The BriefA Blog about the LSAT, Law School and Beyond
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!
Who We Are
7Sage was founded in 2012 to provide affordable, on-demand LSAT test prep to students in underserved markets. We’ve forgone the traditional model of expensive three-month classes in favor of an online curriculum that students can access anywhere, any time, for as long as they need. Our courses include over 4,000 video lessons and problem sets, explanations of every LSAT question ever made, analytic tools, and more.
From the very beginning, we’ve partnered with PreProBono, a non-profit that helps economically disadvantaged minorities, apply to law school.
3. Syllabus and Video Explanations
4. Digital Tester
6. Raw to Scaled Score Conversion
7. Question Bank
👉 Video overview of the admissions process: https://7sage.com/law-school-admissions-primer/
👉 Law school rankings, medians, and acceptance rates: https://7sage.com/top-law-school-admissions/
👉 Compilation of application requirements: https://7sage.com/admissions/lesson/application-requirements-for-top-schools/
👉 Free admissions course: https://7sage.com/admissions/progress/
Five star rating on AppStore (700+ reviews)
Five star rating on Facebook (100+ reviews)
Five star rating on Yelp (20+ reviews)
The essays below, which were all part of successful applications to Harvard Law, rely on humble reckonings followed by reflections. Some reckonings are political: an applicant grapples with the 2008 financial crisis; another grapples with her political party’s embrace of populism. Others are personal: a student struggles to sprint up a hill; another struggles to speak clearly. The writers have different ideologies, different ambitions, and different levels of engagement with the law. Yet all of them come across as thoughtful, open to change, and ready to serve.
Jump to a personal statement:
Essay 1: Sea Turtles
I stood over the dead loggerhead, blood crusting my surgical gloves and dark green streaks of bile from its punctured gallbladder drying on my khaki shorts. It was the fifth day of a five-week summer scholarship at the University of Chicago’s Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), and as I shuffled downwind of the massive creature, the pungent scent of its decomposition wafted toward me in the hot summer breeze. Aggressive flies buzzed around my head, occasionally pausing to land on the wad of plastic we had extracted from the loggerhead’s stomach. The plastic had likely caused a blockage somewhere, and the sea turtle had died of malnutrition. When the necropsy was finished, we discarded the remains in a shallow hole under a thicket of trees, and with the last shovel of sand over its permanent resting place, its death became just another data point among myriad others. Would it make a difference in the long, arduous battle against environmental pollution? Probably not. But that dead loggerhead was something of a personal tipping point for me.
I have always loved the clean, carefully objective nature of scientific research, but when I returned to the US from my native XXXX to study biology, I began to understand that because of this objectivity, scientific data rarely produces an emotional effect. It is difficult to initiate change based on such a passive approach. My ecology professor used to lament that it was not science that would determine the fate of the environment, but politics. The deeper I delved into research, the more I agreed with her. Almost every day, I came across pieces of published research that were incorrectly cited as evidence for exaggerated conclusions and used, for example, as a rebuttal against climate change. Reality meant nothing when pitted against a provocative narrative. It was rather disillusioning at first, but I was never one to favor passivity. In an effort to better understand the issues, I began to look into the policy side of biological conservation. The opportunity at the MBL came at this juncture in my academic journey, and it was there that I received my final push to the path of law.
After weeks of sea turtle biology and policy debates at the MBL, we held a mock symposium on fishing and bycatch regulations. Participants were exclusively STEM majors, so before the debate even began, everyone in the room was already heavily in favor of reducing commercial fishing. I was assigned the role of the Chair of the New Bedford Division of Marine Fisheries, and my objective was clear: to represent the wishes of my constituents, and my constituents wanted more time out on the sea. However, that meant an increase in accidental bycatch, which could hurt endangered marine populations and fill up the bycatch quota for commercial fishermen before the season ended.
There were hundreds of pages of research data on novel technological innovations for bycatch reduction that I had to wade through, but with the help of my group, I was able to piece together a net replacement plan that just barely satisfied my constituents, the scientists, and the industry reps. Although the issue of widespread net replacement incentives for the commercial fishermen remained, there was no doubt that I enjoyed the mental stimulus of tackling this hypothetical challenge. I was able to use my science background to aid in brokering a compromise that would reduce the amount of damage done to the environment without endangering the livelihood of the people involved in the industry.
By the end of the symposium, I knew that I wanted to bridge the gap between presenting scientific data correctly and effecting change in the policy world. Although there are many ways for me to advocate for change, I believe that only legal and legislative enforcements will have a widespread and lasting effect on the heavy polluters of the world. I want to combine my legal education and a solid foundation in the biological sciences to tackle the ever-growing slew of environmental challenges facing us in the twenty-first century.
The night the symposium ended, we patrolled the beach for nesting females. As I walked beneath the stars, I thought of that sea turtle and of the repeating migration of my own life, from my birthplace in XXXX to my childhood in the US, back to XXXX and now the US again. With the guidance of the Earth’s magnetic fields, sea turtles are able to accurately return to their birthplace no matter how far they deviate, but I like to imagine that they, like me, do need to occasionally chart another course to get there. Standing on a beach in Woods Hole, thousands of miles from home, I knew that I was on the right path and ready to embark on a career in law.
Essay 2: Joining the Arsonists To Become a Fireman
On the morning of the 2004 presidential election, my sixth-grade teacher told me to watch out for John Kerry voters in the hallways because our school was a polling station. I nodded and went to the water fountain, thinking to myself that my parents were voting for John Kerry, and that as far as I could tell, they posed no risk to students. It was a familiar juxtaposition—the ideas at my dinner table in conflict with the dogmas I encountered elsewhere in my conservative Missourian community. This dissonance fostered my curiosity about issues of policy and politics. I wanted to figure out why the adults in my life couldn’t seem to agree.
Earlier in 2004, Barack Obama’s now famous DNC keynote had inspired me to turn my interests into actions. Even at age twelve, I was moved by his ideas and motivated to work in public service. When Obama ran for president four years later, I heeded his call to get involved. I gave money I had made mowing lawns to my parents to donate to his campaign and taped Obama-Biden yard signs to my old Corolla, which earned it an egging and a run-in with silly string in my high school parking lot.
While I knew in high school that I wanted to involve myself in public service, I wasn’t sure what shape that involvement would take until signs of the financial crisis—deserted strip malls and foreclosed homes—cropped up in my hometown. I was amazed by the disaster and shaken by the toll it took on my community. As I saw it, the crisis wasn’t about Wall Street, but about people losing their jobs, homes, and savings. I didn’t understand what Lehman Brothers had to do with the fact that my neighbor’s appliance store had to lay off most of its employees.
Intent on understanding what had happened, I started reading up, inhaling books about financial crises and articles on mortgage-backed securities and rating agencies. Along the way, I also developed an affinity for the policymakers fighting the crisis. I admired how time and again these unknown bureaucrats struggled to choose the best among bad options, served as Congressional piñatas on Capitol Hill, and went back across the street to face the next disaster. I decided that I too wanted to work in financial regulation. I thought then and believe today that if I can help protect consumers and mitigate the downturns that force people from their jobs and homes, I will have done something worthwhile.
Strange though it may seem, this decision led me to join Barclays as an investment banking analyst after college. While in a sense I was “joining the arsonists to become a fireman,” as one skeptical friend put it, banking gave me immediate experience working with the firms and people who had played key roles in the response to the financial crisis years before. I was initially worried that I would discover financial rules and regulations to be impotent platitudes, without the power to change the financial system, but my experience taught me the opposite. New regulations catalyzed many of the transactions on which I worked, from bank capital raises to divestitures aimed at de-risking. Ironically, becoming a banker made me even more of an idealist about the power of policy.
I envisioned spending years in the industry before moving to a government role, and I left banking for private equity investing with that track in mind. When I began making get-out-the-vote calls on behalf of the Clinton presidential campaign, however, I realized that I needed to change my plans. I cared more about contacting voters, about the result of the election, and about its policy implications than anything I did at work. Although I’m grateful for what I’ve learned in the private sector, I don’t want to spend more time on the sidelines of the policy debates and decisions that matter to me.
That’s why I am pursuing a J.D. I want to help shape the policies that will make the financial system more resilient and equitable, and to do so effectively, I need to understand the foundation upon which the financial system is built: the law. The post-crisis regulatory landscape is already in need of recalibration; large banks still pose systemic risks, and regulation lags even further behind in the non-bank world. Advances in financial technology, from online lending platforms to blockchain technology, are raising new questions about everything from capital and liquidity to smart contracts and financial privacy. Policymakers need to confront these issues proactively and pursue legal and regulatory frameworks that foster public trust while encouraging innovation. A J.D. will give me the training I need to be involved in this process. I don’t claim to have a revolutionary theory of financial crisis, but I do hope to be a part of preventing the next one.
