Law School Admissions

12 New York Law Schools See Decrease in Bar Pass Rates

For first-time test takers in July 2018, the New York State Bar pass rate decreased at 12 of 15 New York law schools compared to July 2017. The decreases ranged from a minor 1.6 percentage points at Cornell to 16.2 percentage points at Touro. Nine of the programs’ pass rates fell below the statewide rate of 83 percent, which also decreased by three points from 2017. Graduates from just three New York law schools, NYU, Columbia, and Albany, increased their pass rate.

When asked about the pass rates by representatives from the New York Law Journal, law school deans spoke about the programs they are implementing to support students taking the bar, as well as interventions they’ve put in place for students perceived to be at-risk for failure.

"The faculty and I have been implementing extensive reforms involving changes in the classroom, curriculum and culture of the school. We expect these changes to be reflected favorably in future results. Some of the changes are still being implemented. We intend to accelerate their implementation effective immediately. We will be re-examining in minutest detail everything we do, in and outside of the classroom, to assure that the continued implementation of reforms, from evidence-based teaching to curricular reform, is successful." Harry Ballan, dean of Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center

“As dean, my leadership approach is to think in terms of a multi-year strategic plan, and one of my very highest priorities remains to increase and maintain the bar passage rate. We have also had many successes across all areas of the law school in just these last two years — job placement, building enhancements, our medical-legal partnership and veterans clinic—and I believe that we have a comprehensive Raising the Bar program and an extensive plan in place for future bar successes,” Gail Prudenti, dean of the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University

 "I won’t be satisfied with Cornell’s performance until we achieve a 100% pass rate.  And we have taken steps to provide academic support to law students we perceive to be at risk for failing the bar." Eduardo M. Peñalver, dean, Cornell Law School. 

Take-aways for Current and Prospective Law School Students--

For current students:

  • Speak with recent graduates of your law school to find out how prepared they felt taking the bar exam. Ask how they would have changed their preparation method and if they have recommendations to share.

  • When interviewing with firms, find out how they support associates who are taking the bar. Also, take advantage of your summer position to speak with new full-time hires who are preparing for the bar to learn from their experiences.

  • Familiarize yourself with programs your school offers and seek outside programming, if necessary, to ensure you will be prepared. The American Bar Association bar prep page includes resources and discounts for bar prep courses.

For prospective students:

  • During the school-selection process, be sure to consider the bar pass rate. Past bar pass rates are available from the Internet Legal Research Group and are included as a small component in the U.S. News and World Report Law School Rankings.

  • When you visit or communicate with program representatives, ask how they currently assist third year students and graduates in preparing for the exam and what new initiatives they may be implementing.

Present a Polished and Compelling Social Media Presence. Business School Admissions Officers will be Looking.

Last month, Kaplan released results from its 2018 Business School Admissions Officers Survey. The survey found that 40 percent of admissions officers review applicants’ social media pages to learn more about them, up from 35 percent in 2017. Further, 71 percent of the admissions officers said it’s “fair game” to review applicants’ social media and that they do not see it as an “invasion of privacy...” Admissions officers are typically reviewing applicants’ pages to look for red-flags, or a lack thereof, but some say that a poorly constructed social media presence can hurt an applicant’s chances. Conversely, a strong social media offering can benefit an applicant. Forty-six percent of admissions officers reported that they found something on social media that helped an applicant while 36 percent reported finding something that hurt.

Social media can be an excellent tool for demonstrating your personality and articulating your interests. Just remember that producing well-written content should not be taken lightly because of the casual nature of the platform. We believe you should consider social media an extension of your application. Thus, we have provided some important guidelines for social media writing below.

1.       Know your audience.

Review your social media pages to ensure your security settings accurately reflect your intent. Some sites, such as LinkedIn, should be more publicly accessible, while others, with more private content, should be limited to peers.

After updating your security settings so that you are clear on who your audience is, ensure that your content and tone is appropriate. Review old posts and keep your audience in mind as you post in the future, never forgetting that admissions officers may be following you. LinkedIn requires a more professional tone and industry-related content, while Instagram is a good place for sharing your extracurricular interests and hobbies.

In addition to formality and word-choice, consider how you can curate the information you write and share to your audience’s interests. Add color-commentary and your opinion where appropriate to differentiate the articles you share from other sources.

2.       Ensure that your writing is technically correct and your voice is consistent.

While your tone can, and probably should, vary across social media platforms according to your audience, your will want your voice to remain consistent. Whether writing casually or more professionally, you should always put forth the best version of yourself. It is critical that your writing is technically correct for every post. Thus, it may be beneficial to investigate tools such as Grammarly, which provides grammar and spell checks on social media content. Always read your writing aloud prior to posting, and for longer posts, give yourself an opportunity to step away, re-read, and revise prior to going live.  

