J.Y.: Hello and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping. And on today's episode, David talks to a student named Adam, a Chinese national who went to school in America. With the help of 7Sage consultants Dan and Selene, Adam overcame his anxiety about writing in English and put together a winning application, ultimately getting an early decision acceptance to Penn Law.
David: Adam, thank you so much for talking to me today. It's a real honor and a pleasure. Can you start by telling us more about your background? Just a little bit about growing up and what led you to apply to law school?
Adam: Sure. So I came to the States around 11 years old, and my mom, she came over as a post-doctoral fellowship in Cincinnati. Since then, I was just growing up in Cincinnati in a public high school. While I was young, I was just really interested in history and social science.
In high school, I developed a habit on reading historical documents. I also got really interested in the AP social science categories, especially AP history, US history, European history. While doing some research all the way in high school, I was thinking that, well, law school may be a way out for me since I'm so interested in the legal aspect of this whole atmosphere.
And then I went to Ohio State University, and studying, majored in finance and political science, and along the way, I just worked hard in college, and then decided to apply to law school in my, end of my junior year, beginning of my senior year.
David: And why did you decide to work with a consultant?
Adam: Coming from China, I understand where my weaknesses are. My reading and writing skills are still far behind my speaking and listening. So I think that writing has always been my weakest point in all my abilities. To make sure that I had a good application, I just had to work with a consultant from 7Sage.
And partly because it was also my, I worked with 7Stage on LSAT prepping. I took the course and after that, I decided to, you know, give it a try on the 7Sage admission package. And I think that, overall, the price was really affordable on my end. I think that mostly what I need is the editing and then some directions on applications, but it turns out a lot of things were beyond what I expected. And we can talk about that in a bit.
David: Oh, great. To be clear, are you saying that you were nervous about the essays?
Adam: Yes. I was very nervous about my writing skills. I really need to clarify some of my thoughts. When I write, I tend to write a lot of stuff, and I tend to lose track on what I'm writing and I tend to not get them together.
And, you know, I just have a whole five page of what I want to say, but I couldn't wrap them up in a neat format or in a neat fashion that's suitable under a good personal statement. And that had been my problem since high school. And because I majored in finance, my writing skills weren't really catched up along the way.
David: And I think that you started working with us before you got your final LSAT score. Is that right?
Adam: Yeah, I actually started very early. I started contacting you guys all the way back in February, I think, in February of last year, because I wanted to get an early hand on. I know it's a really popular service and I think I really needed that help, so I decided to enroll very early.
And then luckily I was paired automatically with Dan and Selene. Dan was my advisor on writing and Selene was my advisor overall on my application. And I'm very happy about that early-bird package, I think. Well, not a package, but early-bird advantage.
David: So tell me about your LSAT trajectory and what you were thinking along the way in where you wanted to apply.
Adam: Actually, I started prepping in the beginning of 2020. I think that may be a little bit late, but I started prepping in, I think, January. But after a couple of PTs and scores came out, I took my first exam, I think, in August, and the score was a 159. Wasn't really on par with what I was thinking.
For four years, I'd been think about applying to T14s, that's what my family wanted and also what I personally wanted to achieve. And so I wasn't satisfied with the 159, and I contacted Selene, who I'd been contacting ever since February. And she said, "Well, let's do a retake." And so I did sign up for the September one as well as the October one to make sure, because there's a timing gap between the signups and actual scores come out.
So after 159, I signed up for the September and October. And so after two more months of studying, after the September score came out, I got a 167 and I was very happy about it, I shared with Selene. And since this year, I've been notified by Selene and also looking through Reddit and other sources, that this is a very competitive cycle, and looking back, it is.
We decided that there's still some improvements for the cycle, and so I decided to give it a try in October again. The score came out to be 164. It wasn't really what I expected and I was pretty let down. So I emailed Selene and had a call with her. And so we decided that this cycle is very competitive and why don't we start early?
And so we decided to focus on our application materials, essays, and optional essays as well. So we decided to use that 167 along with my college GPA to just start our application. And then I started working with Daniel ever since then.
David: How did you decide where to apply, and where did you apply?
Adam: Like I said previously, I decided to apply to T14s after I did some research. I wanted to achieve a top-tier law school because my dream was going through capital market, that's what I studied in undergrad, and through international capital market trade along Asian Pacific, as well as the New York sites. So I applied broadly, as recommended by Selene. I applied broadly to all T14s besides Yale.
And also I added some safeties, including Boston University and my alma mater, Ohio State. And so that's how I applied it. And what I was thinking of is that, with my GPA and my LSAT, I could at least get some admissions in T14s and be ready for my backup safeties, if it's a really super competitive cycle.
David: And I think that you applied early decision twice, right?
Adam: Correct. That was a strategy that we formulated together. And also because of my three scores, it was up and then down, it's like an up shape. So we feared that it might not be a good sign for my overall application. Even though they only take the highest scores for the statistics, it's still presenting a bad sign for my applications.
So what we decided is that, luckily, because they have different ED times, we decided to apply Columbia ED first, in early November. And then we said wait and see how the score comes out, because they said it will guarantee the decision will come out in the end of December.
And so we'll decide if, based on that application, whether I'll apply to a second ED. And so, because Columbia also faces a very competitive cycle this year, they deferred me, which wasn't really a yes or no decision. They deferred me back to April.
And so I realized that my time is running short, so I emailed Penn right after that, and I said, "Please add me onto the ED II applications." And then they responded to me in early January when they were back in the office. So that's why I had two EDs. And also because Penn was my top choice, actually, among all, in the beginning, but I just decided to reach a little bit higher just to see if I can win a lottery.
So I applied to Columbia ED first and then waited for Penn for the ED II program, since I still had the time. I think the deadline was in mid-January.
David: Selene, I have a question for you. How did you approach the question of where Adam ought to apply?
Selene: Well, I think that he should have applied broadly because of the nature of the cycle and what was going on in the world and within admissions.
I felt like he had an interesting file. There are a number of very attractive factors that I saw in his application. Given what he wanted to do, it kind of made sense that these internationally known law schools should be his focus. When a candidate decides to apply ED, they are indicating to the admissions committee, "You are my top choice. I'm willing to bind myself to you and come if you take me."
Columbia, I think, made sense because it's a very well-respected program. It would carry him far internationally. Given his background, given his interest in finance, going to school in New York City made sense.
Columbia has excellent placement within corporate law and they had the early ED program, and that if he did not get the results that he wanted, then, you know, we could see what other programs he could turn to. And Penn had this second ED program. Penn has Wharton next to it, and he is interested in finance. So that's kind of how it seemed to make sense to us.
David: Yeah, just a small clarification. I have talked to some people who think that ED, or early decision, means simply applying to law school early. ED means that you apply to a school and you agree to go to that school if you get accepted. Often ED applications are due early in the cycle, but there are some schools, like Georgetown, that have early decision deadlines as late as March, actually.
So ED just means that you are applying to a school and agreeing to go there if they admit you. And you can only apply to one ED school at a time. But if you're canny, like Adam, you can apply to one ED school, and then if you don't get in, you can apply ED to another school.
Before we talk about your essays, Adam, which it sounds like you were the most nervous about, a question for both you and Selene. Did you have an overall strategy for how to approach your applications? Were you thinking, "This is what I want to convey to the committee," or did you take the pieces of your application one at a time and just say, "How can I write the best essay? How can I write the best addendum?" et cetera.
Adam: We started contacting very early on in this stage and I had all my available information to Selene, including my resume, and what my experiences are and my thoughts on the essays.
But, you know, overall, we decided that I'll tackle my LSAT first, but then once my LSAT score comes out, we'll formulate our strategy based on LSAT score's timeline. So, at 159, she recommended me to retake, and at 167, we started actually working on the application materials and targeting our schools, as well as formulating our overall strategy on the applications.
And especially it turns out that the 164 comes out, that's when we actually get into the serious talks on the decision timelines and what we want to present to each of the schools.
Selene: That is all true. I remember that it was pretty important to me that, given what I saw in his application, that we present Adam and his strengths, like figure out what his strengths are.
What does he have to offer a law school community and try to bring those strengths out in the materials, whether it was emphasizing his international experience in law, in leadership, in his resume, and also trying to make him distinctive in the way he expressed himself in his personal statement.
Had we not done that, it would have been sort of easy to look at his file as just a really, really impressive GPA, and a 167 with kind of a bell curve LSAT history. And I did not want him just to be evaluated on his numbers. So I thought it was important that we present the fact that he has knowledge of two cultures, that he has a very strong interest in finance.
He has language skills, he's had experience working stateside as well as internationally, and he was also extremely engaging and involved on campus.
David: Well, let's talk about how we showed off those strengths, starting with the personal statement. Adam, did you know what you wanted to write about?
Adam: Writing has been my weakest part overall, and when I write, I tend to brainstorm a lot. When I first had the rough draft, or it wasn't even the rough draft, it was the brainstorm. I had around six to ten pages of all my stories that I experienced in my life, and I don't know how to deal with it. I sent this brainstorm to Daniel, and Daniel was, luckily, giving me a lot of feedback on that, and then we started working based on that.
But personally, I don't know how I would elaborate my story that will make me very distinctive. I have a lot of interesting things to tell, but I don't know how I would combine them or compress them into a short two-page personal statement.
David: Well, let's turn to Daniel. Daniel, so you received a long brainstorm, it sounds like. How did you help Adam pull a story out of that?
Daniel: As Adam said, he had a lot of different experiences to share, interesting experiences from his background. But one thing that Selene and I discussed a lot last cycle was, given the competitiveness of the cycle, we really wanted to try to help our clients find a way to emphasize a strong "why law" component to their essays.
So we looked at some of Adam's internship experiences in China, and we found a story that we felt like showcased his strengths and also told a story that narrated the arc of his interest in the law, and kind of helped clarify why he was interested in law.
And one thing I'll say is that working with a lot of international applicants, you know, in my experience, a lot of clients will say, "I want to take on corruption," or "I want to fight for human rights." There's a lot of folks giving similar reasons for why law.
And I think what was important, and what we tried to do with Adam was to really find a specific story that would really make it believable when he said that he wanted to take on corruption and fight for human rights. And that's what we try to do, when looking for an anecdote or an experience to work on.
David: Adam, can I summarize your personal statement, or do you want to?
Adam: To put it short, it really was a story that motivated me to actually change my perspective of what I wanted to do in law. David, you can take on after that.
David: No, no. I'd love to hear, it's your essay, to hear you give us the brief.
Adam: All right. Sure. So, to make it short, like I said, I wanted to do law in high school because I'm interested in law. I'm interested in math. So I wanted to do mostly finance law or laws regarding big corporations, and Daniel, if you can help me summarize that a little bit?
Daniel: I'm looking at it because I was curious to see kind of the evolution of the personal statement from the first draft to the final draft. It sort of starts out with Adam's background. And it's kind of a story of a loss of innocence, in a way. It tells a story of how he was raised in China, and in the Northeast region of China, and how he was told by his grandparents growing up that he would benefit if he became part of this system.
And he says, though, he glimpsed evidence of the system's corruption. He was told that China was becoming a democratic country ruled by law and order. Then it narrates his time in the States, and his education, and going to high school in the States, and how he got interested in law and history.
And then he goes back to China on this internship, and it tells a story of his work on this case. Basically, when they get to the city where the hearing is supposed to take place, the judge's secretary walks in and tells his team that the judge had instead decided to attend a training workshop in another province. So he basically didn't show up for the hearing without giving any notice. That moment starts an exploration into how private entities sometimes bribe elected officials.
And this episode kind of opens Adam's eyes to start looking at other instances of corruption and unsavory things going on in terms of law in the system. And it leads to this sort of moment, whereas before, he wanted to get a law degree to become part of the system and benefit economically from it.
He sort of changes and he realizes that he wants to use a law degree to improve the system and strengthen the law and order. Another thing we talked about with Selene all the time is how people in their essay saying that they're going to, they're going to change the world and they're going to do these different things.
And it's really hard to make that convincing. So that's actually, you know, maybe the most challenging part of it is finding a way for Adam to express how exactly he wants to go about making change with his law degree. So that's kind of the general run of his essay.
David: One way to think about this essay is that it's a sandwich. So the meat of the sandwich is this one very memorable clarifying moment. Adam is a young, starry-eyed intern, really excited for his first case, and he shows up, and the judge doesn't show up. Presumably, he hasn't showed up because he's been bribed. And then if you think about the bread on top, we have some context setting up that one moment.
And then on the bottom, we have some reflection taking us from the clarifying moment to the conclusion, which is that Adam wants to fight corruption with his law degree. And it sounds a little pat when I put it like that, but it is really, really deft when you read it. And that's why I admire this story.
I think that there's so often a tension between giving us one clarifying moment and writing something that feels true to life, because in real life, you don't often feel like this one single moment changed everything. You often experience these things as an evolution. And the essay does both. You give us the evolution, but you do also give us that one sparkling moment that's just so easy to remember.
And I imagine that when an admissions officer reads this and walks away, you know, if they think of Adam later, they'll think of that moment when the judge doesn't show up. So I think it does a great job of telling a story and motivating your application to law school. It also just helps us make a little more sense of your background.
Why are you even applying to law school, and where have you been up until this point? From my point of view, it is incredibly successful. So, great work, guys.
Adam: Yeah, I think about my essay is that when I have the story out, what the difficult part for me is that I have the story out but I can't, I can't make it a sandwich.
I have all the ingredients out, but I have a difficult time making it smooth as it logically connects one part to the other, and after it's finished as the personal statement, and we had multiple edits, and after the final edits, I was like, wow, it really logically connects everything as it presents it to the admissions officers, because admissions officers only read about, spend like three or four minutes on this essay.
And it's really important to let them understand what you're trying to tell and let them see how you had achieved all this. And then, so I think it's very important that we had it, and I really thank Selene and Daniel for their help on that.
David: You know, I once heard this analogy of writing. It's a David Lynch analogy.
He said that, for him, creating is like you're standing in the middle of a room and there's a closed door. And every couple hours, somebody slides a single puzzle piece under the door and you take that puzzle piece and you try to figure out what to do with it. And I think that's a great analogy because when you're done, a finished essay does sort of resemble a jigsaw puzzle.
You look at it and you're like, there's only one way this thing could have possibly been put together and it's this. This is the picture that makes sense. But it doesn't feel like that at all when you're putting it together. It feels like, where the heck does this go? To go back to our sandwich analogy, it kind of feels like, wait, does this bread go in the middle and the meat on top?
It's really confusing. That, I think, is the mark of a successful essay. You go through this process of confusion and you end up with something that feels totally inevitable. Of course it isn't, but that's the whole art of writing.
Let's turn to your optional essays, Adam. You had a couple, and I'm going to first turn to Selene. When it comes to the diversity statements, Selene, what were you and Adam trying to accomplish?
Selene: I actually like this diversity statement very much, because I feel like it complements Adam's personal statement, which provides a little bit of context for who he is and where he comes from. But then we launch into this very specific story and we talk a lot about how he analyzes the social structure, the political structure, the legal structure, and identifying the problem that he sees and how he wants to solve that problem, which are very important things that the admissions committee wants to know, but they're very sort of grand and not terribly personal.
Perhaps it speaks more to his professional goals than who he is. Who is Adam? Because I'm aware that when the admissions committee is reviewing applications, they're looking to put together, they're looking to assemble a class of people with all different backgrounds and interests and perspectives and experiences who can come together, learn together, learn from each other and with each other.
And so I felt like it was really important, knowing that there were going to be probably a lot of international candidates applying in this cycle, as there are in all cycles, that he distinguish himself from that crowd. The diversity statement, I felt like, should delve more into Adam, the person.
Who is this person who went to China and saw this problem and has these goals? What is his background? What perspective would he bring to the classroom discussion if we were to admit him? And so I saw the diversity statement as an opportunity for him to share things about him as an individual, the fact that he was very active in sports and that he was very active socially, and engaged not only with the faculty at OSU, but also other students.
And I thought that that brought out a lot of really attractive qualities in Adam as a candidate. And so I wanted to emphasize that so that we could layer that onto the sandwich, so that whoever is consuming his application would get like a full picture, a full meal of who Adam is.
David: Have we taken the sandwich metaphor too far? I think so, let's retire it. But to be clear, Selene, what you're saying is you thought the PS was great, but it left some stuff out, and you tried to fill the gap with the diversity statement.
Selene: Yes, and I think that the PS would have worked fine, but I felt like the diversity statement would add more. It would make him more interesting. I want him to come across as a fully formed, three-dimensional person.
David: Right. Adam, you mentioned that you played football and lacrosse, which is quite notable. My question for both you and for Dan is, how did you come up with the topics? How did you put it together?