Essay 3: Populism
Growing up, I felt that I existed in two different worlds. At home, I was influenced by my large, conservative Arizonan family, who shaped my values and understanding of the world. During middle school, my family moved, and I enrolled in a small, left-leaning school with an intense focus on globalism and diversity. I enjoyed being surrounded by people who challenged my beliefs, and I prided myself on my ability to dwell comfortably in both spaces.
In 2015, American political reality disrupted the happy balance between my two worlds. The Republican presidential primary, in a gust of populism, was proposing ideas that I didn’t recognize and wouldn’t condone, like a hardline immigration stance, opposition to free trade, and a tolerance for harassment. I resented this populist wave for hijacking the party, and the voters who created it. I didn’t understand them, and I didn’t think I could.
Despite my skepticism, I decided to make an attempt. As the founder of the Bowdoin College Political Union, a program that promotes substantive, inclusive conversations about policy and politics among students, I brought speakers with diverse ideologies to campus and hosted small group discussions with members of the College Democrats, the College Republicans, and students somewhere in between. In the winter of my senior year, I helped organize a summit that brought together students with a broad spectrum of views from dozens of universities throughout the eastern United States.
As a resident assistant during the 2016 presidential election, I held open-door discussions for individuals from across the political spectrum and around the globe. Facilitating these discussions felt like a natural extension of my role on campus, and I learned not only that having space for open dialogue can ease tensions, but also that the absence of that space does not erase political difference. Instead, it creates feelings of isolation and fosters ignorance.
But it was the death of a family member in early 2016 that helped me understand another perspective, namely the populist views beginning to overwhelm the Republican Party. After the death of my mother’s cousin from cancer, I called my second cousins, all three of whom are around my age, to offer my condolences. I was surprised to learn that none of them had finished high school. Instead, they had worked to help pay for their mother’s treatment. While I had been worrying about which summer internships to apply for, they were worried about maintaining their family home. In the past, I’d thought that their views on economic policy and immigration came from a place of ignorance or spite. I realized over the course of our conversation that I had no idea what it was like to not have a high school degree and compete for employment in a rural area where wages are low. For the first time, I was engaging with people in the demographic that was generating the populist wave that was sweeping the country. This conversation led me to expand my studies in politics and to think beyond the left-right spectrum to consider class and urban-rural divides within my own party. Ultimately, reconnecting with my extended family informed my decision to write my senior thesis on populist movements and why economics drives them. It also changed the way I thought about politics and its effect on people like my second cousins.
After my college graduation, I took a job with a political and opposition research firm called XYZ in Washington, because I felt that my understanding of 2016’s populism was still lacking. XYZ gave me the opportunity to work with people from different parts of the Republican Party: both establishment operatives and grassroots operations. This enabled me to work within the framework of Republican politics that resembles my own, while being exposed to the perspectives of people working to represent people like my second cousins. My time at XYZ helped me see the power of the populist movement, but also understand the limitations of its proposed solutions, like a resurgence of manufacturing. Now that I have interacted with populist groups, I see that ultimately, the valid frustrations of many working-class Americans need to be addressed by empathetic leadership and challenging but necessary evaluations of policy in the areas of economics, education, and culture.
I want to apply my passion for political discourse in law school and in my career as a lawyer. My passion for engaging with others will serve me well in the classroom and in a career at the intersection of law and politics. I hope to continue to make connections between people of diverse backgrounds and viewpoints and to engage in meaningful, bipartisan discourse.
Essay 4: Pop Warner
One summer, when I was eight years old, I signed up to play Pop Warner Football for my hometown. After the calisthenics, scrimmages, and the rest of practice concluded in the midst of the sweltering early August sun, I would sprint thirty yards up a hill steep enough to go sledding down. I had to lose nine pounds in order to make weight for my junior pee-wee football team. I wanted nothing more than to be on the team, so it didn’t faze me that I was the only one running up and down the hill. A dirt path marked the grassy knoll from my countless trips up and down. I usually managed to hold back the tears just long enough until I got home. As an eight-year-old, this was the most difficult challenge I had ever been tasked with. But the next day, I would get down in a three-point stance and sprint up the hill under the red sky of the setting sun.
When I finally made the team, I was elated; I had achieved a goal I often felt impossible in those moments of sweat and tears. The excitement was, nonetheless, short-lived. The other kids still called me “Corey the Cupcake,” a nickname I thought I’d left behind with the extra pounds. In every game of the season, my first playing football, I received my eight minimum plays and rode the bench the rest of the game. It was an unusually wet September, and I caught a cold a few times from standing there for two and a half hours in the nippy morning rain. I hated it, but I kept playing.
I continued to play every fall through high school. My freshman year, during a varsity practice, I broke both the radius and ulna bones in my left arm and simultaneously dislocated my wrist, which required a plate and four screws to repair. To this day, I can’t help but flash back to that frigid November afternoon when I look at the five-inch scar on my left arm or when the breaking point is hit precisely. Sophomore year, I was introduced to a coach who frequently criticized me for “not being black enough,” or sometimes, contradictorily, for acting “too black.” I was even benched for my entire junior year for being unable to attend football camp over the summer.
Why did I play football for eleven years? It might have been for the Friday nights in front of the school, as there was nothing more thrilling than making a crucial catch and hearing the whole town cheer. It might have been because I wanted to fit in with my athletic classmates. It might have been because I felt that I was improving after each catch, each hit, and each drill. But I believe, above all else, it was because I just don’t like to give up.
My first job as a project assistant at a large law firm was somewhat similar to my experiences as a young football player; both required grit and determination to push through difficult circumstances. Late one evening, two days before Thanksgiving, my supervisor asked me to complete and organize the service of eighteen subpoenas for the following day. The partners and associates were so busy with internal politics—one of the head partners was leaving the firm—that no one was available to walk me through the process. I felt ridiculous when I Googled “How to fill out and serve a subpoena,” but it was important to me that I complete the project properly.
I am appreciative of the challenges that I faced as a project assistant. If it weren’t for those experiences, it is unlikely that I would have been fortunate enough to be hired by the Delaware Office of the Attorney General, where I work today. My job here has confirmed that law is exactly what I want to do. I realized this through several opportunities to draft written discovery. I loved fashioning objections to each individual request in a given set. Developing legitimate grounds for disputing discovery on its merits and intent was inspiring to me. I can’t wait to do this more and on a larger scale as an attorney.
The steadfastness that I obtained as a young athlete defines who I am. I couldn’t see it at the time, but every day on which I gave something my best effort, whether it was on the practice field or in my tiny office on the twenty-seventh floor, I became a little bit stronger, a little bit wiser. I am confident that my perseverance and dedication will facilitate my future success, both in law school and afterwards.
Essay 5: Speech Therapy
When I was very young, I was diagnosed with a severe phonological disorder that hindered my ability to verbalize the most basic sounds that make up words. It didn’t take my parents long to notice that as other children my age began speaking and communicating with each other, I remained quiet. When I did speak, my words were mostly incomprehensible and seemed to lack any repetition. I was taken to numerous speech therapists, many of whom believed that I would never be able to communicate effectively with others.
From the age of three until I was in seventh grade, I went to speech therapy twice a week. I also regularly practiced my speech outside of therapy, eventually improving to such an extent that I thought I was done with therapy forever. This, however, was short-lived. By tenth grade, I realized my impediment was back and was once again severely limiting my ability to articulate words. That was also the year my family moved from Vancouver, Canada to Little Rock, Arkansas, which complicated matters for me.
I knew that my speech was preventing me from making new friends and participating in classroom discussions, but I resisted going back into therapy. I thought that a renewal of speech therapy would be like accepting defeat. It was a part of my life that had long passed. With college approaching, though, I was desperate not to continue stuttering words and slurring sentences. I knew that I would have to become more confident about my speech to make friends and to be the student I wanted to be. During the summer before my freshman year, I reluctantly decided to reenter speech therapy.
I see now that this decision was anything but an acceptance of defeat. In fact, refusing to reenter therapy would have been a defeat. With my new therapist, I made significant strides and the quality of my speech improved greatly. Using the confidence that I built in therapy that summer, I pushed myself to meet new people and join extracurricular organizations when I entered college. In particular, I applied to and was accepted into a competitive freshman service leadership organization called Forward.