Additionally, your posts should be respectful of others and opposing viewpoints. Always keep in mind that schools are looking for red flags.

3.       Stay on-brand, but don’t forget to showcase your unique attributes.

 Do not miss the opportunity to display your personality and any unique skills. For writers, consider adding more long-form blog posts. Photographers should let their pictures take center-stage and only add shorter captions or explanations. Consider also taking advantage of alternative media formats such as graphic design or video to showcase your community involvement or hobbies.

 4.       Stay current by reading widely.

One of the best ways to elevate your writing skills, while also ensuring that you have something interesting to say, is to read a variety of well-written content. Read as much as possible, and as broadly as possible, across news outlets, books, and articles. Additionally, following people that you respect on social media, including the graduate institutions to which you are applying, in order to stay abreast of their content and discussion topics may inspire you as you create and curate your own content.

Want to Achieve Your Goals? First, Define Your Personal Brand.

In a Forbes article, writer Greg Llopis said that people often confuse the notion of a personal brand with having a curated social media page. In truth, however, social media is just one portion of a much larger idea. Your personal brand is how you express the compilation of experiences you’ve had, what you have to offer, and your intentions going forward. While social media accounts should align with your brand, they do not define it.

Llopis says, “Every time you are in a meeting, at a conference, networking reception or other event, you should be mindful of what others are experiencing about you and what you want others to experience about you.” This awareness of others’ experience allows you the freedom to put forward your most authentic self, rather than letting nerves or other outside influences change how you respond in a situation.

Spending time defining your personal brand will pay dividends as you move forward in your career, whether that means creating an exceptional grad school application, building a compelling resume, prepping for an interview or career-fair, or working towards the next promotion. It will not only allow you to be a proactive planner and decision maker, it will also act as a filter when you evaluate various career options.

To begin defining your personal brand, consider the following:  

1.       Your past experiences

Have you ever been so engaged in a pursuit that time seemingly disappeared? What have you found most difficult?  Which experiences stand out as those which prompted an evolution in your perspective? What are you most proud of? When have you felt most fulfilled?

2.       How you engage with others and the world

What strengths have you developed over time? What are your greatest weaknesses? How have you dealt with adversity? What feedback do you consistently receive when working with others? How do think others experience you? What five adjectives would you use to describe yourself? Do you think others would use the same five adjectives? If not, which would they use?

3.       Your future goals.

What type of work do you enjoy? What type of work do you aspire to do? What would you like your professional relationships to look like? What sort of environment do you think you would thrive in? What is your ideal work-life balance? What aspects of a position are most important to you and where are you willing to compromise? What are your short- and long-term goals?

Once you’ve refined your brand, you can start to put it into action to determine which opportunities will (and will not) be a good fit for you. Just remember to express a consistent message everywhere, including on social media. Recruiters or admissions officers should never be surprised by what they see online, rather the content should provide further depth on the person they know.

Considering Public Interest Law? Lucrative Fellowships and Loan Assistance Programs Available

Public interest law can provide incredible fulfillment and satisfaction, but the cost of law school is significant and the salaries for public interest lawyers are lower than those going into private practice.

U.S News and World Report recently published average entry-level salary data for all ranked law schools.  Law graduates in 2016 who entered the private sector averaged just under $85,000, while those from a top 15 ranked institution averaged $180,000. Those entering the public sector, however, collected a much lower average of $53,500. Graduates from the top 15 ranked schools who accepted public sector positions averaged slightly more, at $65,000.  

Luckily, there are a plethora of scholarships, fellowships, and loan repayment assistance programs, which may be available to you. So, when evaluating specific law schools, don’t forget to fully evaluate the following: 

  • Tuition and Scholarship Opportunities: While it is advantageous to attend a top-tier school, you may want to expand your list to include those programs more likely to offer scholarships to students interested in public interest law. That is, if you feel ready to commit to that career path.
  • School Fellowships: Many top-tier law programs grant fellowships, which pay for summer and post-graduate public interest employment, to those interested in pursuing public interest law.
  • Loan Repayment Assistance Programs (LRAP) or Low Income Protection Plans (LIPP): The LRAP is more common and is generally limited to those working in public interest law, while the LIPP works more like scholarship money that is received after graduation. Over 100 law schools have an LRAP in place, and the American Bar Association has compiled a list of programs. When considering a school’s LRAP, consider if an LRAP is funded through a specific endowment or designated fund and how many applicants typically receive LRAP funding. Most schools are not able to provide funding to all applicants.
  • Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF): The PSLF provides debt forgiveness to those who work for a qualifying government, non-profit, or public interest organization, and who make 120 qualifying student loan repayments while working for that organization. There is some uncertainty regarding the future of this program, however. It has been slated for elimination in two of the President’s proposed budgets.
  • Other Federal Repayment Adjustment programs: There are other existing repayment programs based on income, such as the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), and Income-Based Repayment (IBR). These adjust monthly payments based on your income.