Adam: Yeah, so for the diversity statement, also Selene played a huge part of this too.
We had a diversity statement up at first, but when Selene read it, she's like, Adam, I don't want you to tell a story about how Asian immigrants faced or how Asian immigrants diversity statement. It's about Adam personally, so we reworked the whole thing and we said it's a target on me personally, on how I personally overcome a lot of the stereotypes playing football as an Asian immigrant, and also lacrosse, playing varsity lacrosse as a junior captain, how my story was picked up.
And that was in the first introduction paragraph that I briefly talked about it, but then we decided to shift our focus on how I changed my perspective during college and how I used my understandings of the Asian perspective, as well as my American perspective, how I combined them into a synergy in college and how I would use that later on in life.
And so that's how Daniel and I started to take that approach after Selene gave us that recommendation.
Daniel: Yeah, I'll add that I think what's important here, what we tried to stress was not only what is this new perspective he's gained from his background and his experiences, but what has he done with it?
How did he use that to enrich his college experience? You know, one thing that Selene is always really good at is keeping us focused on showing the admissions committees what Adam is bringing to the table. Even just like, you know, as a sentence where, he has a sentence about being a teaching assistant and what his relationship was like with his peers as a teaching assistant.
And again, that's just another example of something that it's a very clear statement and description of what he brings to an incoming class that someone else might not.
David: So, Adam, are you saying that the first draft of your diversity statement focused on the experience of Asian immigrants in general, or it focused entirely on your experience as an immigrant when you came to the States?
Adam: I think it's all my personal experience on that, but I think my theme was around, it was too much, in a word, it's a stereotype that is commonly known. So that's how it was summarized. It's kind of like a story that, it becomes a stereotype that other people also share, which doesn't really make me distinctive.
And it's really never talked about how I utilized and achieved this. It's mostly me talking about what I experienced instead of how I utilized that experience and how I changed in college. That was the main issue with my first draft.
David: Yeah, I think what you did was really smart. For those of you who are not looking at the statement, Adam ended up telescoping that experience, it looks like, into a single paragraph, and that's the starting point.
And you use that starting point as a way to talk about these other things, how he overcame the stereotype, what he did in college, and then what he's going to do for the law school community. And it works really well. I noticed, though, that you did not write an LSAT addendum, or did you, and I'm just not looking at it?
Adam: I didn't, I didn't. Yeah, I had a talk with Selene and it wasn't really much. Maybe Selene can elaborate on that a little bit more, but we think that it's only one down curve. It's an upside-down V-shape, it's a bell curve. Yes, there might be some questions to be asked about why it went up drastically, but it also went down, a little bit down. It might raise some questions from the admissions officer's perspective, but we decided that there's not much to talk about.
People make mistakes, or there's, you know, we had a bad time on the exam. I don't think there's much more to be elaborated on that, but we decided to focus on the actual personal statements and the optional essays instead of picking on that LSAT score curve.
David: Selene, can you say a few words about that decision too?
Selene: Yeah, I feel like an LSAT addendum, it's part of the series of written pieces that the admissions officer sees in the PDF when they're reviewing applications from the database. And I felt like unless there was a really distinctive reason why there was this LSAT history, that any attempt to try to insert any sort of significance or drama to the LSAT history could potentially make the admissions officer feel as if he was trying to state the obvious or explain away the obvious.
Adam, I don't think that there were any extreme issues like your computer fried or there was a fire across the street, or if somebody was very, very sick, or anything like that, right? It was just, I did better on this one, not so good on this one. I felt like it would almost be like we were trying to fabricate an excuse to put in an LSAT addendum.
It would be very, very short and maybe it wouldn't even register when the admissions officer was reviewing his written pieces, because, oh, nothing to see here, nothing extreme. His LSAT history is what it is. We were just going to sort of leave it up to whoever was reviewing, whatever they wanted to think about it, but we felt like it was better to emphasize his strengths and maybe not draw attention to the LSAT history.
David: Adam, let's go back to the timeline here. So you put together this fantastic application. You send it in early decision, and then I understand you got an interview.
Adam: Correct. Yeah, so I emailed Penn to change my status to ED II, and they replied to me in early January.
And so with the time approaching with a decision date releasing in end of January, I was pretty panicking. But then on a Monday before that decision release, I got an interview invite, which I looked up Reddit, I looked up talk to alumni, and they rarely give out. So Selene told me that Penn recently started doing this only to their ED applicants, only to selective ED candidates.
So I'm not sure how that interview was purposely made, why they gave me an interview, but I decided to take it. And so we had an interview scheduled, and during that interview, it was pretty casual. The interview was pretty casual. I could tell kind of her intention was trying to let me speak more about my experience with Penn and why I applied to their ED II program, because I know Penn only gives out an interview to a very small group of people, only their ED pool.
So, many people don't have an interview. So, you know, during the interview I talked about, honestly, talked about what I, how I know about Penn. And I know, actually, I know Penn Law ever since the Ohio Law Fair. I talked to one of the alumni from OSU and I had a great talk with her. And I told her about this experience.
Also, I did a lot of research on Penn, how their cross-disciplinary program was really their main focus, and so how I want to utilize that, what they offer, and how that will contribute to my experience in the future. And so, yeah, the interview was very casual.
So I think from the interview, I can tell that she wanted to see whether I applied ED II to only boost up my chances, because ED is a bounded, like David previously said, it's a bounded process. She wanted to tell whether I can prove that I applied ED because I was really interested in Penn, that I really think Penn was my best choice, or I only applied ED II because, for other reasons, you know, I want to boost up my chances or something.
And I think, looking back from the result, I think that I did convince her that what my true intention is, is that Penn was really fitting me. I really fit Penn and how Penn really fits me. So that's how...
David: What were the interview?
Adam: I did get the decision that Friday after. I was extremely happy. She called me over the phone that morning.
David: Just to clarify, I was under the impression at first that you applied originally to Penn as an ED applicant, but now I understand that you had already applied to Penn. And then when you were deferred by Columbia, you called Penn, or you emailed them and asked to switch your outstanding application to ED. Is that right?
Adam: Correct. Yeah, I applied to Penn and all T14s around early November. So through the regular process RD program. And so after Columbia ED was deferred, I emailed Penn instantly to tell them that I wanted to switch to ED II, and I did sign the form afterwards. It was a pretty easy process.
David: That makes sense. Selene, what did you make of this request for an interview?
Selene: Well, given the cycle, I don't think it's surprising. I feel like admissions offices are using interviews more. And, you know, when you're trying to figure out ED and you have someone who comes in a certain way, but then wants to make a switch, it's the easiest, fastest way to find out if the candidate is serious about that school. The school doesn't want to extend an offer if they don't already know that the candidate is going to accept it.
I think Adam and I did a fair amount of interview prep before this, with, you know, just him being able to be comfortable expressing his answers for why law, why now, why Adam is great, and what he wants to use his law degree for.
So I think Penn benefited from, you know, being sort of later in the cycle, and Adam had probably gone through a couple of these interview rounds and was fairly practiced in expressing himself confidently. That goes a long way. I think, Adam, you said it wasn't a terribly long interview, so you must've been able to express yourself very clearly and succinctly.
Adam: Yeah, it ran pretty short. It ran about 15 minutes and then she started asking me whether I have any questions for her, and I brought up some fun facts about Penn's student associations, which I had actually researched and reached out to, and she was impressed as well. So yeah, the interview lasted around 15 to 20 minutes.
David: I realized I forgot to ask you earlier about the Penn core strengths essay. Here's the prompt. These are the core strengths that make Penn Carey Law the best place to receive a rigorous and engaging legal education. And then they talk about some of their strengths: integration with disciplines, great scholarship, et cetera. These qualities define Penn Carey Law.
What defines you? How do your goals and values match Penn Carey Law's core strengths? What are they asking here, and how did you answer it?
Adam: It's not just a way of just describing what Penn offers. It's more about how Penn and you could complement each other or how you could utilize their resources and how they could benefit from you as well.
I think the key point is they want you to incorporate both how you will fit in Penn as well as how Penn will, what Penn offers you. So, yeah. Then maybe Daniel can talk about how we elaborated on that.
Daniel: It is sort of like a "Why X" essay, but I feel like when people think about it as a "Why X" essay, sometimes the approach to this essay can get a little weird, just because, as Adam said, one thing that we talked about was the emphasis is on the candidate. It's on you. So it's really tough to kind of hit on some of these core strengths and match them up to yours in a convincing way, without sounding like you're just sort of improvising.
And I felt like this essay, we work on a lot of these, and I feel like Adam did just a really good job of matching up his interest with these core strengths in a really convincing way, and in a way that sort of echoes other parts of his application, things that we brought up in the personal statement, things that we brought up in the diversity statement.
So it's not like you're just picking a core strength out of the blue and saying, oh yeah, I totally align with that. There are elements that you've already discussed that are part of your background and you're just kind of going into a little bit more depth into how those elements match up to Penn. So, yeah, I think the strategy with this essay for me is always to focus on the candidate first and be like, well, this is what I bring, and this is how it matches up to X, Y, and Z.
David: So, Adam, what are you doing with yourself before you start your 1L year?
Adam: Yeah, I'm actually, I've been back to China. So I was in the States all the way, suffering the whole time through the pandemic, and I realized when I graduate, I only have one summer left before going through a law school route of working and studying. I just bought a ticket and came back after a whole month of quarantine, two weeks of quarantine in the hotel and one-half week of self-quarantine at home. I'm out and totally free.
And I decided to utilize this summer, first of all, to gain more sleep, and second of all, just to explore my hometown, to travel, also to exercise a little bit more, to keep my body healthy. I'm actually on a vacation trip with my girlfriend right now in China. Very enjoyable moment for me.
David: That's wonderful. Here's how I want to end it. I'd love it if you and Dan and Selene, in any order you want, to share one last piece of advice, either for law school applicants in general, or specifically for international law school applicants.
Adam: I can start. I have advice for Penn. I also have advice for overall applications. So Penn really focused on matching. I think this term matching is that they really want to see who they want to pick out. They really have a low-yield acceptance, meaning they want to keep their acceptance low and keep their yield of commitments high. And so they're really targeting those students that really fits in their law school. They have a really small class.
So if you want to really interest in Penn, you really have to show how you match Penn, how Penn matches you. I think that's what, also what their optional essay's offering. And also for applications for this cycle, I think that applying early definitely helps. A lot of people that I know with higher stats or, you know, all we know is their stats, so with higher stats were either waitlisted or rejected because they applied in late February or even late January. So applying early definitely helps.
David: Dan or Selene, do you have any last pieces of advice?
Daniel: Yeah, I think one lesson from Adam's application and one's inexperience, maybe I touched on this a little bit before, but if you're writing about corruption and human rights in your personal statement or anything else, I just think it's really important to be really specific about what aspect you're interested in working on with your law degree.
And just avoiding being vague and saying, oh, I want to work on corruption or I want to work in human rights, and just, really, specificity is the key.
Selene: My advice to international candidates, whether they are coming directly from abroad or whether they have come to the States and maybe gone to college here and now are applying to law school, I would say try to clearly indicate in the application why it makes sense that you want to pursue a legal education in the US. I think that that is a question that is at the front of admissions officers' minds as they're reviewing an application from an international candidate. And so that's my first bit of advice.
My second bit of advice would be to be aware that the audience is the admissions committee and they are going to be reading many, many applications from international candidates. And you want to make sure that the stories you choose to tell and the strengths that you choose to highlight in your candidacy, that you've thought them through and that they're going to be specific to you, unique to you.
Because the review process is all about distinguishing one candidate from the other. And even though two candidates may have had similar experiences, similar life experiences, what they did with those experiences make them unique. And you want to emphasize the part that makes you unique.
David: That's great advice. Well, thanks to everyone here for joining me. Adam, congratulations on a fantastic outcome. I know that you're going to excel at Penn and I hope you have a really great summer.
Adam: Thank you very much, David.
Daniel: Good luck, Adam.
Adam: Thank you, everyone.
Daniel: Great working with you.
Adam: Thank you, everyone.
David: Bye, everyone.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening.
As always, if you're studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself and see you next time.
Subscribe to our podcast:
iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Google Play Music | SoundCloud
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and today we're presenting a webinar with Jill Steier, who was the assistant director of admissions at NYU Law, and more recently, a reader in the admissions office of Columbia Law. David asks Jill about the admissions process of each school, and then Jill fields questions from the audience.
Without further ado, here's the webinar.
David: Hello everyone. If you don't know me, I'm David I'm a partner at 7Sage and I am really pleased to host Jill Steier. Jill has worked in the admissions offices of NYU and Columbia, and Jill, I'm just going to let you introduce yourself.
Jill: Hi, everybody. Welcome. Thank you so much for joining us. I am Jill Steier. My pronouns are she/her/they, coming to you from my beautiful library. For those who are going to listen to the podcast, it's just my scene background. It's a stock image. You really don't want to see what's behind me. Admissions officers are just like you. We hide our stuff behind scene backgrounds, and we also wear sweatpants on Zoom calls.
Thank you all for joining us tonight. As David said, I am Jilll Steier. I worked as assistant director of admissions at NYU Law, and then I was a contracted JD admissions officer at Columbia Law School, and soon I will be working at Temple University Beasley School of Law as associate director of admissions, and excited to talk to you a little bit more about the law school admissions process.
I'm going to try to be as transparent as possible while also respecting the privacy of the deans that I worked for and the incredible people that I've worked for at NYU and Columbia. But I'm happy to help try to pull back the curtain a little bit and answer some of your questions.
David: Jill, it's funny that you mention the fake Zoom background. I do want to know what's behind the fake Zoom background of law school admissions. But when someone hits submit, what's really going on? Who reads their files? How are they evaluated? What happens basically? Can you talk about NYU in particular?
Jill: Yeah, applications open up September 1st and it is a whirlwind up until orientation. That's actually something that I wanted to point out later, is that your cycle does not end May 1st. It will end once you started orientation.
So once somebody submits their application, Columbia and NYU have incredible teams to work on the processing, making sure that everything that you have is considered complete before it gets sent to the admissions officers for review.
So not everybody who you may meet in admissions office may review the application. There are some employees who will work on the processing side, some that work on the communication side, some that work on the tech side, some that help with events, sometimes a combination of all of them. That's kind of what I did at NYU. I did a little bit of everything.
So, once your file is marked as complete, it will be distributed amongst the senior staff who review the files. Typically, every application that is admitted, every student that is admitted will have to be reviewed by the dean of admissions. So, if you are admitted to a law school, know that the dean did see your application.
So what that may mean is that when we look at a pool, the very tippy-top of the pool, and this is just when I say the top of the pool, this is just, you know, your hard factors, your LSAT scores and your GPA, those will typically go to the dean for review. Everyone else will be distributed amongst the admissions officers.
Now, there could be a variety of different reasons why admissions officers may receive your application or may not. Some schools will use those hard factors to divvy it up. Some schools will do it randomly. The pool changes greatly each year. So that's a thing that can also be difficult to predict because law school admissions is comparative in nature.
So we try to, even if you think that you're going to split it up by, you know, highest LSAT score and GPA, that may not necessarily mean that that's an even split for each admissions officer. So that's why it may be a bit more randomized, just to make sure that every admissions officer gets, you know, around the same number.
Now, once an application is reviewed, there will always be another person taking another look at it. Even if an application that I may come across may be a student that I think should not be admitted, there will always be another person to take a look at it.
There are some times that we may have a committee review on an application. A committee can consist of faculty members, administrators, some schools may use alumni, some schools even use upper-level students, 3L students, so that you know that you're not going to be at school at the same time and they have to sign a confidentiality agreement.
Typically, those may be, you know, those 3L students may be students who are from underrepresented groups who are reading applications of applicants who are also from underrepresented groups. So, typically, applications that may go to committee for review are applications that it's not a clear admit or deny.
And that's actually the majority of applications that we get. Just because you may submit your application early doesn't necessarily mean that you may hear back early. Although I do recommend, I tell everyone, apply early. I think that that is great advice because, as I said, law school admissions is comparative in nature and the pool changes.
So law school admissions offices may want to hold on to your application to see what the rest of the pool looks like. That was especially important this past cycle, as those, as it was the, you know, as we were reviewing Flex scores, and Flex scores were different than the traditional LSAT. And so it was difficult to predict what that pool would look like, who would be applying, what scores they would have, what kind of experiences that they would have. It was a really unique cycle this past cycle.
So law school admissions offices may hold off until later in the cycle where they get to evaluate all the applications that they have before making a decision on it. So, for example, it's kind of like a puzzle. You may want to wait and flip over all the pieces before you start to connect them and put them all together.