The other members of Forward were incredibly outgoing, and many of them had been highly involved in their high school communities—two things I was not. I made a concerted effort to learn from those who were different from me. I was an active participant in discussions during meetings, utilizing my unique background to provide a different perspective. My peers not only understood me, but also cared about what I had to say. I even began taking on leadership roles in the program, such as directing a community service project to help the elderly. My time in Forward made it clear to me that my speech disorder wouldn’t be what held me back in college; as long as I made the effort, I could succeed. The confidence I gained led me to continue to push past the boundaries I had set for myself in high school, and has guided the bold approach I have taken to new challenges in college.
When I first finished therapy in seventh grade, I pretended that I had never had a speech disorder in the first place. Having recently finished therapy again, I can accept that my speech disorder has shaped the person I am today. In many ways, it has had a positive effect on me. My struggle to communicate, for example, has made me a better listener. My inability to ask questions has forced me to engage with problems on a deeper level, which has led me to develop a methodical approach to reasoning. I believe these skills will help me succeed in law school, and they are part of what motivates me to apply in the first place. Having struggled for so long to speak up for myself, I look forward to the day when I can speak up for others.
Essay 6: Ting Hua
“Ting hua!” I heard it when I scalded my fingers reaching above the kitchen counter to grab at a steaming slice of pork belly before it was served; I heard it when I hid little Twix bars underneath the bags of Chinese broccoli in the grocery store shopping cart; I heard it when I brought sticks back home to swing perilously close to the ceiling fan. Literally translated, “ting hua” means “hear my words.” Its true meaning, though, is closer to “listen to what I mean.” Although the phrase was nearly ubiquitous in my childhood, that distinction—between hearing and listening—did not become clear for me until much later in life.
That childhood began in Shanghai, where I was born, and continued in Southern California, where we moved shortly after I turned four. Some things stayed the same in the US. We still ate my mom’s chive dumplings at the dinner table. On New Year’s, I could still look forward to a red envelope with a few dollars’ worth of pocket money. But other things changed. I stopped learning Chinese, and my parents never became proficient in English. Slowly, so slowly I almost didn’t realize, it became harder and harder for me to communicate with them.
Because I didn’t feel like I could talk to them, I could never resist opening my mouth with others. I talked to good friends about Yu-Gi-Oh, to not-so-good friends about Pokemon, and to absolute strangers about PB&J, the Simpsons, and why golden retriever puppies were the best dogs ever. Even alone, I talked to my pet turtle Snorkel and tried out different war cries—you know, in case I woke up one morning as a mouse in Brian Jacques’s Redwall.
The way I communicated with my parents didn’t change until I came back for Thanksgiving my freshman year of college. I was writing for the school newspaper—a weekly column on politics. I had written an article in support of gay marriage. My parents had asked me about it, and in the way I was wont to do, I answered briefly before moving on to talk about my friends and my floor and my classes.
While I was brushing my teeth that night, my dad came into the restroom. He stood in the doorway and said, “Hey. I read the article you wrote about gay marriage… you should be careful saying things like that.”
His words—you should be careful saying things like that—sounded to me like homophobia. I knew that in China, same-sex relationships were illegal, stigmatized, banned, so I thought I understood where my dad was coming from, even though I also thought it was bigotry. I was about to brush him off, to accept that we had different views, but when I looked up, I didn’t see the judgment I was expecting. In the way he stood slightly hunched in the doorway, in the way he touched his chin, in the way his eyebrows drew together, I saw love. So I swallowed down “don’t worry about it” and asked what he meant. He told me about a cousin of his, someone I would have called Uncle, who was expelled from his school and sent to the countryside for his political comments. In that moment, I realized that my dad wasn’t concerned about my politics—he was concerned about me. Had I not stopped to listen, rather than just to hear, I would not have understood that. I would not have known why he told me to be careful.
Although I still enjoy talking to other people about PB&J sandwiches, I have learned to listen, to actively engage with my parents when we communicate. More importantly, whether I’m interviewing witnesses on the stand in mock trial, resolving disagreements between friends, or sitting in a chair while teachers and professors give me advice, I’ve made an effort to remember those words my mom has spoken since I was a toddler: “ting hua.”
📌 Check out our full, free admissions course.
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.
Hello and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping. And on today's episode, David talks to a student named Adam, a Chinese national who went to school in America. With the help of 7Sage consultants Dan and Selene, Adam overcame his anxiety about writing in English and put together a winning application, ultimately getting an early decision acceptance to Penn Law.
Adam, thank you so much for talking to me today. It's a real honor and a pleasure. Can you start by telling us more about your background? Just a little bit about growing up and what led you to apply to law school?
Sure. So I came to the States around 11 years old, and my mom, she came over as a post-doctoral fellowship in Cincinnati. Since then, I was just growing up in Cincinnati in a public high school. While I was young, I was just really interested in history and social science.
In high school, I developed a habit on reading historical documents. I also got really interested in the AP social science categories, especially AP history, US history, European history. While doing some research all the way in high school, I was thinking that, well, law school may be a way out for me since I'm so interested in the legal aspect of this whole atmosphere.
And then I went to Ohio State University, and studying, majored in finance and political science, and along the way, I just worked hard in college, and then decided to apply to law school in my, end of my junior year, beginning of my senior year.
And why did you decide to work with a consultant?
Coming from China, I understand where my weaknesses are. My reading and writing skills are still far behind my speaking and listening. So I think that writing has always been my weakest point in all my abilities. To make sure that I had a good application, I just had to work with a consultant from 7Sage.
And partly because it was also my, I worked with 7Stage on LSAT prepping. I took the course and after that, I decided to, you know, give it a try on the 7Sage admission package. And I think that, overall, the price was really affordable on my end. I think that mostly what I need is the editing and then some directions on applications, but it turns out a lot of things were beyond what I expected. And we can talk about that in a bit.
Oh, great. To be clear, are you saying that you were nervous about the essays?
Yes. I was very nervous about my writing skills. I really need to clarify some of my thoughts. When I write, I tend to write a lot of stuff, and I tend to lose track on what I'm writing and I tend to not get them together.
And, you know, I just have a whole five page of what I want to say, but I couldn't wrap them up in a neat format or in a neat fashion that's suitable under a good personal statement. And that had been my problem since high school. And because I majored in finance, my writing skills weren't really catched up along the way.
And I think that you started working with us before you got your final LSAT score. Is that right?
Yeah, I actually started very early. I started contacting you guys all the way back in February, I think, in February of last year, because I wanted to get an early hand on. I know it's a really popular service and I think I really needed that help, so I decided to enroll very early.
And then luckily I was paired automatically with Dan and Selene. Dan was my advisor on writing and Selene was my advisor overall on my application. And I'm very happy about that early-bird package, I think. Well, not a package, but early-bird advantage.
So tell me about your LSAT trajectory and what you were thinking along the way in where you wanted to apply.
Actually, I started prepping in the beginning of 2020. I think that may be a little bit late, but I started prepping in, I think, January. But after a couple of PTs and scores came out, I took my first exam, I think, in August, and the score was a 159. Wasn't really on par with what I was thinking.
For four years, I'd been think about applying to T14s, that's what my family wanted and also what I personally wanted to achieve. And so I wasn't satisfied with the 159, and I contacted Selene, who I'd been contacting ever since February. And she said, "Well, let's do a retake." And so I did sign up for the September one as well as the October one to make sure, because there's a timing gap between the signups and actual scores come out.
So after 159, I signed up for the September and October. And so after two more months of studying, after the September score came out, I got a 167 and I was very happy about it, I shared with Selene. And since this year, I've been notified by Selene and also looking through Reddit and other sources, that this is a very competitive cycle, and looking back, it is.
We decided that there's still some improvements for the cycle, and so I decided to give it a try in October again. The score came out to be 164. It wasn't really what I expected and I was pretty let down. So I emailed Selene and had a call with her. And so we decided that this cycle is very competitive and why don't we start early?
And so we decided to focus on our application materials, essays, and optional essays as well. So we decided to use that 167 along with my college GPA to just start our application. And then I started working with Daniel ever since then.
How did you decide where to apply, and where did you apply?
Like I said previously, I decided to apply to T14s after I did some research. I wanted to achieve a top-tier law school because my dream was going through capital market, that's what I studied in undergrad, and through international capital market trade along Asian Pacific, as well as the New York sites. So I applied broadly, as recommended by Selene. I applied broadly to all T14s besides Yale.
And also I added some safeties, including Boston University and my alma mater, Ohio State. And so that's how I applied it. And what I was thinking of is that, with my GPA and my LSAT, I could at least get some admissions in T14s and be ready for my backup safeties, if it's a really super competitive cycle.
And I think that you applied early decision twice, right?
