The BriefA Blog about the LSAT, Law School and Beyond
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, now you've made it to the big time. And Aaron, you want to just say hi as well?
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.
Two years of Brad.
Two years of Brad. I want more Brad. That's why we're on the podcast.
I know, Brad, I hope you apply to something after law school. Can we help you on your Supreme Court application or something?
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.
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.
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.
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.
You wanted to major in the history of magic.
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.
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?
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.
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?
Yeah, no, the first paragraph, does that work?
Yeah. 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.
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
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?
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.
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?
Yeah, of course.
Okay, great. Could you read the first paragraph and then the first couple sentences of the next one?
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
Brad, can I share your LSAC GPA?
Oh yeah. It's a 2.71. Is that right?
Yeah, 2, let me see. Yeah, 2, okay, 2.84.
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.
Right, right. 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?
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.
And when did you have any inkling that you wanted to go to law school?
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.
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?
It was a long journey.
Can you speak to us about that?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Well, Brad, congratulations on all of this. What are you doing with yourself in your last summer before you become a 1L?
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.
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.
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?
Brad, what about you? Can you give us a last piece of advice?
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.
That's really great advice, Brad. Thanks so much for joining us. It was really, really a pleasure to talk to you.
Thank you for having me.
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.
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.”
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It's frustrating and disorienting not to know how the Flex test will be scored. The LSAT is stressful enough without worrying about a new format.
But, the truth is, you've already been given the best converter in existence from the LSAC itself: the regular 4 section PrepTest. Take 4 section PTs. That will be the best predictor of how you will do on a 3 section Flex test. On test day, frame the loss of 1 LR section to yourself as a treat: 1 fewer stress inducing nerve-racking task to do.
We've debated creating a "Flex score converter" and a "Flex PT" and we've been hesitant to do so because of how speculative it would inherently be.
The truth is that only LSAC can create a "Flex score converter" or a "Flex PT." LSAC has not given any significant details on how they will score LSAT Flex. Anything we try to do on that front will necessarily be guesswork and misleading.
Having said that, we made this "Flex Score Estimator" based on requests by students to see what their score would be if LR, RC, and LG were weighted the same. Feel free to play around with it and don’t take it seriously!
Congratulations on your offers of admission! How do you decide where to go? Do you go with the best name brand school? The school that offered the largest scholarship? The one that sent you the nicest swag package?
If you are deciding between two or more schools, attending Admitted Students Day events is an excellent way to decide which program is best for you. Your visit could help you make a final decision about where you will spend the next three years of your life.
- Have an opportunity to speak with current students about their law school experiences (Do the students feel supported by the institution?)
- Speak with administrators from financial aid and career services and get a sense of the support and institutional commitment to the students
- Speak with faculty members to discuss your areas of legal interest and see their level of engagement and enthusiasm for teaching
- Likely get a chance to feel the 1L experience by participating in a mock classroom situation with actual professors
- Have an opportunity to explore the campus and surrounding neighborhood and decide for yourself if the environment is appealing to you (Does the school feel big enough for you? Is it cozy enough for you? Do you feel physically safe?)
- See what sort of housing opportunities are available to students and how much it will cost
- See what your transportation needs will be (Will you need a car? Does everyone Uber?)
- Interact with other admitted candidates (Is this a community that you want to join?)
You should also ask current students and the appropriate administrators about student resources like clerkship opportunities, public interest opportunities, clinical opportunities and the availability and competitiveness of other resume-building opportunities. Ask about the percentage of students who participate on Law Review and other journals and the process of joining. Ask what sort of networking opportunities and career services programming are provided and when.
Before you attend, email the admissions office and ask if the school will offer a travel stipend for you to attend the Admitted Students Day event. It never hurts to ask politely. Prepare your narrative and decide how you will introduce yourself to your future colleagues and faculty. Do some research into the city/town so you can make casual conversation.
On the day of the event, dress in business casual unless otherwise directed. You might feel awkward and shy, but EVERYONE is feeling the same way. Stand up straight, shake hands, talk less and smile more. You might feel apprehensive about appearing less than impressive to admissions or faculty. Remember that the event is a means for the school to impress YOU and get you to commit to their program.