David: Does NYU put applicants with high scores in a presumptive admit pile?
Jill: It's not a presumptive admit. Scores aren't everything. If it just came down to scores, I would be out of a job. There's a reason why we have human beings in admissions offices, because there are those soft factors that come into play.
And there are people who I have seen have a 4.0 and a 179 not be admitted because there are other factors. They might have not followed directions on their admissions application, or we might have felt like they weren't ready for law school yet, or there might have been some questionable letters of recommendations.
There's a variety of reasons why there may be somebody with, you know, those high scores and high GPAs that may not be admitted, but yes, the very tippy-top of the pool would go to the dean, and then the dean would also review everyone else that, who the admissions officers would recommend for admission.
David: And what about the flip side of that? So you mentioned that some people with incredibly high scores are rejected. Are some people with incredibly low scores or at least relatively low scores admitted? And if so, what would make you go to bat for someone like that?
Jill: Yes, definitely. I mean, whenever I would give admissions presentations, I would always tell students, don't focus on the medians.
I think everyone is very focused on what that median LSAT score is, and they think of it as a minimum. Do not confuse median with minimum. I think that the most helpful numbers to look at are the 25th percentile and the 75th percentile. And keep in mind that 50% of students are between those two scores, and 25% are below and 25% are above.
But also, you know, there are, 25% is quite a large chunk at a school like NYU, which had, you know, around 400 incoming students. That's 100 people that were coming in with below the 25th percentile LSAT score. So there's a variety of different reasons.
You know, if somebody has impressive work experience, if somebody has really shown that they've grown with their graduate studies, if they have completed impressive volunteer experiences, if they have a Fulbright or a Marshall scholarship, or if they have demonstrated a sincere interest in the school, and we feel like there's a high likelihood that they're going to enroll and be a positive part of the community.
I mean, of course every school wants intelligent students, but we would really be doing us a disservice if we just had smart students who didn't want to get involved. So, you know, you're looking for people who are going to contribute to the law school community while they are in law school, and then also as an alum.
When we're reviewing an application for admission, we're not just looking at how they would perform in their three years. We're looking at how they would engage with us as alumni, because they will have that alumni title for the rest of their lives. And so that's something that we take into consideration as well.
David: What might indicate that they're going to keep in touch as alumni and represent you well?
Jill: So I'll look at how they might have been engaged in their undergraduate school. Now, I also keep in mind that not every student may have had the time or means to volunteer as a tour guide or join clubs.
And there are instances where I take into consideration if a student had to work throughout their undergraduate schooling to help pay their tuition. And so feel free to disclose that to us, because that is something that we like to know. We're not always looking for the most prestigious internships.
Not everybody can afford to take on an unpaid internship, and that's okay. We just want to see that you're active and engaged, whatever you're doing, whether that you're a cashier working in retail or whether you are president of student government association. We just want to see that you have a commitment to community.
David: When you're reviewing a file, what happens at the end? How do you assess it? Do you write a paragraph of notes? What happens?
Jill: Okay, I'll walk it through for what I do. So, first thing I do is I review the CAS report, and the CAS report is something that, it's a standard form that the LSAC creates, and it will, it's sent with every single application and it helps give us information.
I'll look at things like what is the LSAT college mean? So, for example, this number that's on your CAS report is a number that will tell us what's the mean LSAT score of everyone who takes an LSAT from that particular school. Now, that's just one bit of information, but that helps give us some information about the types of candidates that come from this type of school.
We'll look at your GPA percentile. So how did you fare compared to your peers? Also in the CAS report is your writing sample. I will skim through the writing sample, make sure that you don't just like kind of doodle and not take it seriously, because some people don't take it seriously. They think that it's never going to be read. So I'll skim through that.
I'll look through the letters of recommendation. I'll see if there's any specific concrete examples of how you were a great student or intern or employee. I'll look to see if there's any information about how you may fare compared to your peers. Then we'll look over at the application, look down, and I'll make sure that everything is filled out correctly.
Your submitting your law school application is a great exercise in following directions and being detail-oriented, which are two things that you really need to master as a lawyer. All of those additional questions that law schools may ask that may be different, I'll make sure that, you know, those questions are answered, and answered correctly.
I'll look through the character and fitness section. I'll see if there's anything that should be flagged. I will look through the resume and then I'll read the personal statement. I'll go back to the resume. I'll try to see if it's all cohesive. Then I'll try to read all of these additional statements.
Then I may go back to the CAS report. Then I may go back to the application, and then all in all, I'm kind of writing my notes at the same time, so it can vary. Sometimes I may write a sentence if it's a student that I really don't think should be admitted.
If it's a student that I think should be admitted, I'll highlight the reasons why I think that they should be admitted. And then if it's a student who I think that I really need to fight for, I'll write a little bit more.
David: This last year you were with Columbia Law School. Could you compare NYU's admissions process with Columbia's?
Jill: I can try. Well, first I'll say law school admissions officers, actually, for the most part, all know each other. So I was kind of familiar with my peers at CLS before I went over there.
That's been actually one of the saddest things about the pandemic is because typically we all get to chat with each other on the road as we travel from forum to forum, or school to school at law school admissions events, and we all know each other. And so keep that in mind too.
We exchange best practices with one another. So it was great transitioning over to CLS. I will say it's very similar from what I've seen, and keep in mind, you know, the dean of admissions is the one person who really gets to see everything, really gets the bird's-eye view.
I would say that the biggest difference is, a, Columbia interviews, and you have limited time, so CLS uses that time to have the admissions officers interview prospective candidates. NYU also has limited time. They spend the time calling every admitted student. So both have value. It's just, you know, the preferences of the deans. And also keep in mind at any time this could change at any cycle, so this may be different next cycle, but that would be, a, the first difference.
The second difference, I think that, from what I saw, I felt that CLS had a much larger what they call reserve pool compared to NYU's hold or waitlist pool, which could be a good thing or a bad thing. Sometimes some students just want to know. They'd rather know earlier whether even if it's a deny, some students would rather like to have the application held on for, you know, maybe they're taking the LSAT again and they'll submit a new score. They'd rather have their application held onto. So it's neither a good thing or a bad thing. It's just different.
David: Do you think that one school puts more weight on one factor than the other school? Like applying early decision, or recommendations, or the essays?
Jill: Not really. I really haven't noticed a difference. I think that there's shared goals of creating a class that is not homogenous, creating a class that has intelligent, engaged, proactive students, that can be demonstrated in a lot of different ways, but there were a lot of similarities, I would say, more than differences in what they were looking for.
David: One thing that's different, at least from the point of view of the applicant, is the personal statement prompt. NYU has a very open-ended prompt. Columbia asks you to talk about your motivation and your goals. Did you read the essays differently when you were working at Columbia than you did when you were at NYU?
Jill: Well, as I said before, we want to make sure that students, that applicants follow directions. For the most part, most students did follow directions. And I did review them kind of similarly, but also keep in mind when we review applications, we have to keep in mind, is this somebody who I, personally, as a law school admissions professional, would want in the class?
Is this somebody who the dean would want in the class, the dean of admissions? And is this somebody who the dean of the law school would want in the class? I don't want to get into too much detail about personal preferences of the deans. I don't want to speak for them. There are a couple little things, but overall, it is quite similar.
Now, for me, personally, there are some things that I don't like to see in personal statements, and some of my peers may feel differently, and that's kind of, that's the art of law school admissions. It's an art and a science. We're humans. There's a human preference that comes into play. That's what can be so unpredictable about law school admissions.
Certain things that I personally don't love to see, you know, are these really, like, detailed stories about childhood that I think are maybe embellished or exaggerated a bit, or if somebody is telling the story of somebody else. So if they're talking about a mentor or a family member who they admire.
Or, you know, these copy-and-paste reasons for wanting to go to law school, throwing in at the end, "I want to go to X school because it is the best school to help me achieve my goals." Well, how? What is there? It's a very clear, very evident copy-paste. So those are a couple things that I don't love to see in a personal statement.
David: What do you love to see in a personal statement?
Jill: Well, if it's not already in a separate "Why X" statement, specific reasons for being drawn to a school, and it's okay if these are like nonacademic reasons as well. If you are drawn to going to CLS or NYU because it's in New York City and you are a New Yorker, you have family in New York, or if you like going to art museums and you want to go to the Met or the Frick, or specific reasons for why you're interested in a school is always helpful.
I mean, we all have websites. We put a lot of work into our websites. You have a computer in your pocket usually at all times. If you can just throw in a couple of reasons why you want to go to that specific law school, that goes a long way. But also keep in mind that I look for these reasons to be cohesive.
So, if you say that you're interested in going to X school because you want to pursue immigration law, I want to see, were you part of any student organizations that worked with immigrants? Did you volunteer at all? Did you have any work experience in this realm? I want to see it all kind of tie together.
Other things that I like to see, striking that balance between your authentic voice while also demonstrating mature writing skills is something that's a tough balance to strike. And when I see it, I really appreciate it. It's finding that perfect tone where you come across as authentic. I can get a sense of who you are and your voice, but it also demonstrates your writing skills, that you can talk from a mature viewpoint, and that I feel confident in your ability to be a successful writer in law school.
David: That leads right to my next question. So do you think a personal statement is a writing test, a personality test, a synopsis of what you've done? None of the above, or all of the above?
Jill: Well, all of the, well, it depends. It depends on the school. It depends on what the school is looking for. I love law school admissions, because there is not one path to law school. You don't have to be a pre-law major. You don't have to be a paralegal to go to law school.
And I love law school admissions because I get to meet people with such an array of backgrounds: dancers, Uber drivers, scientists, parents, veterans, international students. It's one of the best things about law school admissions, is just getting to be able to meet so many incredible different people.
Now, if you do not have any experience in the legal world, It is helpful to give us some information about why you feel law is the path for you and what you hope to get out of law school.
Now, it's not required for you to know exactly what type of law you want to practice. And, in fact, I even tell students, keep your options open, even if you think you know what you want to do. Keep your mind open because you may change your mind once you get to law school.
If you are somebody who has had exposure to law, maybe you were a pre-law student, maybe you were a paralegal, it may not be necessary to talk about why you feel like law is the path for you or what you intend to get out of law school. It depends on the applicant. Yeah, it's a balance, though, between letting us know your personality while also showcasing your writing skills. It's both.
David: Let's summarize some of your great personal statement advice. So I'll try to put them in bullet points and you'd tell me why I'm wrong and elaborate.
Number one, you don't want a personal statement that's a total departure from the resume. You don't want people to be coming out of left field saying that they want to go into animal rights law when there's nothing in their background to indicate that.
But on the other hand, it sounds like you want it to complement the rest of their application if the rest of the application does not express their motivation. That's when a personal statement can stand in.
Jill: Correct. Great. Thank you, David. You said it better than I could.
David: Well, I'm just basing this on what you said. So you want them to be genuine unless they're genuinely immature, in which case you just want them to show that they're mature.
David: It is, in some ways, a writing test that matters to you.
David: But it is also a showcase of who you are and what you might bring to the class.
Jill: Right. Correct.
David: Okay. So where does the diversity statement fit in, if you even talk about the diversity statement?
Jill: Yeah. Great question. So, as I mentioned before, deans do not want a homogenous class. And when they talk about diversity, they mean diversity in the most broad sense. And that means, you know, factors like if you're coming from a rural place or an urban place, if you were a veteran, if you are a child of veterans, if you are an underrepresented group within the legal field, if you are first-generation, if you come from a low socioeconomic status background. It is so broad.
So when you write your diversity statement, again, it should complement the rest of your application materials. So if you already talk about it in your personal statement, there's no need for you to reiterate the same sentiment in a diversity statement. There's no need to submit an additional one, but we want to talk about how your diverse viewpoint will be an asset to our law school.
How can our students and our faculty and our greater community learn from you? What do you hope to contribute to our community? Those are things that we're asking ourselves and would like to learn about when we review your diversity statement.
David: NYU asks you to note if you're part of an underrepresented group and to elaborate on it. Does that mean that if you're not a racial or ethnic minority, or if you don't come from low socioeconomic status, that you should not write a diversity statement in the addendum, or should you go ahead and write a diversity statement about being adopted or growing up all over the world or something like that?
Jill: Yeah, I definitely think that you should should write it. As I said before, it's such a broad interpretation. Don't feel discouraged. As I said, there's so many different factors that come into play when you're thinking about diversity. It's not just racial, ethnic, gender, finances. It's if you are a woman in STEM, it's if you grew up in a foreign country. All of these things help make a very rich, robust class.
It's something that we look for. It's something that we love to see. So don't feel discouraged. Please. Please submit a diversity statement.
David: Jill, can I ask you some short, unrelated lightning round questions?
David: Are international students at a disadvantage?
Jill: Oh, great. Yeah, such a short lightning round question. No, international students are not at a disadvantage, so to speak, because being an international student gives you a diverse viewpoint. And I commend international students. I mean, such independence is required for you to leave your country and study somewhere else.
I will say, if you're coming from a foreign country where English is not your first language, we may compare your personal statement and the writing section from your LSAT.
And I also may pay attention a little more to, you know, if there's anything in your letters of recommendation, if any of the faculty members talk about if there's any fluency issues, also, you know, scan your transcript to see if there were any classes that you took in English, any classes that, you know, required you to perform reading and writing skills in English.
So those are things that we're, we just want to make sure that the fluency level is there.
David: Okay, lightning round question number two. How can students demonstrate their interest to NYU and Columbia, and should they?
Jill: Absolutely. Definitely, you should. Now, keep in mind, there's, I think that there's sometimes misguided attempts of doing so.
So, for example, at an LSAC forum, sometimes I have to take my name tag off before using the restroom because people will try to chase me down to introduce themselves, to put a face to a name as I'm trying to figure out where the restroom is. That's not appropriate. Or coming to an office to ask questions that they already know the answer to just to have face time.
In fact, that's more annoying. I'd rather you just email me than come and try to make up questions that you already know the answers to because you feel like you want me to know your face or state your case. I just don't think that that's appropriate.
But there are things that you can do. Attend events, whether, hopefully, in person soon, but digital events are always really helpful, learn as much as you can about the school, submit a "Why X" statement, that is very helpful, and have concrete reasons for why you're interested in that specific school.
And then reasons that make sense. Look into the scholarship of the faculty members, look into the centers and institutes, look into the clinics, get a sense of the types of courses that are offered. Talk a little bit more about what you want to take advantage of.
And even if you don't know what exactly it is you want to do, you can still learn about all the general resources that the office of career services provides. Or you can look at the type of social events that the school has. A thoughtful "Why X" statement really does go far. A bad "Why X" statement can definitely hold you back, even if all of the other factors are good.
David: Lightening round question number three is a hypo. Your dean comes to you. Your dean tells you, "Jill, we only have one more spot and I want you to make the decision," and you get two identical twins who apply. They have the same GPA, they have this same background. They write equally good, in fact, they write the same essay because they're identical twins.
The only thing that's different is that the first one has a single LSAT score of 171, which is, let's say, 1 below your target median, and the other has seven LSAT takes, ranging from like a 151 to a 172, which hits your target. Which of these identical twins gets the nod?
Jill: There's things that I would want to look at. Number one, if somebody has seven LSAT scores, the first thing that I want to see is how far apart they are. How long ago was the one in the 150s? And did they jump around or did they, like, steadily increase? That would be one of the questions I would ask myself, first and foremost.
But if I had a quick pull, I would probably go for the one and only score with a 171, as opposed to somebody with seven LSAT scores. I always tell applicants that you want to go into the LSAT with the mindset that you're only taking it once, and my gut would be to go to the person with that one LSAT score, because with somebody that has all these LSAT scores that jump around, there's a lot of questions I'd be asking myself, like, are they trying to, like, game the system? Was that 172 a fluke?
There'd be some questions that I'd be asking myself. So my gut reaction would be to go to the first person.
David: Last lightning round question. Are GRE applicants evaluated differently?
Jill: No. Yes and no, it's a different test. So I guess, at its core, it does have to be evaluated differently. We're looking at the percentiles, well, every school does it differently, but typically we look at the percentiles and want them to be kind of similar to the percentiles of the 25th, 50th, 75th percentiles for the LSAT.
But if a school wanted an LSAT instead of a GRE, they would say LSAT only. There are plenty of applicants who do get admitted with the GRE. There really isn't a difference or a preference. I just always tell students that every law school accepts the LSAT, not every law school accepts the GRE, so think carefully about what schools you'd like to apply to and make sure that you're not limiting yourself.