Correct. That was a strategy that we formulated together. And also because of my three scores, it was up and then down, it's like an up shape. So we feared that it might not be a good sign for my overall application. Even though they only take the highest scores for the statistics, it's still presenting a bad sign for my applications.
So what we decided is that, luckily, because they have different ED times, we decided to apply Columbia ED first, in early November. And then we said wait and see how the score comes out, because they said it will guarantee the decision will come out in the end of December.
And so we'll decide if, based on that application, whether I'll apply to a second ED. And so, because Columbia also faces a very competitive cycle this year, they deferred me, which wasn't really a yes or no decision. They deferred me back to April.
And so I realized that my time is running short, so I emailed Penn right after that, and I said, "Please add me onto the ED II applications." And then they responded to me in early January when they were back in the office. So that's why I had two EDs. And also because Penn was my top choice, actually, among all, in the beginning, but I just decided to reach a little bit higher just to see if I can win a lottery.
So I applied to Columbia ED first and then waited for Penn for the ED II program, since I still had the time. I think the deadline was in mid-January.
Selene, I have a question for you. How did you approach the question of where Adam ought to apply?
Well, I think that he should have applied broadly because of the nature of the cycle and what was going on in the world and within admissions.
I felt like he had an interesting file. There are a number of very attractive factors that I saw in his application. Given what he wanted to do, it kind of made sense that these internationally known law schools should be his focus. When a candidate decides to apply ED, they are indicating to the admissions committee, "You are my top choice. I'm willing to bind myself to you and come if you take me."
Columbia, I think, made sense because it's a very well-respected program. It would carry him far internationally. Given his background, given his interest in finance, going to school in New York City made sense.
Columbia has excellent placement within corporate law and they had the early ED program, and that if he did not get the results that he wanted, then, you know, we could see what other programs he could turn to. And Penn had this second ED program. Penn has Wharton next to it, and he is interested in finance. So that's kind of how it seemed to make sense to us.
Yeah, just a small clarification. I have talked to some people who think that ED, or early decision, means simply applying to law school early. ED means that you apply to a school and you agree to go to that school if you get accepted. Often ED applications are due early in the cycle, but there are some schools, like Georgetown, that have early decision deadlines as late as March, actually.
So ED just means that you are applying to a school and agreeing to go there if they admit you. And you can only apply to one ED school at a time. But if you're canny, like Adam, you can apply to one ED school, and then if you don't get in, you can apply ED to another school.
Before we talk about your essays, Adam, which it sounds like you were the most nervous about, a question for both you and Selene. Did you have an overall strategy for how to approach your applications? Were you thinking, "This is what I want to convey to the committee," or did you take the pieces of your application one at a time and just say, "How can I write the best essay? How can I write the best addendum?" et cetera.
We started contacting very early on in this stage and I had all my available information to Selene, including my resume, and what my experiences are and my thoughts on the essays.
But, you know, overall, we decided that I'll tackle my LSAT first, but then once my LSAT score comes out, we'll formulate our strategy based on LSAT score's timeline. So, at 159, she recommended me to retake, and at 167, we started actually working on the application materials and targeting our schools, as well as formulating our overall strategy on the applications.
And especially it turns out that the 164 comes out, that's when we actually get into the serious talks on the decision timelines and what we want to present to each of the schools.
That is all true. I remember that it was pretty important to me that, given what I saw in his application, that we present Adam and his strengths, like figure out what his strengths are.
What does he have to offer a law school community and try to bring those strengths out in the materials, whether it was emphasizing his international experience in law, in leadership, in his resume, and also trying to make him distinctive in the way he expressed himself in his personal statement.
Had we not done that, it would have been sort of easy to look at his file as just a really, really impressive GPA, and a 167 with kind of a bell curve LSAT history. And I did not want him just to be evaluated on his numbers. So I thought it was important that we present the fact that he has knowledge of two cultures, that he has a very strong interest in finance.
He has language skills, he's had experience working stateside as well as internationally, and he was also extremely engaging and involved on campus.
Well, let's talk about how we showed off those strengths, starting with the personal statement. Adam, did you know what you wanted to write about?
Writing has been my weakest part overall, and when I write, I tend to brainstorm a lot. When I first had the rough draft, or it wasn't even the rough draft, it was the brainstorm. I had around six to ten pages of all my stories that I experienced in my life, and I don't know how to deal with it. I sent this brainstorm to Daniel, and Daniel was, luckily, giving me a lot of feedback on that, and then we started working based on that.
But personally, I don't know how I would elaborate my story that will make me very distinctive. I have a lot of interesting things to tell, but I don't know how I would combine them or compress them into a short two-page personal statement.
Well, let's turn to Daniel. Daniel, so you received a long brainstorm, it sounds like. How did you help Adam pull a story out of that?
As Adam said, he had a lot of different experiences to share, interesting experiences from his background. But one thing that Selene and I discussed a lot last cycle was, given the competitiveness of the cycle, we really wanted to try to help our clients find a way to emphasize a strong "why law" component to their essays.
So we looked at some of Adam's internship experiences in China, and we found a story that we felt like showcased his strengths and also told a story that narrated the arc of his interest in the law, and kind of helped clarify why he was interested in law.
And one thing I'll say is that working with a lot of international applicants, you know, in my experience, a lot of clients will say, "I want to take on corruption," or "I want to fight for human rights." There's a lot of folks giving similar reasons for why law.
And I think what was important, and what we tried to do with Adam was to really find a specific story that would really make it believable when he said that he wanted to take on corruption and fight for human rights. And that's what we try to do, when looking for an anecdote or an experience to work on.
Adam, can I summarize your personal statement, or do you want to?
To put it short, it really was a story that motivated me to actually change my perspective of what I wanted to do in law. David, you can take on after that.
No, no. I'd love to hear, it's your essay, to hear you give us the brief.
All right. Sure. So, to make it short, like I said, I wanted to do law in high school because I'm interested in law. I'm interested in math. So I wanted to do mostly finance law or laws regarding big corporations, and Daniel, if you can help me summarize that a little bit?
I'm looking at it because I was curious to see kind of the evolution of the personal statement from the first draft to the final draft. It sort of starts out with Adam's background. And it's kind of a story of a loss of innocence, in a way. It tells a story of how he was raised in China, and in the Northeast region of China, and how he was told by his grandparents growing up that he would benefit if he became part of this system.
And he says, though, he glimpsed evidence of the system's corruption. He was told that China was becoming a democratic country ruled by law and order. Then it narrates his time in the States, and his education, and going to high school in the States, and how he got interested in law and history.
And then he goes back to China on this internship, and it tells a story of his work on this case. Basically, when they get to the city where the hearing is supposed to take place, the judge's secretary walks in and tells his team that the judge had instead decided to attend a training workshop in another province. So he basically didn't show up for the hearing without giving any notice. That moment starts an exploration into how private entities sometimes bribe elected officials.
And this episode kind of opens Adam's eyes to start looking at other instances of corruption and unsavory things going on in terms of law in the system. And it leads to this sort of moment, whereas before, he wanted to get a law degree to become part of the system and benefit economically from it.
He sort of changes and he realizes that he wants to use a law degree to improve the system and strengthen the law and order. Another thing we talked about with Selene all the time is how people in their essay saying that they're going to, they're going to change the world and they're going to do these different things.
And it's really hard to make that convincing. So that's actually, you know, maybe the most challenging part of it is finding a way for Adam to express how exactly he wants to go about making change with his law degree. So that's kind of the general run of his essay.
One way to think about this essay is that it's a sandwich. So the meat of the sandwich is this one very memorable clarifying moment. Adam is a young, starry-eyed intern, really excited for his first case, and he shows up, and the judge doesn't show up. Presumably, he hasn't showed up because he's been bribed. And then if you think about the bread on top, we have some context setting up that one moment.
And then on the bottom, we have some reflection taking us from the clarifying moment to the conclusion, which is that Adam wants to fight corruption with his law degree. And it sounds a little pat when I put it like that, but it is really, really deft when you read it. And that's why I admire this story.
I think that there's so often a tension between giving us one clarifying moment and writing something that feels true to life, because in real life, you don't often feel like this one single moment changed everything. You often experience these things as an evolution. And the essay does both. You give us the evolution, but you do also give us that one sparkling moment that's just so easy to remember.
And I imagine that when an admissions officer reads this and walks away, you know, if they think of Adam later, they'll think of that moment when the judge doesn't show up. So I think it does a great job of telling a story and motivating your application to law school. It also just helps us make a little more sense of your background.
Why are you even applying to law school, and where have you been up until this point? From my point of view, it is incredibly successful. So, great work, guys.