While public interest law may require some additional planning in terms of selecting and paying for law school, there are many resources available for prospective law students who feel passionate about pursuing this career path. Some additional research during the school selection and application period can go a long way towards making your dream come true.

More Pre-Law Students Striving to Work for Public Interest

The “Trump Bump” theory is real. Earlier this year, Kaplan Test Prep released the results of a survey of over 500 pre-law students and found that 30 percent of respondents said the 2016 election impacted their decision to apply to law school. “We’ve seen significant jumps in both LSAT takers and law school applications over the past admissions cycle, which has fueled speculation about how much impact, if any, the 2016 election and subsequent political climate has had on this year’s law school admissions landscape. We now have an answer: It’s significant,” said Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan.

Survey data released by BARBRI Law Preview, which includes responses from 500 pre-law students expected to matriculate into the Class of 2021, demonstrate a similar finding. When asked to provide a primary reason for attending law school, the top two most selected options “I have always wanted to be a lawyer” and “I want to advocate for change of social policies in the United States” garnered almost identical responses at 38.2 percent and 37.6 percent, respectively. The survey also found that almost 98 percent of respondents plan to practice law after graduation, with the plurality of respondents selecting public interest (13.5 percent) as the type of law which they want to practice. The next most selected choices were business (corporate) law (12.2 percent) and criminal law (12.0 percent). Furthermore, when asked where they would like to practice law, over half of the respondents reported that they would want to practice law as an attorney working for the government (33.9 percent) or for a non-profit/non-governmental organization (22.5 percent). 39.8 percent reported wanting to work for a private firm.

Lynn Page, a pre-law advisor at Northwestern University provides anecdotal evidence supporting the BARBRI survey findings when describing the students who she advises and their goals in a recent Chicago Tribune article. “If it’s not immigration (law), it’s an interest in public interest law. Most students are interested in civic engagement (and) social justice” she said.  

The Latest Law School Employment Rates from The American Bar Association

A helpful resource for prospective law students, The American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar published a report detailing the employment of 2016 law school graduates based on different employment classifications, including Bar Passage Required and JD Advantage (without bar passage).

For the graduating class of 2016, 64.5 percent of law school graduates were hired into Bar Passage Required employment, an increase of two percentage points from 2015 (62.4 percent). Additionally, 14.1 percent were hired into JD Advantage positions and only 8.8 percent were described as Unemployed/Seeking, both statistics slightly improved from 2015.

We have compiled the list of Top 20 Schools based on the percentage of graduates who reported having a full-time, long-term position in a Bar Passage Required role for the class of 2016. The graph also shows the percentage of students who held full-time, long-term JD Advantage Positions as well as the percent of students who are classified as Unemployed (Seeking). This chart shows that there are many law schools with excellent job placement, which may help to inform and broaden your search. 

 

 Additionally, the ABA report includes information on what types of employment graduates are obtaining. The graph below shows the same schools, but with the percentages of full-time, long-term employees in various legal industries. If you are confident in the career path you are seeking after law school, it is worthwhile to see where previous graduating classes have found employment. It can provide valuable insight into the existing alumni network you will have access to.

Additionally, the ABA report includes information on what types of employment graduates are obtaining. The graph below shows the same schools, but with the percentages of full-time, long-term employees in various legal industries. If you are confident in the career path you are seeking after law school, it is worthwhile to see where previous graduating classes have found employment. It can provide valuable insight into the existing alumni network you will have access to.

 Use the links provided below to find additional school-level and detailed information on employment for the class of 2016.  Individual School Summary Reports (Includes information on the size of law firms where graduates are employed):  http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/   Summary Class of 2016 Employment:  https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/2016_law_graduate_employment_data.authcheckdam.pdf

Use the links provided below to find additional school-level and detailed information on employment for the class of 2016.

