thorough review process, in which each file is read carefully by up to 4 readers. This process, which has been in place for as long as anyone can remember, allows the perspectives of a broad range of people -- not just a select few "admissions" folks -- to determine the depth and diversity of the class, and also gives each faculty member a personal stake in the outcome. The result is the most highly-qualified, interesting, and talented law school classes in the country and a close knit community for all those who come to Yale.
What it means for you, the applicants, is that your chances of getting into YLS are not just based on numbers. In fact, I have had several faculty members tell me that when they read files, they are not as concerned with numbers as they are with some other part of the application: some focus on the personal statement or the 250-word essay, others on the recommendations, and one even swears by the LSAT writing sample (I want to say he was joking, but I'm not actually sure). While this makes it difficult to know "why" someone does or does not get in, it also means that your entire application, not just your scores, mean a lot to us.
So, take the opportunity to shine in every aspect of your application -- there is someone who will notice!
I often tell applicants that applying to Yale Law School is a lot like playing blackjack. The odds are on the house, there's more than a little luck involved, but there are a few basic rules you can follow to increase your chances significantly. One of those rules is to submit two references from faculty members who have taught you in a class. Let me put that another way: Your chances of admission to Yale Law School go down drastically if you submit only one or no academic letters of recommendation. Or let me break it down even further: Your letters of recommendation will make or break your application.
[Commence mass applicant freak-out.]
I realize this goes against what you have been hard-wired to believe, namely, that your admission depends almost exclusively on your LSAT and GPA. I remember reading on some admissions consulting blog that your letters of recommendations don't really matter, so you shouldn't spend too much time figuring out who will write them (which could explain why I'm skeptical of admissions consultants). To be fair, this could be true for some law schools. I imagine that a school that admits a very large number of people might focus more on numbers, and use the recommendations just to ensure that the student isn't a serial killer or something. Well, at Yale, we like to ensure that you are not a serial killer and that you are a joy to teach.
The two issues in play here are 1) numbers and 2) process. In terms of numbers, I send the top 20% of the applicant pool on to the faculty to be reviewed. That's around 700 applications, all of which are comparable in terms of grades, scores, writing ability, leadership, saving orphans, etc. These 700 files have to be whittled down by another 75%. Process-wise, the people doing the whittling down are professors. They think everyone looks great. So how do they make distinctions among all these amazing files? They look at what their colleagues have to say about you. Do you ever wonder why someone with a 3.95/178 gets rejected but someone with a 3.81/172 gets in? It's because of comments like these (these are actual or close approximations to verbiage from LORs of students who have been accepted in the past):
"[Applicant] is hands down the single best undergraduate I have ever taught in my 37 years of teaching. Period."
"[Student A] and [Student B], both of whom I taught, are currently at Yale Law School. [Applicant] is better than both of them put together."
"At that point in the discussion I almost sat down and let [Applicant] teach the class—s/he could have done a better job."
"Any admissions officer who doesn't admit [Applicant] is—and I beg your pardon—an idiot."
Over the top? Possibly. But these are the kind of subjective evaluations you are up against. Even in the screening stage, if I know that you don't stand a chance of being admitted by the faculty—because, for example, in spite of your pretty good numbers you have offered little or no corroboration of your academic ability from professors who have taught you—I may not send you on at all. It really depends on how good the rest of your application is (though to be honest, it's even more of a red flag if you have a straight-A average and couldn't manage to come up with two faculty references . . . it makes me wonder whether you are hiding something, like a serious personality defect or crippling social disorder).
If you're reading this post and realized that you didn't submit two academic references, mild to moderate panic would be appropriate. You should then try to get a second letter. If your application is already complete, it is possible—and likely—that your application has already been reviewed as is, but the second letter can be helpful in the event that I go back to your file for any reason or if you are placed on the wait list.
NOTE: If you DID submit two academic letters, you do NOT need to submit additional ones at this point. I'm sure some economist could graph this out for me, but there is an optimal number of LORs for Yale and it's somewhere around 2.4. This is because of the "meh" factor. If you submit two references that are stellar, and then one that is just "meh," you immediately bring down the impact of the two great ones. There are some students who manage to find three professors who knock it out of the park for them, but many fall into the "meh" trap. Unless you are absolutely certain that your third recommendation is going to be beyond amazing, just sit tight. And please don't send more than three . . . that's just overkill.
One final observation. I've noticed that I get mixed reviews whenever I try to give honest application tips and insider advice. For example, in a recent discussion on TLS about my post a few years ago stating emphatically that there is no correlation between when you are admitted and whether you are an auto-admit or admitted by faculty, a poster asked, "Does she really expect us to believe that?"
It's funny—it had never occurred to me that I could use this blog as a vehicle for mass deception about Yale's admissions process. Though I can see how the image of me sitting at my desk, laughing maniacally about throwing applicants "off the trail" while stroking a very mean and fluffy cat, might fit in with your experience of the law school admissions process generally. I kind of like the image myself. Sadly, the reality is that I'm usually slogging through admissions files while eating a stale hummus wrap from the dining hall, taking occasional breaks to check email and compulsively buy Groupons. Besides, even if I wanted to, it wouldn't be a good idea for me to lie about the admissions process on a blog read by several members of Yale's own faculty. Especially after I just wrote a post entitled, "Please Don't Lie." (For what it's worth, about 20% of faculty are done reading before the winter break, so you could be an auto admit OR a faculty admit even if you are admitted in December.)
But, whatever, I'm just the messenger, people. *shrugs*
So it's that time of year when I casually troll through some of the discussion boards out there, just to see what you guys are chatting about. I'm usually amused by some of the "facts" circulating out there -- "Yale has already admitted 80% of its class!!!" "There hasn't been anyone admitted since Dec. 23!!" "Yale is only accepting math majors who play intramural softball!!"-- as though LSN is the representative universe of all of our admits (it is not). Please do not fret. We have not filled our class (or come close to it) and we are admitting students weekly. I am hoping that this assurance will stop a decidedly unamusing trend that seems to have begun earlier than usual this year: calling the Admissions Office, or me personally, to find out the status of your application. I feel like it's my duty, at this point, to step in and let you know: DON'T DO IT. This is an example of what those of us from the previous SNL generation would refer to as Bad Idea Jeans, and I've decided to make B.I.J. a regular column in this blog to help guide applicants through proper admissions etiquette.
Before you read further, please repeat after me: "My application is under active review and Yale will notify me as soon as there is a final decision." Again. Good. Now you can keep going.
Full disclosure: I am 5 months pregnant, which means I am fat, exhausted, and pretty cranky most of the time. That's reason numero uno for not calling to ask about your status. But there are other reasons as well. First, calling about your status tells me that you are either not a regular reader of 203 or don't read the blog very carefully -- for if you had, you would know from previous posts that we send out decisions much later than most schools. Second, your call tells me that you are unaware of the fact that there are roughly 2,000 other people in your same position, but who are waiting patiently in line to hear from us. "I've heard from some other schools, and it would really help me in the planning process if I could know where I stand with Yale." We know. (P.S. -- telling a pregnant woman that you need predictability is more like a bad idea tuxedo.) Finally, I generally have a meeting, a food craving, or a bathroom run every 30 minutes or so, so my stretches of uninterrupted time are precious to me. If you are calling to find out your status, there had better be a VERY good reason.
What might such a reason look like? Oh, I don't know. I can see an appropriate phone call going something like this:
Me: "Hello, this is Asha."
Caller: "Please hold for the President."
Me: "Uh, OK."
2 minutes of The Pointer Sisters, in musak.
The President: "Hello Asha. This is the President. I'm calling to find out about the status of [your name]'s application. I have just offered [your name] a sensitive position in my cabinet, but s/he tells me that s/he cannot commit until there is a final decision from Yale."
At this point, I would have to explain awkwardly to the President that for privacy reasons, I can neither confirm nor deny that such an applicant has applied to Yale, but if that person would like to call me directly, I would be glad to speak with him/her. You could then very legitimately call me and ask about your status. My answer would still be (repeat after me), "Your application is under active review and we will notify you as soon as we have a final decision." But at least I wouldn't be P.O.'d at you. In fact, I might think you're kinda cool.
So that is my B.I.J. lesson for the day. Please be patient. We are working very hard to read your applications thoroughly and we promise to get you an answer as soon as we can. OK, gotta run -- I'm about to eat this keyboard!
I find it astonishing that I have to address Character & Fitness issues every year, but despite having written about being completely candid in your application, every year I come across applications that provoke me to shut the door of the admissions office and have a private Donkey Kong moment with my staff (they don't judge).
What's been bugging me lately is the very cavalier attitude some students appear to have toward their character and fitness addenda. I'm talking about stuff like (and this is an actual one), "I was arrested for possession of a controlled substance while crossing the U.S. border in 2010. I went to court and received three months' probation."
And that's it.
I suppose the person writing this expects my reaction to be something like, "Oh, OK. Thanks for letting me know." Typically, though, I stare at a statement like this and wonder if it's worth even asking the applicant for more details or whether I should assume that someone who lacks the judgment to know that phrases like "controlled substance," "at the border," and "arrested" ought to be explained more fully is probably not going to make a very good lawyer.
To give you guys the benefit of the doubt, though, I'll offer up some basic guildelines on how to write a C&F addendum. A C&F Bootcamp, if you will. Here we go:
1. State All the Relevant Facts. Here's a little tip about law school. On your first day, you or one of your classmates will be cold-called by a professor. The first words that are almost guaranteed to come out of his/her mouth are, "Please state the facts of this case." You are then expected to provide a narrative that explains what facts and circumstances gave rise to the particular issue the court happens to be considering in that case. So, if you answer "Yes" to either of our C&F questions, here's a chance for you to practice doing this. Think of it as a story. Who, What, Where, When, How (we'll get to the Why in a second). A few pointers:
*If you were arrested and charged with a crime, you should state specifically what you were charged with. It's helpful if you can indicate whether it was a misdemeanor or a felony.
*Depending on the particular issue in question, you'll need to mention certain details. For example, if you are discussing a drug violation, it's important to note 1) the type of drug involved and 2) the quantity. (I'm a former federal agent. I'm familiar with the amounts that would make it unlikely that you planned to use it all for your personal consumption.) Similarly, depending on the kind of issue you are dealing with, YOU should make a judgment about what facts an admissions committee might consider relevant to your candidacy, even if those facts don't put you in the most awesome light possible. This is about candor, not about making yourself look good. In fact, an honest, forthcoming statement of what happened reflects much more favorably upon you than vaguely-worded statements that just make you look hinky. (And in general, if you don't fill in the blanks, I will, and I will assume the worst scenario possible.)
*Dates are important. Proximity in time is a big factor in evaluating your C&F issue. I.e., doing something really, really dumb ten years ago is usually more exusable than doing something just sorta dumb ten months or ten weeks before you applied to law school. For this reason, please indicate the month, day, and year when your incident took place, rather than saying "when I was in college" or "a long time ago." If the incident occurred soooo long ago that you don't remember the actual date and have no record of it, you may use the legalese, "on or about [estimate month/year]...." (and then note that you have no record or recollection of the precise date so you don't look like a tool).
2. Describe the Disposition of the Charge. Again, this is like practicing for law school, where you'll have to know the procedural posture of a case. That means you have to be able to describe the journey the case took and where it ended up. If you have a criminal infraction, you'll need to indicate whether you went before a judge and how your charge was ultimately adjudicated. This includes if you pleaded no contest or if whatever sentence you received has since been expunged: both of these scenarios would still fall under the purview of our question. If it's an academic violation, you must describe any disciplinary proceedings of which you were a part even if you were not ultimately sanctioned. To emphasize that last part, even if your college tells you that there will be "no record" of the disciplinary proceedings/actions against you in your student file after you graduate, our question asks whether you have ever been the subject of disciplinary proceedings. Therefore, unless you can reverse history by flying backwards around the earth really fast, you MUST answer "Yes" to our question. (Yes, I am looking at you, Yale College. Sorry.)
3. Take Responsibility for Your Actions. Here's where we get to the "Why" of your C&F addendum. What you need to do here is reflect on what happened and demonstrate an understanding of why what you did was wrong. Again, you'll need to use your judgment in terms of how much to say. Accepting responsibility for something like a DUI or plagiarism is probably going to require a longer mea culpa than something like being arrested for public urination (really, what more is there to say on that than it was gross and inappropriate)? A few notes on responsibility:
*You may have had personal circumstances that you feel were relevant to the incident. If so, you can include these so that the admissions committee can consider the "totality of the circumstances" surrounding your C&F issue. You should be careful, though, to make clear that you are offering up this personal context as an explanation, not as an excuse.
*You should explain how you have learned from the incident so that the admissions committee can be confident that you are not going to repeat the behavior again. "Learning from the incident" does not mean writing about how scary jail is, or how terrible you felt telling your parents, or how worried you were about whether you would get into law school. (Focusing on how bad it was for YOU makes you look narcissistic and like you don't really get it.) Rather, it means showing an objective and critical self-awareness of your own behavior, why you made the choices you did, and how you have changed and matured in such a way that, given the same or similar situation in the future, you would not make the same (poor) choices again.
I hope that this guide helps you to write a complete C&F addendum. If you're worried that your addendum will be too long, don't be. I love popcorn. I'm happy to pop a bag and curl up on the couch with my cat to read everything you need to say. And despite my former profession (or perhaps because of it), I'm actually inclined to be quite forgiving...as long as you tell it to me straight.
Some of you may remember the new B.I.J. feature I introduced a couple of months ago. We'll, it's time for a new lesson, as I know many of you are on the wait list (either at Yale or elsewhere, some of this info may still be useful to you). Before we begin, I'd like you to take a brief quiz. Please watch the following clip:
Now, choose one response that best describes your reaction:
a) I would rather be waterboarded than watch that again.
b) Give the guy a break, everyone does that now and then.
c) Why call when you can show up in person?
If you answered (a), you can probably skim the rest of this post. If you answered (b), you should read this post carefully, as you may be at risk for B.I.J. For anyone who answered (c) and is currently on the Yale wait list, please send an email with your name, LSAC number, and "My answer to the quiz is (c)" in the subject line. It will be extremely helpful to me -- thanks!
So look. I get it. This is a very stressful time, and you really want to come to Yale, and you want to let us know that. But here's the deal: there is a fine line between enthusiasm and...stalker. At this critical juncture, it is important to keep the OCD in check, at least until you get your foot in the door. Here are some suggestions to help you do that:
1. Status Checks. I think you know my feelings on status checks. While it may appear at first glance that such a check would be more applicable to a wait list than for general admission, it isn't -- at least not at Yale. Your status is that you are waitlisted. We do not rank our wait list, so there's not much more to report to you than that. When I get an opening, I cull through the people we have on our wait list and select someone who I think will best complete the class as it is comprised at that moment. And no, that doesn't not mean I try to fill the spot with someone with the exact same "profile" -- that's actually not really possible to do since to get on our wait list you have to be pretty accomplished and interesting and therefore somewhat different than everyone else. Anyway, despite what the guidebooks tell you, please don't call to ask about your status. If we get an opening, and we think you'd be a great addition to the class, we'll call you.
2. LOCIs. These are actually useful. Sort of. When I get an opening in the class, I do want to fill it as soon as possible. Therefore, it's helpful to have something in the file that says, "Yale is my first choice and I will definitely come if admitted." Unfortunately, people have been known to lie on this front so I don't place a ton of weight on such letters, but the fact that you made an effort to say something does offer a feather on the scale in your favor. However, if I open the file to find several letters, odes to Yale, journal entries, head shots, etc. then you are venturing way too far into Mikeyland and really not doing yourself a favor. One. LOCI. Punto.
3. Letters of Recommendation. These are generally not as useful and won't make much of a difference in whether you are admitted off the wait list. I say this because usually the stream of LORs we get from wait list people tend to come from employers, high-ranking politicians, and other people who are probably very nice individuals but who do not carry a whole lot of weight in our admissions process. As I've mentioned before, the type of recommendations that we really pay attention to are academic references. To that end, if there is a professor whom you've blown away with your brilliance in the last couple of months (like s/he supervised a senior thesis that just won a departmental award, for instance), by all means have him or her write to us. But please do not clutter your file with a high volume of low-impact pieces of paper. Remember, what you choose to add to your file is a reflection of your judgment, and we do not want to admit people with poor judgment.