Yeah, I think about my essay is that when I have the story out, what the difficult part for me is that I have the story out but I can't, I can't make it a sandwich.
I have all the ingredients out, but I have a difficult time making it smooth as it logically connects one part to the other, and after it's finished as the personal statement, and we had multiple edits, and after the final edits, I was like, wow, it really logically connects everything as it presents it to the admissions officers, because admissions officers only read about, spend like three or four minutes on this essay.
And it's really important to let them understand what you're trying to tell and let them see how you had achieved all this. And then, so I think it's very important that we had it, and I really thank Selene and Daniel for their help on that.
You know, I once heard this analogy of writing. It's a David Lynch analogy.
He said that, for him, creating is like you're standing in the middle of a room and there's a closed door. And every couple hours, somebody slides a single puzzle piece under the door and you take that puzzle piece and you try to figure out what to do with it. And I think that's a great analogy because when you're done, a finished essay does sort of resemble a jigsaw puzzle.
You look at it and you're like, there's only one way this thing could have possibly been put together and it's this. This is the picture that makes sense. But it doesn't feel like that at all when you're putting it together. It feels like, where the heck does this go? To go back to our sandwich analogy, it kind of feels like, wait, does this bread go in the middle and the meat on top?
It's really confusing. That, I think, is the mark of a successful essay. You go through this process of confusion and you end up with something that feels totally inevitable. Of course it isn't, but that's the whole art of writing.
Let's turn to your optional essays, Adam. You had a couple, and I'm going to first turn to Selene. When it comes to the diversity statements, Selene, what were you and Adam trying to accomplish?
I actually like this diversity statement very much, because I feel like it complements Adam's personal statement, which provides a little bit of context for who he is and where he comes from. But then we launch into this very specific story and we talk a lot about how he analyzes the social structure, the political structure, the legal structure, and identifying the problem that he sees and how he wants to solve that problem, which are very important things that the admissions committee wants to know, but they're very sort of grand and not terribly personal.
Perhaps it speaks more to his professional goals than who he is. Who is Adam? Because I'm aware that when the admissions committee is reviewing applications, they're looking to put together, they're looking to assemble a class of people with all different backgrounds and interests and perspectives and experiences who can come together, learn together, learn from each other and with each other.
And so I felt like it was really important, knowing that there were going to be probably a lot of international candidates applying in this cycle, as there are in all cycles, that he distinguish himself from that crowd. The diversity statement, I felt like, should delve more into Adam, the person.
Who is this person who went to China and saw this problem and has these goals? What is his background? What perspective would he bring to the classroom discussion if we were to admit him? And so I saw the diversity statement as an opportunity for him to share things about him as an individual, the fact that he was very active in sports and that he was very active socially, and engaged not only with the faculty at OSU, but also other students.
And I thought that that brought out a lot of really attractive qualities in Adam as a candidate. And so I wanted to emphasize that so that we could layer that onto the sandwich, so that whoever is consuming his application would get like a full picture, a full meal of who Adam is.
Have we taken the sandwich metaphor too far? I think so, let's retire it. But to be clear, Selene, what you're saying is you thought the PS was great, but it left some stuff out, and you tried to fill the gap with the diversity statement.
Yes, and I think that the PS would have worked fine, but I felt like the diversity statement would add more. It would make him more interesting. I want him to come across as a fully formed, three-dimensional person.
Right. Adam, you mentioned that you played football and lacrosse, which is quite notable. My question for both you and for Dan is, how did you come up with the topics? How did you put it together?
Yeah, so for the diversity statement, also Selene played a huge part of this too.
We had a diversity statement up at first, but when Selene read it, she's like, Adam, I don't want you to tell a story about how Asian immigrants faced or how Asian immigrants diversity statement. It's about Adam personally, so we reworked the whole thing and we said it's a target on me personally, on how I personally overcome a lot of the stereotypes playing football as an Asian immigrant, and also lacrosse, playing varsity lacrosse as a junior captain, how my story was picked up.
And that was in the first introduction paragraph that I briefly talked about it, but then we decided to shift our focus on how I changed my perspective during college and how I used my understandings of the Asian perspective, as well as my American perspective, how I combined them into a synergy in college and how I would use that later on in life.
And so that's how Daniel and I started to take that approach after Selene gave us that recommendation.
Yeah, I'll add that I think what's important here, what we tried to stress was not only what is this new perspective he's gained from his background and his experiences, but what has he done with it?
How did he use that to enrich his college experience? You know, one thing that Selene is always really good at is keeping us focused on showing the admissions committees what Adam is bringing to the table. Even just like, you know, as a sentence where, he has a sentence about being a teaching assistant and what his relationship was like with his peers as a teaching assistant.
And again, that's just another example of something that it's a very clear statement and description of what he brings to an incoming class that someone else might not.
So, Adam, are you saying that the first draft of your diversity statement focused on the experience of Asian immigrants in general, or it focused entirely on your experience as an immigrant when you came to the States?
I think it's all my personal experience on that, but I think my theme was around, it was too much, in a word, it's a stereotype that is commonly known. So that's how it was summarized. It's kind of like a story that, it becomes a stereotype that other people also share, which doesn't really make me distinctive.
And it's really never talked about how I utilized and achieved this. It's mostly me talking about what I experienced instead of how I utilized that experience and how I changed in college. That was the main issue with my first draft.
Yeah, I think what you did was really smart. For those of you who are not looking at the statement, Adam ended up telescoping that experience, it looks like, into a single paragraph, and that's the starting point.
And you use that starting point as a way to talk about these other things, how he overcame the stereotype, what he did in college, and then what he's going to do for the law school community. And it works really well. I noticed, though, that you did not write an LSAT addendum, or did you, and I'm just not looking at it?
I didn't, I didn't. Yeah, I had a talk with Selene and it wasn't really much. Maybe Selene can elaborate on that a little bit more, but we think that it's only one down curve. It's an upside-down V-shape, it's a bell curve. Yes, there might be some questions to be asked about why it went up drastically, but it also went down, a little bit down. It might raise some questions from the admissions officer's perspective, but we decided that there's not much to talk about.
People make mistakes, or there's, you know, we had a bad time on the exam. I don't think there's much more to be elaborated on that, but we decided to focus on the actual personal statements and the optional essays instead of picking on that LSAT score curve.
Selene, can you say a few words about that decision too?
Yeah, I feel like an LSAT addendum, it's part of the series of written pieces that the admissions officer sees in the PDF when they're reviewing applications from the database. And I felt like unless there was a really distinctive reason why there was this LSAT history, that any attempt to try to insert any sort of significance or drama to the LSAT history could potentially make the admissions officer feel as if he was trying to state the obvious or explain away the obvious.
Adam, I don't think that there were any extreme issues like your computer fried or there was a fire across the street, or if somebody was very, very sick, or anything like that, right? It was just, I did better on this one, not so good on this one. I felt like it would almost be like we were trying to fabricate an excuse to put in an LSAT addendum.
It would be very, very short and maybe it wouldn't even register when the admissions officer was reviewing his written pieces, because, oh, nothing to see here, nothing extreme. His LSAT history is what it is. We were just going to sort of leave it up to whoever was reviewing, whatever they wanted to think about it, but we felt like it was better to emphasize his strengths and maybe not draw attention to the LSAT history.
Adam, let's go back to the timeline here. So you put together this fantastic application. You send it in early decision, and then I understand you got an interview.
Correct. Yeah, so I emailed Penn to change my status to ED II, and they replied to me in early January.
And so with the time approaching with a decision date releasing in end of January, I was pretty panicking. But then on a Monday before that decision release, I got an interview invite, which I looked up Reddit, I looked up talk to alumni, and they rarely give out. So Selene told me that Penn recently started doing this only to their ED applicants, only to selective ED candidates.
So I'm not sure how that interview was purposely made, why they gave me an interview, but I decided to take it. And so we had an interview scheduled, and during that interview, it was pretty casual. The interview was pretty casual. I could tell kind of her intention was trying to let me speak more about my experience with Penn and why I applied to their ED II program, because I know Penn only gives out an interview to a very small group of people, only their ED pool.
So, many people don't have an interview. So, you know, during the interview I talked about, honestly, talked about what I, how I know about Penn. And I know, actually, I know Penn Law ever since the Ohio Law Fair. I talked to one of the alumni from OSU and I had a great talk with her. And I told her about this experience.
Also, I did a lot of research on Penn, how their cross-disciplinary program was really their main focus, and so how I want to utilize that, what they offer, and how that will contribute to my experience in the future. And so, yeah, the interview was very casual.