Something to keep in mind, though, if there is somebody who has a GRE in addition to an LSAT and you're submitting it because perhaps, like for example, NYU requires you to submit all scores within the past five years, feel free to let us know, you know, I took the GRE, or let them know, I have to get used to saying that, to let the school know, you know, I took the GRE with the intention of going to graduate school years ago. I didn't take it with the intention of going to law school. And that's something also that they keep in mind. How long ago it was, and if you were taking it with the intention to go to law school.
David: Okay, our last mini topic is Columbia's interview. My first question is, who gets offered an interview? Is it a strong signal of Columbia's interest?
Jill: Yeah, I would say it is a strong signal of their interest. It's typically students who, or applicants who we may have questions for, and we may want to hear them answer those questions, or students who we want to see, we want to gauge their readiness or maturity and how they present themselves and how they conduct themselves in an interview.
These are typically applicants who, yeah, we're kind of on the fence about, and we'd like more information about. There are some people who, we review their applications again right before the interview, and there some people who I think are going to have a great interview and bomb, and people who, I think, you're a little bit hesitant about, thinking, I'm surprised they got to this stage, and they do excellent in an interview.
David: How do people bomb the interviews? What are some things that our listeners can avoid?
Jill: Not knowing anything about the school, not giving reasons for why they're interested in the school, being inappropriate or not professional with some of their disclosures or how they speak, not really seeming ready, not giving any, it seems like law school is an afterthought, or saying that they want to go to law school because their parents are lawyers and they think it's what they should do.
Or because they said, "I don't think I could get a job. I guess I'll just go to law school now." Having an unclear "Why law" is probably the most common negative thing that I see.
David: Thank you so much. We're going to open it up to questions now, so if you have a question, please raise your hand. I'll call on you.
I'm going to ask you to limit yourself to only one question, because we have a lot of people and we'll get to as many people as we can. So Vincent, we're going to go to you.
New Speaker: Well, thank you for accepting my question. My question is, I had a low GPA from freshman year. I was a pre-med student. Would I be able to write an addendum asking NYU or Columbia, for example, to please consider my double major GPA, which I believe reflects my actual academic abilities instead of my overall GPA from undergrad, which is included in the science courses I took that did not go very well for me freshman year?
Jill: Thank you, Vincent. Thank you for your question. That is something that law school admissions officers look for when we review transcripts. We're not just looking at the GPA in a bubble.
We're looking at the major you've selected. Was there a change in major? Was there a double major? Did you progress over time? What were the grades and the courses related to your major? How did you fare compared to your peers? All of these factors are taken into consideration.
It's very common for students, it's very common for us to see students changing majors, typically from like a pre-med track with a lower GPA earlier on. So keep in mind that typically admissions officers will notice that. But it will be helpful if you'd like to submit an addendum and give an explanation as to why you changed your major and how you grew and that type of information is helpful.
David: Okay. Thank you so much for your question. We're going to move on to Jonvy.
New Speaker: Hi. I just want to say thank you so much for taking the time to just share all of this really wonderful advice and insight. My question was, you mentioned earlier that when you're reviewing an application that some character and fitness issues might be flagged.
And I don't know if this is too broad of a question, but I was just wondering if you could elaborate on what issues are typically flagged or would really be cause for concern versus what would be minor, and how, I guess, forgiving law schools typically could be with those kinds of issues. Thank you.
Jill: Thank you so much for your question, Jonvy.
So we ask these character and fitness questions because we don't want students to have any issues with the bar down the line. We don't want you to go through law school and then realize later on that you may have any issues with the bar.
Things that may cause us concern, if there are any, like, physically violent issues, if there are repeated issues when it comes to academic dishonesty or just repeated issues in general. So, you know, don't feel discouraged at all if you have a noise violation in your dorm or even a drinking violation.
Now, if there's a lot of them, if there's repeated offenses, that's an issue. And also if there's no remorse in your character and fitness about these issues, that also kind of raises a flag a little bit too. So those are things that we are looking at and considering when we review character and fitness declarations.
David: Okay. Thanks, Jonvy. Tanisia, you can ask your question.
New Speaker: Hello? Okay, I just wanted to make sure you guys can hear me. First of all, I just want to thank you guys for your time. And then I had a quick question about situations where if someone transferred from a community college and their score was lower, and at their actual degree-granting institution, they had a higher GPA.
And in the event that this applicant is per se a splitter where they have a low GPA and a high LSAT score, how does NYU or Columbia go about that?
Jill: Well, again, we're looking at the application as a whole, so we're looking if you progressed over time. And so we take that into consideration if your grades did improve once you transferred to your degree-granting institution. If there's any reasons why you didn't perform to the level that you felt that you were capable of while you were in community college, you know, please let us know.
Please feel free to submit an addendum. Let us know if there was anything going on externally that you think it's helpful for us to know about.
Splitters, that's kind of the second part of the question, splitters. When it comes to splitters, especially if it's a low GPA, it is helpful for us to note the rigor of the program that you were in, and by program, I mean the major you selected as well as your undergraduate school, the time that has passed from when you graduated, any work experience that you have, and any graduate school experience that you have.
So we're going to start to look at all those other factors to see if there's anything else that can really showcase your academic ability. I will say when I do fight for somebody, I'm often fighting for people that may have a low GPA, but it, you know, might have been years ago or there might've been external factors, because you can always retake an LSAT, but you can't redo your undergrad GPA.
David: Okay, thanks so much for your question, and good luck. Wusang, you can ask your question.
New Speaker: Hello. Thank you so much for this opportunity to ask a question. So my question is that I transferred college twice, so I went from college A to B to C, and then back to B. And this was because I was diagnosed with this mental illness and I had to move to different locations within America and South Korea.
Now, would this have to be disclosed in the addendum that we are discussing at the moment? I don't know the exact part of the application, but it seems that we have to fill some paperwork out. So is something do you think I should disclose, like the mental illness and having to transfer college two, three times, or should I just not talk about it at all and just send in my transcript? Because my GPA isn't low or anything, but it's still like a traumatic experience for me and I don't want to just let it slide, you know.
Jill: Of course. Thank you so much for that question. Addenda, and, well, addendum are optional statements. You don't have to submit any, but it is helpful because you don't want to have the admissions officers left asking questions. It's not a good thing. We don't want to write in our notes questions that we wish we knew. Like, why did he do this? Why did he move there? Why did they perform this way? Why were they not in student organizations? Why weren't they doing anything over the summers? We don't want to have any questions.
So please feel free to submit addendum to help give us context. I do think it's appropriate to use an addenda in this case, for you to disclose why you had to move. Again, it's not something that's, well, sometimes if there's questions, admissions officers or deans may think of worst-case scenario. Did they have to move because there was an academic issue, a behavioral issue?
So it is helpful for us to know that, you know, it was related to health. So please feel free to submit one.
David: Okay, thanks for your question. Elizabeth, we're going to call on you now.
New Speaker: Thank you for taking the time to be here. I wanted to ask about resume gaps, and I went from undergrad straight into working full-time for nearly 10 years. And then I was a part of a mass layoff in 2019, and I had no idea what landscape I would be entering with the pandemic and everything.
So I have been working towards applying for the past nearly two years now, and I didn't want to find a job just merely to put it on my resume. So do you think that's something I should explain in my application somewhere? Because I feel like that might make admissions officers cringe. Thank you.
Jill: Thank you, Elizabeth. I will say, you know, I have seen admissions offices be much more lenient this past year with gaps in a resume. We understand that it is an incredibly competitive job market right now, and there's more leniency and understanding. I would say feel free to disclose it or write an addendum and explain why there is that gap.
I think that employment gaps are a great reason why you should submit an addendum. But, you know, also let us know what you were doing during this time, even if it was, you know, the books that you were reading or hobbies that was taking up your time, or if you were traveling. We just want to see, you know, what were you doing?
Even if you were just like looking for jobs, is there anything else that you can let us know to learn a little bit more about how you did spend your time? It doesn't necessarily have to be professional or academic. It is helpful for us to know.
David: Okay. Thanks for your question. Camilla, we're going to call on you now.
New Speaker: Thank you so much for accepting my question and for taking the time. I just wanted to know, if someone is reapplying for the next admission cycle because they didn't get in the first time, and essentially the entire application is the same minus a higher LSAT score, would you recommend rewriting personal statements and all the other essays, even though your reasons for attending law school are the same?
Jill: That's a personal choice, but I would definitely have fresh eyes on it. 7Sage has great consultants that can take a look at it, and I would recommend getting fresh eyes on it. Also, it is helpful to know why you are reapplying, and that is another kind of way to demonstrate interest, that you didn't get into X school, and this is a school that you really wanted to go to, and so that's why you are reapplying.
Also something to keep in mind, although you never want to go to a law school with the intention of transferring, there are many students who do transfer. And if you start to attend law school admissions events for the schools that you're interested in, it may behoove you to also get information about what they're looking for in a transfer applicant.
Just something to keep in mind. You don't necessarily have to transfer, but it's always good just to have that information in your back pocket.
David: Okay, thanks so much for your question. And we're going to go to Ian.
New Speaker: Hi there. Thanks so much for your time, and I also really appreciate you introducing yourself with your pronouns. That's really important. My question is really focused on how students who want to or need to write a diversity statement, and you talked about kind of some things to highlight, but do you have any recommendations on things to avoid doing in the diversity statement?
Jill: Great question. Using verbatim the same things that you talked about in your personal statement. Time is limited, the space is limited. No need to copy and paste it again.
Other things that I would maybe avoid is just sometimes I see diversity statements that just give statistics about how their particular identity is underrepresented without giving me any other information about contributing to the community as a whole.
Same thing, it's something similar that I see in "Why X" statements is like, I want to go to X school because this faculty member works there. Okay, but how do you want to learn from this faculty member? How do you want to work with them? What do you want to get out of it and how do you want to contribute? Taking it the next level is something that we're looking for.
David: Thanks for your question, and thanks to everyone else who is raising their hand. Unfortunately, we are almost out of time and we're not going to be able to take any more questions. Jill, I was hoping that you could leave us with one final piece of advice.
Jill: Okay, well, David, I'm going to say I don't have just one.
David: Okay, great.
Jill: I took a couple of notes of advice that I want to give. One, apply early. Of course are people who do get admitted when they apply, typically some deadlines, maybe February 15, so if they apply February 14th at 10:00 PM, but you really put yourself in a better position if you apply early. So that would be my first bit of advice.
Second is use test prep resources. 7Sage has incredible free resources. Khan Academy has incredible free resources.
The other bit of advice that I would give would be learn about law school, not just the particular law schools that you want to go to, but law school in general. Go to info sessions for law schools, go to LSAC forums, the L-S-A-C forums. Go to all of their panels. Just try to soak up as much as you can.
The other bit of advice that I would give is keep in mind that scholarships are not free money. You have to work to get scholarships. So I know sometimes it's a pain to write all these extra essays and do interviews, but it's because they're, you're getting thousands of dollars. So please just keep that in mind, and do the work, apply for all scholarships that interest you.
My other bit of advice is be patient. As I said, law school admissions is comparative in nature. We may want to see what the whole pool looks like. That means that you may not receive a decision until May. That means that you may not receive a decision until August. The cycle does not end May 1st. Law school admissions offices are reviewing what their class looks like up until orientation.
And we are checking who goes to orientation. And if you're not at orientation, we are calling you to see if you're actually going to be coming, because if not, that's a spot that we can give to somebody, and that might be you or somebody else. So the cycle doesn't end May 1st.
And last but not least, my bit of advice is be realistic, but you never know until you try. Don't reject yourself before you can even put your application in the ring.
Feel free to ask for fee waivers. Some schools are very giving with their fee waivers. Some schools may give out fee waivers through CRS, so please sign up for CRS. It's the Candidate Referral System or Service. It's a way for law schools to get your information before you even apply, and that's a way for you to get fee waivers.
And submit your applications to those reach schools. I think that it's helpful to keep in mind that, as I said, that 25th percentile is quite a large chunk. And so you never know until you apply.
I hope that I could be useful in some way. I really urge you to utilize some of the incredible resources that 7Sage provides. I decided to work with David and 7Sage because they have such integrity and such a commitment to helping students be as informed as possible through this law school admissions process. And so I hope that I could be helpful too.
David: Jill, that was very helpful. Thank you. On this question and on all of your questions, you gave us more than we asked for. So I really appreciate your time and your knowledge.
And I really, really want to thank everybody who came. I know this is a super stressful process and I hope it helps a little bit to know that there are thoughtful people like Jill on the other end.
So I wish all of you good luck, and good night, everyone. Thanks for coming.
Jill: Thanks, everybody. Have a great night. Thanks, David.
J.Y.: Hey, it's J.Y. again. Thanks for listening. As always, if you're studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.
Take care of yourself and see you next time.
Subscribe to our podcast:
iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Google Play Music | SoundCloud
Jump to Brad’s personal statement.
Jump to Brad’s diversity statement.
Brad: I still ask myself this question, you know, "What happened?" It literally feels, when I look back at my life, it feels like a switch. I remember waking up one time during selection and my sleeping bag was just full of water. It had rained that night, and so it demanded something different of me. I just realized that I had that inside of me. It doesn't take some kind of Superman or Superwoman to do it, you just have to have the drive.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping. Today's guest is one of the most extraordinary people we've ever worked with at 7Sage. Brad went from an LSAT score of 157 to a 172, and from homelessness to Harvard Law.
He talks to 7Sage consultants David and Aaron about his life, law school applications, and LSAT journey. So, without further ado, please enjoy.
David: Okay. Well, I am here with 7Sager, Brad, and 7Sage consultant, Aaron, and I don't usually say this, but Brad, I am genuinely so excited to talk to you. You are just one of the most interesting winning applicants we've ever worked with, and it's a real pleasure. So thanks for joining us.
Brad: Thank you, David. Just, I never thought I would be on the show. I've listened to all the episodes, though, so it's a real treat.
David: Well, now you've made it to the big time. And Aaron, you want to just say hi as well?
Aaron: I'm Aaron, I'm a writing consultant to 7Sage and I had the tremendous pleasure of working with Brad for, for quite a while, actually, since we delayed the cycle. So it was like two years.
David: Two years of Brad.
Aaron: Two years of Brad. I want more Brad. That's why we're on the podcast.
David: I know, Brad, I hope you apply to something after law school. Can we help you on your Supreme Court application or something?
David: All right. So, Brad, your story is really interesting. And it's really compelling. And, of course, the heart of your application strategy, as far as I can tell, was just to get out of the way of your story, which is great. And so I want to start with your story. Could you just give us the Charles Dickens opener? I don't know if we need to start with Brad as an infant, but tell us just a little bit about your background and growing up.
Brad: Okay. So, growing up, I was a young lad, like a normal kid, active. I was not a great student, just, you know, I liked playing outside, I liked doing everything else besides my schoolwork. And so I was not even an average student, probably like below average, you know, middle school, high school.
I was interested, I remember reading a lot of books, so I read a lot of books, but, you know, I probably didn't read the books I was assigned for school. I would read other things. I liked a lot of history, and then Harry Potter. History and Harry Potter was, yeah. So, and my dad was an entrepreneur, well, he worked for DuPont first, so he was an agriculture major and he worked for DuPont for awhile.
And so we lived out in the Midwest. So I grew up in the Midwest, Indiana, Chicago, or not Chicago, but Indiana and Illinois. And then he left DuPont and then he became an entrepreneur. So he ran a couple of laundromats and he also had a couple of rental apartments. So I started working from around the age of twelve or thirteen, helping out in the laundromat, assisting customers.
So, I was just a very face-timey type of person already from that young age. And my mom has been an accountant since I can remember. So she's the numbers person. I don't remember much of what I did in high school, but I just feel like I didn't do much.
David: And tell us about your college education. I want you to walk us through the whole story and then we'll circle back and talk about how you encapsulated it in your application.
Brad: So I graduated high school, June 2006, and so in that fall 2006, I enrolled in Delaware State University. So I moved from Indiana to Delaware. I didn't know anyone. I had family there. My family is from there, but I didn't know anybody at the school, so it was just a different culture, different people.
And I would just say, I wasn't really ready for it, looking back on that time. I didn't really want to go for the major that my parents really wanted me to go for, which was something practical that I would get a job with.
My dad majored in agriculture, and so they were like, do something like that, that's going to be useful. I've joked about it with my parents now. I had C's in high school in, like, math and science, so why would you stick me in a science major in college? It's not going to get easier. It's probably gonna get harder.
David: You wanted to major in the history of magic.
Brad: Yeah, exactly right. So yeah, you know, it just didn't work out for me, and I basically failed out there. So, at the end of the semester at Delaware State, my family kind of decided, "Hey, this isn't working out for you. You like computers, you like technical stuff, let's move you to a technical college and see if that works better for you."