4. Supplemental Materials. Please don't. If I want to read your thesis, I will ask for it. (I have done this exactly once in my entire time as Admissions Dean -- to someone who was already admitted. He had done some mathematical modeling of traffic flow through the Holland Tunnel and, having spent a good portion of my waking hours while living in NYC stuck in that tunnel, I was curious. But that's it.) Other things -- work writing samples, video clips, news articles -- honestly, I just don't have the time. If there is a specific accomplishment about which you'd like us to know, you can send us a short -- short! -- statement indicating what it is, with a link or a polite offer to provide more information by request. Ideally, you would combine any such updates into your LOCI (see #2) so that you provide a professional, comprehensive, and concise update to your file which reiterates your interest.
5. Visits. In the event that you are offered a spot on the wait list, you need to be prepared to give an answer ASAP (within anywhere from 24-72 hours, depending on how close we are to registration day). This is not the time that we are going to be able to court you, provide travel subsidies to fly out, connect you with students and professors, etc. There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, we are trying to fill the class. Every extra day/hour/minute you take to make your decision is time that the person who is "on deck" behind you is spending making plans to enroll elsewhere (including placing deposits on an apartment, buying books, etc.). Just as you want to be able to change your plans as soon as possible, so do the others waiting with you -- please be considerate. Second, once classes are over next week, our students and professors start leaving (a lot of exams happen remotely). We just don't have people around to connect you with.
Basically, if seeing Yale in person, sitting in on classes, and talking with students will be critical to your decision to accept an offer from the wait list, the time to do these things is NOW. The only unknown piece of information (from our end) that should stand in the way of your accepting an offer from the wait list is your financial aid package, which we will try to get to you as soon as practicable after you are admitted. By keeping your name on the wait list, we assume that you have considered all the other factors and are ready to make a decision on very short notice.
6. Deferrals. We don't offer them. For anything. Punto. Again, we are trying to fill a spot for this fall. Even if you get offered a Rhodes or Marshall or some other amazing opportunity, your only choice is to turn down the other opportunity or withdraw and reapply. My advice to you, if you do get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that will prevent you from enrolling this fall, is to take it -- you can always reapply, and your application will be richer for your experience. (If you do turn down a Rhodes or Marshall to stay on the wait list, please send an email with your name, LSAC number, and "My answer to the quiz is (c)" in the subject line -- thanks!)
Oh, and one more thing. We really can't send individual confirmations for every piece of mail we receive, email or otherwise. We're not Amazon -- we're the Yale Admissions Office, with literally two people handling thousands of files. If you really need confirmation, I would recommend that you use the U.S. Postal system (the most reliable in the world) and get something called "Delivery Confirmation" for about 50 cents. If the online tracker tells you that it arrived at the Law School, then it will make its way to our office and your file. I promise.
As we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, many of you are putting the finishing touches on your law school applications. You might also be getting a few cooking tips from some of the great chefs at The Food Network. We here at 203 are especially big fans of Sandra Lee, host of TFN's Semi-Homemade with Sandra Lee. For those of you who aren't familiar with Aunt Sandy, as we like to call her, you should really check out her show, not least because she offers numerous opportunities to exclaim, out loud, "Oh no she didn't."
Needless to say, we were THRILLED when we found out after the elections earlier this month that Aunt Sandy is now officially the First Girlfriend of the Great State of New York. My post-election SHWSL-watching marathon got me thinking about law school applications (and how I could work in a gratuitous blog reference to her show). This came on the heels of a pretty standard query from an applicant about whether he ought to include one (and maybe two!) academic papers in his application package, so that the admissions committee could get a sense of his academic interests. While this wasn't a particularly unreasonable question (although the answer was no, and no) it did make me remember some instances when applicants clearly lost their minds in an effort to "stand out" in the admissions process.
Like the applicant last year who wrote her 250-word essay . . . in rap. Or the guy who included a self-addressed rejection letter in his application (with a typo). Or the applicant who mentioned ten times that she was a "blogger," and practically forced me to check out her blog—only to find that it contained exactly six posts, the last one being a description of wearing her skimpiest outfit to a bar and asking a random man there to "rate" her. Oh no she didn't! Uh, yes she did.
What does this have to do with dear Aunt Sandy? Well, if you've watched her show, you know that, after preparing a mind-bending cocktail, she ends each episode with an elaborate "tablescape." A friend (and obvious TFN novice) asked me, "Is a tablescape a painting of a table setting?" No, dear heart. That would be somewhat dignifed, and require at least a little talent. Tablescapes are best experienced in the context of an actual show, but here is a small sampling:
You get the idea. There are some things—like color-coordinating your kitchen to your outfit—that seem like a very good idea . . . but aren't. Therefore, you should always double-check your application for sound judgment before you hit send. Ask yourself, "Is there anything in my application that resembles a Sandra Lee tablescape?" To wit, does your application include anything that is:
1) Not required, completely unnecessary, and suggestive of an altered mental state?
2) Liable to frighten small children and/or offend the elderly?
3) Pretty much guaranteed, in the land of the sane, to put your application in the reject pile?
Remember: you don't need to "stand out"—you just need to be solid. If you've double checked your applications and have sent them into the black hole of admissions review, congratulations! As you wait—either for your admissions decision or your turkey to cook—you might want to try out one of Aunt Sandy's "recipes":
Oh yes . . . she did.
You know, I didn't get around to many BIJ posts this year, mainly because it's been a good season. Applicants were very well-behaved—even the admitted students who turned down our offers this year (yes, people do turn us down, and it makes me very sad) were extremely humble, gracious, and kind.
So if I'm in such a good mood, why am I in BIJ-land again? Well, it's that weird time of year where we're waiting for the dust to settle on the incoming class (no wait list activity yet, for those who are wondering), and I thought I'd come clean about the ONE THING in applications that Drives. Me. Crazy.
Take a look at the following sentences:
1. My favorite part of the 203 Blog is "Bad Idea Jeans."
2. My favorite part of the 203 Blog is "Bad Idea Jeans".
Don't know what I'm talking about?
Do you see how, in the first example, the period is neatly, soothingly, and ecstasy-producingly tucked within the quotation marks? And then do you see how, in the second example, the period is about to float off into space, making me want to kill myself?
That's what I'm talking about.
Perhaps you think I am being too nitpicky. You might be saying, "Is there some rule that says I have to keep the period inside the quotation marks? Or are you just doing one of your random Asha things where you are finding reasons to ding people?"
The only random criterion I use to ding people is choice of font. In this case, however, there is, in fact, a rule. It's called the American rule. (I'm kidding about the font thing, BTW, just wanted to make sure you're paying attention.)
You see, the British decide which punctuation mark goes within the quotes based on the quote itself. This rule is also known as the "logic" rule, and is consistently applied regardless of whether you are using a period, comma, exclamation point, or any other form of punctuation. The American, or "convenience" rule, by contrast, always defaults to placing commas and periods inside the quotation marks, regardless of their usage in the original quote. Other punctuation marks exclamation points, question marks, colons, etc.—follow the British rule. (If you are thoroughly confused, please see here for more explanation, including the historical underpinnings of this discrepancy.)
Now, you may be tempted to argue that, as future lawyers, you ought to follow the "logical" rule all the time and use the British form without fear of persecution. But let's dig a little deeper into the so-called "logic" of our cousins across the pond. Let's say we do decide to follow them down this path of punctuation consistency. What's next? Will we wake up tomorrow and find that our bars all close at 10? That we eat french fries with mayonnaise? That we have a shortage of orthodontists? Where do we draw the line?
Look. Apart from the whole Noor Diamond thing, which should really be returned to my people, I love the British. I mean, who couldn't spend an entire day browsing in Boots (now available in Target, but alas without the Boots-y atmosphere)? We could also learn a thing or two from a country where you won't find a single man wearing pleated pants. But I'm sorry to say that unless you grew up referring to the last letter of the alphabet as "Zed," you need to support your troops on this one and stick with the American rule.
I'll admit that I did second-guess myself on this a few times, and decided to confirm my instincts with our beloved writing instructor, Rob Harrison (who, incidentally, reviews admissions files). Here is what he wrote to me:
I concede that the British practice of placing commas and periods outside quotation marks has a lot to recommend it. For one thing, the British practice seems more honest and accurate because it makes clear that the quoted material did not itself end with a comma or a period; those punctuation marks are the work of the writer quoting the material. But, as Brandeis said, sometimes it's more important that things be settled than settled right; and in this country it is settled that commas and periods go inside quotation marks. Therefore, when I see students or lawyers following the British practice, I view the result as an error, not a stylistic preference, much as I would consider "favour" a mis-spelling of "favor" and driving on the left side of the road a criminal offense. When in Rome . . . .
When in Rome, indeed. Smashing.
Since I introduced 203's B.I.J. feature last spring, many of you have waited anxiously for the next post, perhaps for no other reason than to discover a new 80's reference you've never heard of as reaffirmation that you're still under 30, so things really can't be all that bad. I hadn't been inspired for a while, as things have been going well: baby's sleeping through the night, the Yankees won the World Series, and I had a chance to get out and see New Moon in the movie theater (Werewolves. v. Vampires -- feel free to discuss in the comments). But since it has started getting dark here at 4:30 p.m., my Seasonal Affective Disorder has slowly set in, and I'm ready to impart a new lesson.
I guess it goes without saying that setting your pants on fire is Bad Idea Jeans, not the least because you would no longer have said jeans. But what I'm referring to here is lying on your application.
Now, there're no shortage of opportunities for you to put untruths, partial-truths, omissions, or exaggerations on your application. For the most part, we probably won't know. (I will refer you here, though, to the part of the application you sign which says, "I understand Yale Law School may verify information included in my application." This means we can, and sometimes do, randomly snoop around to see whether you're actually the person you say you are -- more on that in a future Bad Idea Jeans: Greatest Hits.) But there is one part of the application in which you are unlikely to get away with lying, and that is the Character and Fitness questions, which vary from law school to law school but appear on our application as follows:
Question 11. Have you ever been convicted of, or pleaded guilty or no contest to, a felony or misdemeanor, or are there any criminal charges pending against you at the present time?
Question 12. At any college or university, have you ever been suspended, expelled, or required to withdraw, or been the subject of any other disciplinary action or proceedings for misconduct or deficient scholarship, or are there any charges pending against you?
Simple enough, right? Sadly, we see time and again how these questions cause enormous anxiety, and sometimes ongoing problems, for law school applicants and students.
See, we're not going to be the last people to ask you these kinds of questions. You could probably breeze into law school using a Clintonesque "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is" self-rationalization to avoid disclosing your past. You could even whistle through another three years, line up a cushy clerkship and job, and start picking out the furniture for your 300-square foot Manhattan studio from Pottery Barn. But at some point, you will find yourself applying to the bar of some state, only to stop dead in your tracks when you see something like the following (taken from the New York State bar application):
Have you ever, either as an adult or juvenile, been cited, arrested, taken into custody, charged with, indicted, convicted or or tried for, or pleaded guilty to, the commission of any felony or misdemeanor or the violation of any law, except minor parking violations, or been the subject of juvenile delinquency or youthful offender proceedings? If you answer yes, state the charge or charges, the disposition thereof and the underlying facts. Although a conviction may have been expunged from the records by an order of the court, it nevertheless should be disclosed in the answer to this question. Please note that you should have available and be prepared to submit or exhibit copies of police and court records regarding any matter you disclose in reply to this question.
What happens is that when you answer this question, the Character and Fitness Committee from your state comes back to us (or whichever law school you graduated from), and asks the Registar or Dean of Students whether your answers match what you disclosed on your applications. Now, if you are observant, you'll notice that our questions don't exactly match the bar question. Guess what? IT DOESN'T MATTER. The bar committees will freak out when they see that your law school application disclosures don't match your bar application disclosures, and they're going to want to know more. They're going to give the new information to your law school, and ask your school (more specifically, the Dean of Admissions) to warrant that you would have still been admitted had s/he known the new information. They're going to ask you why you didn't disclose the information earlier. They're going to go through the rest of your application with a fine-toothed comb. In short, you're going to have to go through a lot of red tape, have a P.O.'d alma mater, and, if what you didn't originally disclose was actually pretty bad, find yourself with a rescinded law degree and/or unable to sit for the bar.
Lest you think I'm being too preachy, I'll confess that I'm no saint, either. When I applied to the FBI, I had to undergo a polygraph examination. I remember getting to the FBI office, and seeing a tall, burly, old guy with a crew cut fiddling around with a bunch of wires and hookups on what looked like a medieval torture machine. I sat down, and he ignored me. He suddenly turned around and pulled up his chair directly across from me, about ten inches from my face.
"Character," he said, locking eyes, "is what you do when you think no one is looking."
Crap. I had just jaywalked across Church Street and blown off the homeless lady selling flowers. Had they been trailing me?
During the four-hour interrogation that followed, I proceeded to scour my mental rolodex and barf out every moral infraction I could think of. Like the time I "borrowed" some printer paper from my job to use at home. Or the time I tried to use a fake Nebraska ID to get into a Georgetown bar (I was rejected). Or the time I kinda sorta traveled to Cuba, you know...illegally. I cried; the polygrapher thanked me and told me I spoke very good English.
The point is that we all have skeletons in our closet, and when it comes to law school and practicing law, a bone or two will come flying out sooner or later. It's in your interest to have it be sooner. To help you out, here are a few things to consider:
1. If you need to consult an attorney about whether or not to disclose something, then you probably need to disclose it (despite what your attorney tells you).
2. If what you've done is enough to keep you out of law school, it's almost certainly going to keep you from practicing law. You might as well know now, because while getting rejected from law school is bad, graduating from law school with $150K of debt and no way to pay it back is even worse.
3. Business schools don't ask you these kinds of questions.
One last thing. I've read close to around 10,000 files at this point, and to be honest, I've seen very few transgressions that would ipso facto disqualify someone from admission to law school. But here's the deal: a lack of candor, even about an otherwise excusable incident, raises serious questions about your fitness to practice law. Remember that Martha Stewart didn't get convicted for an actual securities violation (there wasn't one), she was convicted for LYING about it. So set yourself free: tell the truth. (And by the way, please don't try to end run the question by omitting an answer on your application and then sending an email to the general admissions address that you "forgot" to mention your DUI, or whatever -- that just makes you look sketchier.)
OK, I'll end with a gratuitous 80's reference (extra credit for readers over 30: Haim v. Feldman -- please discuss):
In addition to performing my regular, admissions dean-y duties, I get approached by a variety of media people throughout the year asking for "help." Sometimes these are authors writing books on how to get into law school. Sometimes they are undergraduate school newspapers. And sometimes it's a British educational company asking for my photo to include in one of their textbooks (true story). I won't comment on the requests I grant and don't grant, except to say that in general, I try to place at the top of my considerations whether you, the applicant, would benefit from it and ideally, whether there's an alternative way I can get the same information to you with less pressure on me.
I was discussing this issue with a few of my colleagues from Stanford, Michigan, NYU, Chicago, and Columbia earlier this year, after we all received the same FAQs from a national news magazine. (Yes, we do talk to each other—in fact, once a year, we all get together at a snazzy beach resort and drink fruity drinks into the wee hours of the morning. What happens during fruity drinks stays with the fruity drinks, so I'll leave it at that.) It occurred to us that many of us created blogs for precisely this reason—to get the information you are looking for to you without any intermediaries. So we decided to employ the economies of scale created by joining our blogs, and below we bring to you our collective answers to the FAQs we received. I've only posted two of our questions here; you can find our answers to the others at the Columbia Admissions Blog, the Michigan Admissions Blog, and the Stanford Admissions Blog. The panelists include deans Ann Perry(Chicago), Nkonye Iwerebon (Columbia), Sarah Zearfoss (Michigan), Ken Kleinrock (NYU), and Faye Deal (Stanford).