So I think from the interview, I can tell that she wanted to see whether I applied ED II to only boost up my chances, because ED is a bounded, like David previously said, it's a bounded process. She wanted to tell whether I can prove that I applied ED because I was really interested in Penn, that I really think Penn was my best choice, or I only applied ED II because, for other reasons, you know, I want to boost up my chances or something.
And I think, looking back from the result, I think that I did convince her that what my true intention is, is that Penn was really fitting me. I really fit Penn and how Penn really fits me. So that's how...
What were the interview?
I did get the decision that Friday after. I was extremely happy. She called me over the phone that morning.
Just to clarify, I was under the impression at first that you applied originally to Penn as an ED applicant, but now I understand that you had already applied to Penn. And then when you were deferred by Columbia, you called Penn, or you emailed them and asked to switch your outstanding application to ED. Is that right?
Correct. Yeah, I applied to Penn and all T14s around early November. So through the regular process RD program. And so after Columbia ED was deferred, I emailed Penn instantly to tell them that I wanted to switch to ED II, and I did sign the form afterwards. It was a pretty easy process.
That makes sense. Selene, what did you make of this request for an interview?
Well, given the cycle, I don't think it's surprising. I feel like admissions offices are using interviews more. And, you know, when you're trying to figure out ED and you have someone who comes in a certain way, but then wants to make a switch, it's the easiest, fastest way to find out if the candidate is serious about that school. The school doesn't want to extend an offer if they don't already know that the candidate is going to accept it.
I think Adam and I did a fair amount of interview prep before this, with, you know, just him being able to be comfortable expressing his answers for why law, why now, why Adam is great, and what he wants to use his law degree for.
So I think Penn benefited from, you know, being sort of later in the cycle, and Adam had probably gone through a couple of these interview rounds and was fairly practiced in expressing himself confidently. That goes a long way. I think, Adam, you said it wasn't a terribly long interview, so you must've been able to express yourself very clearly and succinctly.
Yeah, it ran pretty short. It ran about 15 minutes and then she started asking me whether I have any questions for her, and I brought up some fun facts about Penn's student associations, which I had actually researched and reached out to, and she was impressed as well. So yeah, the interview lasted around 15 to 20 minutes.
I realized I forgot to ask you earlier about the Penn core strengths essay. Here's the prompt. These are the core strengths that make Penn Carey Law the best place to receive a rigorous and engaging legal education. And then they talk about some of their strengths: integration with disciplines, great scholarship, et cetera. These qualities define Penn Carey Law.
What defines you? How do your goals and values match Penn Carey Law's core strengths? What are they asking here, and how did you answer it?
It's not just a way of just describing what Penn offers. It's more about how Penn and you could complement each other or how you could utilize their resources and how they could benefit from you as well.
I think the key point is they want you to incorporate both how you will fit in Penn as well as how Penn will, what Penn offers you. So, yeah. Then maybe Daniel can talk about how we elaborated on that.
It is sort of like a "Why X" essay, but I feel like when people think about it as a "Why X" essay, sometimes the approach to this essay can get a little weird, just because, as Adam said, one thing that we talked about was the emphasis is on the candidate. It's on you. So it's really tough to kind of hit on some of these core strengths and match them up to yours in a convincing way, without sounding like you're just sort of improvising.
And I felt like this essay, we work on a lot of these, and I feel like Adam did just a really good job of matching up his interest with these core strengths in a really convincing way, and in a way that sort of echoes other parts of his application, things that we brought up in the personal statement, things that we brought up in the diversity statement.
So it's not like you're just picking a core strength out of the blue and saying, oh yeah, I totally align with that. There are elements that you've already discussed that are part of your background and you're just kind of going into a little bit more depth into how those elements match up to Penn. So, yeah, I think the strategy with this essay for me is always to focus on the candidate first and be like, well, this is what I bring, and this is how it matches up to X, Y, and Z.
So, Adam, what are you doing with yourself before you start your 1L year?
Yeah, I'm actually, I've been back to China. So I was in the States all the way, suffering the whole time through the pandemic, and I realized when I graduate, I only have one summer left before going through a law school route of working and studying. I just bought a ticket and came back after a whole month of quarantine, two weeks of quarantine in the hotel and one-half week of self-quarantine at home. I'm out and totally free.
And I decided to utilize this summer, first of all, to gain more sleep, and second of all, just to explore my hometown, to travel, also to exercise a little bit more, to keep my body healthy. I'm actually on a vacation trip with my girlfriend right now in China. Very enjoyable moment for me.
That's wonderful. Here's how I want to end it. I'd love it if you and Dan and Selene, in any order you want, to share one last piece of advice, either for law school applicants in general, or specifically for international law school applicants.
I can start. I have advice for Penn. I also have advice for overall applications. So Penn really focused on matching. I think this term matching is that they really want to see who they want to pick out. They really have a low-yield acceptance, meaning they want to keep their acceptance low and keep their yield of commitments high. And so they're really targeting those students that really fits in their law school. They have a really small class.
So if you want to really interest in Penn, you really have to show how you match Penn, how Penn matches you. I think that's what, also what their optional essay's offering. And also for applications for this cycle, I think that applying early definitely helps. A lot of people that I know with higher stats or, you know, all we know is their stats, so with higher stats were either waitlisted or rejected because they applied in late February or even late January. So applying early definitely helps.
Dan or Selene, do you have any last pieces of advice?
Yeah, I think one lesson from Adam's application and one's inexperience, maybe I touched on this a little bit before, but if you're writing about corruption and human rights in your personal statement or anything else, I just think it's really important to be really specific about what aspect you're interested in working on with your law degree.
And just avoiding being vague and saying, oh, I want to work on corruption or I want to work in human rights, and just, really, specificity is the key.
My advice to international candidates, whether they are coming directly from abroad or whether they have come to the States and maybe gone to college here and now are applying to law school, I would say try to clearly indicate in the application why it makes sense that you want to pursue a legal education in the US. I think that that is a question that is at the front of admissions officers' minds as they're reviewing an application from an international candidate. And so that's my first bit of advice.
My second bit of advice would be to be aware that the audience is the admissions committee and they are going to be reading many, many applications from international candidates. And you want to make sure that the stories you choose to tell and the strengths that you choose to highlight in your candidacy, that you've thought them through and that they're going to be specific to you, unique to you.
Because the review process is all about distinguishing one candidate from the other. And even though two candidates may have had similar experiences, similar life experiences, what they did with those experiences make them unique. And you want to emphasize the part that makes you unique.
That's great advice. Well, thanks to everyone here for joining me. Adam, congratulations on a fantastic outcome. I know that you're going to excel at Penn and I hope you have a really great summer.
Thank you very much, David.
Good luck, Adam.
Thank you, everyone.
Great working with you.
Thank you, everyone. Bye, everyone.
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.
Having broken my suspect, I felt the sense of accomplishment. Ray was a drug dealer and my job was to get his supply. Confession in hand, I asked Ray to become a police informant in exchange for leniency. Most people in Ray's situation either jumped at the chance to save themselves or took offense at the idea of turning on their friends.
But Ray had different priorities: "I just want to get out of jail in time to see my son graduate high school." Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping. A few months ago, we interviewed 7Sager Daniel about going from a 157 to a 172 on the LSAT. But that wasn't the only challenge he overcame in the application process.
Daniel had a complicated educational trajectory, a low GPA, and some major character and fitness hurdles. In today's episode, 7Sage consultants David and Nora talk to Daniel about his admissions journey.
Daniel, Nora, thank you so much for joining us. Daniel, I wanted to talk to you about your admissions process, and you worked with Nora from 7Sage, who's here as well. So maybe you can both just introduce yourselves.
Hi, I'm Nora and I'm a consultant with 7Sage, and I'm excited to be here.
I am Daniel. I was a client of Nora's, incoming law student at Cornell Law School.
That's so exciting.
That's right. Now you just get to take it easy. Do podcasts all day until school starts.
I was going to say it until September.
I'm trying my best to relax in the, probably, the last downtime I'll have for awhile.
That's right. So Daniel, you are what they call a nontraditional student. And if you've never heard that term before, it's kind of a bogus word. It really refers to anybody who is not coming, you know, straight out of college, or maybe out of college and then after a couple years in the workforce.
But Daniel, you had a career. Actually, you had more than one career, and I'm wondering if you can just give us sort of a capsule of your background before we start.
Yeah, sure. So I guess you could say I'm nontraditional in a few different respects. So, like you said, I had a career prior to applying to law school. I was a police officer for just under 10 years, and prior to that, I was in the military for a few years.