And I, one, didn't really have a choice because I wasn't paying for my education, but then, two, I just tried to make the point that just because I can fix a printer doesn't mean I can do the stuff that was required of me at this technical college, right? So I was working with chipsets, software, just VMware, all this other stuff that I wasn't really used to and I don't think I was particularly good at.
And so I ended up dropping out of there. So, after spring, the spring term 2007 at Delaware Technical Community College, I had basically failed out of two schools in a very short amount of time. So it was summer and I didn't have a job or an internship or anything, so I went back home. And there, I was like, "Hey, this isn't working out for me."
And I started thinking and looking at other ways I could live my life, at least for the short term, and what I came up with was joining the Air Force. And my parents really cared about me and were coming from a place of love when they were like, "Hey, we don't want you to do a dangerous job in the Air Force."
It's 2007, a lot of people, a lot of our troops are dying overseas. They wanted me to do something safe. The problem with that was, that wasn't really who I was. I'm a pretty extreme person, which is to say, like, I just like adventure, sports, extreme sports or whatever. I just, I like adventure.
And so what I wanted to do in the Air Force is called TACP, the tactical, the part of the tactical air control party. You're the person who's going to be talking to, say, an A-10 overhead and direct their munitions on enemy targets. And I told my parents this and it just, it didn't go well.
And, like, a long story short, I got kicked out. And I think my parents' reasoning was that I'll kind of see the light and start agreeing with them if I don't have any money and I don't have any way to get around, but that didn't happen. So I was just homeless for around a month, and this was the summer of 2007.
When I was going through this homeless period, some people helped me. I didn't know anybody around the area, but random people started to kind of know me at this gas station that I kind of stayed at. And I still had this plan in mind, right, which is to join the military, and there's a couple of recruiters that you can talk to.
And the Army just happened to be the branch that would allow me to join the fastest. And they were like, "Hey, we can get you in in a couple of weeks max, dude, like you should come join us. We have a similar job to what you wanted to do in the Air Force and we will offer you a bonus to join."
So that was a no-brainer for me. So I joined the Army that summer, July 2007, and I joined as the 13 Fox, so it's fire support specialist. And I did my basic training and the advanced individual training, called AIT, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It's not an exciting place to be, but it works for when you need to drop munitions like artillery and mortars and things like that.
And then after that, I did my airborne training at Fort Benning before being stationed at Fort Bragg, and my unit deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in 2009. I was there for about a year, and when I came back, I was young, I was really good at physical training, called PT, and I asked for a slot to Ranger School. And my leadership said that if I could pass the Pre-Ranger Course at Fort Bragg, then I could go.
And so I take up this offer and I go to the course, but I quit. I quit, like, the second day, third day or something. Extremely unimpressive. I didn't even stick it out a week. And I lied to my unit when they asked what happened, 'cause I had to go back to my unit. So I go, I'm like, okay, the course is, I think, a couple weeks.
So I come, and, you know, if you show up three days later, people are going to be like, wait, what happened? And the easiest way out of honestly answering that question is just say, "Oh, I got injured." So that's what I did. I just said, "Oh, I got injured. You know, I'm going to go back. It's unlucky," or what have you.
But by then, my time in the Army was coming to an end, and I just left the Army peacefully after that. I went back to school at Methodist, still in Fayetteville, which is right next to Fort Bragg. They're one and the same. Fayetteville is Fort Bragg. And then I ended up going through just a lot of hard times.
I wasn't living in the best situation, and then on top with that, I started to realize that I didn't accomplish my goals in the Army. So, by fall 2010, I basically stopped going to class. I didn't have my support system. I didn't have my military friends anymore, even though I lived in Fort Bragg. And then, so that led to this serious bout of depression.
I felt very alone and I felt like a loser, to be frank, because I had quit something. I didn't quit because I couldn't do it, or that I was injured. I quit because it was hard. It was impossible to look at myself in the mirror and respect who I see. And so in that spring 2011, I had happened to watch a documentary on Discovery Channel about RASP, which is the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program.
RASP leads to, if successfully passed, it leads to the Ranger Regiment, which is the special operations unit. After I watched this documentary, I think I was kind of obsessed with the idea. So even though I'm overweight and not in a good spot to start training, I watched the documentary, I just start training that same day. The very same day.
And it hurt. I'm overweight, I've eaten like crap, I've been drinking a lot, not like an alcoholic, but going out a lot, having fun, partying. And so I eventually get into shape, because I'm like, "Okay, I need to go see a recruiter." By the end of the summer in 2011, I'm back in the Army.
And once I was at RASP, I remember knowing that I had chosen the right path for me, because the difference this time was that I'm physically and mentally prepared. And that's what I was missing, that mental preparation the first time.
I think the reason why most people don't make these kind of hard selection programs is because, frankly, their mind quits before their body. It's not that they didn't train enough, they didn't put in the miles. They put in the time, but it's easier, to me, it's easier to train the body than it is to train the mind. So I read a lot of books and I trained just like a savage to be ready for this course.
And it was still pretty freaking hard. Like, there was days I didn't think I was going to make it. But I was like, "Well, I will let them tell me to leave, but I'm not going to leave." And thankfully I had that kind of mindset this time because the experience of becoming and being an Army Ranger, being at a place, at a unit where everyone has to volunteer to be there and be selected, is just a totally different experience than what I had gone through in the rest of the Army.
And so around 2014, my contract started to come to a close, so I had a choice: either reenlist or do something else, go back to school or whatever. And the time at 3rd Ranger Battalion really changed the way I viewed myself. That showed me that, hey, I do, I have more inside of me than I think. I knew I wanted to prove to myself I could make it at a top school.
So I, basically, what I did is Google something like Ivy League college and veterans. I just knew Ivy League was good. It's like, Stanford's also good, but I just, I didn't really know anything about higher education. And what came up was the Posse Veterans Program. They match veterans with these elite schools, elite liberal arts colleges.
Around 2014, when I was looking at that Posse program, I was also taking online courses. And there, I think, there was the start of my kind of turnaround. I was getting A's in these online classes. Granted, they were not that hard, but I was trying to signal to people like, hey, I'm not the same person I was a couple of years ago.
And so I made it through the first interview. Posse Veterans Program, it's like a five-step interview process, like super competitive. They send a cohort of ten people to each partner school and thousands of people apply. So I just kept making it further and further into this process, and I was like, maybe I'll, I could do this.
And so, at the final interview, I was in front of the deans of admission at Dartmouth, along with the Posse people, and I was admitted to Dartmouth. After that, I remember I was on a plane when I got the call and I was like crying on the plane. I was trying not to cry, 'cause I was like, "Okay, I'm a pretty big dude. I don't want to cry on the plane," but I ended up crying on the plane anyway.
I got into Dartmouth, and there, my educational trajectory turned around. I started attending in fall 2016, and I just graduated from Dartmouth in March 2021. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life, and I think of the school as a second home now. It was a really, really great time there, and I learned so, so much.
David: Is it fair to say that you felt like you were drifting and you weren't totally motivated and you certainly weren't pushing yourself to the best of your abilities until you reenlisted in the army, and the challenge of that made you push back and realize what you could do?
Brad: Yeah, I would say that's exactly what happened. Seriously, I still ask myself this question, "What happened?" It literally feels, when I look back at my life, it feels like a switch. It wasn't a switch that I could consciously turn on or off. I think, I don't know, sleeping out, I woke up, I remember waking up one time during selection and my sleeping bag was just full of water. It had rained that night, we were out, open sky, and it was just full of water, no joke. And so, it just, it demanded something different of me.
I just realized that I had that inside of me. It doesn't take some kind of Superman or Superwoman to do it. You just have to have the drive, and we can go farther as humans than we think we can. If you think you're ready to quit, you've probably only gone like 70%. Like, you have a lot more inside of you. And that's what I realized, I think.
David: That's really inspiring. And Brad, I think that you wrote around this switch in your personal statement. You sort of targeted the moment before it happened, and then you showed us the moment after it happened. Can we turn to your personal statement? I wonder if you can actually just read the beginning?
Brad: Yeah, no, the first paragraph, does that work?
Brad: Yeah, no, this is perfect, and it kind of encapsulates exactly what I'm talking about. So it starts: After I left the Army in 2011, I looked in the mirror every morning and saw the face of a quitter. I had served honorably with combat service in Iraq, and for that, I was proud. But I had quit during Ranger training because of a lack of intestinal fortitude.
For months, I binged Netflix shows, ate unhealthy frozen meals, gained twenty pounds, and became a person I resented. Then I happened to see a Discovery Channel special on Ranger Assessment and Selection, RASP, and something changed for me. I started running the same day. I got back in shape, and in November 2012, I reenlisted.
David: When I read your personal statement, it has this quality of inevitability. I read the essay and I think, how else could a person who experienced this have possibly written about anything else? This seems like the personal statement you had to write, but of course, I'm sure it doesn't feel like that when you're actually crafting it.
And so my question is, was it obvious from the beginning that you were even going to write about this? How did you decide to choose this topic and focus on this?
Brad: Yeah, so, I was hoping it was going to be obvious. I ended up deciding, I'm so thankful that I got to work with Aaron because I decided, but he helped me get everything out so that I could, he made the decision easy. So I ended up, and Aaron, correct me if I'm wrong, but I ended up writing around like three full essays about just kind of explaining all of these important moments, life-changing moments in my life.
And from there, the story, we kind of took elements from different parts and then condensed everything. I mean, I'm really thankful I didn't really have to pick because I got everything out and we scrapped some stuff. Some stuff is semi-redundant and other stuff, it was like really fresh, and it's like, okay, this encapsulates what we're trying to get the message through here.
David: Aaron, can you talk to me about that process? What were you thinking as you read these initial drafts, and how did you approach finding the right essay and the right outline?
Aaron: Yeah, well, so, as everybody can hear, when you listen to Brad talk, he has this incredibly warm and inviting and modest way of talking about what is, in fact, an extraordinarily impressive and unusual trajectory.
So, when I was meeting him and he was sort of dolefully going through this early educational history, just thinking, like, oh no, how are we going to minimize this and contextualize this, to minimize the damage that it does to my application? And, you know, gradually I started to realize, like, that's not what's happening here, right?
Like, this is part of a bigger story that's not even, like, it's not, it's like a human story about a person transcending this relatively challenging situation. And so I started to think it was less about contextualizing whatever unhappy things an admissions officer would see on the transcript and more just about getting to the heart of this, really, this extraordinary moment that you and Brad have already touched on, that moment when he reenlists, I think.
And so we kind of, we use the other documents, the diversity statement and the GPA addendum, to add the necessary context, in a way, in order to clear out space for the personal statement that just gets right to the heart of that one moment.
You know, I think what Brad was saying about discovering that this was in him, right? In our initial discussions, we were trying to think about how to explain this moment when he essentially gets off the couch and he becomes an Army Ranger. And I think it was important to understand, at least for me, that it wasn't a change, right? This is who he already was and that's what he discovered.
And that was the moment that was so interesting to me. And so that increasingly just became the moment that we focused on as the thing that gives shape to the larger story, in a way, I don't know. Brad, does that sound right to you?
Brad: Yeah, no, I actually kind of forgot how afraid I was of my, of the educational history, and yeah, because you helped me realize I don't have to, I can just keep that in my GPA addendum, I actually kind of forgot that that was a huge concern of mine at the very start.
Aaron: Yeah, I think our initial conversation was just like, what are we going to do to explain this? But part of that was because you were also being kind of modest about revealing all this. Like, by the time I saw your resume, I saw an initial draft of your resume, and then we didn't actually work on the resume till after we had the personal statement pretty far advanced.
But your resume looks like ten people's resumes squashed into one. And you were like, well, should I include this? And it would be this incredible and absorbing activity that on anyone else's resume would be like the centerpiece, and on yours it's just like, it's something you were doing on Saturday mornings or whatever. So, to me, the relationship was just kind of like every day learning another amazing thing and just kind of having to recenter my own sense of the story.
Actually, how do we simplify what's ultimately a super impressive story and just draw a bright line for the reader so that this doesn't seem kind of overwhelming in its complexity?
David: Yeah, that makes sense because you're telling me that you're really worried about your educational history, but when I read your whole application, your educational history weirdly feels like a strength because it sets up the story.
It sets up a Great Expectations story. There's just such a clear before and after. At one point, you're living in a car in a gas station and you're failing out of college, and now you're going to Harvard Law. And your essays really put the finger on that moment of transition and everything helps to set up the story.
Brad, do you like writing about yourself? Did you find it liberating or really challenging?
Brad: I think both, right? I think that at first, one, I'm not as good at writing as I thought I was. I don't know how good at writing I thought I was, really, but what I realized very quickly is that it's really hard to condense things and get rid of stuff and to make it, to be super intentional about every sentence.
That's one thing that was really brought out as important to me, is making every sentence matter. That's not an easy task, but it was also, I think I had to, especially on my diversity statement, that I wasn't, like, crying writing it or anything, but it was thinking, going back to that time, it wasn't traumatic or anything, but it was just like, holy crap, I remember all of this stuff that I don't really think about all that often, and wow, what a journey.
It was just like, whew, glad I don't have to do that again. But it was something that really shaped who I was and led to this great independence that I've carried around with me ever since then.
Yeah, I loved, I eventually started to love writing about everything, but at some point, I just wanted to get it done, and then Aaron would send me, like, eighteen more edits and I'd be like, ah, I thought I was almost done. Okay.
David: I mean, Brad, knowing you, you're going to end up being like a novelist in addition to the other seven things that you are.
I want to turn, actually, to the diversity statement because that's another moment to enter the story. There are a lot of good moments, and this one focuses on what happened before the transition. Brad, would you feel comfortable reading the beginning of the diversity statement as well?
Brad: Yeah, of course.
David: Okay, great. Could you read the first paragraph and then the first couple sentences of the next one?
Brad: Sure. After my spring term in 2007 at Delaware Technical Community College, I went back home to my parents' place for the summer, like many college students. One evening, I tried to explain to my parents that I had talked to the Air Force recruiter and wanted to join in a few months when a slot opened up. My parents, however, would not support me.
My father threw me out of the house with some clothes and only $5 to my name. I had a car, but he slashed one of the tires. With adrenaline surging through my body, I got in the car and drove until the tire was completely flat. I ended up at Kangaroo Express Gas Station, and this is where I lived for a month, sleeping in my car as I started searching for a job.
David: Your essays are, and this does not happen to me very often, but your essays gave me chills. Both of them. I just came away from reading these and I just thought, like, how could anybody in their right minds not admit this guy to their law school?
But how did you get here, how did you decide to put this in your diversity statement and to focus on your reenlistment and the personal statement? Were you thinking of the whole application from the beginning and saying, I'm going to allocate this part of my story to this essay and that part to the other essay? Or did you do the personal statement first, and then say, what else do we have to say? Tell me more about the process of putting all the essays together and making sure that they work together so well.
Brad: I'm fairly certain, you know, this was a long process. I'm fairly certain I started working with Aaron and we started on the personal statement. And again, I think one of the strengths were maybe I didn't, this decision kind of came naturally is because I did end up writing multiple essays.
And there we had this really big picture that encapsulated everything that I was probably going to talk about. And I think here, I did certain things on campus, ran certain school organizations. I had particular goals, that Army story, that more Army-centric story, fit in to that personal statement just almost naturally, because it's a kind of, I don't know, Rocky-esque story, right, where your back's against the ropes and what are you going to do? You got to get out of the corner, right? You're getting pummeled.
And that was the kind of, you know, "from rags to riches" story of sorts. And so that uplifting story's kind of maybe juxtaposed with something similar in that diversity statement, but also it is maybe a little bit more depressing. And so, you know, but it's a very short kind of depression. And then I think we also, it's almost like, not two personal statements, but I think it's just on the face of it, it says diversity statement, but it really all, the one thing I love about my documents is that I really do just think they're almost seamless.
I just think it would hurt the story to have one without the other. So, like, it does say diversity statement, one does say personal statement, but I think it tells one cohesive narrative, which I think is just the huge strength. And I focus on, I use that diversity piece, in a way, like, Aaron helped me to use that diversity, like homelessness and, hey, what am I tying that into?
Hey, what do I want to, why am I telling the admissions committee that I was homeless? Like, what does that do? I don't want to just tell them a sob story. It's like, oh, it actually connects to things that I want to do in legal practice, or I hope to do in my legal practice. And so maybe this is bold, but I just think I could swap my personal statement for my diversity statement. It's just, I don't know, it's all so cohesive.