I encourage you all, by the way, to visit the blogs written by my colleagues during the admissions season. For one thing, all of them have been doing this for much longer than I have, so their collective wisdom—as evidenced by the below answers—will be useful to you. Also, you can learn something about the "human" side of each of us: for example, that Dean Deal is a fan of Criminal Minds, but not glow-in-the-dark karma string; or that Dean Zearfoss references esoteric literary works—as opposed to popular teenage vampire movies, as I do; or that Dean Iwerebon has great fashion sense (that's not really on her blog, but I happen to know that). It helps to know your audience when you're preparing your application, so use the resources available to you. Enjoy!
What do you look for in the personal statement?
Yale: This is the law school admissions equivalent of, "How do you know God exists?" Such a big question, and there's usually no way to answer it with enough specificity to satisfy the person asking it. But I'll do my best. What I look for in a personal statement is a sense of how the person thinks. That is, I am less concerned about someone's substantive interests - though that of course tells me a lot about the applicant and what they would add to and benefit from at Yale - than I am in their ability to analyze those interests and how they relate to their own past experiences and future goals. That's a very vague and circuitous way of saying that I am looking for someone who can "connect the dots" in their life. How do your goals and interests relate to the personal turning points in your life? Your work experiences? Your academic and intellectual journey? What questions have you sought answers to, and what questions remain unanswered? In short, your personal statement should demonstrate an ability to think critically about yourself and your place in the world around you.
Oh, and "I love to argue" is not a good theme for a personal statement.
Stanford: I try to get a sense of who you are through your own words. I've heard from your recommenders and now I want to hear about you from YOU. You all have stories to tell about growing up in a small town, about a teacher who made a big impression on you, about a life-altering event, about losing a parent, about a trip to a far corner of the world, about a work experience that has led you to this personal statement - lots of options. Decide which story you're going to tell me so that I can walk away after reading it thinking I know you just a little better. And, never forget, that good writing is essential.
NYU: Agree completely with the suggestions from Dean Rangappa and Dean Deal. You could approach the personal statement as your opportunity to have "an interview" with admissions officer. If you had fifteen minutes, what question do you hope would be asked? What story would you tell? What do you hope the interviewer would remember about you? The best statements are heartfelt, sincere, straightforward and above all, beautifully written.
Columbia: So much to say on this topic, but let I will limit my comments to the following: I agree with all of the above and would like to expand on one thing-sincerity. It is fairly obvious to us when an applicant tries to be someone or something s/he is not, which is not only off-putting, but can also cast a shadow of doubt on other parts of your application. Be sure that when you talk about future goals, e.g., saving Alaskan whales, it is because you have a demonstrated interest in doing so and not simply because you might have gone on an Alaskan Whale Watching Cruise. We really want to know you who you are and what motivates you, albeit in two pages or less. One last quick thing . . . please do not restate your résumé as that would be such a waste of a great opportunity to express yourself in a meaningful way.
Michigan: This is all completely excellent advice. I disagree with none of it. The only thing I would add is that you ought not worry about appearing exceptional in your personal statement; I talk to so many applicants who feel stymied because they have not yet won, say, the Nobel Prize, and worry that without some massive achievement to point to, they will appear wanting. Not so. The vast majority of applicants do not have the sort of life stories that generate made-for-TV movies, and that is not the standard we are applying. Be yourself, and don't worry about who you're not.
Chicago: The personal statement is the first part of the application that I review. It is where the applicant has the opportunity to really make an impression with the Admissions Committee. I don't want to repeat too much of my colleagues comments because I agree with them. However, I do want to remind applicants that this is a writing sample that you are submitting with your application. Therefore, it should be some of your best work, meaning that there should be no typos, misspellings, etc. Also, one of my biggest pet peeves is when I receive a personal statement addressed to another law school. I know it doesn't really sound like a big deal and mistakes can happen, but remember lawyers need to pay attention to the details, and this type of mistake just sets a wrong tone when I am reading the personal statement and causes me to lack confidence in the applicant.
Can you give a brief description of the lifecycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Yale: Oooh. I get to go first on this one, since Yale is the pariah of releasing decisions. Our admissions process takes longer than most schools, because we involve our entire faculty in the admissions process. I've described the admissions process here. As anyone who's been to law school can attest, it's hard enough to get a professor to turn in grades, let alone a stack of 50 admissions files. Multiply that by 60 and you have my reasons for wanting to fling myself out a window from about December through April. Seriously, though, while our process is time-consuming, it does ensure that every application is read very thoroughly, regardless of grades and LSAT scores, by up to 6 readers (which includes me and in tough cases, my entire admissions staff). So we don't make any decision lightly.
As a result of our process, your chances of admission are the same regardless of when you apply. Many applicants will hear within a couple of months of applying, but applicants who go through the full round of faculty review, as well as applicants who apply later in the season, may not hear until late March or early April, when most of our final decisions are made.
Stanford: My windows don't open otherwise I, too, would want to fling myself out at various points throughout the season. Learning to speed read may be a better alternative, I suppose. What else can I say that Dean Rangappa has not already mentioned? It's a long process here at SLS as well - multiple reviews, faculty reviews - so it does take time.
There is a way to make this whole process move along in a speedier fashion, but it's a way I am certain most applicants would not appreciate. Do everything by the numbers - LSAT and GPA - and pay scant attention to all the other pieces. Bypass the additional review as new materials arrive. Don't involve faculty. I'm not saying we have a perfect process by any means, but a thorough and comprehensive review does take time.
NYU: Top law schools use different admissions models. All of these processes require careful reading by experienced people. Our model is more administrative in nature than the ones that Dean Rangappa and Dean Deal reference. Part of the reason is that we have a very large applicant pool. While there is a faculty admissions committee that oversees the process and policies, the core of the review process has been delegated by the faculty to admissions professionals. We review applications in the order that they become complete, but we do not necessarily make final decisions in that order. This means that we are often able to make decisions on the strongest and weakest applications relatively quickly- sometimes within a few weeks of completion. However, many applications must necessarily be held to compare against the larger applicant pool. The sooner one applies, the sooner the candidate MIGHT hear from us. All applications received by our deadline receive a decision by late April. We urge applicants to submit their materials as early as possible to avoid delays. Unfortunately, a significant number of applicants wait until the last minute to apply and those usually experience the longest wait to hear from us.
Columbia:We too have a careful and thorough application review process. Every single application is read by at least two members of the Selection Committee, all of whom are Admissions Officers. Generally, applications are reviewed in the order in which they were completed and decisions are often made in the same manner. Ours is not a mechanical process as each reviewer brings a different approach and perspective to the evaluation. All of this is good because each applicant receives the benefit of varied experiences and viewpoints. Most candidates who complete their applications by December 31 will be notified by March, while every attempt is made to send out a decision to all applicants by the end of April, including to those that were completed after the deadline.
Michigan: Our process is quite similar to that of Columbia and NYU-the review is usually exclusively administrative, and every file is typically read by two admissions officers. Sometimes, though, we'll want additional reads to get new points of view, either by other admissions officers or by our faculty committee. And as Dean Deal and Dean Rangappa describe, involving faculty usually makes the process take a lot longer! Long discussions typically ensue. But in general, it is our goal to have decisions made by late March or early April, and we've met that goal for many years in a row. For more detail than you'll likely want regarding our admissions procedures, visit our FAQ.
Chicago:Our process is similar to Columbia, NYU, and Michigan. We review applications in the order they are completed. Even though we have a paperless process and review all of the materials electronically, it still takes time to process each application. We need to make sure we have all of the application materials before they are reviewed for a decision. Each file is reviewed by at least two members of the Admissions Committee which is made up of both admissions officers and faculty. We release decisions on a rolling basis so the sooner your file is complete the better. We also try to get decisions out to all applicants by the end of April, though this gets difficult with our growing applicant pool!
I'm a senior at a state university (a great school). I made the decision to attend a state school for financial reasons. My parents are middle-class and I learned that I was not going to receive any financial aid from the Ivies. Four years later, I have had a great educational experience and think I made the right choice. I am now applying for law school and find myself back in the same quandary. My parents are still middle-class, so I think it is unlikely I will receive any need-based financial aid at Yale and the idea of taking out 64K a year in loans really scares me. This brings me to my two questions: Is Yale worth paying for over a state law school and how do students pay for it?
I'm sure many law students, like you, are cringing at the cost of tution for law school, so the questions you ask are good ones. Here are my thoughts:
While Yale is a fabulous law school, there are reasons why it may not be the best fit for everyone. State law schools, in particular, often offer a great value, money-wise, for in-state residents, and many of them are, to boot, ranked along with the "top" private law schools in the country (not that we pay attention to rankings). Depending on the curriculum, you may also have more courses in that state's particular body of law, and for students who are looking to practice within the state or perhaps go into politics, going to a state school can offer a good professional network.
With that said, I think that in a lot of other ways, Yale is definitely worth the extra cost. First, Yale offers several unmatched resources. For example, we have the leading faculty in just about every area of law, from constitutional to corporate to environmental law. Our faculty-student ratio is 7-1, so you'll have a tremendous amount of access to these professors, and it's not uncommon for students here to work closely enough with faculty members to coauthor articles or spearhead projects together. Yale's approach is one that focuses on how to think about the law, rather than memorizing specific rules or statutes that could be obsolete in a few years -- which means that you'll have the tools to pursue careers in policy, public interest, business, journalism, or a number of other non-traditional paths. Finally, our alumni network is national and international, so you can find mentors and connections no matter where you go.
In addition, if you want to follow a particular career path -- like becoming a law professor -- Yale is hands-down the place to go (and I'd be surprised if the law professors in your state school didn't give you the same advice). In fact, it can be extremely difficult to get onto this career path if you don't go to Yale or a handful of other schools. Other types of experiences may be harder to come by at a state school, particularly if it is a large one. For example, Yale offers a variety of clinics (courses where you do hands-on work on real legal cases) and with few exceptions, any student can begin participating in a clinic starting in their first year of law school. At most schools, you cannot participate in a clinic until your second year, and sometimes even then it is difficult to get in. Similarly, roughly half of Yale Law graduates clerk for a judge after graduation, which gives them an amazing experience, an opportunity for mentorship, and a valuable professional credential in their careers. Clerkship opportunities at other schools may be limited to the top 5-15% of graduates or even, depending on the school, to the top one or two people in the class. So whether Yale Law School is "worth it" in terms of your professional career really depends on what types of opportunities you want in law school and beyond. In the legal world, where you go to law school can matter -- it's not that you can't do the same things at or from another school, but it may just be a little harder to accomplish.
The one area where I think no school can compare to Yale -- and to me is worth the cost -- is the actual experience of law school itself. Unlike the competitve grind that most law schools are reputed to be (and are), Yale is... fun. Part of it is the lack of class rank and grades, which of course does a lot to bring the stress level down a notch or two. But most of it is the combination of Yale's small class size and the amazing student body (yes, I'm patting myself on the back here), which is what most students love about going to school here. Coming to law school at Yale is really like joining a family -- I know this sounds corny but once you drink the Kool Aid, you'll agree.
So, how do you pay for it? Well, Yale offers need-based aid, so you have to apply for financial aid. Keep in mind that we use a different formula to calculate need than most undergraduate institutions, so you should apply for financial aid even if you did not qualify for it as an undergraduate. Each year we have students who are surprised by the amount of aid they are eligible to receive for law school. Part of your financial aid will include loans, and I understand the psychological burden of taking on debt. However, the great thing about Yale is that our loan repayment program, COAP, will ensure that you can pursue any career you want by helping to pay your loans if you go into a lower-paying job (more on this in a future post). And, if you choose to work for a white-shoe firm in New York, well, given where salaries are these days, you should be able to pay off your loans fairly quickly provided you don't get trapped in the "golden handcuffs" (i.e. having the lifestyle of a New York corporate lawyer when you have $100K in debt!).
In short, I think that debt is a valid consideration when thinking about where to go to law school generally, but given the resources and experiences you'll have at Yale, combined with the financial assistance you can continue to receive when you graduate, I don't think it should be a deciding factor in choosing whether to come here!
I am a fan of the University of Michigan's A2Z blog, written by Dean Sarah Zearfoss, whom I've quoted before in my posts (and who co-organized our blog panel last May). My admiration has only increased with her recent posts deconstructing on Michigan's employment statistics, which has so far had two installments and alludes to a third. Mainly, I'm impressed with Dean's Z's formidable math skills and her good humor in response to people correcting her on decimal point placement. Perhaps at some point I'll try to post similar data, but in the meantime, I'll just link to the Yale Daily News (a suitable authority in these parts), which basically says that Yale grads are doing fine on the job market.
I do, however, want to explore our statistics in a specific career field—academia. This, of course, is a risky post to write, since one of the reasons some admitted students think that Yale will not be a good fit for them is because they have no interest in teaching. Despite Yale's dominance in legal academia (more on this below), law teaching is a relatively small percentage of the various career routes taken by YLS alumni. In fact, the dirty little secret about Yale Law School is that the vast majority of our graduates actually practice law. Shocking, I know. And the people who don't practice law or go into academia end up doing cool things like winning a million dollars on Survivor, being named one of People magazine's Sexiest Men Alive, and becoming the Deputy Chief of Consumer and Government Affairs at the FCC. OK, that was actually the career trajectory of a single grad, but you get the idea.
So law teaching. Every year I counsel a handful of admits who are absolutely certain that they want to become law professors, but aren't sure whether to come to Yale. Usually, these students have been awarded a prestigious, full-tuition scholarship—we'll call it the JoeSchmoe Scholarship—at another law school. JoeSchmoe Scholars, I am told, get special perks to help them in preparing for a teaching career: access to seminars, workshops, and conferences; the opportunity to work on legal writing projects; and one-on-one guidance from members of the faculty. Oh, and they have three days to make a decision or the scholarship "explodes."
It's hard to be rational with people who are making major life choices under duress, but I try. I usually first point out that the so-called "perks" offered to the JoeSchmoes are resources offered to every student at Yale as a matter of course. No titles of nobility here: all students get to know faculty very well, starting in their first term; all students write (at least) two piece of substantial legal scholarship with one-on-one faculty guidance; and all students have access to workshops and conferences at the School. In particular, all students are free to attend the Law Teaching Series, a year-long series of faculty-led sessions which guide students through each step of the process into legal academia, from preparing a research agenda to what a "job talk" is—these alternate with workshops where students present their own papers to faculty and peers. The advantage, by the way, of having these opportunities open to all students is that aspiring academics get to engage in a dialogue with a large swath of their colleagues, rather than the same few people over and over again . . . yielding more refined ideas and better scholarship.
This often elicits some hand wringing, but the JoeSchmoes are usually still hooked on the whole "full tuition" thing. Fair enough—no need to take on unnecessary loans. Plus, law professors make pretty substantial salaries, particularly at the top schools. So if you could land the same law teaching job with no debt, then you would, in the end, be better off. So the question is: Is there a meaningful difference in the teaching opportunities that would be available to you coming out of Yale, compared to another school?
Enter Professor Brian Leiter. Leiter, who is a professor at the University of Chicago, compiles detailed statistics on the leading producers of law professors in the country. You can view his most recent rankings of the institutions producing the most law professors here, which includes only people who have graduated from law school since 1995 (thereby providing the most current snapshot of legal academic talent). If you look closely at the tables, you'll notice a few things:
1. In absolute numbers, Yale is in a league of its own, placing more graduates since 1995—by a huge margin—in both the top 43 law schools and the top 18 law schools than any other law school in the nation.
2. Accounting for its size (the "per capita" number), Yale is in a different universe when it comes to law teaching placement. You can look at it like this: Yale graduates in the last decade and a half have been over four times as successful in landing law teaching positions at the top 18 law schools as graduates of Harvard, Stanford, and Chicago; roughly twenty times as successful in landing such jobs as graduates of Columbia, Berkeley, and Virginia; and about forty times as successful in getting these jobs as graduates of NYU, Northwestern, and Michigan.
3. Almost every school on the list has hired more graduates of Yale than its own. (For a separate but related topic on this point, see this post.)