Individual School Summary Reports (Includes information on the size of law firms where graduates are employed): http://employmentsummary.abaquestionnaire.org/

Summary Class of 2016 Employment: https://www.americanbar.org/content/dam/aba/administrative/legal_education_and_admissions_to_the_bar/statistics/2016_law_graduate_employment_data.authcheckdam.pdf

Innovation and Technology: Key Topics in Today’s Law School Curriculum

As the legal industry continues to evolve, so too has legal education. Thus, prospective law students should pay careful attention to the changing markets for legal services, how technology may be disrupting their fields of interest, and how schools on their list are responding to such change.

In a recent Forbes Online article, Mark Cohen describes the changing landscape of legal services as the role of legal technology increases. He references a Thomson Reuters analysis, issued earlier this year, that showed a 484 percent increase in new legal services technology patents filed globally over the past five years, with the majority filed in U.S. and China (38 percent and 34 percent respectively). The analysis reports that these numbers “reflect the rise of alternative legal services—such as virtual law firms—and the rapid expansion of the online legal industry. This trend is in large part being driven by businesses and individuals looking beyond traditional channels for legal advice.” And it supports findings presented in Deloitte’s Future Trends for Legal Services report, published in 2016, which reported data from a survey of in-house legal services purchasers. Over half of respondents predicted technology would replace the tasks of in-house lawyers in just five years. Additionally, respondents reported a need for legal partners that go “beyond legal,” or what a major law firm typically delivers, and incorporate expertise on industry topics, cyber and data security, and proactive knowledge sharing.

The future for practicing lawyers is shaping up to look considerably different from what we’ve grown accustomed to. Cohen predicts that in the future, “Fewer lawyers will engage in pure ‘practice’ and many more will leverage practice skills and a suite of new ‘delivery’ skillsets to perform as-yet unidentified legal delivery functions.“

So, what does this mean for prospective law students? It means they should be paying close attention to how schools’ are adapting their curricular offerings and knowledge center initiatives to integrate technology and business topics. Daniel Linna, Director of LegalRnD at the The Center for Legal Services Innovation at the Michigan State University College of Law recently launched a prototype for the Legal Services Innovation Index. This is a tool that can be used to track and measure innovation in legal education. While Linna warns that it does not measure quality and should not be considered a ranking, in using this tool, prospective law students can quickly gather information and compare technology-related offerings at various schools. The prototype model currently uses ten technology and legal-service delivery disciplines and includes 38 schools. It is not yet a comprehensive tool, but there are plans for increasing its scope.

Most importantly, Linna’s prototype is a much-needed acknowledgement of the changing nature of the field and the need for law schools to think innovatively about how best to prepare the lawyers of the future. “We need to start measuring these things, start describing innovation and measuring it,” Linna said. “We need metrics for what is happening in the legal industry.”

The Center for Legal Services Innovation has also created an innovation measurement for Law Firms, which is in Phase One.

Use Social Media to Enhance Your Graduate School Application

Last week, Kaplan Test Prep released data from their survey of over 150 business schools across the U.S. on the role of social media in the admissions process. Of the admissions officers surveyed:

  • 35 percent say they have visited applicants’ social media profiles to learn more about them, up 13 percentage points from 2011
  • 33 percent of those admissions officers who’ve visited applicants’ social media profiles say that they do so “often”
  • Social media has helped and harmed applicants’ admission prospects in almost equal proportions (48 percent and 50 percent respectively)
See the full press release, including a video summary of the findings here: http://press.kaptest.com/press-releases/kaplan-test-prep-survey-growing-number-business-schools-turn-social-media-help-make-admissions-decisions 

Admissions officers who are reviewing students’ social media pages are looking to get to know the student and their background more fully. Prospective students can take advantage of this by ensuring that their social media profiles are up to date and supportive of the personal brand they’ve put forth in their applications. As such, we recommend that anyone applying to a graduate program, or an internship or residency, take at the least a cursory social media scan. Below, we have provided guidelines for doing so.

The Basics: If nothing else, confirm the following.

  • Ensure that your social media privacy settings reflect your preferences, but keep in mind that even private information can leak or be distributed more widely.
  • Review your pictures. Are there any that present you in a manner that would be embarrassing for an admissions officer to see? Be sure to go back and review even your oldest pictures. Remove those that you deem inappropriate, borderline, or simply not reflective of you.
  • Ensure that your LinkedIn resume is up to date, grammatically correct, and in line with what you’ve submitted to the admissions committees. Similarly, confirm that your posts on Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are grammatically correct.
  • Confirm that none of your content could even potentially be considered racist, sexist, or containing prejudicial language. You should consistently represent yourself as someone who will add to a diverse intellectual environment. Make it clear to your friends that you should not be tagged or otherwise included in groups that don’t share this spirit.
  • Review your profiles often. Ensure that others are aware that you don’t want to be tagged in inappropriate pictures, videos, or comments.