David: Yeah, I agree. And I, normally, I'm not sure that I approve, normally, of writing a diversity statement that is also a personal statement, but it really works well for you. I mean, one reason it works is that at the center of it is what we can call a diversity factor, which is the fact that you were homeless.
And that's a big one. I mean, I think that definitely distinguishes you from a lot of people in school. But then, of course, the other reason it works is that it's so substantive. Could you draw out that connection that you made for us? How does this experience relate to your goals as a lawyer?
Brad: Yeah, so I think one of the things, you know, I'm working, I'm lucky enough to be working at a big law firm this summer, and I think one of the things that I realized is it grounds me, I think, and maybe that's the message I was trying to get across is that no matter what I do, what happened here grounds me in a particular type of way where I can't really forget my past.
And I'm going to keep, you know, because it's such a, it was a precarious situation, I'm never going to forget those people in those situations because I can't, right, I was there. I realized what it feels like to not have anything, to not, you know, people look at you like you're a dog or something, right? And so, in practice, I hope to, starting when I'm at school at Harvard and then later on, maybe pro bono cases, or maybe I'm doing more than that, helping two populations that overlap: homelessness, or homeless people, and veterans, right? Those are two, the intersection there is pretty big.
And so, I didn't plan it, but they work really well together in terms of telling that story. It told itself. I don't need to tell everyone that a lot of veterans who are having troubles are also homeless.
David: Aaron, how did you approach the formation of this essay and sort of carving out its own story fiefdom that was distinct from the personal statement?
Aaron: Yeah, it's interesting. You know, initially, I think we did, like Brad says, they both seem like great topics for a personal statement, right? I think maybe we approached it with a relatively simple goal of keeping the personal statement as affirmative as we could.
Like Brad says, I think we worried a tiny bit about leading with the story of homelessness, even though the story would immediately be about transcending that moment, just because we wanted to sort of start the reader off on the right foot. So I think at the beginning, maybe it was a relatively small decision, but as we went along, there's this interesting thing that happens, which is that the personal statement ends with some of Brad's work with veterans on campus, and some simple statements about what he might ultimately hope to do.
The diversity statement, even though it reaches back to a moment before the moment that the personal statement begins with, also turns out to just be a way of extending the whole story into the future. By discussing the experience of homelessness and linking that to the plight that a lot of veterans face, we were able to kind of, we reach back and then look forward again.
So, in a way, it's like it adds a larger frame to the personal statement and puts it in a larger context, and sort of, it skips forward into this kind of hypothetical future, in a way. And that's what we realized that there was that possibility in it. As I'm talking now, I think I'm also imagining the reader, you know, going through the personal statement and then the diversity statement, and then finally hitting the GPA addendum, which was the piece that we were so worried about at first, and just imagining how not exactly trivial the GPA addendum was, but how different it would seem after you encountered these other stories.
David: Talk to me about that. I'll ask Brad first. What was your strategy for the GPA addendum? This is the piece that you were most worried about at the beginning of the application process.
Brad: Yeah. Yeah, no, I, literally, I was so worried about this GPA addendum that, or my GPA, you know, just writ large about a year, I just said to myself, oh, law school is not for me because of my history. No joke, I was actively pursuing, you know, I was with my career coach, I was actively pursuing other routes because I was like, I want to be a lawyer, but my GPA is going to hold me back.
And so, honestly, I have to give credit here to you all because Aaron helped me contextualize this and, I think, really minimize and separate out who I was before and then who I was after, right, where my GPA addendum's very short and sweet, no emotional stuff in there. It's just like, it's a very, like, I own up to everything I've done.
Like, hey, you know, this was the situation that, you know, and we put in dates like, you know, very matter of fact, here are the dates. Look at the huge gaps, right? I was this person with this terrible GPA, and now I have this great GPA, at Dartmouth no less. And so I didn't have to try to convince anyone because the record convinces them, you know, on its own. It doesn't need anything from me, really. So I'm lucky in that sense.
David: Brad, can I share your LSAC GPA?
Brad: Oh yeah.
David: It's a 2.71. Is that right?
Brad: Yeah, 2, let me see. Yeah, 2, okay, 2.84.
David: Oh, 2.84. Okay. What were you worried about?
Yeah, I hear what you're saying. I think the GPA addendum works because you read it, it feels very forthright, but at the same time, somehow, you do kind of leave me with the impression that it's no big deal. I'm like, so he was in and out of college a couple of times. No big deal.
But the only reason I had that impression is because you really prepared the way with your fantastic personal statement and diversity statement. And by the way, I don't want to give anyone the impression that that's the purpose of a personal statement and diversity statement. It's not. You told your story and you did such an effective job of telling your story that the explanation for the GPA was already implicitly there.
Brad: Right, right.
David: Brad, I feel like we can look at your story as a Great Expectations narrative or a Rocky narrative. You're on the ropes and suddenly you're punching out Apollo Creed. But we can also look at it as a story of a learner and a student figuring out what he's interested in.
And I wonder if you can zoom in on the moment when you did start to get excited about academics again, because I think you told us that you majored in agriculture, it wasn't for you. You were good at computers, but you didn't really take to technical college, soldering chipsets or whatever you do in that program.
And then suddenly like the light went on when it came to academics as well, and you're taking courses and doing well and getting excited. When did that happen and how did that happen?
Brad: Yeah, so I don't remember the exact year. I know I was, I remember for a fact I was in the Army, and I think this was, I don't know what else to call this, but this was at the time when people like Christopher Hitchens, you know, like he was already popular. I think I told Aaron I wanted to write like Christopher Hitchens, I think. You know, Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, like this kind of, they called them, like, the new atheist or what have you.
But like, the bigger point was just that I started getting into reading more, you know, denser texts about metaphysics and things like that while I was in the field. So I would just bring out books. We had a lot, in the Army, you have a lot of downtime. So you have a lot of time of excitement, and then, or very little time of excitement and then a whole lot of downtime.
And so I started reading there, and again, you know, I wasn't reading like Hegel or anything on my own. I'm not trying to pretend like I was. But I was getting into philosophy. I don't really know where the interest truly came from. I think it really was just this kind of, like, I loved watching YouTube debates between these speakers on different topics, and I just thought it was so cool to be able to use words and ideas in this kind of battle.
And so that's where it really started, and I kind of hoped it was, I didn't know that I could do it. I really didn't, I didn't have anything besides these online classes before I got to Dartmouth to know that I could do the work. I was just kind of, I ended up trusting that the people who told me I could go to Dartmouth and do well, that they knew more than me.
I just hoped that was true. So I ended up majoring in philosophy. And I think the great part about Dartmouth, I sound like I'm trying to sell the school now to other people, but the great part is that you can't even pick your major the first year. And so what they really encourage is for people to explore their own interest.
And so there was no pressure on me to even pick my major until the second year. And so there, I had a lot of time to really know, hey, I'm definitely not the best philosophy student, but I really enjoy it and I want to get better at it. And so that's how I ended up deciding and kind of making the academic turnaround, just finding my passion.
David: And when did you have any inkling that you wanted to go to law school?
Brad: That, I would say, honestly, I think before, it's always, I'm not a type of person that says, oh, I watched X show early on in my life and I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I don't think that happened. But I do think that I watched, like, I've always wanted to be in a service role.
So I read, like, Stephen Ambrose books and he writes military history. I just always have been a type of person like, oh, I want to go to the, you know, some three-letter agency, I want to, I just want to serve others. And I think that my, the kind of real turning point where law school seemed like the best route for me was when I was thinking about what I was going to do, and if I was going to go.
Some of my friends went and are doing their PhDs in philosophy now. And I was like, okay, honestly, I'm not as good as them at philosophy. I've edited their papers, right. You know, peer edits. I am not on that level. They're just really good at this, and they read a lot more than me.
I'm just like, I'm probably not interested enough to do a PhD in philosophy. And so I asked one of my, I remember asking one of my professors about, like, is there, are there real careers as a bioethicist or something like that? Trying to combine philosophy along with something pragmatic.
And I think that the natural route for me was just, oh, well, law, in some aspects, depending on what kind of law you're doing, I think it really does include that, at least an underpinning of philosophy, a strong underpinning of philosophy, right, depending on what kind of law it is. And so I still get to kind of keep that theoretical piece along with something pragmatic.
And I think that's why the law, you know, law school was and is the right route for me.
David: And so once you decide that you want to apply, you have to turn to the LSAT. And I think you had your own little mini journey with the LSAT. Is that right?
Brad: It was a long journey.
David: Can you speak to us about that?
Brad: Yeah. I cried to Aaron because he was like, you need to get your LSAT score first. Yeah, I ended up with five takes. Okay, so, you know, everyone's worried about, like, oh, if I take it two times, and it's like, okay, well, I took it five, so you'll be okay.
My situation was a little bit weird. I don't know if I would have had five takes if it wasn't for this kind of weird situation. So I feel like an old-timer now, 'cause it's like back in the day, July 2019, the LSAT first switched to digital. It was like that hybrid, they were doing half digital test, half paper. And at that time, they were offering, you get to see your score on July 2019, that test, you get to see your score, and then you get to cancel it and you get a free retake.
And so there was nothing to lose for me. I wasn't really ready for that test, but it's like, well, at least to get real test experience, and I get to cancel it and I get to see my score. And if I don't like it, I can just cancel it and I get a free retake. So I'd lose no money. I just lose a little bit of time.
And so I took that test and I ended up canceling. I think I got, I don't know, a low score, 150, high 150s or something like that. And then in September 2019, I took it and got a 161. And Aaron and I were talking at that point and I was ready to apply, but a 161 just wasn't it, right? And so I made the really hard decision to delay my application because there was just no way that I could see the type of outcomes that I wanted were going to be realized with a 161, especially with my LSAC GPA.
And so I delayed a cycle. And I was still in school, I was studying a lot, long story short, I was studying a lot, but I start and stop because, again, I was in school and also doing body building. And so, you know, sometimes I'm starving, getting ready for a show and things like that. So I'm just like, you know, kind of in and out of LSAT world.
So, June 2020, so we go from September 2019 to June 2020. September, I had that 161. In June of that next year, 2020, I had a 168, and I felt really confident leading up to this test.
I think I was PTing in the low 170s, and I'm telling Aaron, I'm like, okay, I think this is it, like, I can do this. I just need to push. And I remember taking this test. I was like, I just need a 168. Because, to me, when I look at all the numbers, how all the numbers play out, a 168 is that, it's a really good safe point, or at least during how I was thinking about it, it was a good safe point.
I feel okay with it. I can do better, but my school outcomes won't be super terrible with a 168. But I knew I could do better. So I take it in July 2020, and I remember that test so well. I was so excited, but I was too excited. And I was shaking. I remember shaking on the logic games, okay. So it was just kind of insane.
I was too hyped, and so I got a 164. And, you know, I know I can do better, but I know I have four takes, and so I start doing mindfulness, because I realized I can't be shaking on the test. I really need to just focus. So I go, I start doing mindfulness and I go into that August test, seriously, with just, it's okay. I knew it was going to be okay. Like, it doesn't matter if I get a 170 or not. It's going to happen no matter what, so I might as well just enjoy the process, this test, and whatever happens, happens.
And that really paid off, and I got a 172. Still a little bit lower than my practice test, but I wanted to save one retake just in case I was on, I don't know, like the top five schools I was on waitlists for all of them, I figured I could retake, and I knew I would get, like, a 170, something higher than a 172.
David: Wow. That is so inspiring. I love the tidbit that you threw in there casually that you're also a bodybuilder. So you're like a light metaphysics hobbyist incoming Harvard 1L bodybuilder writer guy who can fix my printer.
Brad: Yeah, exactly.
David: This is what I meant at the beginning when I was like, how could anybody possibly not want you in their law school? But going back to what you said about the LSAT, I think what you did to prepare for the last test is so important, right?
First, in order to succeed on the LSAT, you have to get the fundamentals. You have to get good at the test. You have to understand the material. Then you have to learn the timing. But there's still another piece: you have to get past yourself. And it sounds like you did everything but the last thing. You knew the stuff, you knew that you were capable of getting a great score, and you couldn't get past your nerves or your excitement.
And so, in the end, you were the object that you had to overcome, and you did it by sort of becoming a Buddhist, it sounds like, temporarily for the test, at least.
Brad: Yeah, no, exactly. The low GPA really helped me, because I would not give up. Like, people kind of thought I was crazy, one, for, you know, like, okay, I delayed my cycle, and then it's like with that 168, I told other people who knew about the LSAT and my parents, and they're just like, that's a good score. Like, you know, it's the 90, like 95th percentile or something.
I'm just like, I need to know, like, coming out of the Army, you know, I didn't get into Dartmouth the regular way or what I consider the regular way. I just needed to know that I could compete at that level. I needed to know that, even if, like, I would have felt a lot worse if I got into Harvard with a 168. Like I just wouldn't have felt like I was smart enough.
And so it was really like this kind of test against myself. I didn't care what anyone else got. It was just like, I need to do this, and I really just wasn't going to accept no for an answer at the end of the day.
David: And that's one of the themes of your whole application. That's what happened with the Army too. You did accept no, and then you reenlisted, in large part, it sounds like because you weren't satisfied and you knew that you could do better.
It was no one else telling you, you have to do this. You felt driven to prove to yourself that you could do better. And then you did the same thing in miniature with the LSAT. I don't want to compare the LSAT to reenlisting in the Army, but, you know, they're sort of analogous even if they're not on the same level.
Brad: Yeah, yeah, no, exactly. I just refused. I remember one thing on a forum, on an internet forum, it was an Army forum, like a military forum. And it's like, there was a quote, just like, people say, "Once a quitter, always a quitter." And that, in like a lot of cases, it's true, right? Like if, when somebody quits, you get a, there's this term in the Army, you might get a Do Not Return, a DNR, from a selection course.
That just means you can't return. Your intestinal fortitude is just so weak that you can't ever come back. Never, like, ever. Right? It doesn't matter. Just don't ever come back. And I was just like, I can't have that. I can't look in the mirror every morning and be a quitter. I could fail, that's okay. It's okay to fail. But I couldn't be a quitter. So, yeah.
David: Well, Brad, congratulations on all of this. What are you doing with yourself in your last summer before you become a 1L?
Brad: I'm trying to contain the dumpster fire of being an SEO Law Fellow. I'm working at Goodwin this summer, and, out of their San Francisco office, and I've got a couple of assignments. And so that's what I'm doing, the big law thing, for the summer.
David: I wonder if you, actually, I'll start with Aaron so you can have the last word. But I'd love to hear from both of you one last piece of advice for people who are frustrated and feel like they can't do it, or really just for anyone applying to law school who feels daunted by the whole process.
Aaron: Yeah, so, a lot of people begin the process worried about their GPA, right, and we talk about the GPA addendum, and it's like, oh, if you can show an upward trajectory, that helps. But your numbers limit you, right? I mean, in Brad's case, his numbers, that GPA did not limit him, and that's kind of like, it's an inspiring thing to think about, and it's inspiring to think that his, this crisp articulation of an incredible story was enough, you know? Because it should be enough.
I think the other thing, just like, as I'm reflecting on this, is that I worked with Brad on these essays before the LSAT thing played out, 'cause we had the essays ready to apply that fall. And even though the essays were super impressive, but they were retrospective, they involved things that happened before I met Brad, the LSAT thing played out while I knew him, and he was telling me, you know, he's starting in the high 150s and he's just telling me, oh, I think I can probably do this, you know?
And so I, in a way, I saw in real time this tiny little version of the bigger story that we'd already told, you know, which is Brad's extraordinary, it's a mix of like extraordinary confidence and a kind of extraordinary functional modesty, which leads, like he says, to a kind of calm about it, the kind of sense like it's going to be okay, you know, it's fine.
I just saw that happening, and it was kind of this, it was such a, by the time that final score came in, I had already, I already knew it was going to be what he told me it was going to be, I guess. And I think probably readers of his application come away with that same sense of just, in a sense, trusting him that if he says he's going to do these things, like, I believe him. Just get out of his way, you know?
David: Brad, what about you? Can you give us a last piece of advice?
Brad: Yeah, no, that was really nice, Aaron. Thanks.
I have so many, I watched so many, my other alternative career in some other universe is a motivational speaker. I just really, like, I listen to a lot of motivational speeches. It's just like, one thing I, you know, I tutored people in the LSAT for a long time or for a while, until I started working at this job where it's just, I have less time now to tutor, but I tell people to really enjoy the process.
A lot of what I see on Reddit, or wherever, is people being neurotic about things they cannot control and, you know, Aaron, it was really great having someone who sees the big picture. And really, it was just like, hey, we can, you can send me this edit, but at the end of the day, you need to get this LSAT score.