I have to admit that I was a bit stunned myself when I saw Leiter's numbers. The staggering odds favoring YLS grads in academia brought to mind images of the Dream Team at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona . . . I mean, how is that even fair? It's not. But it does explain why, in an attempt to capture more of the market, law schools try to attract the best legal scholarly talent (usually through scholarships) and emulate Yale's pedagogical approach to these select students. At this point, however, there's still a lot of catching up to do, and—to answer the pertinent question—there remains a very meaningful difference in the law teaching opportunities coming out of Yale compared with other schools.
In my last post, I referenced some law schools' practice of giving "exploding" scholarship offers, requiring students to accept a major, full-tuition scholarship offer within a matter of days. Well, as usual, we've been inundated in the past few days with panicked applicants with these offers, who have not yet heard from us and are for some reason under the impression that by accepting such a scholarship, they will need to withdraw their applications from Yale.
Now I am sure it has not been any law school's intention to mislead you, but this is where you can start honing your lawyerly skills by carefully reading what your offer says and doesn't say. You see, believe it or not, as law applicants you have some rights, of sorts. Specifically, the Law School Admission Council publishes a Statement of Good Admission and Financial Aid Practices, by which all member schools agree to abide. If you read the Statement carefully, you will see that item number 6 under "Application Procedures" states the following:
After April 1, except under binding early decision plans, every accepted applicant should be free to accept a new offer from a law school even though a scholarship has been accepted, a deposit has been paid, or a committment [sic] has been made to another school. To provide applicants with an uncoerced choice among various law schools, no excessive nonrefundable deposit should be required solely to maintain a place in the class. (Emphasis added.)
What that means, 203 readers, is that you may accept a scholarship offer—even one that requires you to place a deposit, sign a contract, or make some other symbolic gesture of commitment—and still keep active any applications at schools from which you have not yet received a decision. Further, if you subsequently receive an offer from one of these other law schools, you may accept that offer, any prior commitments notwithstanding.
I will add that my understanding of this portion of the Statement is that it extends to offers made off the wait list. That is, if you are placed on a wait list at a law school, you may remain on that school's wait list even if you have deposited or accepted a scholarship somewhere else—because a wait list decision is neither an offer nor a rejection, it's effectively a "no decision." If at any point you are offered a spot off the waitlist, that would be a "new offer" that you are free to accept—again, notwithstanding any scholarships you might have accepted at another law school.
I hope that this will help those of you facing some difficult choices as a result of not having heard from us yet. We are expecting to have all (initial) offers of admission finalized this week, so a few more people will be hearing from us shortly!
Should I include a diversity statement with my application? I have written one for other schools but wasn't sure whether it would help or hurt my application to Yale Law School.
We get this question a lot. The short answer is that you are welcome to include any information which you feel will enable the Admissions Committee to make a fully-informed decision on your candidacy. Which translates into: we don't ask for a diversity statement specifically, but if you would like to include one, it is O.K. to do so.
Explaining some aspect of yourself which you think would make a unique contribution to the Law School is a good thing. The question is whether you really need to provide a supplemental essay to do it. Keep in mind that unlike many law schools, we already ask for an additional essay (the infamous 250-word essay) in addition to your personal statement. Since we do not specify a topic for either the shorter essay or the personal statement, you can include information relevant to an aspect of diversity which you feel is important to your application in either (or both) of these pieces of writing.
Consider the following applicants:
1. A stay-at-home parent who is applying to law school after being out of school/workforce for seven years. The applicant explains that he has spent this time raising his three sons in Question 6 ("If you have been out of school for more than six months, describe what you have been doing in the interval"), and then also writes a personal statement about how he spent several years finding and fighting for special needs educational accommodations for one of his children, which led to his interest in law school.
2. A student who writes a 250-word essay about growing up in a blue-collar family, attending a resource-poor public school, and being the first to attend college. The student includes an addendum explaining that because she had to finance a large part of college herself, she did not have much time for extracurricular activities and asks the Admissions Committee to take that into account.
3. A former military veteran who spent the last five years deployed to Iraq. The applicant includes details on his various duties in Iraq on a resume which he includes in the application, and also provides a letter of reference from one of his commanding officers.
I would submit that all of the above individuals would have their "diversity" (older, non-traditional applicant, socioeconomic background, military experience, respectively) taken into account even though none of them provided a specific diversity statement. In fact, most likely, an additional diversity statement wouldn't really provide any additional information for any of these applicants—the applicants have already successfully illustrated what makes them different and how it has shaped or impacted their lives just through the regular components of the application. So here is where a diversity statement might "hurt" them, in the sense that it would be redundant, and unnecessary.
Now, it's possible that the above applicants could craft their applications entirely differently, and a diversity statement would make sense. For example, if the military vet did not include a resume (which we do not require), and doesn't know what his officer wrote in the recommendation (because he would wisely waive his right to see the letter), and also used both essay opportunities to discuss personal and academic interests, then it might make sense to include a statement which explains that he has served in the armed forces, has seen combat, and feels that as a result of these experiences he might be able to provide a valuable perspective on x,y, and z issues. Again, that's just a possibility, and there are other permutations.
The take home point is that while you can include as much information as you like, you also want to be judicious in the number and amount of additional essays/addenda that you provide. You don't want your application to be the one that never ends (that's not a good thing for the reader, or for you). Ideally, you will try to incorporate all the relevant information about yourself into the questions provided on the application. If you feel that there is something critical that really won't fit anywhere else, certainly include it as a supplement.
Finally, I hope that the examples above make clear that we do have a very broad definition of "diversity" which we do consider in putting together our class. However, if you do choose to write a diversity essay, please, PLEASE try to be serious about it and make sure it is something that has truly shaped your experiences and perspective. Do NOT write a diversity statement on how you are "a good listener" or something similar. Seriously, that's just lame.
I hope this is helpful, and I look forward to reading your final masterpiece!
So, rather than do a traditional "Ask Asha" post this round, I thought I would answer some of the questions -- and correct some of the off-base answers -- which have been circulating in the online forums. Yes, we do read them. And yes, it's not hard to figure out who some of you are. Please be on your best cyber behavior. (And by the way, you guys have way too much time on your hands.)
@ r6_philly: We do not have GPA/LSAT cutoffs. I am on application #2011. I read Every. Single. One. Regardless of numbers. As I've mentioned before, a weak number does usually need extremely strong everything else to make it through to the faculty, which is why I have to read through the whole thing, including the recommendations. Actually, a better topic for discussion might be what would keep someone with really strong numbers from being passed on... which happens with surprising frequency. It might be because the writing is really, really bad (have I mentioned not writing poetry for your 250?), or there is just something that doesn't fit -- like why does the person have only one academic reference (out of three) if s/he got a 4.0 all through college? Or maybe the recommendation has a big red flag like, "Sometimes Johhny's comments can border on arrogance, but usually he adds to the discussion." So, just like lower numbers don't mean you won't get a faculty review, good numbers don't keep you from getting automatically rejected, either.
@ crackberry: Numbers do not become irrelevant just because you get passed onto the full faculty review. It really depends on the faculty members reading your file. Some faculty are sticklers for the LSAT or your undergrad GPA. Some are more into your story. Some care only about what your recommenders say, because they feel that every other part of your application has been doctored. Some read every LSAT writing sample, and swear by it. It really depends on the combo of faculty reviewing your application which factors matter most. That's why our system produces such an interesting class...because the people who get the required scores have some core elements that three very different faculty members agreed on without even having to discuss them. Unfortunately, neither you nor I will ever know what those elements are.
@ Pausanias: There is no correlation between when you are admitted and whether you were a presumptive admit or read by faculty (I really don't see why this would make any difference once you are admitted, but anyway). Both I and the members of the faculty are reading files from early fall into April. So, it's entirely possible for an application to make it through a round of three faculty readers by December, just as it is possible for me to admit someone directly in the spring (it would be kind of odd, wouldn't it, if a must-have applicant applied on February 15 and I had no choice but to send the person to the faculty gamble?). In fact, I believe two years ago the very very very last file I read was a presumptive admit. Again: your chances of admission remain the same regardless of when you apply.
@ notanumber: Speaking of presumptive admits and numbers, the purpose of admitting someone directly is not to game the system so that we keep our 75th percentile high, or whatever the suggestion was. Someone who is admitted automatically is just a must-have applicant in every way. Academic promise is one part of it, but you don't need a perfect score or GPA to demonstrate academic promise. I can't really define what would make someone so compelling, since the people who fall into this category are so different, but just trust me when I say that we really use the numbers the way they are meant to be used: to predict their academic performance in law school. Beyond that, we try to put together the most diverse and talented class possible. How the numbers fall out once we do that is not something we are trying to control, though between my picks and the faculty's we do end up with an upper quartile with very high scores and GPAs.
@ Ben J: I probably do miss some typos. However, I catch a fair number of them, and whether they are fatal to your application really depends on the overall strength of your application and the egregiousness of the typo (as in, are you just sloppy, or does it call your literacy into question?). I saw some scuttlebutt about how applying late might suggest you are not really serious about YLS. We don't really interpret the date you choose to apply as having any correlation with your interest (in fact, it might suggest that you chose to spend more time applying to us than to anyone else!). On the other hand, even a typo in the "just sloppy" category might call into question how serious you are about Yale. Also, a typo will pretty much guarantee that you're out of the running for being a presumptive admit, and so even if I let it pass, you're then thrown in with the sharks for a faculty review (and I can't say how the faculty who read your application will look at it). Bottom line, please take the time to review your application for mistakes. I'll do a post this fall about the major mistakes I've seen -- I'll spare you all the list since most of you have already submitted your apps and I see that our Twitter posts are already causing you hypertension.
I hope this is helpful.
OK, it's time to kick off my promised Personal Statement Boot Camp, which is designed to help you avoid some of the major mistakes I see in law school applications, and hopefully give you some ideas of how to make your P.S. better. I'm going to start with the theme I most dread reading every year, which I mentioned in one of my panel answers in a previous post: the "I Love to Argue" theme.
I can only guess that there is some book, or some group of misguided counselors, that has the mistaken impression that "I Love to Argue" is 1) an original theme for a personal statement and 2) something that is actually going to help your candidacy. If so, nothing can be more wrong on both fronts. I'd say roughly 300-500 people a year write some form of the "I Love to Argue" personal statement, which makes them 1) totally cliche and 2) seemingly clueless about why they are going to law school and/or too lazy to think about it deeply. (If you want to rat out the sources/people who are telling you to go this route, feel free to do so in the comments.)
In case you're one of the fortunate applicants who isn't familiar with this theme, the "I Love to Argue" personal statement goes something like this: first, the applicant starts off with some anecdote, usually from preschool, which amounts to having a temper tantrum over something really dumb. The adult in said anecdote (usually, but not always, the mother), instead of giving the applicant a good spank, is totally impressed by the temper tantrum and says, "You are going to be a great lawyer!" This forms the basis for the applicant's desire to apply to law school sixteen years later.
Sometimes, the applicant manages to redeem him- or herself by immediately leaping from this very bad opening into substantive reasons why s/he is interested in law school. More often, however, the applicant proceeds to follow up with more anecdotes illustrating how s/he loved to argue with various other people in different stages and ages of life apparently in the hope that, two pages later, I am going to proclaim, "This applicant is going to be a great lawyer!" That never happens.
Why is this theme so wrong? Let's first start with your mom. I'm sure she is a very nice person, but when it comes to law school admissions, please note that she has zero credibility. Don't mention any assessment she makes about your potential lawyerly ability in your P.S. Ever.
Moving on . . . on a conceptual level, the "I Love to Argue" P.S. seems to be based on the mistaken notion that it's actually good, or relevant, that you love to argue. It's not. Going on and on about how you love being confrontational and argumentative with each and every person in your life is a major red flag for the reader of your file. It's a character flaw. If you love to argue, and even admit that you do so over petty, irrelevant things, you suggest to the reader that you are reactive, a poor listener, unable to relate to different perspectives, and that you are generally an unpleasant person to be around (and to have in a class). The fact that you think it's an asset suggests that you lack self-awareness and are going to have problems getting along with others. In other words, you are going to be a social and administrative (if not academic) nightmare. Not so good.
More importantly, ILTA shows a shallow understanding of what being a lawyer is about. You see, arguing is not the hallmark of a good lawyer. It's true that many lawyers are skilled orators, but that doesn't mean that they argue. In fact, the best way to find yourself with a losing case streak and a dwindling client list is to constantly argue with other lawyers or worse, the judge hearing your case. Legal communities are insular and well-connected; most lawyers, even those who litigate, have good relationships with the lawyers they oppose in court every day. This means that they can pick up the phone to resolve an issue, rather than having heated arguments in court. And if you've ever watched an appellate case, you know that the only people who should be arguing (if you're doing your job right) are the hearing judges, who are going to pick apart your case and ask you pointed and potentially snarky questions. You politely answer them.
In fact, I'd er-, argue, that one of the most important jobs of a lawyer is not to argue at all. Take, for instance, the most important lawyer (and oralist) in the country, the Solicitor General of the United States. The S.G. represents the U.S. government before the Supreme Court in all cases where the United States is a party to the case. Uniquely, however, the S.G.'s role is more of an advisor to the Court (for example, the S.G. is always allowed to present an argument even when the government is an amicus curiae, rather than a party, to the case)—hence she is known also as the "Tenth Justice." To this end, the S.G. has a mandate that most lawyers don't have, which is to "confess error" when the government's position is unjust and to advise the Court to overturn the lower court's decision. Clearly, this means that the S.G. is required to do more than just blindly crank out a zealous argument in favor of the government's original position; she has to think carefully about the position,its implications on the parties in the case and on policy generally, and sometimes, if warranted, concede that the other side has it right.
Which brings me to the big picture. Good lawyers don't argue, they construct good arguments. There's a difference. So, for you to show me that you'll be a good lawyer, you have to make a good argument for yourself through your personal statement. This is done not by asserting that you possess certain (unverifiable) skills, but by illustrating through experiences, influences, and ideas that you have the qualities that we want to see in future lawyers from Yale—critical thinking, intellectual curiosity, substantive interests, the ability to see different points of view, to name a few. In fact, it doesn't matter if you hate public speaking, or even if you're bad at it. Making a legal oral argument, like any skill, is one you can learn . . . and in any event most lawyers never see the inside of a courtroom (or the light of day, for that matter). By contrast, we can't teach aspects of character, so getting those to shine through in your personal statement is much more important from an admissions perspective.
So, to sum up: avoid writing about how you love to argue, quoting your mom, or mentioning anything from preschool, and you'll be ahead of 10% of your peers from the get-go. That's it for this Boot Camp. More to come!
OK, so I'm a year late with the promised second round of my P.S. Boot Camp, and frankly, much later into the summer than I had hoped to be in writing this. But I was gone to San Diego for a much-needed vacation, and San Diego isn't a place where one feels inclined to do work. In fact, as an aside, I just want to say this: I finally get the California thing. For many years, I've been exasperated with all of you West Coasters who whine and complain about the prospect of coming out East but at least now I see where you're coming from. I still wouldn't advise anyone to choose a law school based on the weather, but I will step up my New Haven sales pitch a bit. I'm thinking that "Well, we get earthquakes here, too" isn't quite going to cut it, so suggestions from die-hard East Coasters are welcome.
Anyway, my goal in the first P.S. Boot Camp was to give applicants a heads up on the most common mistakes and cliches I see in law school personal statements. It was really to help students make it out of the gate, so to speak. This summer I wanted to concentrate on some things I see in the more competitive applications: I wouldn't call them "mistakes," really -- these are essays that are generally well written and substantive, but fail to exploit their competitive edge, usually because the applicants writing them (understandably) lack knowledge and perspective about the rest of the applicant pool. So I'm going to give you guys a few insider tips.
In this post I am going to address the TFA Essay, meaning essays written by students who are applying to law school from Teach for America. The TFA Essay follows a fairly predictable model, to wit: bright, ambitious, public service-minded college graduate decides to do TFA to make a difference in the world. S/he spends hours and hours preparing the perfect lesson for the first day of school, only to find that the first day doesn't go anything as planned. Things go downhill from there. The problems are epitomized, usually, by one very troubled student, [insert name of student here (we'll refer to her as Tanya)], who is bearing the brunt of one or more inner city/rural social ills (surrounded by drugs/violence/gangs, single-parent family, poverty, etc.), is pratically illiterate/cannot do math, and a troublemaker in class, to boot. After a period of disillusionment and struggling to control the class, TFA applicant tosses original lesson plan out the window, works around the clock to connect with the students in new and original ways, and even makes a breakthrough with Tanya. The applicant's efforts are rewarded when the class, including Tanya, passes the state testing requirements, advancing three grade levels in reading/math. The students may or may not stand on their desks and recite "O Captain! My Captain!" The whole experience, while rewarding, makes the applicant realize that real change can only be effected at the policy level, and so s/he is applying to law school in order to enter the field of education policy.