The normal distribution is the following curve:
and it is important because there is a theorem in statistics (the "Central Limit Theorem") that tells us that if we repeat random experiments of a certain kind, the graph of the different outcomes will look more and more like a normal distribution the more we repeat the experiment. Thus, the outcomes of many random processes (e.g. individual heights), over time, come to be normally distributed.
Crucially, the distribution has the following three properties:
- It is symmetric about the mean. This means that half of the data is on one side of the mean, and the other half is on the other.
- The mean of the distribution is equal to the median
- There are certain facts about how the data is distributed. So:
- 68% of the data is within 1 standard deviation of the mean
- 95% of the data is within 2 standard deviations of the mean
- 99.7% of the data is within 3 standard deviations of the mean
Now, we will talk about how to find the standard deviation. There is a formula to do just that:
Suppose we have the following data: . Then, we can find the average:
where is the name commonly used for the average. Then, to find the standard deviation (often denoted ), we simply calculate:
Sometimes, problems will give you the data and ask you to find the standard deviation. Alternatively, problems may give you the normal distribution and ask you to find the probability of a certain values. Let's look at some examples of each.
Over a period of ten days, the value of a bond at the close of trading has had values in accordance with the following table:
Find the standard deviation of the bond over these past ten days.
Let's first find the value of the average, We can calculate: Then, we simply apply the above formula to calculate that the standard deviation
Suppose we have a random variable Y which is normally distributed according to a distribution whose mean is 50 and whose standard deviation is 20. What is the probability of the event that Y has a value greater than 90?
Recall the third feature of normal distributions that we discussed above:
3. There are certain facts about how the data is distributed. So:
- 68% of the data is within 1 standard deviation of the mean
- 95% of the data is within 2 standard deviations of the mean
- 99.7% of the data is within 3 standard deviations of the mean
Now, we know that 90 is exactly 2 standard deviations away from the mean. Thus, there is a 5% chance of the event that Y will be 2 standard deviations away from the mean. But we have to remember that it is also possible that Y will be 2 standard deviations below the mean (in this case, below 10). And since, by fact 1, the normal distribution is symmetric about the mean, we know that P(Y > 90) = P(Y < 10). And since P(Y > 90) + P(Y < 10) = .05, we conclude that P(Y > 90) = .025. So there is a 2.5% chance that Y will be greater than 90.
- Given the following data, find the mean and standard deviation: 12, 23, 75, 54, 34, 24, 13, 53, 24, 3, 33, 10.
By applying the above formula, we get that the mean is approximately 29.83 and the standard deviation is approximately 21.36.
- Given the following data, find the mean and standard deviation: 73, 60, 1021, 584, 12, 807, 1700, 6, 321, 49.
By applying the above formula, we get that the mean is 463.3 and the standard deviation is approximately 566.9.
- The random variable X is distributed normally, with a mean at 43. The probability that X is greater than 50 is .3. What is the probability that X is weakly greater than 36?
Recall that the normal distribution is symmetric about the mean. And since 36 and 50 are both 7 numbers apart from 43, we know that P(X is less than 36) = P(X is greater than 50). Thus, P(X is less than 36) = .3. But if X is not less than 36, then X must be weakly greater than 36 (i.e. greater than or equal to 36). Thus, P(X is weakly greater than 36) = 1 - .3 = .7.
The random variable Y is normally distributed according to a distribution whose mean is 36 and whose standard deviation is 2. Find the probability that Y is greater than 36.
Note that 36 is the mean of the distribution. Thus, half of the values are above 36. Thus, the probability is 1/2.
The random variable Y is normally distributed according to a distribution whose mean is 20 and whose standard deviation is 3. Find the probability that Y is less than than 11.
Note that 11 is three standard deviations below the mean. We know that there is only a .003 chance that the variable will be three standard deviations from the mean, and it is equally likely to be above the mean as it is to be below the mean. Thus, we divide by two to get that the probability is .0015.
Why Does the United States Have Two Different Kinds of Courts?
In the United States, we have two different kinds of courts: federal courts and state courts. It’s been this way since 1788, when a group of nerdy Americans ratified the Constitution. Article III of the Constitution states that the “judicial power of the United States, shall be vested in one Supreme Court, and in such inferior courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.” With this little sentence, James Madison et al. set the stage for the development of the complex federal judicial system we have today.
Before the ratification of the Constitution, the thirteen original states were governed by the Articles of Confederation, which didn’t provide for a federal judiciary. Instead, legal disputes were largely settled by state courts (the only courts around). This approach had some problems.