In addition to these previous careers, I'm a bit older than your, I guess, typical law school applicant. I'm 41, if I remember it correctly, 41. And my undergraduate education was also not very typical, kind of pieced together over the years, close to two decades, spanning some community college classes, some online courses, and eventually finishing up my undergrad degree here at the University of Hawaii.
Daniel, why did you decide to work with an admissions consultant?
So this was my second admissions cycle. I initially applied to law schools in 2019. I wasn't very informed about the process, you know, what goes into a good application. I didn't really know what to expect, given my nontraditional background, and then just kind of applied very, very broadly.
It must've been 40+ schools. Wasn't sure what I was doing, really, what was going on, what kind of outcomes I could expect. Towards the end of that cycle, as I became more informed, I kind of realized that I didn't really know what I was doing, and I could probably expect a lot better outcomes if I enlisted the help of someone that did, I guess, which is why I contacted you, David. I think that was around May of last year.
I think we spoke a couple of times. Your application had a couple of special challenges. So, one thing we've already touched on, you are a nontraditional student, which is not necessarily a detriment in its own right. But your education history is complicated. On top of that, you had multiple LSAT takes, about as multiple as you can get, and then you had some character and fitness issues.
And so I want to talk about how you addressed each of those in your application, maybe starting with the PS. And I'm going to ask Nora the first question. So, Nora, when you started working with Daniel on the personal statement, what was your approach? How did you even begin to look for a topic?
So when I first started working with Daniel, the first thing I did was I looked at what he sent in last year. Thought about that as sort of a jumping-off point. And I asked Daniel, you know, to talk to me about his thoughts about that application, and also to send me his notes for this next one to sort of see where he was coming in from.
And he sent me a 13-page document that was sort of a brainstorm, but I think it was a 22-year-long story that this document spanned. And so the first question was figuring out, well, which part of this story do we want to tell?
Something that I see a lot from applicants is, you know, when you think, well, why do I want to go to law school, it doesn't start a year before you apply. It often starts a really long time before you apply. And as you tell the story, you have to look to your history to say, well, this happened, and this changed my next decision, which, you know, helped me make my next decision, and on and on.
And the challenge for a lot of folks is to figure out, well, which part of this is relevant for the personal statement and which part of this is too much context? Where's the frame? And we toyed with a few different ideas. We thought, I remember, Daniel, your first personal statement was about your time in the military, right?
Yes. Yes. And that was the one from the 2019 cycle. But when I asked you, "Why do you want to go to law school? Why do you want to be a lawyer?" what you told me had a lot more to do with your job as a police officer and how your sort of growing disillusionment caused you to start to think about a different way that you could intervene in people's lives to help them.
And so when I thought about that purpose, then the question became like, how do you work backwards to figure out, you know, where did that feeling start, and how do we, how do we tell the story of that? And we ended up focusing in on the last few years that you were a police officer.
Yeah, Daniel, did you know going in that you wanted to write about something else, or did you feel like there are too many possibilities and I really have no idea?
Yeah, more the latter. You know, that direction that Nora provided was, like, so important. I couldn't have done it without her. So essential. Even my initial personal statement from the previous cycle, I really didn't have any clue how to write a good personal statement, what kind of things I should be talking about, even what an application reader would be looking for in terms of a good applicant, like what they would admit to their school.
And that document that I sent Nora was just me kind of putting in, like, anything that I could think of that, you know, like, hey, maybe this would be good, maybe this idea. These are some things that I wrote about last year, which I was horrified to read again. I can't believe I submitted this thing.
And Nora told me, I think she was just kind of, I think she was just being nice to me when she's like, "That always happens when you read your stuff again." I think it was horrifying. But she was able to just give me that direction that I needed. Like, what are you trying to accomplish here? What are you trying to do with this personal statement?
I mean, you're telling a story, but what's the goal, right? Like if you're trying to show admissions that you would be a good law student, that you have the potential to succeed. I guess, why do you want to be a lawyer? Why do you want to be an attorney? What drives you to study law?
And I kind of, I don't know if I left it out initially in my first attempt to get into law school, but I hadn't addressed it, I think, directly enough. That's something that I definitely needed.
Daniel, would you feel comfortable reading it out loud? Not the whole thing, but maybe just the first paragraph and one more sentence?
Yeah, sure. Ray's posture slumped as if his admission of guilt had left him somehow deflated. My police training allowed me to recognize his emotional cues in the interrogation: defiance, defensiveness, deception, fear, and now resignation.
Having broken my suspect, I felt this sense of accomplishment. Ray was a drug dealer, and my job was to get his supplier. Confession in hand, I asked Ray to become a police informant in exchange for leniency. If he provided me information on his supplier and fellow drug dealers, he could face lesser penalties.
Most people in Ray's situation either jumped at the chance to save themselves or took offense at the idea of turning on their friends. But Ray had different priorities: "I just want to get out of jail in time to see my son graduate high school." I was trained never to connect emotionally with suspects and to instead project empathy tactically, like a baton or an armlock, as a tool to gain compliance. But Ray's answer resonated with me in a way I did not expect.
How did you get to the idea of writing about Ray in particular?
I think I had brainstormed a couple ideas, maybe two or three of them, if I remember correctly. And we had explored them, just kind of getting a rough idea of what it would look like, how much development, how much additional work it would take to kind of take each individual idea and make it into a viable topic for the essay.
And I think that story that we settled on was just the one that was the most applicable, I guess, to my situation, and the evolution of my, you know, thought processes and my time in the police force, maybe like the most representative story of what actually led me to leave law enforcement to go into law studies.
Nora, did this story come out of the brainstorm?
Yeah, so what was interesting was brainstorming with Daniel, Daniel, you're a really good writer and you're really good at picking moments, especially, that moved you in some way, that made you think. And I think the first thing that came out of the brainstorm was the series of different moments, the series of different sort of microstories.
And every time we talked, the story of Ray came up, and it started to feel like it held a lot of weight, specifically when we were talking about your decision to pursue law, and reading it, it makes sense. This is a moment where you're working with someone who your training allowed you to recognize these different emotional cues and to feel like you had sort of broken your suspect, which was supposed to be success.
But you felt conflicted, because though you'd gotten the confession, it didn't feel right to you. And I think you were surprised by your own reaction to that interrogation, felt like this really interesting turning point in the story, this moment where you realized that your priorities were different, perhaps, than the priorities of your department.
What I admire about this essay is that it's working both as a story that stands up on its own, and as a document that helps us make sense of your entire application. It anticipates some of the questions that admissions officers might have about why you ended up getting your undergraduate degree so late.
It anticipates some of the questions they may have about why you left the police force, and it provides a really compelling counternarrative to something that they might just conclude if they were only reading your character and fitness addendum.
So it does all of that, but it never feels abstract, right? You began with that paragraph that really paints a portrait of somebody, and it always feels very lively and specific. Did you know you were doing all this or were you just trying to follow the trail?
I think I have Nora to thank for most of that. I think it's ended up being, like, just beautifully engineered, all those different aspects. And I think I was a beneficiary of her experience, you know, that definitely was essential, if not the primary factor that led to, like you said, how it just kind of performs all of those different functions, all in one essay.
I guess I couldn't say that I was even aware that we were doing all of that at the time, until we got towards the end, where everything started to kind of get solidified, the content and the sequence of everything, and when we start to kind of fine-tune the content.
And then Nora would explain to me, you know, like, this language works better, this language better conveys this idea. Just kind of helping me put words to my thoughts, I guess, because I tend to be all over the place when it comes to that.
Nora, I guess I'll ask you the same question. Did you know that you were doing all of these things or were you just trying to tell the story?
So I saw this common thread, Daniel, throughout your documents that, you know, starting back in what you wrote about your time in the military, where you started to think, "I want to be working to help people. I want to be working to change people's circumstances for the better, and I feel like what I'm being told to do doesn't tally with that. And I feel frustrated because, you know, I'm following these instructions and the outcomes I'm seeing aren't the outcomes that I'd expect to see."
And I saw that in your writing about your time in the military and in your writing about your time as a police officer. And in some ways, I think, you know, so we get to this problem, right? Like you're in these careers where your goal is to help people. It's not working. What do you do?
And I think a really important part of any personal statement is to look to the future, not to just say, "I identified a problem and I'm frustrated, but I want to do things differently." And so when you look back to the things that you tried to do as a police officer first, you know, you try to apply this new knowledge that you gained studying psychology to your work in narcotics, right?
You start sending people to rehab instead of arresting them. You start counseling people to interact with suspects in kinder ways. You implemented a Narcan program, and that was, I think, the first of its kind in the way of law enforcement?