I want to make clear, before going further, that I heart teachers (who doesn't?). In fact, I am a total sucker for good teacher stories, particularly ones that have me crying by the end -- favorite tear-jerkers include To Sir With Love (1967), Stand and Deliver (1988), and Lean on Me (1989) -- all of which, incidentally, follow the same TFA Essay narrative arc. (I realize as I write this that most of you were likely not alive when any of those films were made.) I confess that many of the TFA Essays I read leave me misty-eyed as well. This is not only because I feel terrible for Tanya, but because the TFA Essay usually has a lot to commend it. For one thing, it is, invariably, well written, which is not surprising since most of the students who go on to TFA are obviously academically accomplished. It is also -- and this is super important -- authentic. I never feel that the person who's writing the TFA Essay is anything but earnest and sincere, or is trying to pull one over on me. Which is partly why I get frustrated with these essays...I actually like these applicants.
The problem is that even though I like them, I don't get to know them. Let's call it an indictment of our failing public school system, but the fact is, everyone applying to law school from Teach for America pretty much has exactly the same experience and wants to go to law school for exactly the same reasons. What does this mean for you? Well, to put this into cold perspective, let's assume that about 300 applicants every year, or about 10% of our applicant pool, apply from TFA. And let's further assume that most of these applicants fall within the most competitive band of our pool in terms of writing, undergrad grades, good LSATs, leadership, and general overall Yaleability. If we're conservative and assume that at least 60% make the initial cut on these grounds (it's probably higher), the odds are that when you end up in the batch of 50 or so files being read by an individual faculty member whose job it is to rate and rank you, you're in there with an average of 9 other TFA applicants. Who all have the same essay as you.
This is Hunger Games time, people. I can coach you, train you, and give you all the insider tips I can, but once you're in the faculty arena, you're on your own. And if your essay is the same as 20% of the files you're competing with, the good-hearted but slightly overwhelmed and possibly confused faculty member may feel that s/he needs to triage the TFA applicants -- who could appear, to some extent, to be interchangeable in terms of interests and experience -- based on really relevant factors like the fact that you hiked the Appalachian Trail. Or didn't. Cue cannonball fire.
Now, you don't want to go insane and write an essay that "stands out" for all the wrong reasons, in violation of the Sandra Lee Rule. But you also don't want to inadvertently sabotage yourself by not bringing everything you have to the table. If I were an admissions consultant -- which, if I were less ethically-minded, would help me on the path to early retirement -- I might suggest the following strategies:
1. Start With Your Conclusion. Almost all the TFA Essays I read end up wrapping up the description of their experiences with a global statement about their interest in studying education policy, or how much they learned about education policy, or that they want to make education policy, etc. etc. If your essay does this, take a red pen, slash through everything you have written to that point, and make that the beginning of your essay. Think about it: as a TFA corps member, you've gotten a firsthand glimpse of how local, state, and national policies play out in practice. What did you see working? How do current policymakers overlook realities on the ground? Was there any course or theory you encountered in school that shaped how you approach these topics? How are your views on education shaped by your own educational experiences? Any one of these questions could be the basis for an essay that gives the reader a sense of how you think, and what you think about. And even if every single TFA applicant took this approach, they would still all be different.
2. Take It Outside the Classroom. It's highly likely that, in addition to the experiences you had teaching, you had some personal growth/reflections/self-teaching moments during your time as well. For example, one recent and memorable TFA essay (from an applicant who was admitted) involved an applicant who was assigned to TFA in a region of the country where he was minority. The essay described the applicant's process of having to confront and question many of the assumptions he previously held about this region, the interesting ways the applicant found of connecting with the community he was in, and how it shaped his perspective on a variety of personal issues. Before I get flooded with 300 essays on The Intersection of Personal Identity and Geography During TFA, let me emphasize that it wasn't the particular topic that made this essay compelling. Rather, it's an example of the Great Personal Statement, in which I was able to see the applicant's ability to reflect on his experiences, think critically about them, and come to some conclusions -- or additional questions -- about his place in the world. Once again, unique.
3. Give Yourself a Time Out on TFA. So at the risk of Wendy Kopp (go Tigers!) and a posse of TFA corp members showing up at my door wielding torches and pitchforks, I'm going to get really radical and suggest that you -- gasp! -- don't write about TFA at all. Remember that the Yale Law School application has a question (#6) which asks what you've been doing with yourself if you've been out of school for more than three months. Voila! You can take this opportunity to mention your experience with TFA, and then have a tabula rasa for your Personal Statement. What do you write about? Well, remember before TFA, when you had a life? Yeah, that. (NOTE: If you go this route, please do not insert your TFA Essay for Question 6. Keep it short, mention any pertinent facts about what you were teaching and where you were, just like on a job application. If you want to get a little more essay-y, you could try to take a nugget from your TFA experience and use it for your 250-word essay.)
So there you have it. Sorry if this post has you tearing up your personal statement and cursing at your computer screen (me). I'm just trying to help. In closing, I'll fast forward to the 90s and leave you with yet another teacher classic (bonus points if you know the name of the movie).
Enjoy. And may the odds be ever in your favor.
OK, this week we're going to talk about another one of my least favorite law school personal statements: the One-Trick Pony Essay. Simply put, the OTPE usually involves an applicant who is extremely accomplished in or committed to a particular activity or sport, such as debate, chess, or baseball. This, inherently, is not the problem. The problem is that they then devote every component of their application to illustrate their single-minded focus on their passion, I am guessing because they want to show qualities like devotion, perserverence, and achievement. Unfortunately, these good qualities end up being overshadowed by the readers' sense that the appliant is kind of boring and one-dimensional.
To see why the OTPE can take a good thing and turn it into a bad thing, let's use a hypothetical (as in, not real/just an example/don't sue me). Let's imagine that Michael Phelps (of whom I am a big fan) decides to apply to law school. I open his file, excited to appropriate his electronic signature into my personal autograph collection, and to learn something about the "real" Michael Phelps. This first thing I see are his Honors and Awards, which lists every swim meet he has ever won and all of the world swimming records he has broken. Next, under Extracurricular Activities, he lists swimming as his main activity, with occasional volunteer work for the local high school swim teams. His thesis in college was about new wetsuit technology and whether it should be banned from international competition. His personal statement is a description of what it was like to grow up with four hour morning swim practices starting at 4 a.m. and four hour practices after school. His 250-word essays is a descriptive piece about what it's like to take the first lap of the day. Finally, his recommendations include one from the U.S. Olympic committee and one from his swimming coach, Bob.
Dude—the guy was on the front of a friggin' Wheaties box. I KNOW that he has spent pretty much every waking moment of his life in a swimming pool. I also know that he is a CRAZY AWESOME swimmer—I watched every sappy Olympic story about him, including the one that talked about how much he ate every day (I think he consumed like 12,000 calories a day while training). While all of this is impressive, the problem with this (did I mention fictional?) application is that it a) doesn't really tell me anything new or surprising and b) isn't particularly linked with why he is applying to law school. Even if his numbers were spectacular, my main thought would be: the Law School doesn't have a swimming pool—what is this poor guy going to do here?
Now imagine a different kind of application from Michael. Let's say that he mixes it up a bit, with a brief mention of being a sixteen-time Olympic medalist but also listing his non-athletic activities, such as writing a food column for the local newspaper. And maybe his personal statement doesn't discuss swimming at all, but talks about, say, a summer job he had once that gave him a window into some of the issues he's interested in exploring in law school. His recommendations, only from faculty members, talk about his writing and intellectual curiosity. And, maybe he subtly includes a 250-word essay about what it was like to hear the American anthem played the first time he won a gold medal, which might make the reader (me) a little misty-eyed. Admitted.
The point here is that contrary to popular belief, admission to YLS isn't based upon proving superhuman feats and accomplishments. On the contrary, it's about showing that you are human, in the literal sense of the world. You want to reveal as many facets as you can about what makes you who you are. And let me be clear: I don't mean that you should show that you are superficially "well-rounded" by listing a bunch of activities that you aren't really involved in. You can be completely immersed in one particular idea or activity—you just don't want that one thing to define you as a person. Presumably, you do spend some time in your day thinking of or doing other things, and you need to let those come through in your application as well. Otherwise, you take the risk that the admissions committee will conclude that you will be unable to relate or meaningfully contribute to the class in any area outside your stated interests.
If you are a person who is really focused on one thing, and you're having trouble thinking of other things in your life that matter to you and that you can incorporate into your application, then this is a major red flag that should cause you to consider a couple of things. First, are you sure you want to go to law school? I mean, if playing the cello has been your life goal for the past twenty years and it's what you live, breathe and eat each day, then maybe you ought to, I don't know...play the cello for a living. You may not make much, but I promise you it will be the life you dream about as you sit locked in a basement as a first year associate, going through boxes of documents for fifteen hours a day so you can pay your debts.
Second, maybe you should get out more. Remember, all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy (and you know how that ended).
This week we'll look at the ever-popular Overcoming Obstacles essay. In Part I of this topic, I am going to focus on what constitutes an "obstacle." But before I go there, let me just give the profile of the OO essay, which is pretty straightforward: the OO personal statement starts out with a problem that the applicant confronted and then details (ostensibly . . . more in Part II) the steps the applicant took to get past the problem. The intended effect of the OO essay is to have the reader say, "Holy cow! That's amazing! There are very few people who could have done that!" This reaction, in turns, provides a compelling reason to admit the applicant if the other parts of the application are extremely strong, or at the very least to overlook parts of the application that may be somewhat weak.
Let me start by saying that I have nothing against the OO essay per se. I have admitted people who have written very compelling OO essays. However, this is a very delicate essay to write, and you should think of your situation very carefully before moving in this direction. To wit, you should first recognize whether the problem you intend to write about is, in fact, an obstacle.
By way of illustration, one of the personal statements I read last season involved a student who had some very interesting experiences—including a legal internship at a major nonprofit in New York City. However, she focused her entire personal statement on her attempt to take an advance math course without taking the prerequisites, and her subsequent failure in the course. The applicant was upset, because to that point she had always done well in her classes. After a period of intial anger at her professor, then herself, she took all of the prerequisites for the math class, then the same class she originally failed again, and aced all of them.
Folks, here is the deal. There is a difference between an obstacle and a disappointment. Obstacles are major hurdles in your life—things that many people, if they are fortunate, will not have to deal with. These are things like serious illness, divorce, abuse, war, poverty, fleeing from persecution,etc. Remember that I am reading close to 4,000 applications a year, and they include people who have dealt with these and other issues. Having gone through something like this doesn't automatically give an applicant a leg up in admissions (more on that in Part II of this topic), but it does provide some perspective with which to look at the entire pool of applications.
Disappointments are things you wanted, but you didn't get. Disappointments are good things: they encourage us to reflect on what's important to us, and give us opportunities for personal growth. But, because they are based on things you wanted—and may have expected (which is why you are disappointed when you didn't get it)—what comes across when you write about them is not your aplomb or resilience in the face of adversity (which is usually unexpected), but self-absorption and immaturity. Things like failing a class, losing an election for class president, or getting rejected from a dream school, while they were probably a big deal at the time, aren't that important in the grand scheme of things . . . and your self-awareness and understanding of where you are going in the grand scheme of things is what I want to read about.
Focusing on disappointments can also give a mistaken impression of your priorities. For example, the student who chose to write about her grades rather than, say, her experiences at her legal internship (which I would think would be more relevant to a law school personal statement), suggested to me that she was extremely concerned about external validation. This would make her a poor fit at Yale, which has no grades or class rank. What you choose to write about (and not write about) says a lot about what you think is important, so make sure to choose your topics wisely.
What if, though, your disappointment is something that has affected your application, like in the case of the failed class above? Well, this would be the perfect opportunity to use an addendum. If this applicant had simply added a short addendum which said, "In the fall of my freshman year, I attempted to take a very difficult math class, which I failed. I subsequently took the prerequisites for that class, and retook the same class again, and received A's in all of them. I hope the Admissions Committee will take this into account when reviewing my transcript," she would have covered all the points she needed to about her grades, while freeing up her personal statement for other, more important topics. In fact, she probably would have gotten the reaction she originally desired, which is for me to admire her tenacity and perserverence in mastering a subject. You don't need two pages for that.
There's a mistaken impression generally that you have to have suffered in some way in order to be a compelling applicant. That's not true. If you're fortunate to have encountered only minor bumps in the road on your path to greatness, consider yourself lucky and think about how being in that position has affected your choices and values. You'll have a clearer picture of why you're at the point of applying to law school, and have a better personal statement as a result.
In our last Boot Camp we discussed obstacles versus disappointments, and why it's important to know the difference before deciding to incorporate either into your essay.
This week I'm going to talk about actual obstacles, like major factors outside your control that impacted how you grew up, an illness you have battled (or may still be battling), discrimination or persecution, etc. These are real. The question is whether you should mention these obstacles in your personal statement and if so, how.
I think that as a general matter, only you can decide whether to incorporate a very personal or traumatic obstacle into your statement. If it has had a significant impact on your development as a person, then you may want to. But please remember that you never need to be defined by these things, and if you would rather choose to omit any mention of obstacles you have encountered and focus on other aspects of your life or things that are important to you, you should do so—there's nothing about an obstacle that is inherently more compelling than a neutral personal experience, or an intellectual idea, or a professional experience (to name a few other potential essay topics).
What is compelling about an obstacle is how you dealt with it, or how it changed you. Generally, this is referred to as illustrating that you've "overcome" the obstacle, though that term is both too broad and too narrow in terms of what you need to write about.
The reason that "overcoming" is too broad to describe this type of essay is that it implies that you need to give a play by play of exactly what you did at each step of your life or ordeal to deal with your obstacle. This isn't necessarily the case—you can actually write very little, if there is evidence in the other parts of your application that very clearly speak to the "overcoming" part. For example, I remember an application from a woman who noted in her essay that she came to the U.S. when she was seventeen, speaking no English. Having lived abroad, I know that's not an easy adjustment. She didn't belabor that point, though, and went on to discuss the new opportunities she found in the U.S., how she developed an interest in a particular area of law, etc. Not too much about her obstacle. She did, however, score a 174 or something insane on her LSATs. Frankly, her application, with the combination of her coming to America at an older age, accomplishing what she did, and scoring better than the majority of native English speakers made her, for me, an example of someone who had overcome a major obstacle (even though that wasn't her intended point).
A really elaborate play by play can also backfire, sending a mixed message. My colleague, Dean Zearfoss from the University of Michigan, writing about confusing personal statements, wrote (presumably about an applicant who had tried an OO essay),
I recently wrote this note on a comment sheet: "Tenacious good, or tenacious crazy?" I.e., is the applicant tenacious in the way of overcoming obstacles, pushing onward in the face of adversity, demonstrating resilience, or tenacious in the way of not perceiving when an endeavor is wholly futile, perhaps repeatedly failing to accurately assess situations? The personal statement made me think the candidate was one or the other, I couldn't decide which.
Yee-ah. You don't want to go overboard on the "overcoming" part, especially if you could tell the story through your entire application in a much more subtle way.
The reason "overcoming" is too narrow is that depending on the obstacle, you could overcome it in the sense that you dealt with the situation effectively, but it may not add to your application. For example, I can recall another application from a student who went to an underperforming school and who did not come from a family that had members who had gone to college. The essay focused on the educational conditions of the schools he attended, and the lack of mentorship from family members when it came time for college. Now, the fact that this person went to college at all was certainly a major accomplishment, and I'm sure the applicant intended that coda to be the "overcoming" part. The problem was that the applicant's performance in college was less than stellar, and while I had a context for understanding why (I was confident it wasn't from lack of motivation or interest, but lack of preparedness), the whole overcoming obstacles aspect did not make the overall application more compelling. The student would have been better off using the essay to really talk about his academic interests and ideas as a counterpoint to the questions I would have about the transcript, and to perhaps add a short addendum explaining that he had a difficult transition to college based on his educational and familiar background.