The Upgrade: Use social media to enhance your application.

  • Consider if your pictures are showcasing your hobbies and interests beyond, but including, time spent with friends. If not, add pictures that show a broader array of “you”. This might include shots from travel, volunteer work, cultural activities, time with pets, or engaging in other hobbies that show off aspects of your personality that will bring your essays and interviews to life.
  • Ask co-workers from various points in your career to post recommendations on your LinkedIn account.
  • Ensure that your goals are consistent between your application and social media posts. Don’t post different career goals than those that appear in your application, or actively discuss pursuing full-time careers that don’t require the graduate program to which you are applying.
  • Keep your accounts up to date. Post about your current activities and events including conferences, speeches, or panels and include your reactions to the events. Share news or research articles on areas that you’re interested in. Take this opportunity to show off your writing and critical thinking skills or link to a blog containing your writing.
  • Don’t hide those things which make you different. Admissions officers want a diverse graduate population, and social media is the perfect way to show off qualities and interests that set you apart from the crowd, as well as demonstrate how you currently contribute to the diversity of your community.

While, social media should continue to be a personalized and fun outlet for you, don’t forget to consider that it may also inform admissions committees or future employers about who you are, and ultimately impact their final decision. 

Selecting a Law School that Values Student Well-Being

When selecting a law school, prospective students have many things to consider, including rankings and prestige, program specialties, and job placement rates. Another, however, is garnering a great deal of media attention in the wake of last week’s International Mental Health Day: student wellbeing and the availability of mental health support programs.

According to the Dave Nee Foundation, depression among law students is 8-9 percent prior to matriculation, then jumps to 27 percent after one semester, 34 percent after the first year, and 40 percent after three years[i]. Two studies, conducted by the American Bar Association and Yale Law School in 2014, also showed a high percentage of law students indicating that they needed psychological assistance. In the ABA Survey, 42 percent of students reported that in the past year they needed help with a mental health or emotional problem. [ii] And in the Yale Study, 70 percent of students reported experiencing mental health challenges while in law school[iii]. These studies and others like them, have increased awareness of the mental health challenges faced by both law students and the legal profession.

A report released in August 2017, by the American Bar Association’s National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, made recommendations for sweeping reforms that stakeholders throughout the legal profession can make to improve well-being and ultimately the competence and dependability of the profession. Specifically, the task force calls upon law schools to[iv]:

  • Create best practices for assisting students experiencing psychological distress;
  • Assess law school practices and offer faculty education on promoting well-being in the classroom;
  • Empower students to help fellow students in need;
  • Include well-being topics in courses on professional responsibility;
  • Commit resources for onsite professional counselors;
  • Facilitate a confidential recovery network;
  • Provide education opportunities on well-being related topics;
  • Discourage alcohol-centered social events; and
  • Conduct anonymous surveys related to student well-being.

The report also highlighted examples of law schools that offered programming to meet the recommendations:

  • Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law: created a well-being curriculum including workshops, mindfulness and resilience courses, and meditation sessions
  • Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center: established a student-volunteer program to train students on recognizing mental health problems and referring them to assistance
  • American University Washington School of Law: implemented random “check-in” outreach, which invites students to a brief conversation with the Student Affairs office

As a prospective law student, you may be wondering how this information can help inform your school selection. First, we suggest that you keep the task force’s recommendations top of mind as you research schools. Let their advice guide you as you’re learning about the culture of a school and the student body. Ensure that the schools you are applying to are taking the lead in breaking down mental health stigma through informative discourse and are proactively assisting students to seek help when they encounter problems. Be sure to ask administrators and faculty how they are working to address student well-being challenges. Then gather students’ opinions on the efficacy of these actions. Are current students aware of existing resources, clubs, and programming the administrators mention?  If so, how are the students engaging with the programs? And are student social and networking events promoting healthy, productive behaviors or do events center around alcohol or other potentially harmful ways to reduce stress?

Your law school experience will be pivotal. Ensure that you are selecting a school that values and promotes your wellbeing now, as much as it values your job placement.

