How to Research a “Why X” Essay

The more research you do, the better your “why school X” essay is likely to be. Here’s how to go about it:

1. Look at the school’s website, then go down the rabbit hole.

Read the school’s website thoroughly to get a sense of how they market themselves and what they’re most proud of. Then go beyond the official literature. Follow links. Look for interviews with professors or admissions officers. Research everything you can about the programs that interest you, the school’s history, its professors, etc.

2. Talk to alumni and students.

It’s difficult to write a compelling “why school X” essay without talking to someone who graduated from or is currently enrolled in the school. Assuming you don’t have a friend there or know a recent graduate, call the admissions office and ask if they can put you in touch with a current student. (This is also a good way to remind them of who you are.) A few not-to-be-named schools are less accommodating of these requests than they ought to be (though you won’t lose points for trying), and if they say they’re too busy to help, you should leverage your real and virtual networks. Try asking the 7Sage community via the discussion forum to put you in touch with someone.

Make your “why school X” specific by mentioning who you spoke to and describing your conversation: “It was my phone call with Neil Gorsuch, however, that really convinced me…”

3. Talk to admissions officers.

You should be able to find a school’s recruiting schedule on its website, and you can find the dates of law school forums on the LSAC’s website. These events are an opportunity to talk to admissions officers. Come prepared with a question, and treat the conversation as you would an interview. Again, you can describe the conversation in your “why school X” essay.

4. Visit the school.

Visiting is expensive, but if you can swing it, you’ll send a powerful signal about your interest. Introduce yourself to the admissions office. Remember to do some research before you arrive and to treat any conversation with an admissions officer as an interview.

You should, of course, mention your visit in your essay. Explain what you learned and why it made you even more excited to attend.

Good “Why School X” Reasons

Good reasons to attend a given law school include faculty that you want to work with, programs and clinics you want to participate in, and an affinity with a school’s policies or philosophy. Qualitative information is generally more compelling than quantitative information, but it’s okay to mention a statistic or two.

It’s also legitimate to mention location. You could explain, for example, that you have to be in DC because your spouse is going to start a new job there, or that you’re applying to a given school because you’re invested in the surrounding community and want to practice law there.

Bad “Why School X” Reasons

Admissions officers at elite law schools already assume that you’re applying because of rankings and reputation, so don’t bother citing those factors. In general, the more easily you can find a given fact on the internet, the less compelling it will be in your essay. If you could paste your reasons for applying to one school into an essay for a different school, you probably don’t have a very strong essay.

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