If you're thoroughly scared about the OO essay at this point, you shouldn't be: as I said, you, as the experiencer of the obstacle, are the best judge of how much that makes you who you are today, and you should use that as your guide. As I mentioned in my last post, though, this is a delicate essay to write—and if it's not well-crafted, the impact it has on the reader may be other than what you intended.
This week we are going to conclude our P.S. Boot Camp series, since it's almost the end of October and many of you have already sent out your applications (I begin reading next week!). Keep in mind that, unlike most schools, Yale's admissions process is designed so that your chances of admission stay the same regardless of when you apply, so if you're not yet ready to hit "submit," keep your finger off the trigger until you have included everything you want me and the other readers of your file to see when we read it.
You know, my Boot Camp series got a lot of buzz recently, including from some law professors in the blogosphere who felt that I was somehow maligning the legal profession (and zombies, with whom they apparently identified strongly) by suggesting that law practice might be less than what it's cracked up to be on TV, or in headline-making cases. I don't have anything against lawyers (I am one, after all), or the practice of law, but it seems to me that as a gatekeeper of sorts it's only responsible of me to throw a few warning shots out to potential applicants who might be marching down the road to significant debt and existential ennui without a lot of forethought and reflection.
In fact, this time of year always reminds me of my first few days at the FBI Academy. When you first arrive at the Academy, you're pumped: you're seventeen weeks away from getting your badge and creds, kicking down doors, and profiling serial killers who make bodysuits out of women's skin. Because we all know that's what FBI Agents do.
Well, on the second day at the Academy, right after getting fitted for a bulletproof vest, you get filed into a room with a movie screen and a tall man with a crew cut who doesn't smile. He tells you it's time for a "reality check." Lights go down, and on the screen is the view from a dashboard camera on a cop car that's driving down a road, pulling over an old pickup truck. Cop gets out, goes to the driver's side window, gets the license, and walks back towards the cop car to check it. Except that in the background, you see the guy who got pulled over get out of the truck, reach into the back, and get out a double-barreled shotgun. As the cop turns around, the guys from the truck unloads a few rounds. At this point, everything goes off screen—you hear the cop trying to call for backup, and the truck guy walking towards the cop car, and then, in sound only, unload again. Lights go on, and everyone just sits there, pale-faced in stone silence.
Usually after Reality Check, a few people drop out of the Academy.
I've often wondered, as I read applications with descriptions from Law & Order, cites to Brown v. Board of Education, and analogies to Legally Blonde, what a law school reality check would look like. And I found it, right here:
Look I want all of you to apply to law school (and to Yale), but I also want you to think about what you're getting into. These are tough times out there, and while law school might be a great place to hide out for three years, those three years will end. (And, for the record, I'll say that those three years, if spent at Yale, can be amazing—I'll take exception to the characterization of law students in the video when it comes to Yale, as you can see from our class profile and what they have to say in their own words about being here.) If you're inclined to take some time to think about where you want to go, this is the time to explore your options: practicing law can be fun, rewarding, and potentially lucrative, but only if your heart is totally in it. And to bring this all back around to the Personal Statement, if what you're writing starts to sound too much like what the woman said in the above video, you might want to watch it again and revise.
If you're still willing to take the plunge, consider yourself warned and good luck. And now, speaking of Ambien and scotch, it's time to get home to the kids.
One of the wonderful things about going to a small law school like Yale is that the alumni network is well-connected and has strong emotional ties to the School and each other. It also means that when a distinguished graduate, like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton ’73, comes back for her Law School reunion to accept the YLS Award of Merit for her public service, pretty much everyone returning for reunions, as well as most current students, can fit into Woolsey Hall to see her accept the award and hear her speak.
The reception afterwards was also a relatively small affair, which is how it came to pass that I had the opportunity to have the great honor of meeting President Bill Clinton ’73, in an event that shall be henceforth be known (on this blog and in my life) as The Moment When Time Stood Still. In an awkward and unexpected twist after introducing myself, the President generously suggested that I have "the hardest job in the world." This was probably my cue to humbly and graciously beg to differ, considering that it was coming from, you know, the former Leader of the Free World. Unfortunately, my brain was preoccupied with formulating conversationally-relevant sentences that contained basic subject-verb agreement, so instead I smiled like a crazy person and nodded vigorously as though this were perfectly obvious.
Anyhoo, during TMWTSS, we discussed—or rather, the President discussed, while I hung, transfixed, on every word—student loans. He mentioned that when he was in law school, the government had an income-based repayment program that allowed graduates to pay only .6% of discretionary income towards their loans (I hope I am remembering this correctly...as noted, there was a little brain freeze going on but I am pretty sure about this detail). I was super interested in this, since I've been thinking a lot about the current federal Income-Based Repayment (IBR) program, which allows students to pay 15% of their discretionary income towards their loans (and only 10% if they are on the Pay as Your Earn program). When combined with the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, students can pay relatively little towards their loans while they are in low-paying jobs, and ultimately have their loans forgiven by the government at the end of 10 years. Sounds like a good deal, right?
Actually, it is a good deal, which is why some law schools have gotten on board to create their own loan repayment assistance programs (LRAP) that harmonize with the program. Unfortunately, there's been kind of a pall cast around these programs—I would say even an attempt to turn it into a scandal—because of the incentives created by the way the federal program is structured. Specifically, LRAP programs that harmonize with the federal IBR plan typically offer loan repayment support equal to the minimum IBR payment. In order to cover the cost of the LRAP payments, however, schools could theoretically increase the tuition charged to students. And since students know that their loan payments will be covered by the school, they theoretically could simply borrow more to cover the tuition. Basically, since there is no downward pressure—schools have no cap on the amount they can charge and students have no cap on the amount they can borrow—one potential outcome is that both the student and the school can pass on the cost of an upwardly-sprialing debt load to the government, which forgives the balance 10 years later.
If this seems confusing, several commentaries, like this one, explain the problem (the response to this commentary can be found here). One solution, according to the New America Foundation, is to cap the amount of federal public service loan forgiveness to $30,000, which would still leave students who participated in the PSLF program with a significant amount of debt to continue to repay, even after the 10 year mark. I was struck by the following statement by the NAF: "Graduate students shouldn’t qualify for more de facto grant aid than low-income undergraduate students." ??? Uh, yes they should. And here's why: Law schools graduates who go into the kind of public service jobs that qualify for the PSLF program (like government and non-profit work) are typically forgoing lucrative salaries—unlike undergraduates, who usually don't have the same debt burden and the option to take a six-figure salary right out of school—in order to provide specialized skills and knowledge that benefits, well, the public. The public includes the taxpayers who will ultimately be "paying" the debt. That seems to me to be a fair exchange. If loan forgiveness were capped at a fraction of debt even after a graduate works for 10 years in public service, there would be little incentive for the most talented graduates with the most options to pursue careers in the sectors in which good lawyers are needed the most. Considering that the few schools that offer LRAP to begin with are mostly top-tier schools, and the PSLF is significantly underused, it seems to me that the potential for rampant abuse is pretty low and the benefits to students and society are pretty high in comparison. I personally think that law schools should be getting credit for creating these programs (more on this in Part II), instead of being shamed for them.
In fact, I'm not really sure what's so controversial about a law school piggybacking on the government program—it actually makes a lot of sense. We at YLS considered ways of harmonizing our COAP program with the federal one, but ultimately decided against it, at least in the sense that our payments under COAP are in no way linked to what is owed under IBR (but we still encourage our grads to get PSLF "credit" for their public service work if they qualify for it). Linking our support to IBR payments would, frankly, be more economical from an insitutional point of view, since our current program is based on a formula that is much more generous than what would be owed under IBR. However, we had a few reservations about the federal PSLF program itself, as detailed by our Director of Financial Aid, Jill Stone, in a recent post on the YLS Financial Aid Blog. Mainly, it seemed a little premature to hitch ourselves to the proverbial federal wagon.
Specifically, the federal program has a few kinks it's still trying to work out. For starters, as Jill notes in her blog post, it's a little worrisome (though perhaps not entirely surprising) that it took five years for the federal government to actually create a system to track whether PSLF participants were fulfilling the conditions it had laid out to qualify for forgiveness under the PSLF program. Second, the conditions themselves (such as the kinds of jobs and loans that qualify, and how and when IBR payments have to be made) are a bit tricky and, ultimately, more restrictive than our income-based COAP program, which doesn't base eligibility on the type of job people have. Most importantly (and most troubling, from my point of view) is that because IBR payments can be less than the interest on the loan, it is possible—and likely, in the case of students working in low-income jobs—that their loans will be negatively amortized, meaning that the unpaid interest gets tacked on to the principal, allowing the total debt owed to get bigger, instead of smaller, as time goes on. Obviously, this isn't a problem if, after 10 years, the feds actually forgive the loan. But if for whatever reason they don't, a graduate could be left holding the bag owing more than they did when they graduated. For some reason this seems to me to be—in the world of theoretical possibilities—a more likely scenario than schools diabolically raising tuition through the roof simply to help a fairly small sliver of public interest-minded students finance their loans. (I mean, seriously?)
Now, it may be shocking to you that I would doubt the federal government's willingness to honor its promises, particularly when it comes to paying off debts. I mean, it would be really, really bad for the feds to just leave a bunch of people who've relied on them out in the cold, and it's hard to imagine a scenario where they would be willing to do that. It's ourgovernment, after all. But I'm just saying. I'm not trying to scare anyone away from the PSLF program or anything, but it's probably worth your while—whether your law school is helping with monthly payments or not—to read the fine print on the PSLF very carefully and find out what contingencies are available in the event that you either leave PSLF early or the feds bail out on you (some schools, for example, offer a lump sum payment if you leave the program within a certain number of years, which would effectively leave you in the same position as if you had been paying on a regular 10-year amortization schedule).
In the meantime, if you're really not in it for the money, the PSLF program offers a way for you to make law school a good choice for you, even if the private sector job market is shrinking. And if a law school is willing to pitch in on top of PSLF, even better. There is, believe it or not, still a need for good lawyers—lawyers, say, who provide legal assistance to those who can't afford it. Or who work in important legal issues, like human rights or immigration, or health care, Or who come up with novel and creative arguments why technicalities like "the Constitution" and "the 22nd Amendment" ought not prevent an eminently-qualified person from running for President. Though I suppose on the last point we should be grateful that such technicalities wouldn't prevent such a person from serving in the White House as the spouse of another, eminently-qualified person. Who could run with yet another, eminently-qualified person. And the fact that they all went to YLS would just be a coincidence.
I'm just saying.
It's that time of the year again when we get inundated with emails from applicants letting us know that they have scholarship deadlines and that they "must" receive a decision from Yale or that they will be required to withdraw their application in order to accept the scholarship. I addressed this last year in the wake of a new rule promulgated by the Law School Admission Council, which specifically states that law schools may not require applicants to withdraw from schools from which they have not yet received a decision as a condition of accepting a scholarship or any other type of offer. I thought that this would clean things up in the world of sketchy admissions practices. Sadly, it looks like to the contrary, even more schools have joined the fray this year.
So let's cut to the chase. It is highly likely that the law school offering you a scholarship is a member of the Law School Admissions Council, and has agreed to follow its Statement of Good Admissions and Financial Aid Practices, and benefits from other law schools following those same practices. Therefore, if you are offered a scholarship and have not yet heard from Yale, you do not need to withdraw your application from Yale. Period. So, if you would take the money being offered to you if Yale was not an option, please follow these steps:
1. Accept your scholarship offer by the deadline, and if required, withdraw from any school that has already given you an offer of admission.
2. If you subsequently get into Yale, review our financial aid package and decide immediately whether you will accept. If you choose to accept, contact the law school that offered you the scholarship and explain that you just received an offer from a law school from which you had not heard when you accepted the scholarship, that you are choosing to deposit there, and that you want to withdraw.
3. If you are criticized, belittled, harassed, threatened, or made to feel bad in any way, ask the admissions/financial aid person with whom you are dealing at that school to give me a call. I'll take it from there.
The popular guilt-trip law schools use to rationalize their behavior is that allowing students time to hear from all law schools disadvantages other students who won't get a chance to receive the same scholarship if the first awardee turns it down after the deadline. Yeah—save the drama for your mama. I've spoken with faculty who have served on the selection committees for some of these scholarships and who have assured me that these schools have A-lists, B-lists, C-lists, and D-lists of alternative candidates for the scholarships. And even if they didn't, are these schools really suggesting that out of the 600–1,500 students they accept each year, there isn't a single qualified applicant to whom they can offer the scholarship after April 2? Really?
Let's take a poll: Readers, how many of you would refuse to consider a scholarship of $150K if it were offered to you on, say, May 1?
That's what I thought.
Before we get bogged down in "the rule" and whether law schools are technically complying with it, let's take a Yale Law School approach to LSAC's Statement of Good Admissions Practices and ask what the purpose of having such a statement is in the first place. Having read through the Statement pretty carefully, I believe that the purpose of the Statement is to encourage law schools to adopt best practices to ensure that their interests are aligned, to the maximum extent possible, with the interests of the applicants. This is especially important when talking about money, especially in today's legal market: with students going to law schools, taking on undischargeable debt (and people, even with a "full ride" you'll be taking on debt unless you have significant assets going in), and often graduating without a job or any way to pay it back, it is in applicants' collective interest to be able to consider the full range of law school choices open to them, compare financial aid packages, employment statistics, and loan repayment plans, and make an informed decision of the place that will be best suited to their interests and talents in both the short and long run. Allowing students to keep active applications from schools that have not yet rendered a decision furthers this goal by giving students a chance to actually evaluate—and act upon—all of their options. In short, the spirit of the Statement is to allow students to have—as the LSAC puts it—"an uncoerced choice among various law schools."
By contrast, policies that require students—either explicitly or implicitly—to prematurely withdraw from schools that have not yet given them a decision reduces the range of options available to applicants, including those that might be better for them individually. Such policies actually go one nefarious step further: they can hurt the students' chances at the schools they most want to attend. The way it works is this: School X tells students that they have to withdraw all of their applications in order to accept a scholarship. In a panic, and thinking that they can get a decision from another school earlier, students contact School Y to say they have just won a major scholarship that they are planning to accept unless they get favorable news. Basically, School X has just forced part of its applicant pool to "out" itself to other, probably more competitive, schools as students who have significant scholarship offers and will therefore be more difficult to recruit. What do you think that does to their chances of admission at School Y? It's not really a factor at Yale, since we have a decentralized (and very transparent) review process: we take the best applicants we can and let the chips fall where they may (and more than 80% of the time they fall in our favor). We also offer only need-based financial aid, so we don't negotiate with money. However, for a school that might be more concerned about its yield, or that offers merit aid and realizes that it will need to match or exceed the scholarship to land that student, outright rejecting the student might be a better option in light of the information the student volunteered up. Basically, the School Xs of the world are banking on the fact that you'll either do what they say and withdraw your outstanding applications, or that you'll shoot yourself in the foot trying to get a quick answer from their competitors.
I have no doubt that my counterparts at other schools will characterize my above advice as "unethical," suggesting that I am encouraging future law students to break promises. Whatever. I personally question the integrity of admission practices that exploit law applicants' fear, anxiety, and vulnerability and incentivize them to self-sabotage in the admissions process. It seems to me that law schools, as gateways to the profession, ought to be modeling professional responsibility, honesty, and acting in the interests of their client—in this case, YOU. As far as I'm concerned, there is nothing unethical about my advice because there's nothing unethical about acting in accordance with the standards and policies a law school has voluntarily and publicly agreed to adhere to, policies that are in place to protect your interests. Don't let a law school bully you into believing otherwise.