First, where cases introduced conflicts between federal and state interests, states had little incentive to enforce federal laws. Second, without a Supreme Court, state courts couldn’t maintain uniformity in their interpretation of federal laws. Third, state courts were too biased to hear disputes between the states themselves. Finally, in the absence of a court with national authority, citizens had no place to file complaints against the national government.
For all of these reasons, we’ve had a federal Supreme Court since the ratification of the Constitution. But wait! You’re a smart cookie. You’ve read in the news that other federal courts exist too. These lower courts were created by Congress in 1789. The number and structure of these lower courts has changed since then, as new laws have been passed and cases decided, but our doubled system of state and federal courts has persisted.
How Is the Federal Court System Structured?
The federal judicial system has three tiers. A litigant in the system starts off in a federal district court. A district court is where the trial actually happens. Where the parties have different stories about what happened, the district court acts as a fact-finder, and writes the official summary of events. Based on these findings of fact, the district court renders a legal decision, applying the law to the facts.
If a litigant believes the district court decided the case wrongly, the litigant may ask an appellate court to reverse the decision. In the United States, we have 94 district courts, but only 13 appellate courts. Appellate courts are also known as circuit courts because they preside over “circuits” that govern several district courts within the same geographic region. (An exception is the Federal Circuit, which hears cases that involve specialized subject matter.)
Appellate courts do not have juries, because they do not find facts. Generally, after deferring to the district court’s judgment as to the facts of the case, the appellate court will scrutinize the district court’s judgment for errors of law. If it finds that the district court was right on the facts, but wrong on the law, it will issue a new decision correctly applying the law.
Litigants who are unhappy with the appellate court’s decision can ask the Supreme Court to hear their case. However, the Supreme Court only hears oral arguments in roughly 100 cases every year. As such, decisions of the federal appellate courts are almost always final.
How Are State Court Systems Structured?
State judicial systems are also composed of a state’s trial courts, appellate courts, and a state’s highest court(s). However, each state uses a slightly different naming system for its courts, which can make things confusing. For example, the highest court in New York State is known as the New York State Court of Appeals, while its trial court is known as the New York Supreme Court.
Furthermore, some states have a judicial structure unique to the state. Texas, for example, has two highest courts: the Supreme Court of Texas, which renders decisions in civil cases, and the Court of Criminal Appeals, which renders decisions in criminal cases. Our national highest court, the Supreme Court of the United States, can review the decisions of all state supreme courts.
What Makes Federal Judges Different from State Court Judges?
Rather than being directly elected to office, federal judges are nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate. Given good behavior, the Constitution grants federal judges the protections of life tenure. Furthermore, Congress cannot reduce their salary. This insulates federal judges from political blowback when they make unpopular decisions.
Generally, state judges must run for office. Furthermore, they rarely enjoy the wide set of career protections granted to members of the federal judiciary. As a result, some people argue that federal courts are better suited to protect constitutional rights, particularly the rights of minorities, and enforce politically unpopular laws.
What Kinds of Cases Are Litigated in Federal vs. State Courts?
The vast majority of cases are heard in state courts. State courts are courts of general jurisdiction, meaning that they can try all cases, except those that Congress has specified should be litigated only in federal courts. Federal courts, on the other hand, are courts of limited jurisdiction: they can only try certain kinds of cases.
Generally, a case can only be heard in federal court if it presents a federal question or involves diversity of citizenship. A case presents a federal question if it involves a violation of federal law. A case involves diversity of citizenship if the opposing parties are citizens of different states (or if one is from a foreign country). Given that so many lawsuits involve diversity of citizenship, federal courts will only hear these cases where the amount of money the parties are arguing over exceeds $75,000.
Can State Courts Decide Issues of Federal Law?
State courts can rule on questions of federal law, except where Congress has mandated that a specific kind of case can only be heard in federal court. As the Supreme Court noted in Claflin v. Houseman, federal law is the law of the land––effective in every state. Not only are state courts allowed to rule on federal law, they must enforce federal law to perform their duty of enforcing laws valid within the state.
Can Federal Courts Decide Issues of State Law?
The Supreme Court can review decisions of each state’s highest court, but only insofar as a case raises a question of federal law. Decisions of a state’s highest court are final on questions of state law.