So my job was extremely clear. I knew exactly what I had to do. And I thought about the things I could control. And then for the things that, like, oh, this is a competitive cycle, this is not, like, all this stuff is happening, blah, blah, blah, I just, I really didn't care. Like, Reddit wasn't really toxic to me.
Because it's like, okay, like it's okay, right? I have things to do and I'm just going to keep doing them. And so what I just try to tell people, remind people, enjoy the process. It is, in a way, it's a game. And you can control some things and really work hard on them.
I was obsessed with the admissions process. I hate to admit it, but along with the 7Sage podcast, I've listened to every other podcast. I'm not even going to name them. And I've listened to all the episodes. I'm just, I was obsessed with the process, not the end result.
And so there, no matter what happened, I wasn't going to be disappointed because the process was, I got enjoyment out of that. I realized who I was. And so no matter what happened at the end of the day, I knew I did my best. And I can't, you can't be mad at yourself for that. You can't do anything about it, right? You put your best foot forward.
And I just think that a lot of times when people are really disappointed or at least sometimes, it's because, basically, at the end, I've had this happen to me, you realize that you didn't really, you were worrying about things that you couldn't do anything about and you actually didn't do the best you could. And so really just making sure that you're putting your best foot forward.
One of the craziest things, I know I'm talking a lot, but you have to be willing to delay your cycle. I talked to so many people that aren't willing to do it, and it's just like, I don't think people realize how important three points, four points on the LSat is.
It's tens of thousands of dollars, and it could make you a completely different candidate. That 168 to 172, I think is substantial, right? It's a different candidate. And so, take it seriously. It's the start of your legal career. Don't rush it. Like, why would you rush the most important part of the process, besides maybe 1L grades, right?
Besides 1L grades, what else has so much effect on your future legal career? I don't know anything else, or maybe there is something else, but I don't know it, but take the application process seriously and don't rush it. A lot of these people are 22, 23, 24, and it's like, you have a lot of working years, it's going to be okay.
David: That's really great advice, Brad. Thanks so much for joining us. It was really, really a pleasure to talk to you.
Brad: Thank you for having me.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you're studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself and see you next time.
Subscribe to our podcast:
iTunes (Apple Podcasts) | Google Play Music | SoundCloud
Brad’s Personal Statement
After I left the Army in 2011, I looked in the mirror every morning and saw the face of a quitter. I had served honorably with combat service in Iraq, and for that I was proud, but I had quit during Ranger training because of a lack of intestinal fortitude. For months, I binged Netflix shows, ate unhealthy frozen meals, gained twenty pounds, and became a person I resented. Then I happened to see a Discovery Channel special on Ranger Assessment and Selection (RASP), and something changed for me. I started running the same day. I got back in shape. And in November 2012, I reenlisted.
I thought I knew what to expect from Ranger Selection, but nothing prepared me for week two of RASP, otherwise known as “Cole Range,” which is like the Navy Seals’ Hell Week, but without water. Sunday morning, when it was still dark outside, the bright barrack lights turned on and the cadre gave us ten minutes to get up, get ready, and be outside in formation. With our fifty-pound rucks, our task was to march twelve miles to Cole Range, where the rest of our training would take place. We had three hours to do it. I started at a fast-paced walk, but then I realized that everyone else was running, so I ditched my game plan and did the same. Every 400 meters, I’d slow down for a moment and shuffle my feet, and I rewarded myself every mile or so with a water break and some walking time. I made it in the allotted time, in the “winners’ group,” but that was only the beginning.
At Cole Range, the “Pit” was our home. We ate, slept, and kept all our belongings in and around the Pit. It was a large area with sandbags around the perimeter. There was no grass, and it rained most of the week, so it soon morphed into a giant mud pit. The cadre found it funny, and we had to eat our cold MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) in the muddy pit every day in under ten minutes. On cold mornings, all you heard was the cadre’s yelling and the sound of teeth clattering together. If people didn’t quit because of the cold and the rain and the mud, then the hotdogs got them. At night, we would stand at “parade rest” in silence as the cadre lit a fire and told us that anyone who wanted to quit could have some plump dogs, chips, and a drink. We stood out there for as long as it took for a sufficient number of people to break down and quit and walk over to the fire. Out of our class of 150 candidates, only sixty-five of my fellow Rangers graduated with me.
In 2016, I pursued and won a full-tuition scholarship with the Posse Foundation to continue my education, but I left Ranger Regiment with lessons I could never have learned in college. I’d done something I didn’t think I could do, and now know that with a “why” or greater purpose, I will never quit anything again.
The transition to Dartmouth was relatively easy for me. I’d discovered that I loved to learn, and I was thrilled to study with the leading scholars in their fields. When I arrived on campus, however, I noticed that some of the other veterans were having a hard time dealing with the transition to civilian life. We are much older than the traditional Dartmouth student, so some veterans didn’t feel like they could relate to their younger classmates. This led to feelings of loneliness and isolation on our small remote campus.
After describing these problems to the Veteran’s Dean, I assumed the role of President of the Student Veterans association and assembled a team of veterans to help lead the organization. My first project was to lobby the school administration to give veterans a common place to gather on campus. Historically, we were one of the only minority groups who lacked such a space. It took over a year, but I was able to secure a lounge for all student veterans on campus, and it now serves as a gathering area that veterans use to remedy the isolation problem.
The end of my time serving was not the end of my compassion for veterans, soldiers, and those who face difficulties as minorities in the country. When I wrote the constitution for the new charter for the Student Veterans Association, I also included a public service component, and after reaching out to a few organizations around the Upper Valley in New Hampshire, I found our first mission. The VA hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, helps thousands of patients but doesn’t have the staff or funding to complete extra projects. The SVA leadership team and I got to work, and we put together a team of over thirty volunteers to clear debris for the walking path.
I serve veterans because it is my “why” in my post-military life. Unaddressed mental health issues, unemployment, chronic homelessness, and suicide are some of the major systemic issues that veterans face in the U.S. today. In law school, I will explore ways to continue advocating for the veteran community, this time on a much larger scale. The lessons from my time as an Army Ranger will serve as a foundation for me to become an effective lawyer.
Brad’s Diversity Statement
After my spring term in 2007 at Delaware Technical Community College, I went back home to my parents’ place for the summer, like many college students. One evening, I tried to explain to my parents that I had talked to the Air Force Recruiter and wanted to join in a few months when a slot opened up. My parents, however, would not support me—my father threw me out of the house with some clothes and only five dollars to my name. I had a car, but he slashed one of the tires.
With adrenaline surging through my body, I got in the car and drove until the tire was completely flat. I ended up at a Kangaroo Express gas station, and this is where I lived for a month, sleeping in my car as I started searching for a job. Because I didn’t have regular access to a computer, I read some of the books packed away in my trunk to pass the time. I hardly recognized myself during this period. I looked and smelled dirty, and felt people watching me. Nothing from my middle-class upbringing prepared me for digging in a trash can to find a meal. I always asked people for food instead of money because I didn’t want them to think I was a drug addict. I didn’t go home because I needed to make it on my own. I was thrown out with the intent of having me come back, but I realized I could forge my own path.
What carried me through this terrible time was the kindness and charity of strangers. I had to trust in others, like the man who allowed me to stay in his trailer near the end of this period, just before I left for the Army. I learned first-hand the difference between sympathy and empathy. When people would throw me a dollar or two, I felt like the object of pity, but there were a few people who saw me at the gas station every day and would speak to me like a human being. Trapped in this situation, trying to imagine a way out, their empathy gave me optimism, and now the guiding principle in my life is empathy, not pity. I will never just throw a dollar at a homeless person. Instead, I will give them some of my time and try to understand who they are and what has happened to them.
One of my goals as an attorney is to focus on legal issues that block homeless people from transitioning successfully into a life of dignity, with employment and secure housing. The poor and the homeless are two populations I want to focus on in my legal career, and I know that my life experience will help me to bring empathy and understanding to that work.
The essays below, which were all part of successful applications to Harvard Law, rely on humble reckonings followed by reflections. Some reckonings are political: an applicant grapples with the 2008 financial crisis; another grapples with her political party’s embrace of populism. Others are personal: a student struggles to sprint up a hill; another struggles to speak clearly. The writers have different ideologies, different ambitions, and different levels of engagement with the law. Yet all of them come across as thoughtful, open to change, and ready to serve.
Jump to a personal statement:
Essay 1: Sea Turtles
I stood over the dead loggerhead, blood crusting my surgical gloves and dark green streaks of bile from its punctured gallbladder drying on my khaki shorts. It was the fifth day of a five-week summer scholarship at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), and as I shuffled downwind of the massive creature, the pungent scent of its decomposition wafted toward me in the hot summer breeze. Aggressive flies buzzed around my head, occasionally pausing to land on the wad of plastic we had extracted from the loggerhead’s stomach. The plastic had likely caused a blockage somewhere, and the sea turtle had died of malnutrition. When the necropsy was finished, we discarded the remains in a shallow hole under a thicket of trees, and with the last shovel of sand over its permanent resting place, its death became just another data point among myriad others. Would it make a difference in the long, arduous battle against environmental pollution? Probably not. But that dead loggerhead was something of a personal tipping point for me.
I have always loved the clean, carefully objective nature of scientific research, but when I returned to the US from my native XXXX to study biology, I began to understand that because of this objectivity, scientific data rarely produces an emotional effect. It is difficult to initiate change based on such a passive approach. My ecology professor used to lament that it was not science that would determine the fate of the environment, but politics. The deeper I delved into research, the more I agreed with her. Almost every day, I came across pieces of published research that were incorrectly cited as evidence for exaggerated conclusions and used, for example, as a rebuttal against climate change. Reality meant nothing when pitted against a provocative narrative. It was rather disillusioning at first, but I was never one to favor passivity. In an effort to better understand the issues, I began to look into the policy side of biological conservation. The opportunity at the MBL came at this juncture in my academic journey, and it was there that I received my final push to the path of law.
After weeks of sea turtle biology and policy debates at the MBL, we held a mock symposium on fishing and bycatch regulations. Participants were exclusively STEM majors, so before the debate even began, everyone in the room was already heavily in favor of reducing commercial fishing. I was assigned the role of the Chair of the New Bedford Division of Marine Fisheries, and my objective was clear: to represent the wishes of my constituents, and my constituents wanted more time out on the sea. However, that meant an increase in accidental bycatch, which could hurt endangered marine populations and fill up the bycatch quota for commercial fishermen before the season ended.
There were hundreds of pages of research data on novel technological innovations for bycatch reduction that I had to wade through, but with the help of my group, I was able to piece together a net replacement plan that just barely satisfied my constituents, the scientists, and the industry reps. Although the issue of widespread net replacement incentives for the commercial fishermen remained, there was no doubt that I enjoyed the mental stimulus of tackling this hypothetical challenge. I was able to use my science background to aid in brokering a compromise that would reduce the amount of damage done to the environment without endangering the livelihood of the people involved in the industry.
By the end of the symposium, I knew that I wanted to bridge the gap between presenting scientific data correctly and effecting change in the policy world. Although there are many ways for me to advocate for change, I believe that only legal and legislative enforcements will have a widespread and lasting effect on the heavy polluters of the world. I want to combine my legal education and a solid foundation in the biological sciences to tackle the ever-growing slew of environmental challenges facing us in the twenty-first century.
The night the symposium ended, we patrolled the beach for nesting females. As I walked beneath the stars, I thought of that sea turtle and of the repeating migration of my own life, from my birthplace in XXXX to my childhood in the US, back to XXXX and now the US again. With the guidance of the Earth’s magnetic fields, sea turtles are able to accurately return to their birthplace no matter how far they deviate, but I like to imagine that they, like me, do need to occasionally chart another course to get there. Standing on a beach in Woods Hole, thousands of miles from home, I knew that I was on the right path and ready to embark on a career in law.
Essay 2: Joining the Arsonists To Become a Fireman
On the morning of the 2004 presidential election, my sixth-grade teacher told me to watch out for John Kerry voters in the hallways because our school was a polling station. I nodded and went to the water fountain, thinking to myself that my parents were voting for John Kerry, and that as far as I could tell, they posed no risk to students. It was a familiar juxtaposition—the ideas at my dinner table in conflict with the dogmas I encountered elsewhere in my conservative Missourian community. This dissonance fostered my curiosity about issues of policy and politics. I wanted to figure out why the adults in my life couldn’t seem to agree.
Earlier in 2004, Barack Obama’s now famous DNC keynote had inspired me to turn my interests into actions. Even at age twelve, I was moved by his ideas and motivated to work in public service. When Obama ran for president four years later, I heeded his call to get involved. I gave money I had made mowing lawns to my parents to donate to his campaign and taped Obama-Biden yard signs to my old Corolla, which earned it an egging and a run-in with silly string in my high school parking lot.
While I knew in high school that I wanted to involve myself in public service, I wasn’t sure what shape that involvement would take until signs of the financial crisis—deserted strip malls and foreclosed homes—cropped up in my hometown. I was amazed by the disaster and shaken by the toll it took on my community. As I saw it, the crisis wasn’t about Wall Street, but about people losing their jobs, homes, and savings. I didn’t understand what Lehman Brothers had to do with the fact that my neighbor’s appliance store had to lay off most of its employees.
Intent on understanding what had happened, I started reading up, inhaling books about financial crises and articles on mortgage-backed securities and rating agencies. Along the way, I also developed an affinity for the policymakers fighting the crisis. I admired how time and again these unknown bureaucrats struggled to choose the best among bad options, served as Congressional piñatas on Capitol Hill, and went back across the street to face the next disaster. I decided that I too wanted to work in financial regulation. I thought then and believe today that if I can help protect consumers and mitigate the downturns that force people from their jobs and homes, I will have done something worthwhile.
Strange though it may seem, this decision led me to join Barclays as an investment banking analyst after college. While in a sense I was “joining the arsonists to become a fireman,” as one skeptical friend put it, banking gave me immediate experience working with the firms and people who had played key roles in the response to the financial crisis years before. I was initially worried that I would discover financial rules and regulations to be impotent platitudes, without the power to change the financial system, but my experience taught me the opposite. New regulations catalyzed many of the transactions on which I worked, from bank capital raises to divestitures aimed at de-risking. Ironically, becoming a banker made me even more of an idealist about the power of policy.
I envisioned spending years in the industry before moving to a government role, and I left banking for private equity investing with that track in mind. When I began making get-out-the-vote calls on behalf of the Clinton presidential campaign, however, I realized that I needed to change my plans. I cared more about contacting voters, about the result of the election, and about its policy implications than anything I did at work. Although I’m grateful for what I’ve learned in the private sector, I don’t want to spend more time on the sidelines of the policy debates and decisions that matter to me.
That’s why I am pursuing a J.D. I want to help shape the policies that will make the financial system more resilient and equitable, and to do so effectively, I need to understand the foundation upon which the financial system is built: the law. The post-crisis regulatory landscape is already in need of recalibration; large banks still pose systemic risks, and regulation lags even further behind in the non-bank world. Advances in financial technology, from online lending platforms to blockchain technology, are raising new questions about everything from capital and liquidity to smart contracts and financial privacy. Policymakers need to confront these issues proactively and pursue legal and regulatory frameworks that foster public trust while encouraging innovation. A J.D. will give me the training I need to be involved in this process. I don’t claim to have a revolutionary theory of financial crisis, but I do hope to be a part of preventing the next one.
Essay 3: Populism
Growing up, I felt that I existed in two different worlds. At home, I was influenced by my large, conservative Arizonan family, who shaped my values and understanding of the world. During middle school, my family moved, and I enrolled in a small, left-leaning school with an intense focus on globalism and diversity. I enjoyed being surrounded by people who challenged my beliefs, and I prided myself on my ability to dwell comfortably in both spaces.
In 2015, American political reality disrupted the happy balance between my two worlds. The Republican presidential primary, in a gust of populism, was proposing ideas that I didn’t recognize and wouldn’t condone, like a hardline immigration stance, opposition to free trade, and a tolerance for harassment. I resented this populist wave for hijacking the party, and the voters who created it. I didn’t understand them, and I didn’t think I could.
Despite my skepticism, I decided to make an attempt. As the founder of the Bowdoin College Political Union, a program that promotes substantive, inclusive conversations about policy and politics among students, I brought speakers with diverse ideologies to campus and hosted small group discussions with members of the College Democrats, the College Republicans, and students somewhere in between. In the winter of my senior year, I helped organize a summit that brought together students with a broad spectrum of views from dozens of universities throughout the eastern United States.
