Understanding the Admissions Officer
Law school admissions officers have very difficult, time intensive jobs. Law school admissions officers must “sell” the law school to applicants by creating just the right image of the law school on the law school’s website, by maintaining individual communications with hundreds of applicants, and by putting on events, such as admitted students weekends. Admissions officers must also manage the applicant pool, typically in the thousands, to ensure that the law school attains the highest medians (LSAT & UGPA) possible to create the highest possible ranking. Although law schools pay most admissions officers well, the pay is likely less than they deserve for the hours that they devote to their law schools.
The law school rankings game puts enormous pressure on admissions officers, meaning that, as much as they would prefer to look beyond the LSAT & UGPA numbers, those two numbers profoundly affect the way that admissions officers evaluate your application. Notice the way that this former admissions officer starts with the numbers and ends with the numbers as she evaluates each application. The following dynamics result from the pressures above and should illuminate your interactions with admissions officers.
“Holistic Approach.” If you ask admissions officers about the way that specific aspect of your application affect their decisions, they often respond by saying that they take a “holistic” approach. This is non-information. By responding this way, admissions officers are essentially refusing to answer your question. They answer this way because (1) they try to deflect attention from the dominance of the medians and (2) they are trying to avoid law suits (This is a story for another time.).
15%. According to the Dean of a top 20 law school, 15% of a recent incoming class of 1Ls had both an LSAT and an UGPA below that law school’s medians. I would speculate that this number (or something close) is pretty normal across law schools. This means that, by definition, 15% of the incoming class had both LSAT and UGPA meet or exceed the respective medians and that the other 70% were splitters. This 15% number seems encouraging, but do not get too excited. That 15% of the incoming class came from a very large number of applicants who applied with both numbers below the medians. With that said, this does allow admissions officers to exercise some leeway regarding this part of the applicant pool.
If you want to really want to give yourself the best chance to be part of the 15% admitted with both numbers below a law school’s median, then you need to have some way of connecting with admissions officers. Despite the limitations imposed by the medians, this 15% is something that admissions officers take pride in admitting. Include random activities on your resumé. Write a diversity addendum. Attend law fairs and forums to meet admissions officers. If offered an interview, do it.
Wishful Thinking. After listening carefully to admissions officers’ rhetoric and watching their ultimate admissions decisions (admittances and denials) for more than two decades, I have determined that some admissions officers say a few things to applicants that the admissions officers wish were true, but ultimately end up not being the case. For example, admissions officers often preach about the advantages of engaging a rigorous undergraduate curriculum. However, the liberal arts major whose UGPA meets a law school’s median is still much more likely to earn admission than the engineering major whose UGPA is below the same law school’s median (other factors equal). Admissions officers do give some weight to the rigor of the applicant’s undergraduate curriculum, but not as much as they sometimes purport or even they would like.
Self-Interest. This topic is not meant to disparage admissions officers. They have very difficult jobs and I have massive respect for their efforts. However, admissions officers, as humans, do try to make life easier for themselves at times, which occasionally leads to unintentional misinformation. Understand the following examples.
- Early Decision. Admissions officers push ED as an advantage to the applicants. However, ED really provides far more advantages to the admissions officers than it does to the applicant. The intent of ED is to lock down applicants with little or no scholarship money – before the applicant has seen his or her other offers. The majority of applicants admitting via ED programs would have been admitted to the same law school during the regular application cycle and would have earned more scholarship money in the regular application cycle.
- Late Waitlist (June through August). For applicants waitlisted very late in the process (late June to August), the best way to get admitted is to write a brief email to your admissions officer to let him or her know that you would accept the offer immediately if the law school would make the offer. This tactic makes the law school more likely to admit you, but less likely to offer scholarship money to you. By doing this, you would take advantage of the sometimes fatigued admissions officer who just wants to fill out the incoming class for the fall start.
The Bottom Line
You should always show tremendous respect for the admissions officers’ jobs, especially by keeping your communications concise (respecting their time). Most admissions officers are very good, hard-working people, but they are bound by the constraints of the medians. You should listen carefully as they advise you regarding applications, but always understand that some advice may come from their wishful thinking or even self-interest. So, take certain advice with a grain of salt.