 

 


[i] http://www.daveneefoundation.org/scholarship/lawyers-and-depression/

[ii] http://www.ncbex.org/pdfviewer/?file=%2Fassets%2Fmedia_files%2FBar-Examiner%2Fissues%2F2015-December%2FBE-Dec2015-HelpingLawStudents.pdf

[iii] https://law.yale.edu/system/files/falling_through_the_cracks_120614.pdf

[iv] http://amlawdaily.typepad.com/files/lawyer-well-being-report.pdf

Unemployed and Considering Graduate School? Ensure This Time is Meaningful and Productive

If you are currently unemployed, graduate school can appear both tempting and daunting. Tempting, in that it will offer a new path forward complete with a career center. Daunting in that it may be necessary to directly address the unemployment period within the application. While unemployment should never deter you from attending graduate school, we encourage our clients to consider carefully if graduate school is the right path for them. The money and time invested must lead to an optimal path forward to be worthwhile. Though graduate school can be tempting to alleviate the pains of unemployment, if you have never considered it prior to unemployment, it might not be the right move now.

If you’ve known awhile that eventually you would pursue a graduate program, a period of unemployment may provide a beneficial time to study for entrance exams and create compelling application materials. However, admissions committees will want to see that you are using your time wisely and productively, extending yourself beyond the work on your application materials. In order to present the employment gap as a critical time of development, consider the following:

On the application itself, you should not dwell on or make excuses for the employment gap.  Rather, you will want to address it briefly, explain that it is not indicative of weakness in ability or character, has not hindered your pursuit of your goals, and you did indeed spend the time productively, gaining valuable insight. You ultimately want to show the admissions committee that you will work hard throughout the graduate program, be able to secure professional placement and that, instead of slowing you down, this obstacle has given you an opportunity to adjust course, work harder, and become better.

Two Additional Law Schools to Accept GRE as Alternative to LSAT

Two additional law schools, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center, have joined Harvard Law School and University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law in accepting the GRE for law school admissions. Georgetown will accept the GRE score as an alternative for the LSAT, for those wishing to matriculate in 2018, while Northwestern will accept the scores for students applying to the 2019 entering class.

Both schools conducted studies to determine the ability of the GRE to predict a student’s success within law school. Northwestern’s study was performed in conjunction with ETS, the administrator for the GRE, and found the GRE to be a strong predictor of success for first year Northwestern law students. Georgetown ran an independent study analyzing over ten-years of students’ academic performance and test scores and found that the GRE scores were equal to LSAT scores as predictors of academic success within the Law School.

The four schools that have opened their admissions process to include the GRE did so in an effort to diversify the applicant pool, as well as to reflect the evolving and multi-disciplinary nature of law. “Georgetown Law is committed to attracting the best and the brightest students of all backgrounds,” said Dean William M. Treanor. “We believe this change will make the admissions process more accessible to students who have great potential to make a mark here at Georgetown Law and in successful legal careers, but who might find the LSAT to be a barrier for whatever reason.”

The GRE is offered more frequently throughout the year and in numerous locations, and is often taken by students considering other graduate level educational options. By accepting the GRE, these law schools are helping to alleviate the financial burden of taking multiple tests for students thinking about different paths. Additionally, it may help to recruit students from “non-typical” law school backgrounds, including in-demand STEM students, international students, as well as those from a wider range of socio-economic backgrounds. When Harvard Law School started the pilot GRE program, then-Dean Martha Minow said, “For many students, preparing for and taking both the GRE and the LSAT is unaffordable. All students benefit when we can diversify our community in terms of academic background, country of origin, and financial circumstances. Also, given the promise of the revolutions in biology, computer science, and engineering, law needs students with science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds.  For these students, international students, multidisciplinary scholars, and joint-degree students, the GRE is a familiar and accessible test, and using it is a great way to reach candidates not only for law school, but for tackling the issues and opportunities society will be facing.”

The ABA held a hearing in July to consider specifying what test(s) are valid for law school admissions, which would change current language requiring merely “a valid and reliable admission test.”  While this could impact the ability for schools to accept the GRE as an admissions test alternative, a decision is unlikely to come in the short term. In the meantime, it appears likely that additional law schools will follow the path of these four and include the GRE as an accepted part of the admissions process.  

While the limited number of law schools accepting the GRE might make the LSAT a safer choice for current prospective law students, the broader lessons and values that these law schools are espousing are worth considering when putting together a law school application. Applicants should consider highlighting STEM minors or academic courses, unusual career or internship experiences, or other unique qualities that might add value and interest within the school’s student body.

Prospective Law Students: The Pros and Cons of Submitting an Early Decision Application

At Apply Point, we often receive questions from prospective students on the utility of applying to a law school through Early Decision (ED) or Early Action (EA). ED is a binding agreement between the law school and a student. In this agreement, a student agrees not to submit ED applications to other programs and, in the case of an acceptance, must withdraw any outstanding applications or not attend law school that year. Conversely, EA or non-binding early programs, do not require a commitment from the applicant, but do provide an accelerated timeline for the receipt of a decision. Before you finalize your application game plan, it is important to consider the pros and cons of ED, a tempting option, as your likelihood of acceptance can be significantly higher.