You could, if you are very brave, stand up to the law school yourself. You could let the law school offering you the scholarship know that you are accepting the scholarship, but as per the LSAC's Statement, you will not withdraw your outstanding applications. Then smile sweetly and see what they do. Either they won't do anything, or they'll pull your scholarship. At that point, you should give David Segal from the New York Times a call, or maybe David Lat from Above the Law. Tell them what happened, and forward a copy of LSAC's Statement to them along with your email exchanges with the school (or your secretly recorded phone conversations—according to The Berkman Center, one-party recordings are legal in New York, but not Illinois, FYI). And ask them to call me for a quote. I would looooooooove to see these scholarship shenanigans exposed on the front page of the Times, or in a legal blog. The Truth is never afraid of the light of day, my friends. Bring it.
As some of you start getting antsy awaiting a decision as the end of admissions season approaches, you might have read my first BIJ post from last year, which exhorted you not to call or write to check on your status. I was admittedly grumpy in my second trimester (perpetual nausea will do that to you), and while most of you appreciated, and even found solace in, my tongue-in-cheek humor, it's probably worthwhile giving a more lucid explanation for why status checks don't jive with our admissions process.
Simply put, we only have two statuses (statii?) for applicants: Under Review and [insert your final decision here]. I've detailed how our admissions process workselsewhere, but suffice it to say that if you haven't heard from us, your file is in the pipeline somewhere, being read by someone (a.k.a. Under Review). We can't give more detail than that, so a call or email really just results in frustration for all parties involved since we don't have much to tell you.
I can see how the cricket chirping you hear from Yale might create an impression that we have a cavalier, let-them-eat-cake attitude towards our applicants. It certainly doesn't help that many of you heard within weeks (or days) of becoming complete at other schools. But consider the math. Most schools are in a position where they can afford to take all or most of the most qualified students due to their size, which means that they can usually rely on proxies to speed up the admissions process. By contrast, our extremely small size, and relatively large applicant pool, means that for each person that we admit, we are forced to turn down at least 3 other equally qualified people. We are loath to turn down anyone without giving their application a careful review, which is why we make sure to read every application, and involve the entire faculty in our process. Consider the following note I received from a faculty reader (who read for the first time this year):
I finished my files at 2:00 a.m. this morning and then I did a gut check when I got back to the office today. You and your staff did an exceptional job: whenever I thought “oh, this candidate is obviously an X,” I almost immediately discovered some new nuance to their candidacy that made my task harder. We are blessed with so many—too many—great candidates. And the parity among the candidates whose records I reviewed shows that you and your team filtered folks with care and expertise.
Although I am badly in need of a pedicure and martini, rest assured that we are not partying it up here in the Admissions Office. Our silence is actually an outgrowth of our single-minded focus on processing, reading, and making decisions on your application (which is a secondary reason we discourage status checks, as they divert our attention from these three tasks and makes everyone's wait longer).
You might think of ours as a Rawlsian-inspired admissions process, in that it offers the most advantage to numerically weaker applicants, since we do a holistic review of every application. The tradeoff is that it takes longer for us to make a decision, which will be most annoying to numerically strong applicants who likely hear much earlier from other schools. But if I were to ask you from behind a veil of ignorance (say, before you learned your LSAT score) whether you'd prefer a system that uses an LSAT/GPA index or other sorting mechanism to speed up admission or one that takes longer but gives each application an equal review in the order that it became complete, I'm guessing you'd choose the latter.
For the record, I strongly prefer using SNL skits to make my point to social justice theory.
Anyway, for those of you who still aren't mollified, a few practical points:
1. If you are facing a looming financial aid or scholarship deadline (and schools ethically shouldn't be giving you these before April 1), you can email us at email@example.com with your name, LSAC number, the scholarship, and the deadline, and we will make a note of it. While we cannot expedite a review of your application, we can make sure you receive a notification as fast as possible once a decision is made, or at least give you a time frame in which you can expect a decision, so that you can ask for an extension of the deadline, if possible. (Note that we do verify the scholarship/deadline, so please don't make something up). We will usually get back to you a couple of days before your deadline, so you don't need to keep emailing if you don't get an immediate response -- we're working on it.
2. If you submitted your application in the last month or so and still haven't received word that you're complete, you shouldn't worry. Our volume spikes as we approach the deadline, which creates a bit more of a delay for completion of files. Also, we don't let incomplete files just dawdle in the Admissions Office. We will, if necessary, make every effort to proactively contact you to get any missing information before we decide you are a lost cause. And I don't fill the class until I have read every complete file. So, chillax.
3. If you've sent in an update, etc. keep in mind that you may not get a personalized confirmation from the Admissions Office. We have one person who handles ALL the email traffic coming into the office (her name is Josie, and she is very nice). As you might imagine, Josie is busy triaging the emails to make sure we're taking care of scholarship people, questions from admits, updates, etc. so it would be impossible for her to respond to every update. If you received the automated response, that means that Josie received it and will take care of it. I will refer you to the comments section of my last post on whether an update at this point will make it into your file before it is reviewed by me and the admissions committee.
4. The bulk of our admissions decisions are made this month, and a smaller portion will be made in early April. We do make phone calls for admissions offers (though as I mentioned above, we also call if we have questions or need additional materials on your file, so don't assume that a phone call is an offer -- please call us back). Other decisions are sent via snail mail, though as we get later in the season (or if we are helping you meet a scholarship deadline) we might send you a decision by email. Basically, please make sure that the phone number, permanent address, and email address on your application are correct, and check your spam filter to make sure you aren't going to miss anything coming from our office.
In short, no news is good news -- for now -- when it comes to YLS. I am as anxious to get our class finalized as you are (I'd post a photo of my feet, but I think you'll want to trust me on this one). I hope this quells your anxiety a little bit...just a little more than a month and counting!
One of the hazards of allowing a thirty-something to blog is that you have to read posts that use phrases like "the straight dope." As we learned from my last post, however, sometimes the straight dope is exactly what you need to navigate the law school admissions process, and this time I am going to lay it out for you with regard to loan forgiveness programs.
To rewind a little bit, I mentioned in my last post the benefit of law schools adopting policies that are aligned with student interests. Recently, two Yale Law professors discussed this in an article in Slate, proposing that law schools ought to put "skin in the game" with regard to rising law school education costs. Loan forgiveness programs are one effort to do exactly that: by placing at least some of the burden of paying back student loans on themselves, law schools with such programs have to take into account the cost, as well as benefit, of raising the price of legal education. To this end, schools that offer loan forgiveness programs—and particularly Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, which are the only law schools remaining in the country that operate on a purely need-based financial aid model—ought to be commended (but usually aren't) for eschewing large, front-end, merit-based scholarships which are usually allocated on the basis of LSAT and GPA in favor of back-end grants allocated based on a student's actual earnings.
Loan forgiveness programs, of course, are not created equal. And unlike scholarship deadlines, understanding them is not always straightforward, since they involve many factors. In fact, it's very easy for a school to "hard sell" you on their program by cherry picking the one or two examples in which they look better than the others based on very specific situations and circumstances. But the story of a loan forgiveness program lies in the big picture: since most students don't know what their exact situation will be in three, five, or ten years, approaching a loan forgiveness program from a veil of ignorance point of view is usually your best bet.
To this end, when I guide students through how to meaningfully compare loan forgiveness programs, I make sure that they look at five critical factors taken together: 1) the amortization schedule used by the school; 2) the expected student contribution schedule; 3) the school's treatment of assets; 4) the length of eligibility; and 5) job coverage. Only by assessing all of these factors as a whole can you determine whether a particular loan forgiveness program will be a good fit for you. If any school tries to market its program by focusing almost exclusively on one factor—like, say, its amortization schedule—you should notice a strong, fishy smell wafting under your nose.
I say this because in recent years I've had many students coming to me—usually after attending a peer school's admit program—with major confusion about how Yale's program actually works, and in particular, about our amortization schedule (which is what I'll focus on in this post—please see here for the full details on all of the other factors listed above). Yale uses a 15/5 amortization schedule, which means that for the first five years, we assume you are paying your loans on a 15 year repayment plan. For the second five years, we assume an accelerated 5 year repayment plan. At the end of 10 years, your loans would be paid off.
Why is this an issue? According to Harvard (which uses a straight 10-year amortization schedule):
Loan repayment assistance at some other schools is calculated on a longer repayment term, such as 15 years. By using an extended repayment term your benefits from the LRAP are smaller and you will make slower progress repaying your loans. In effect, it is like receiving assistance on 75% of your eligible loan debt instead of 100% of your eligible loan debt.
In other words, according to Harvard, the mere fact that "some other schools" are using a longer amortization schedule means that you will be getting less assistance from the school. Let's take a look at the actual numbers with this graph (based on an Yale's average debt of $107,000 at 7.9% interest):
Hmmm . . . if you pay attention to the light blue (Yale) and red (Harvard) bars on the graph, it turns out that in fact, at a certain income (in the graphed example it is $60K), you start getting less money from Harvard than you do from Yale, despite the fact that Harvard uses a more accelerated amortization schedule. In other words, even if you are, in fact, paying your loans back on a 10-year repayment schedule, there is a fixed income point after which Yale is actually financing a larger percentage of your loan than Harvard, in direct contravention to their claim.
How is this possible? Well, even though Harvard assumes that you owe more in the first five years, its steeper student contribution curve means that they also expect you to contribute more. Since the asistance you actually receive is based on the combination of these two factors, not just on the former standing alone, focusing just on the different amortization schedules is a red herring, and frankly, factually misleading.
(NOTE: For the same reason, the difference in assistance in the first five years between Stanford and Yale—the yellow and light blue bars—gets smaller over time as well, though not as quickly since Stanford's student contribution schedule is higher than Yale's but not quite as high as Harvard's.)
If you pay attention to the dark blue lines, which represent Yale's assistance in the second five years, the plot thickens. Many students don't understand what advantage a 15/5 amortization schedule can offer a student. The graph shows this pretty clearly. By assuming an increase in the amount owed in the second five years, Yale's loan forgiveness plan effectively raises the income ceiling on being eligible for loan assistance. Say, for instance, you are in your fifth year at a government job, making $85K a year. At this point, you are already receiving more assistance from Yale than either Harvard or Stanford. And let's assume that you're expecting a 5–10% salary increase—which would be typical if you were up for a grade or step increase, which is likely at that stage. Under Stanford and Harvard's flat amortization schedule, you'd be out of their programs, because you'd be expected to contribute more than you are expected to owe at the new salary. By contrast, Yale's program allows you to not only take the salary increase (in the graphed example, up to a salary of $105K) and remain eligible for the program, but receive even more assistance than you were previously, as well.
This is important because the five-year mark is usually a critical turning point in many graduates' careers. Often, at that point, graduates find that they have the experience to command a higher salary (even in a public interest or government job), the need to do so (because of additional family and financial responsibilities), or both. Even at the lowest salary levels, you'll see that Yale benefits graduates at the five year point by offering dramatically more loan assistance than both Harvard and Stanford.`
Stanford and Harvard might point out that if you are in a very low paying job, and if you know you are planning to be in that job for only 2 to 3 years, their program will help you pay down more debt. As a straight mathematical matter, this could be true—as I counseled admits at our admit program, if you know you will be in this very limited situation, perhaps these other programs might be better for you. But be careful. First, there should be another big "if" added to the above qualifications, which is IF your job qualifies for loan repayment at all. Unlike Yale, which looks at loan forgiveness eligibility solely on the basis of income (whether you are a prosecutor, a CEO of a nonprofit, or a concert pianistall of which we have supported on our program), Harvard and Stanford require you to meet specific job parameters in order to be on the graph, so to speak, in the first place. It is, of course, easy to offer more money if you make that money accessible to only a small sliver of students.
Second, as noted above, Yale's average debt is $107,000. By contrast, Harvard's average debt, as noted on their website, is $125,000. (I could not find Stanford's average debt published anywhere.) Although the tuition among the three schools is similar, the cost of attending can vary, since a significant portion of the student budget—and what you will be borrowing—will be based upon your cost of living. Whatever you have to say about New Haven, it's cheaper than both Cambridge and Palo Alto. So even if you expect to get an additional $2–3K extra for a few years on the back end, look at your bottom line debt at all the schools and see if it's just making up for the fact that you're paying $15-20K more to go there in the first place. If so, then the "extra" money is just a wash. (Keep in mind that starting in the 2012–2013 academic year, subsidized federal loans are no longer available, so everything you borrow on the front end will accrue interest throughout your three years in school increasing your total debt even more.)
If amortization schedules, graphs, and math have left your eyes glazed over, I'll give you a shortcut to compare which program is the most comprehensive, accessible, and generous. Simply ask each school to answer the following questions:
1. How many graduates do you currently support with loan assistance? Yale: 398
2. How much money do you spend each year on loan forgiveness? Yale: $3.6 million
3. What is your average grant amount per year? Yale: $9,809
(Hint: Stanford is roughly the same size as Yale and Harvard is about 2.5 times larger.)
For this book club selection, we're going to move into nonfiction territory. Like my fiction tastes, my proclivities in nonfiction are kind of all over the place: Indian royalty, personal finance, Renaissance history, and childrearing, are all random topics I like to explore. But I do consistently move towards prescriptive books—particularly prescriptive memoirs. Generally, prescriptive books end up making me feel guilty, because I feel like I ought to be doing something that I'm not. That's why I was thrilled to stumble across Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project, because she doesn't actually give you a bunch of steps to follow to achieve happiness (or get organized, or find God, or whatever), but rather a framework with which to think about happiness generally.
Now, I will admit that I didn't know much about this book when I picked it up, and was initially attracted to the bright blue cover with the kid-like lettering on the front (props to her publisher). But, I was immediately engaged with Ms. Rubin's project, partly because I totally related with her as a person. Ms. Rubin is a Yale Law School graduate—just like me. She sends a family photo/update for Valentine's Day, instead of Christmas . . . just like me! She ends up getting frustrated and annoyed with other people's imperfections. Just. Like. Me. Just as I was imagining what it would be like to be BFFs with Gretchen (I felt like we should be on a first-name basis), I discovered that Gretchen doesn't like pedicures. As some of you 203 readers know, one of the things I fantasize about, particularly during admissions season, is getting a nice, relaxing pedicure, preferably while sitting in a massage chair and reading the latest Ok! magazine. So maybe I and Ms. Rubin (we were back to being professional colleagues) wouldn't hang out all the time after all.
Even so, acknowledging that I enjoyed something that another intelligent, very successful person doesn't only highlighted one of Ms. Rubin's personal Secrets of Adulthood—and the one I think most relevant to aspiring law students—namely,"You can choose what you do; you can't choose what you like to do." In other words, it's pretty easy to go along with the current, but you may want to stop and think about whether the current you're in is where you want to be in the first place.
That's the crux of Ms. Rubin's Happiness Project. Who are you at your core? How do you want to change? What do you like to do? Where do you want to go? And, most importantly, Are your day-to-day actions aligned with your answers to all of these questions? Taking her inspiration from Benjamin Franklin, who tried to achieve "moral perfection" by cultivating a different virtue every month through a resolutions chart, Mr. Rubin attacks a different area of her life every month for a year, from health to sprituality. With a spreadsheet of resolutions for each area, Ms. Rubin follows the guidance of life gurus including Montaigne, Saint Therese of Lisieux, and Oprah, among others. Along the way she finds the happiness-boosting impact of such simple things as organizing your closet (and leaving one shelf empty) and more difficult things like not nagging (trust me, a hard habit to break).
Figuring out what makes you happy is a worthwhile endeavor (I'm allowed to use that word because it's on a blog, not a P.S.) before starting law school. Law school, apart from encouraging conformity, also tends to equate suffering and apathy with intelligence. To quote Ms. Rubin:
Some people associate happiness with a lack of intellectual rigor, like the man who said to Samuel Johnson, 'You are a philosopher, Dr. Johnson. I have tried too in my time to be a philosopher; but, I don't know how, cheerfulness was always breaking in.' Creativity, authenticity, or discernment, some folks argue, is incompatible with the bourgeois complacency of happiness. But although somber, pessimistic people might seem smarter, research shows that happiness and intelligence are essentially unrelated.
Of course, it's cooler not to be too happy. There's a goofiness to happiness, a readiness to be pleased. Zest and enthusiasm take energy, humility, and engagement; taking refuge in irony, exercising destructive criticism, or assuming an air of philosophical ennui is less taxing.