The lower federal courts also regularly rule on matters of state law. As we’ve discussed, even a case that exclusively involves state law can enter the federal system if the parties suing have diversity of citizenship. In cases like these, the court must apply state law to decide the issues. Determining which state’s laws to apply is a convoluted process, but the federal courts are theoretically better able to make impartial decisions than the state courts themselves.
Furthermore, cases that do raise federal questions may be tightly bound with matters of state law. In these cases, a federal court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction to decide the state law issues along with the federal.
Of course, these jurisdictional principles are complicated by a variety of exceptions and legal wrinkles—but you'll learn more about those in law school.
Often, you want to use data and graphs to figure out what the relation between two variables is. For example, you may wonder whether your scores improve as you spend more time studying. Or you may wonder how years of education affect one’s lifetime earnings. Scatterplots allow you to plot one variable against another in order to determine what the relationship between them is.
Here’s an example of a scatterplot:
Here, we can see how consuming coffees (on the x-axis, i.e. the bottom axis) affects the number of words one writes (on the y-axis, i.e. the axis on the left-hand side). (You may wonder, sensibly enough, how one can consume non-integer quantities of coffee. We presume that means people drank a partial cup of coffee).
(Part of) the data table corresponding to this graph looks like:
In the left-hand column, we have the variable for the x-axis (namely the number of coffees one drank) and on the right-hand side, we have the variable for the y-axis (the number of words one writes).
Now, you may be asked to interpret the graph above. So, for example, you may get something like:
The above graph comes from a study of how coffee affects literary output. The researchers asked 17 people to drink as much coffee they like and recorded how many words they wrote in the next hour. How many people drank 1 or fewer cups of coffee?
To answer this question, we simply count up the number of dots that have an x-value of 1 or smaller. Thus, we find 5 such people.
Of the people who drank two or more cups of coffee, how many wrote more than 500 words?
Now, we want to look for the people who have an x-value of 2 or greater and a y-value that exceeds 500 words. Again, we get 5.
Sometimes, you will see a scatterplot that also has a “trend line” like so:
The trend line is an attempt to infer, from the available data, what the general pattern looks like. Generally, it will be a straight line chosen (by some algorithm) to be an optimal fit for the data.
According to the trend line in our graph, approximately how many words will someone who drank 2 cups of coffee write?
This is just a matter of knowing how to read a line on a graph. We look at our trend line and see where it has an x-value of 2. At that point, we are at around 500 words.
Finally, scatterplots will often use time as the variable on the x-axis. This is because we are often interested in knowing how some variable (e.g. value of a share, net worth, world record for running a marathon) changes with time. We say that time plots are the scatterplots that use time as a variable. Here is an example:
The S&P 500 is an index of, roughly speaking, the share value of the 500 largest publicly traded companies. Here, we can see that it has grown considerably over the past 20 or so years.
By (approximately) how much has the S&P 500 increased from 1/1/1999 to 1/1/12?
In looking at the graph, we see that the S&P 500 was at about 1250 in 1/1/1999 and about 1250 in 1/1/12. Thus, the approximate increase is $0.
By (approximately) what percentage has the S&P 500 increased from 1/1/95 to 1/1/18?
We see that on 1/1/95, the S&P 500 was at about 500. On 1/1/18, the S&P 500 was about 2700. Thus, the percentage increase is:
Univariate vs. Bivariate
Some graphs only use one variable. Those graphs are called univariate. Other graphs use two variables; they are called bivariate.
How can a graph use only one variable? Well consider the histogram. It tells you how many observations fall into certain brackets. So, for example:
tells you that 4 students scored between 90 and 100; 3 between 80 and 89; and so on. The raw data for this kind of graph just looks like:
Where we just record different observations of a single variable. Thus, we can call such graphs univariate. Other examples of univariate graphs include circle graphs and bar graphs.
By contrast, scatterplots involve two variables. See, for example:
Whose data look like:
Thus we see that for scatterplots, we need two variables, one for the x-axis and another for the y-axis. Thus, we call these bivariate. And since time plots are just a special kind of scatterplot (namely one that uses time as a variable), we get that time plots are also bivariate.
We have already talked about what the mean, median, and mode are. But in the examples we discussed previously, we gave you the data and asked you to find the mean/median/mode. But you can also sometimes, to a limited degree, get information about the mean/median/mode just from the graph of the data. For example:
Which of the following two quantities is larger?