So, what are the advantages of Early Decision?

Because ED is a yield protection round (everyone admitted must attend), admissions directors can be more forgiving of slight weaknesses. It must be noted, however, that the typical acceptance rate bump will not likely hold true for programs that offer generous scholarships along with binding acceptance, such as the George Washington University Law School’s Binding Presidential Merit Scholarship Program or the Emory University Law School’s Merit Scholarship.

Additionally, ED applicants often receive notification of their acceptance or rejection early, which allows them to continue in the application process with other schools. Students who are not accepted or rejected, early, move into the wider pool of applicants.

and the disadvantages?

While the yield protection aspect of ED is advantageous to applicants when it comes to admissions likelihood, in most cases, applicants are at a disadvantage when being considered for merit-based scholarships. The school simply doesn’t have to do anything to sweeten the deal when the decision is binding. It is also important to note that, on Yale Law’s ‘Ask Asha’ Blog, the Assistant Director of Admissions noted that she considers ED commitments made at other schools. So, students who may have received an acceptance from Yale will not have the opportunity for consideration after applying ED to a different program.

Apply Points’ Take:

We generally do not recommend applying to a law school ED unless an applicant is sure they would attend, regardless of merit-based aid or other opportunities.

 

Prospective Law School Students: Do You Need a Break?

Prospective law students often wonder if they should take time off between finishing their undergraduate work and applying to law school. While there is no one size fits all answer, the trend shows that many law schools are expecting and even rewarding students who take at least a brief interlude prior to starting school. Within the class of 2019, the majority of matriculants among the most competitive law schools did report a gap prior to starting law school; among the top ten ranked law schools by U.S. News and World Report, the percentages of incoming classes showed that between 60 and 80 percent of incoming students took at least one year off. Harvard and Yale were among the highest percentages at 80 and 82 percent respectively.

While, it isn’t necessary for all students to take a gap year, it can be a beneficial use of time for the following types of applicants:

-        Those with a general interest in the study of law, but without experience in the day-to-day operations of a law firm and/or those who do not yet feel comfortable selecting a career path within the legal industry

-        Those who have a passion they would like to pursue, who can spend some time in the field to confirm law school is the right next step to help them achieve their goals

-        Those who need to enhance the competitiveness of their application with additional experiences and insight into their future goals

-        Those who may benefit from a year of earnings prior to taking on the financial burden of law school

-        Those interested in working at a firm post- law school, as prior work experience can be looked upon quite favorably by hiring managers

For prospective students who do wish to take a gap year, there are many jobs and activities that may improve their resume, provide clarity, and ultimately bolster their candidacy in the application process. We’ve listed a few ideas below:

-        Management consulting/investment banking: If a future applicant has a passion for business and hope to work in corporate law, they can increase their understanding of the work by spending time at a consulting or investment banking group.

-        Policy analysis/research: With an interest in constitutional or immigration law, working directly in this space can provide them experience with relevant stakeholders, as well as the eventual ability to speak to their future goals more specifically within their law school application. It may also help them more strategically select law school programs that will best position them to do the work they love.

-        Non-profit work: If they have identified an interest in public interest law or just in gaining professional skills quickly, working for a non-profit organization could be a sound next step. Typically, nonprofits have lean workforces and, as a result, even recent college graduates are asked to work outside their comfort zone to acquire new skills. Further, it is important to note that some organizations like Teach for America have relationships and scholarship programs with select law schools.

-        Paralegal/legal assistant/legal administrator: For those interested in learning more about working within a law firm, this type of experience will broaden a candidate’s understanding of the day-to-day life of a lawyer and will also likely show meaningful commitment to both law schools and future legal recruiters.

While it isn’t necessary to take a gap-year between undergraduate and law school, if you do, it is of vital importance to spend your time thoughtfully and productively.  It may seem appealing, in those months after college, to solely focus on LSAT and application preparations.  But remember, admissions committees will be looking very closely. Meaningful and productive work will help you to construct a narrative that will bolster your story as an applicant and positively contribute to the dynamic of your law school class.  

Yield Protection: Know What You’re Up Against and Use It To Your Advantage

Colleges and graduate programs will do whatever it takes to protect their yield and won’t spare any expense.  Admit weekends will wine and dine prospective students with dinners at faculty clubs, organized social events and panel presentations featuring the school’s best and brightest alumni, faculty and current students.  Admissions departments will send gifts to admitted students and, in some cases, like that at a women’s college in Decatur, Georgia, school officials may even mail out a booklet containing scented pages to prospective students.  Admits of Agnes Scott College could smell pine while viewing a photograph of campus trees and a few pages later, got a whiff of freshly mowed grass while looking at an aerial shot of the Quad. 