As a resident assistant during the 2016 presidential election, I held open-door discussions for individuals from across the political spectrum and around the globe. Facilitating these discussions felt like a natural extension of my role on campus, and I learned not only that having space for open dialogue can ease tensions, but also that the absence of that space does not erase political difference. Instead, it creates feelings of isolation and fosters ignorance.
But it was the death of a family member in early 2016 that helped me understand another perspective, namely the populist views beginning to overwhelm the Republican Party. After the death of my mother’s cousin from cancer, I called my second cousins, all three of whom are around my age, to offer my condolences. I was surprised to learn that none of them had finished high school. Instead, they had worked to help pay for their mother’s treatment. While I had been worrying about which summer internships to apply for, they were worried about maintaining their family home. In the past, I’d thought that their views on economic policy and immigration came from a place of ignorance or spite. I realized over the course of our conversation that I had no idea what it was like to not have a high school degree and compete for employment in a rural area where wages are low. For the first time, I was engaging with people in the demographic that was generating the populist wave that was sweeping the country. This conversation led me to expand my studies in politics and to think beyond the left-right spectrum to consider class and urban-rural divides within my own party. Ultimately, reconnecting with my extended family informed my decision to write my senior thesis on populist movements and why economics drives them. It also changed the way I thought about politics and its effect on people like my second cousins.
After my college graduation, I took a job with a political and opposition research firm called XYZ in Washington, because I felt that my understanding of 2016’s populism was still lacking. XYZ gave me the opportunity to work with people from different parts of the Republican Party: both establishment operatives and grassroots operations. This enabled me to work within the framework of Republican politics that resembles my own, while being exposed to the perspectives of people working to represent people like my second cousins. My time at XYZ helped me see the power of the populist movement, but also understand the limitations of its proposed solutions, like a resurgence of manufacturing. Now that I have interacted with populist groups, I see that ultimately, the valid frustrations of many working-class Americans need to be addressed by empathetic leadership and challenging but necessary evaluations of policy in the areas of economics, education, and culture.
I want to apply my passion for political discourse in law school and in my career as a lawyer. My passion for engaging with others will serve me well in the classroom and in a career at the intersection of law and politics. I hope to continue to make connections between people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints and to engage in meaningful, bipartisan discourse.
Essay 4: Pop Warner
One summer, when I was eight years old, I signed up to play Pop Warner Football for my hometown. After the calisthenics, scrimmages, and the rest of practice concluded in the midst of the sweltering early August sun, I would sprint thirty yards up a hill steep enough to go sledding down. I had to lose nine pounds in order to make weight for my junior pee-wee football team. I wanted nothing more than to be on the team, so it didn’t faze me that I was the only one running up and down the hill. A dirt path marked the grassy knoll from my countless trips up and down. I usually managed to hold back the tears just long enough until I got home. As an eight-year-old, this was the most difficult challenge I had ever been tasked with. But the next day, I would get down in a three-point stance and sprint up the hill under the red sky of the setting sun.
When I finally made the team, I was elated; I had achieved a goal I often felt impossible in those moments of sweat and tears. The excitement was, nonetheless, short-lived. The other kids still called me “Corey the Cupcake,” a nickname I thought I’d left behind with the extra pounds. In every game of the season, my first playing football, I received my eight minimum plays and rode the bench the rest of the game. It was an unusually wet September, and I caught a cold a few times from standing there for two and a half hours in the nippy morning rain. I hated it, but I kept playing.
I continued to play every fall through high school. My freshman year, during a varsity practice, I broke both the radius and ulna bones in my left arm and simultaneously dislocated my wrist, which required a plate and four screws to repair. To this day, I can’t help but flash back to that frigid November afternoon when I look at the five-inch scar on my left arm or when the breaking point is hit precisely. Sophomore year, I was introduced to a coach who frequently criticized me for “not being black enough,” or sometimes, contradictorily, for acting “too black.” I was even benched for my entire junior year for being unable to attend football camp over the summer.
Why did I play football for eleven years? It might have been for the Friday nights in front of the school, as there was nothing more thrilling than making a crucial catch and hearing the whole town cheer. It might have been because I wanted to fit in with my athletic classmates. It might have been because I felt that I was improving after each catch, each hit, and each drill. But I believe, above all else, it was because I just don’t like to give up.
My first job as a project assistant at a large law firm was somewhat similar to my experiences as a young football player; both required grit and determination to push through difficult circumstances. Late one evening, two days before Thanksgiving, my supervisor asked me to complete and organize the service of eighteen subpoenas for the following day. The partners and associates were so busy with internal politics—one of the head partners was leaving the firm—that no one was available to walk me through the process. I felt ridiculous when I Googled “How to fill out and serve a subpoena,” but it was important to me that I complete the project properly.
I am appreciative of the challenges that I faced as a project assistant. If it weren’t for those experiences, it is unlikely that I would have been fortunate enough to be hired by the Delaware Office of the Attorney General, where I work today. My job here has confirmed that law is exactly what I want to do. I realized this through several opportunities to draft written discovery. I loved fashioning objections to each individual request in a given set. Developing legitimate grounds for disputing discovery on its merits and intent was inspiring to me. I can’t wait to do this more and on a larger scale as an attorney.
The steadfastness that I obtained as a young athlete defines who I am. I couldn’t see it at the time, but every day on which I gave something my best effort, whether it was on the practice field or in my tiny office on the twenty-seventh floor, I became a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser. I am confident that my perseverance and dedication will facilitate my future success, both in law school and afterwards.
Essay 5: Speech Therapy
When I was very young, I was diagnosed with a severe phonological disorder that hindered my ability to verbalize the most basic sounds that make up words. It didn’t take my parents long to notice that as other children my age began speaking and communicating with each other, I remained quiet. When I did speak, my words were mostly incomprehensible and seemed to lack any repetition. I was taken to numerous speech therapists, many of whom believed that I would never be able to communicate effectively with others.
From the age of three until I was in seventh grade, I went to speech therapy twice a week. I also regularly practiced my speech outside of therapy, eventually improving to such an extent that I thought I was done with therapy forever. This, however, was short-lived. By tenth grade, I realized my impediment was back and was once again severely limiting my ability to articulate words. That was also the year my family moved from Vancouver, Canada to Little Rock, Arkansas, which complicated matters for me.
I knew that my speech was preventing me from making new friends and participating in classroom discussions, but I resisted going back into therapy. I thought that a renewal of speech therapy would be like accepting defeat. It was a part of my life that had long passed. With college approaching, though, I was desperate not to continue stuttering words and slurring sentences. I knew that I would have to become more confident about my speech to make friends and to be the student I wanted to be. During the summer before my freshman year, I reluctantly decided to reenter speech therapy.
I see now that this decision was anything but an acceptance of defeat. In fact, refusing to reenter therapy would have been a defeat. With my new therapist, I made significant strides and the quality of my speech improved greatly. Using the confidence that I built in therapy that summer, I pushed myself to meet new people and join extracurricular organizations when I entered college. In particular, I applied to and was accepted into a competitive freshman service leadership organization called Forward.
The other members of Forward were incredibly outgoing, and many of them had been highly involved in their high school communities—two things I was not. I made a concerted effort to learn from those who were different from me. I was an active participant in discussions during meetings, utilizing my unique background to provide a different perspective. My peers not only understood me, but also cared about what I had to say. I even began taking on leadership roles in the program, such as directing a community service project to help the elderly. My time in Forward made it clear to me that my speech disorder wouldn’t be what held me back in college; as long as I made the effort, I could succeed. The confidence I gained led me to continue to push past the boundaries I had set for myself in high school, and has guided the bold approach I have taken to new challenges in college.
When I first finished therapy in seventh grade, I pretended that I had never had a speech disorder in the first place. Having recently finished therapy again, I can accept that my speech disorder has shaped the person I am today. In many ways, it has had a positive effect on me. My struggle to communicate, for example, has made me a better listener. My inability to ask questions has forced me to engage with problems on a deeper level, which has led me to develop a methodical approach to reasoning. I believe these skills will help me succeed in law school, and they are part of what motivates me to apply in the first place. Having struggled for so long to speak up for myself, I look forward to the day when I can speak up for others.
Essay 6: Ting Hua
“Ting hua!” I heard it when I scalded my fingers reaching above the kitchen counter to grab at a steaming slice of pork belly before it was served; I heard it when I hid little Twix bars underneath the bags of Chinese broccoli in the grocery store shopping cart; I heard it when I brought sticks back home to swing perilously close to the ceiling fan. Literally translated, “ting hua” means “hear my words.” Its true meaning, though, is closer to “listen to what I mean.” Although the phrase was nearly ubiquitous in my childhood, that distinction—between hearing and listening—did not become clear for me until much later in life.
That childhood began in Shanghai, where I was born, and continued in Southern California, where we moved shortly after I turned four. Some things stayed the same in the US. We still ate my mom’s chive dumplings at the dinner table. On New Year’s, I could still look forward to a red envelope with a few dollars’ worth of pocket money. But other things changed. I stopped learning Chinese, and my parents never became proficient in English. Slowly, so slowly I almost didn’t realize, it became harder and harder for me to communicate with them.
Because I didn’t feel like I could talk to them, I could never resist opening my mouth with others. I talked to good friends about Yu-Gi-Oh, to not-so-good friends about Pokemon, and to absolute strangers about PB&J, the Simpsons, and why golden retriever puppies were the best dogs ever. Even alone, I talked to my pet turtle Snorkel and tried out different war cries—you know, in case I woke up one morning as a mouse in Brian Jacques’s Redwall.
The way I communicated with my parents didn’t change until I came back for Thanksgiving my freshman year of college. I was writing for the school newspaper—a weekly column on politics. I had written an article in support of gay marriage. My parents had asked me about it, and in the way I was wont to do, I answered briefly before moving on to talk about my friends and my floor and my classes.
While I was brushing my teeth that night, my dad came into the restroom. He stood in the doorway and said, “Hey. I read the article you wrote about gay marriage… you should be careful saying things like that.”
His words—you should be careful saying things like that—sounded to me like homophobia. I knew that in China, same-sex relationships were illegal, stigmatized, banned, so I thought I understood where my dad was coming from, even though I also thought it was bigotry. I was about to brush him off, to accept that we had different views, but when I looked up, I didn’t see the judgment I was expecting. In the way he stood slightly hunched in the doorway, in the way he touched his chin, in the way his eyebrows drew together, I saw love. So I swallowed down “don’t worry about it” and asked what he meant. He told me about a cousin of his, someone I would have called Uncle, who was expelled from his school and sent to the countryside for his political comments. In that moment, I realized that my dad wasn’t concerned about my politics—he was concerned about me. Had I not stopped to listen, rather than just to hear, I would not have understood that. I would not have known why he told me to be careful.
Although I still enjoy talking to other people about PB&J sandwiches, I have learned to listen, to actively engage with my parents when we communicate. More importantly, whether I’m interviewing witnesses on the stand in mock trial, resolving disagreements between friends, or sitting in a chair while teachers and professors give me advice, I’ve made an effort to remember those words my mom has spoken since I was a toddler: “ting hua.”
📌 Check out our full, free admissions course.
Who We Are
7Sage was founded in 2012 to provide affordable, on-demand LSAT test prep to students in underserved markets. We’ve forgone the traditional model of expensive three-month classes in favor of an online curriculum that students can access anywhere, any time, for as long as they need. Our courses include over 4,000 video lessons and problem sets, explanations of every LSAT question ever made, analytic tools, and more.
From the very beginning, we’ve partnered with PreProBono, a non-profit that helps economically disadvantaged minorities, apply to law school.
3. Syllabus and Video Explanations
4. Digital Tester
6. Raw to Scaled Score Conversion
7. Question Bank
👉 Video overview of the admissions process: https://7sage.com/law-school-admissions-primer/
👉 Law school rankings, medians, and acceptance rates: https://7sage.com/top-law-school-admissions/
👉 Compilation of application requirements: https://7sage.com/admissions/lesson/application-requirements-for-top-schools/
👉 Free admissions course: https://7sage.com/admissions/progress/
Five star rating on AppStore (700+ reviews)
Five star rating on Facebook (100+ reviews)
Five star rating on Yelp (20+ reviews)
In today's episode, 7Sage Consultant David Busis talks about one of his favorite personal statements.
Welcome to Law School Success Stories, where we discuss 7Sage applicants who made the most of their GPA and LSAT score.
👤 Who: “Sanjay,” a recent college grad
- 📈 Top LSAT: 170
- 📉 GPA: 2.99
- 🏆 Accepted at UVA
🔎 Initial Assessment
Sanjay had applied the previous cycle and been accepted to GW and Fordham with substantial scholarships. During the year since applying, he had taken the LSAT two more times (for a total of five attempts), ultimately raising his score from 155 to a whopping 170. This made him determined to take another crack at the T-14, despite having a GPA well below their 25th percentiles.
A phone call with Sanjay revealed that he was not only a finance whiz, but a funny and down-to-earth guy. His low GPA had been due, in large part, to a debilitating skin condition that struck him at the beginning of college. The resulting social anxiety caused him to miss classes frequently during his first and second years. Sanjay saved up enough money to begin a new treatment regimen, and by the fall of his third year, he was earning good grades.
Our task, then, was to convince the admissions committee at a T-14 school that his GPA didn’t reflect his ability to succeed in law school, and that Sanjay was so smart, ambitious, and congenial that they simply could not turn him down. We developed a three-part strategy:
Once upon a time, the LSAT was the only game in town for law school applicants. Things began to change in 2016, when the University of Arizona Law allowed applicants to apply with a GRE score, followed by Harvard Law the next year. Nearly forty law schools now accept the test.
The Case for Taking the GRE
The GRE has a lot of advantages from the perspective of a test-taker. Available throughout the year and across the world, it’s easier to schedule and more convenient than the LSAT. The GRE will also feel more familiar to anyone who’s taken the SAT or ACT, and most test-takers find it less time-pressured than the LSAT. The test has special advantages for applicants with quantitative skills, who may find it easier than the LSAT, and for anyone applying to dual-degree programs, who may have to take the GRE in any case. Finally, if an applicant decides to cancel her GRE score, the test doesn’t show up on her record. If an LSAT-taker cancels her score, by contrast, the test still shows up on her score report.
Nevertheless, there are some reasons to hesitate before you go all in on the GRE.
While an attorney in private practice works for the benefit of an individual or company, a public interest attorney works for the benefit of an organization, a cause, an individual who cannot afford legal representation, or government (federal, local, or state) agencies. Public defenders, local prosecuting attorneys, and attorneys at civil legal services organizations are all public interest attorneys.
It seems like no one talks about anything else. But where did this term come from and what does it actually measure?
Where the Term "T-14" Came From
The term "T-14" refers to the top fourteen law schools according to U.S. News and World Report (USNWR), a publication that specializes in rankings. But why fourteen instead of ten or twenty-three or five? Because the top fourteen schools have stayed fairly consistent according to USNWR.
Let's repeat that for emphasis: they've stayed consistent according to USNWR.
But USNWR's rankings are somewhat arbitrary. Here's how USNWR determines them:
Notice that USNWR rankings are mostly a measure of reputation. This is a little odd, because USNWR also helps perpetuate these schools' reputations.
To some extent, the rankings are a self-fulfilling prophecy: the longer you maintain a high USNWR rank, the better your reputation…and the higher your USNWR rank. No wonder they stay static at the top.
It's also worth pointing out what the rankings are not. They are not primarily a measure of employment outcomes. They are not at all a measure of how prepared you'll be to succeed. "Faculty resources" is a poor stand-in for educational quality, as you can see in a more detailed breakdown of the ranking methodology:
Let's question some of these assumptions. Does the fact that a school spends more on its instructors, library, and supporting services mean that it is better? Maybe—or maybe it's just in a more expensive location. Does the amount a school spends on its instructors and library and supporting services really matter more than twice as much as the students' employment rate at graduation? Do you, or does anyone you know, care even 0.75% about how many volumes are in the school's library?
The point isn't that these rankings are bad. The point is that rankings—any rankings—necessarily rely on assumptions that may not hold true for you.
So, back to the most important question:
Does attending a T-14 school matter?
It depends on what you're looking for.
Graduating from a highly ranked school usually makes it easier to do the following:
- Get a job in Big Law—especially the first time around
- Get a federal clerkship
- Pursue legal academia
But graduating from a T-14 school does not guarantee a job, and graduating from a school of lower ranking doesn't mean you can't get a job in Big Law. Your class rank, network, and interviewing skills also matter a lot.
If you're contemplating a specific school, you should take a look at the latest ABA-disclosed employment outcomes.
- How to Choose a Law School (⏯webinar)
- Does Attending a T-14 School Matter? (in-depth blog post)