- Average number of words written
A. The average number of words written is larger
B. is larger
C. They are equal
D. It cannot be determined from the information given
Notice that none of the data points are below 200. So their average cannot be below 200. So the average is . But which is less than 200. Thus, A is correct.
Now, sometimes you will be asked to manipulate the data/graph given before estimating the mean/median/mode. So, for example:
Suppose the researchers for the above graph miscounted the number of words each participant wrote. They accidentally multiplied the number of words written by each participant by 2. Fix this error in their data by dividing the observations in the above graph by 2 to get the new average. Now, which of the following two quantities is larger?
- New average of words written
A. The average number of words written is larger
B. is larger
C. They are equal
D. It cannot be determined from the information given
If we divide each of our observations by 2, then our mean will drop by half. So, since the average of the original, uncorrected data must be we get that the new average must be . And again, so A is the correct answer.
Now, we can generally find the median from a graph as well:
Find the median number of words written in the above scatterplot.
We can mark off pairs of the highest and lowest points in our graph. This is just like, when we find the median of some data, we order the values least to greatest and strike off pairs of the highest and lowest values. Doing so here, we get that some value around 475 will be our median.
And again, we can modify the given data and find the new median:
Suppose that, this time, the researchers under-counted the number of words each participant wrote. Find the median of the corrected data, multiplying the number of words written by each participant by 2.
We simply multiply our answer in the previous question by 2 to get 950.
And finally, we could try to find the mode of the above graph. It is somewhat hard to tell whether some of the points are the same on the above graph, so I will cheat and just tell you that there is no mode; every value occurs just once. But on the GRE, rest assured that if the question asks you to find the mode from the graph, the relevant points will be fairly clearly marked. Then, it is just a matter of counting up how many observations each value has (e.g. how many people wrote 500 words; wrote 550; etc.).
Now, it will not always be possible to find the quartile of a graph. For example, if you are given a circle graph:
and asked to find the various quartiles, the question simply makes no sense. But of course, in a box plot:
the quartiles just correspond to where the lines of the box are.
Now, it is not really feasible to read off, say, what the 96th percentile looks like, just based off of a graph. But some important facts to keep in mind are that: the highest value in your graph will be greater than the 99th percentile (since all of the observations will be less than or equal to that observation’s value). Similarly, the 1st percentile will be greater than the lowest value of the graph. Thus, knowing the maximum and minimum (which you can read off of a graph) can give you some idea of the limits of your percentiles.
1. In the below histogram, what if anything can we conclude about the median of the data?
We cannot conclude the exact median, but we know that it will be between 80 and 89. This is because there are four students above that range and there are two students below that range. So the median must be the average of two values between 80 and 89.
2. In the following chart, what can we conclude about the range of the data?
We don't know the exact range but we can give some values that the range must lie in between. We know that the minimum value is somewhere between 141 and 143.9. We know that the maximum value is somewhere between 178.7 and 181.6. Subtracting the smallest possible minimum value from the largest possible maximum, we get . Subtracting the largest possible minimum from the smallest possible maximum, we get Those are our maximum and minimum possible ranges, respectively. The true range must lie between them.
3. A new kid, Richard, joins the class. Richard is 4'8. Given that the graph below accurately depicts the heights of Richard's classmates, what is the maximum possible number of classmates that are taller than Richard? What is the minimum possible number?
We know that every kid that is 5'1 or taller will be taller than Richard. Thus, at a minimum, 8 people have to be taller than Richard. But it is not clear how many of the children between 4'7 and 5' are taller than Richard. If none of them are, then 8 people will be taller than Richard. If all of them are, then 17 people will be taller than Richard. Thus, the maximum possible number is 17 and the minimum possible number is 8.
4. In the below chart, what if anything can you conclude about the median height of the class?
While you cannot conclude the exact value of the median, you know that it must occur somewhere in the range of 4'7 to 5'. That is because you know that there are 9 students shorter than 4'7 and removed students at either extreme, you would have to end up with someone in the 4'7 to 5' range.
5. The following chart represents the books read by the 500 fifth-graders in a school over the summer. Suppose 7 is the 80th percentile of this data. Approximately how many people read between 6 and 7 books? (We assume that people can only read positive integers of books).