Admissions directors and marketing managers will jump through all kinds of hoops to ensure admitted applicants matriculate as students in the next class.  But, why?  What are their incentives?  As long as programs get a full class eventually, why should it matter?  The answer is that it all comes down to rankings, as a school’s yield percentage is a significant player in the race for the top slots.     

Besides these obvious activities to woo admits, schools are also guilty of manipulating the admissions process, a practice commonly referred to as ‘yield protection.’  Some programs will waitlist average applicants so admissions directors can see who is interested enough to fight their way in.  Other programs will waitlist higher than average applicants if they believe these applicants would receive interview and admissions offers at more elite institutions.

As an applicant, instead of getting frustrated by these practices, use them to your advantage in the application process.  Whether you are applying to college, medical, law or business school, or other graduate programs within the arts and sciences, don’t forget the following tips:

Make Absolutely Sure Admissions Directors at Your Top Choices Know Their Program Is Your First Choice: Attend forums and recruiting events where you can introduce yourself to deans and admissions directors and reiterate how excited you would be if admitted to their institution. 

Put It In Writing: After events, send hand-written thank you notes to everyone you spoke with and, of course, drop in a line about your strong desire to attend if admitted.

Be Proactive: Don’t just attend scheduled events.  Arrange school visits through the admissions office and set up one-on-one appointments with various faculty members, deans, admissions directors and current students.  This not only shows your strong interest in their school, but this will also benefit you during the interview when you will be able to speak in-depth about the school’s offerings.

If You Are Waitlisted, Take Action: Visit the school if you haven’t already, send a letter with updates on your candidacy with a particular emphasis on how well you would fit in at your first choice school, send an additional recommendation letter and keep communication open.  You may think it could be annoying, but occasionally following up with admissions committees is a good way to reiterate interest and keep at the top of their minds.   

During a time of manipulative yield protection activities and marketing tactics that include scented brochures, you must arm yourself with the knowledge of this game and use it to your advantage.  In a few years, when you are studying on the quad of the reach school where you were initially waitlisted, the smell of that freshly mowed grass will be that much sweeter.

Be Aware Of Biases, Strengthen Your Candidacy

At the top graduate programs, creating an inclusive and diverse student community ranks highly among other key strategic initiatives.  To achieve their short- and long-term diversity goals, Universities host events ranging from diversity weekends and leadership panels to professional networking events and women’s breakfast forums.  But, are there barriers to a truly diverse applicant pool the schools are missing?  What about the initial contact a prospective applicant has with a program?   

In a Wharton study by Katherine Milkman, to explore the treatment of prospective applicants to doctoral programs, researchers found that professors were significantly less likely to be responsive to communication from women or minority applicants -- and the level of unresponsiveness was greater within academic disciplines that tend to pay more, and at private institutions, where faculty salaries are higher on average.

The study also found that if women or minorities are not given the same level of encouragement -- or the same ability to access "insider" information -- as their white male colleagues, they may be discouraged from even trying to pursue a particular opportunity, or they may start the application process at such a disadvantage that there is no chance of catching up.

Unfortunately, as this study illustrates, strong biases still exist within higher education, but instead of getting discouraged, take action.  Start by paying close attention to how you are marketing your candidacy and fit to a particular program.  Even in that initial contact, you must realize that you are in a fish bowl, being watched and evaluated by faculty, alumni, current students and staff.  In each and every email communication, attach a polished CV that shows you are a strong and competitive candidate; After any face-to-face or phone meeting, when someone has given up their time to speak with you, send a hand-written thank you note; Ask good questions that show you are serious and well-informed about the program’s offerings.  Don’t just regurgitate information easily found on the program’s website.  Dig deep into the intricacies of the program to research specific classes and recent studies done by professors.  After some initial contact, attend all the prospective student events you can, and make a list of those influential admissions directors or faculty members you would like to meet.  Securing a spot in a top program is highly competitive, so any step you can take to stand out is crucial. 

In her study, Milkman also found that minority students got a better response from minorities of their race.  “If someone in that department shares your identity, they are more likely to be an advocate or willing to help you and less likely to discriminate," she says.

 Diversity initiatives are likely to be key priorities in higher education for many years to come, and schools clearly have more work to do.  In the meantime, it is up to you, as an applicant and prospective student, to be aware of biases so you can strengthen your candidacy.