For some reason, law school is filled with this ethos (perhaps because the profession attracts so many philosophers), so it's important to get grounded in your own values and interests before you start. The brief interview I had with Ms. Rubin elaborates on this further:
203: Let's start with your career. You achieved the legal trifecta: Yale Law School, Editor-in-Chief of the Law Journal, and Supreme Court Clerk. What made you leave a career path that most law students can only dream about?
Rubin: I was interested in law and had a great experience in my legal jobs, but for me, the pull to become a writer at last became irresistible. While I was clerking for Justice O'Connor, I was working on a book in my free time—though it took me a long time to acknowledge to myself that that's what I was doing (that project became my first book POWER MONEY FAME SEX: A USER'S GUIDE). When I look back at my life, there are many clues that I wanted to be a writer, but I ignored them. At last, though, the impulse became strong enough that I admitted to myself that that is what I really wanted to do. I realized that I would rather fail as a writer than succeed as a lawyer, so I just had to give it a shot.
203: I'd ask you if you regret going to law school in the first place, but I know you met your husband there so I am assuming you don't! But in terms of your overall happiness (like if you were to graph it relative to other major points in your life), how would you rate your experience at Yale Law School?
Rubin: I loved Yale Law School and had a fantastic experience there. I loved the intellectual challenge, and all the people, and even the feel of the building. I remember thinking, as a third year, that I was so at home in the library that I wouldn't hesitate to walk in wearing my pajamas and blow-dry my hair at my carrel! (though I was never actually tempted to do that). It is really an extraordinary place, and I feel so fortunate that I was a student there. Plus, yes, meeting my husband was a definite high point.
203: More and more people are applying to law school (our volume was up 12% last year!) and yet it seems like more people are leaving the legal profession in droves. Based on what you've learned about happiness, do you think there's something inherent in the practice of law that's antithetical to being (and staying) happy?
Rubin: Well, some people argue that the confrontation inherent in a lot of law practice might lead to more unhappiness, or its constant search for what can go amiss or how people might wrong each other. And of course it can be stressful, with long hours and a lot of pressure. So all those factors are in play. But I would also make this observation: the people I know from law school who WANTED to be lawyers, or teach law, are happy with those jobs. But so many people go to law without any idea about whether they want to be a lawyer. So then why is it surprising if they don't love that career? Law school attracts people who don't know what else to do with themselves - people who are good at school, good at humanities, and who want to be told what to do in order to succeed. That's why I went! But in the end, being a lawyer will only make you happy if you enjoy being a lawyer. Many people do. Other people don't.
203: Do you have any advice to future or current law students about how they might maximize their happiness amidst the challenges and stresses of law school?
Rubin: Get enough sleep! This is HUGE! And get at least a little bit of exercise - even a twenty-minute walk - most days. Take time for fun. DON'T GET ANY EXTENSIONS on your papers - that is the highway to hell! And spend time with people, take time to build relationships. My one regret from law school is that I didn't spend more time hanging out in the dining hall, getting to know more people. Once you graduate, you don't have the opportunity for that kind of easy socializing, so make the most of it.
You can find more happiness tips and tricks suited for the Type A personality at Ms. Rubin's blog. Stay tuned as we return to more P.S. advice next week!
As promised, I'm officially kicking off the 203 Summer Fun Book Club. Never mind the fact that it is already the middle of July: my summer starts about now, as we begin wrapping up our transfer applications (and don't be surprised if "Summer Fun Book Club" continues through December, under the same name). The idea of the Book Club is to present a selection of books written by lawyers but that aren't about the law (at least in the direct, academic sense), with the hope that you'll avoid tooling out too early on law stuff (if you are an applicant or a 0L) and that you'll get some ideas of a career escape route (if you are already in law school).
I generally don't get to pal around with bestselling novelists—or even come in contact with them, for that matter—so I was pleasantly surprised when I got a note last fall from bestselling author Barry Eisler, who had read an article I had written about the use of torture. Mr. Eisler had kindly sent me a copy of his latest novel, Inside Out, which chronicles assassin Ben Treven's quest to track down 92 missing CIA torture tapes and the rogue agent who took them.
Before I go further, let me make a confession. Despite (or because of) my past life as a G-woman, I don't gravitate toward spy-thrillers or political "faction" (fiction based on true events) novels. My fictional tastes tend to flow toward mommy lit, dead Tudor queens, or tales of the Indian diaspora. Perhaps lightweight for a Yale Law graduate, but it is what it is (my next book selection will illustrate why I no longer feel a need to be apologetic about my literary preferences).
As a result I'll admit I approached this book with a little trepidation, fearing a Tom Clancy-esq, too-much-going-on-for-me-to-care-about-or-keep-track-of plot. It was anything but. Inside Out had a fast-moving but carefully woven plot, with well-developed characters and just the right dose of inside-the-beltway dialogue which provided a policy context for the novel. As for the steamy sex which Mr. Eisler promises when he discusses the book, I'll just echo the old Prego commercial: it's in there.
Part of the reason that the novel was so readable and engrossing is that it was believable. One of things that real-life law enforcement/intelligence training does is ruin you for any kind of fictional portrayal of this life. For example, here are three things that drive me absolutely nuts with crime/spy shows:
1. Any TV show that depicts LEOs (law enforcement officers) walking around and sweeping rooms with their finger on the trigger has a bad consultant and is a total fake. Rule #1—as any LEO (and hopefully private gun owner) will tell you—is keep your finger off the trigger until you're ready to shoot.
2. There are three things that will provide adequate cover (protection from a bullet) in a gunfight: a U.S. mailbox (the blue ones that look like R2D2), the engine block of a car, and a tree trunk. If you're watching a guy firing away from behind a wooden door or an office desk, just know that he would be totally dead in real life.
3. People employed to do covert operations with the CIA are CIA officers, not agents. A source recruited by the CIA officer is called an agent. By contrast, people employed by the FBI and who carry guns are FBI agents (short for Special Agent). A source recruited by an FBI Agent is called a source or an asset (and may be described in a criminal complaint as an informant). Someone at NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox please make a note of this.
Anyway, back to Inside Out being realistic. From the training and demeanor of the main characters—one a black ops agent and the other a female FBI agent (woo-hoo!)—to the interagency squabbling when the report of the 92 missing CIA tapes hits the media, the novel has the mark of someone who knows what he's talking about. That's because Mr. Eisler does. After graduating from Cornell Law School in 1989, Mr. Eisler was a covert CIA officer for three years before practicing law in Silicon Valley. He became a full-time writer after the publication of his first bestselling novel, Rain Fall, in 2003.
As someone who's followed a somewhat eclectic career path since law school myself, I was as intrigued by Mr. Eisler's background as with the novel. So I asked him to answer some questions for 203 readers, which he did:
203: You've had an amazing career, from law to the CIA to writing. Let's start with the first one: what made you decide to go to law school, and why did you eventually leave the practice?
Eisler: The truth is, I went to law school because I didn't know what else I wanted to do. I lacked direction while I was in college but tested well on things like the LSAT, and my parents, concerned about that lack of direction, encouraged me to apply to law school. So it was a bit of a "path of least resistance" thing and I can't say my heart was in it. After law school, I joined the CIA's Directorate of Operations—no connection with my law degree—and, while in many ways the experience was interesting, I also found working for a giant bureaucracy not to my taste. So I left after three years and joined the DC office of Weil, Gotshal & Manges, then bounced around between WGM's Silicon Valley office and private practice in Osaka and Tokyo. Eventually, a technology startup I had brought in to WGM as a client offered me an enticing executive position, so I left the bleachers and took to the field (at least that's how it felt at the time). All the while, I was working on the manuscript for what become my first novel —Rain Fall—and when I sold the rights for it and an unwritten sequel, I left the regular workplace entirely and started writing full time. I certainly enjoyed the craft of a technology licensing practice, in Silicon Valley, Japan, and in-house with a startup, but for me, writing full time, and being the CEO of my own operation, can't be beat.
203: You were a covert CIA officer for three years. What was that like—anything like the movie The Recruit? (Sorry, I have to ask—if it makes you feel better, people always want to know if the FBI was anything like the X-Files.)
Eisler: Heh, yes, it was as much like The Recruit as I imagine the Bureau is like the X-Files. It had its good and bad aspects. Good would include the training—seven weeks of paramilitary training, 20 weeks of spy school—and the opportunity to work alongside some impressive people. Bad would include the overall mediocrity of the place. I know that sounds harsh, and for anyone who's curious about more, I'd recommend Tim Weiner's Legacy of Ashes. Overall, America would be safer and saner today if we had abolished the CIA decades ago (as Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy all at various times wanted).
203: Inside Out is based on actual events, specifically the CIA's use of torture and its destruction of the videotapes that documented it. What about this spoke to you and made you consider making it into a novel?
Eisler: I'm appalled at America's embrace of torture. Not just because the practice is illegal—and we're supposed to be a nation under the rule of law—not just because it's immoral—and we're supposed to be better than our enemies. Also because it's counterproductive. The two things torture does undeniably well is produce false confessions (hence its popularity with the Inquisition) and create new jihadists and new jihadist sympathizers. Yet it's been sold to a gullible public as something that "works" and that has saved, rather than cost, American lives.
I realized the right has effectively cross-promoted torture by reducing the practice to this silly, misleading question: "Can you say it never works?" Leave aside for a moment that the question is intended to distract from the actual facts of what was ordered and done during the Bush administration and what continues under the Obama administration, and the actual US laws against torture. What counts isn't whether a practice can be shown to have worked in some isolated instance (although it's noteworthy that torture apologists have never been able to demonstrate even a single instance where torture led to intelligence that saved American lives); what counts is whether something works in the aggregate. So yes, of course, torture can theoretically "work," just as burning down a house can "work" to kill a mosquito. Bravo.
Anyway, the right has been effective in reducing torture to this misleading talking point and then cross-promoting it through shows like 24 and the novels of people like Vince Flynn and Brad Thor. I thought it was time for a reality-based novel in response—something that would depict the true causes and consequences of torture, not a cartoon fantasy. Hence, Inside Out.
203: Given your career trajectory, what would be your advice to aspiring law students? If they're not sure they want to be lawyers, do you think the law degree is still worth it?
Eisler: It depends on the person. I think some careers can be grown into, even if you're not sure about it at first. And God knows, the country needs good lawyers today—not corporate careerists, but men and women dedicated to the Constitution and to the notion that, as Thomas Paine said, "Insofar as we have a King in America, it is the law that is king." The Constitution has been under worsening assault pretty much the Manhattan Project (for more, I recommend Gary Wills' Bomb Power) and the Bush and Obama administrations have been especially ferocious. It's hard to see how the rule of law can survive if we don't have people dedicated to practicing and protecting it. In which regard: want to read an account of American heroes? "The Guantanamo Lawyers." A true story of what real lawyers can do in the service of justice and the Constitution when they set their minds to it. The country needs more such patriots, and I hope the book will inspire some of your students today.
So there you go, readers, from someone who has (literally) been there and done that—stay tuned for our next selection. Meanwhile, please keep in mind that if you clicked on any of the links in the above post, your phone calls may be monitored.
One thing that has come up with some frequency in the past couple of years, and which is easier to answer in print than in person, concerns proper formatting on your application. I'm not sure why, but apparently our application causes a lot of anxiety over technical issues. I also promised a commenter last spring that I would address this issue this fall, and need to fulfill my promise. So, here goes:
1. We do not have a page limit for the required Personal Statement. Generally, the rule of thumb is two pages, though some people do a little more or less. You want to make sure you cover everything you want to say, so if you go a little over two pages it's probably fine. However, keep in mind that your application is really your first "lawyerly" presentation—you're making a case for yourself, after all—so you want to show that you are able to convey what you need to say as clearly and concisely as possible.
2. Keep your 250-word essay at or below 250 words. There is (at least) one faculty reader who counts. That's just an insider tip.
3. Neither your Personal Statement nor your 250-word essay requires a title. Labeling them "Personal Statement" and "250-Word Essay" (or by question number) is fine.
4. You may answer each question on a separate page, or as a continuous document with appropriate spacing between questions. Just label each question.
5. You must answer Question 5a-c (honors, extracurriculars, employment during school), even if you are including a resume. Please. We won't complete your application without these answers. Many of you spend a lot of time (based on the questions we get in the office) wondering whether to answer these in bullet format, or in a little spreadsheet, or some other manner. Really, it just needs to be readable. Bullets are fine. If there is some honor or activity that isn't self-explanatory or on which you feel you need to elaborate further, a short narrative is OK.
6. OK, I'm going to get dicey here and, after the overwhelming response to my post on proper punctuation, I have a feeling this might get controversial. If you do include a resume (which we don't require), it should be one page. This is standard business practice, unless you're an academic with a lot of publications to your name which might take several pages to list. Now, this isn't a job application, and I'm sure we admit many people every year who have multiple-page resumes, so it's not an application-killer. But from a practical perspective, I'll note that it's really a lot easier to read a one-page resume and to see your life highlights at a glance. If you're concerned that you won't be able to fit everything you want to show on one page—voila! We have a question on our application just for you—Question 5a-c (see above).
7. We do not require a Diversity Statement, but you may include one if you like. For my thoughts on things you should consider if you are deciding whether to include a Diversity Statement, see question on diversity statement.
8. You may include an addendum if you feel that there is something in your application that requires further explanation. Examples of issues that might require addenda are: an aberration in your grades in a course or semester; a significant score differential after taking the LSAT twice; or some period of time when you withdrew from school. There may be others, and you should make the call on whether you need to include an addendum. Remember that the purpose of an addendum is to clarify an issue that might otherwise be overlooked or misinterpreted, so you just need to flag it, give your clarification/explanation, and be done. Brief, to-the-point addenda are always more effective than lengthy narratives.
9. By contrast, if you answered "yes" to either of our Character and Fitness questions, you need to come clean and provide all of the relevant details surrounding the criminal/disciplinary event. Simply stating "I was arrested for a DUI in 2008" and moving on to the next question is not going to cut it. Details, please. Obviously, the more serious the incident, the more explaining you need to do. But you want to avoid having the Admissions Office contact you for more information because the ensuing exchange, which is then included in your file, suggests that you weren't as forthcoming as you should have been in the first instance. For more on the C&F part of your application, please see here.
10. For everything else, just use your best judgment (see the Sandra Lee Rule). Apart from sloppy writing and typos, we're much more concerned about the substance of your application than in your formatting choices.
Hope this is helpful and reduces your anxiety. The applications I've read so far look great, so keep them coming!
Since we've been getting quite a few queries from those of you on our wait list, I thought I'd do a quick post and answer some FAQs.
First, there's been some scuttlebutt about the number of people we have on the wait list. We keep a fairly small wait list. Of course, we realize that not everyone to whom we offer a spot on the wait list will actually take it, so many more people will have recieved a wait list letter than remain on our wait list. Over the next few months, we will periodically review the people on our wait list and release some of them, so the number of people on the wait list dwindles as we go through the summer.
Generally, the bulk of our wait list activity, if we have any at all, will take place around our deposit deadline, which is on May 3. At that point, if fewer people to whom we have extended an offer of admission have accepted the offer than we projected, we will go to the wait list. Depending on the number of slots we have to fill, we may take anywhere from a week to a month to fill these slots. I would say that usually our class is stable by the end of May.
After that, we only go to our wait list if someone who is currently deposited withdraws or decides to defer. I am loath to grant deferrals as we get into the summer because of the logistical hurdles it entails for the people on our wait list, who have often made significant financial and/or geographical commitments elsewhere (and which in turn means that it takes us longer to fill an opening). But I treat deferral requests on a case-by-case basis and have on occasion granted some very worthy requests. So we may take people off the wait list as late as registration day. As I mentioned before, our wait list does get smaller as we get later into the summer, so while the chance of our going to the wait list after June is slim, the individual chances of your being chosen if we do go to the wait list at that point are somewhat higher. (Hope that made sense.)
I'll close with a link to a previous post about good wait list etiquette (which will hopefully be entertaining, if not informative) that should answer your remaining questions. To all of you who applied this year, good luck (and we hope you come here, if we admitted you)!