That's right. So you started to work to make these changes, and you realized those changes, they're not doing what you want them to do. You're still working, you feel, in the wrong context. And so then enter law school, right? Enter the sort of future part of the statement where we say, well, why are you telling us all this? What's the point?
And the point is the future. And the point is what you want to do now, now that you have had this experience, that you tried in these ways. And it leads you really nicely into this sort of ending that's not just, you know, here's why I left law enforcement, but is really, here's how I'm going to take what I've learned and use it to enact real change.
Let's turn now to the diversity statement, which is really successful, I think, for a lot of the same reasons, but it's interesting because it's not what I would think of as a traditional diversity statement.
Before we actually discuss it, Daniel, I'm going to put you on the spot again. Again, you don't have to say yes, but I think you are a good reader, and I'm wondering if you would just read us the first paragraph.
Yeah. Yeah, sure.
Okay. First paragraph. I joined the army when I was 17. I asked the recruiter for something dangerous and ended up a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. I expected a challenge that would help me find direction and purpose. But while training for war fighting taught me about leadership and gave me confidence in my ability to overcome adversity, it did not prepare me for the realities of a combat deployment, something that would transform my views on poverty, equity, and the effects of US military interventions.
Thanks. One thing that I'll point out right away is that the style is really different. You began your personal statement with an anecdote. I sometimes call it a cold open because we're in a scene and we don't know exactly what's going on. We figure it out as we go along.
And this one is sort of the opposite. This one is almost like an abstract of the essay you're about to give us. It tells us what the essay is about, and it sort of leads with the conclusion, and then we're going to loop back and get to this conclusion. We're going to learn how it transformed your views on poverty, equity, and the effects of US military interventions.
But my first question is, why did you choose to write a diversity statement about your experience in the military?
We went back and forth on this, I think, for a while, you know, whether I should even write a diversity statement and whether this would be a viable topic for one. I think we just ended up deciding that if it's just a matter of writing about, hey, I was in the military, you know, maybe that might not have been as useful a diversity statement.
Just talking about things that maybe an admissions officer would just kind of assume if you saw someone had military experience, like, okay, this person is, maybe has some leadership experience, has some experience working in difficult environments, critical-thinking skills, that kind of stuff.
But as we explored the topic more, I think it became apparent that there were different things that I could talk about, specifically with this deployment to Afghanistan that we addressed. It helped me learn something, I guess, just about the way that the world worked, you know, external to my reality to that point.
Yeah. I actually think that it complements your personal statement beautifully, and it really reinforces, for lack of a better word, your brand. You have a brand as someone who risked himself personally, first in the military, then in the police force, to fight bad guys, only to realize that, in your own words, it's not that simple.
That's what your DS is about. That's also what your PS is about. And so we see the common theme: you're fighting bad guys, and then you realize, wait a second, this binary of bad guys versus good guys is a little too tidy. It is no longer a satisfactory model of the world.
And you set out to learn more, first by going back to college, and now you're going to law school. So I think it's doing a lot of work for you. Those two essays are reinforcing each other. Nora, how did you go about helping Daniel figure out what might be a good topic for the DS?
Yeah, so like Daniel said, it was really hard. We went back and forth a lot about whether he should do a DS because in some ways we were operating on a less-is-more principle, right? You only want to submit writing that serves your application positively, right? Like don't make people read more pages unless there's something that you can tell them about yourself that you feel will really fit and serve your narrative.
And the more I heard Daniel talk about being in the military, the more I thought this really, yeah, like what you said, David, this fits into this overall way that your life has gone, Daniel, where you end up in these situations where you're supposed to be, you know, fighting the bad guys and you realize, this is way more complicated than I thought it would be.
And really, I think what we worked to highlight in the diversity statement was the sense that Daniel's a really good critical thinker. And I think the question was like, how do we sort of use this story to show that, to show the way that you had this experience and it helped you rethink where and how you trust authority, where and how you trust institutions?
And then you say this in your essay, it's a view that's guided you through your career in law enforcement and afterwards, right? That you, that you're interested in asking the difficult questions and not accepting the status quo, and then challenging things that you feel are wrong wherever those things happen to come up.
Daniel, do you like writing?
Not particularly. I guess the best way to put it is I don't mind it. It's never been something that I thought I was particularly good at.
Do you know about how many drafts you did for each of these essays?
I believe it was 13 or 14 drafts for the personal statement and maybe a little less for the diversity statement, maybe 10.
Wow. That's a lot. Were you making substantive edits the whole time or were you sort of getting the basic shape of it, and then refining it?
More the latter, if I remember correctly. We started off with a lot more content and then just kind of refining it, getting rid of anything that wasn't really useful.
Nora, can you talk to me a little bit about that process?
Yeah. So, at the beginning, I think for most of your essays, Daniel, we would usually do a big overhaul. I always feel bad at that step because I have to send you an email saying, "Okay, this is a great essay, but you have to change the entire order, add three paragraphs."
But after the first few rounds of overhaul, when the essay really finds its form, then it becomes about tweaking the language, about adding details, about thinking about, you know, what details are actually serving the story and what details are there because you grew attached to them in the writing.
And that's one of the hardest parts, is figuring out, like, what sentences do you need to chop? Because especially when we're talking about diversity statements, you know, you want this to be a page or less, double-spaced. That's not a lot of room. And that was something that I was very strict about. It was like, we cannot go over a page.
You know, we often ended up cutting sentences in half, you know, really whittling things down. But the idea is, you know, how can you as quickly as possible say what you came there to say? And how do we add the sort of flourishes, the details, the stuff that's going to make it compelling to read without making it feel redundant or lengthy?
Yeah, I distinctly remember we were talking about maybe ideas or even wording that I would get just kind of attached to throughout the creation of the essay. And when it became apparent that it didn't work, thankfully, I had you to kind of just insist on, you know what? I get that you like this, but it may not work. It may not suit our purposes, or that there may be a better way to do this.
I may or may not have attempted to sneak some of those back by you again. But you were very vigilant, thankfully.
Something we say a lot in writing is, "Kill your darlings." You know, the things you got the most attached to are sometimes the things that need to go, or the things that need to find new homes. And there were moments where you'd say something really well, and I feel like we should keep that somewhere, somehow.
And then it might, you know, there were a few times where language would reappear in like a supplemental essay for a school or, you know, half of your personal statement used to be about your time in the military, and we were able to sort of rescue some of that language and bring it into the diversity statement. So, kill your darlings, but revive them too.
Yeah. I don't think anything is ever wasted when you cut it. It comes back in some form. But now I'm getting karmic.
Daniel, can we talk about your character and fitness issues? To the extent that you feel comfortable, can you just give us an overview of what kind of issues you were writing about?
Yeah, so I had a lot, actually. Quite a lot. That is part of the reason why, in my first cycle, like I said earlier, I didn't really know what to expect, what kind of results I could expect, or even if I would be able to get into any law school at all, let alone one that aligned with my career goals.
So I had some juvenile arrests. I had quite a few traffic citations over the years. My exit from the military was not the ideal discharge. It was an other-than-honorable discharge, which is something you don't quite hear about as often, I believe. It's not a dishonorable discharge, but it's also not an honorable discharge.
So something kind of went wrong along the way, basically, which is not the ideal thing to have on your record. And then my exit from the police department from law enforcement also coincided with an arrest. I was arrested on some erroneous charges that were actually never charged, but, you know, nevertheless, I did have an arrest, a recent arrest, which was in June of 2019, on my record.
And you wrote to me that your other consultant, Scott, who couldn't join us today, helped you figure out how to frame these issues. Could you just tell me a little bit more about that? What was the general approach?
So my initial approach, the approach I took in the previous cycle, was to, and I think my character and fitness then, it must've been at least two pages long, but just kind of go into as much detail as possible, kind of like explaining, you know, why these things happened, you know, what my perspective was in these incidents, what I learned about them, trying to show like, hey, you know what, but I've grown as a result of this.
Not that any of it was disingenuous, but Scott kind of took a look at everything and he just let me know like, hey, you know what? One, this is too much; two, you want to be candid. You want to be succinct, you know, just, the purpose of this is to disclose what happened, to be up-front and honest. This is what has happened to me, and to just go from there. Convey all the relevant information, and at the same time, give yourself the best shot of a positive outcome.
Was it ever hard to find the line between saying too little and saying too much?
It was for me, which is why I am extremely grateful for both Scott and Nora's guidance through all this. It was for me because I think there was an element just throughout my application materials, there was like an element of maybe searching for vindication or, you know, being able to kind of prove myself.
You know, justifying the actions that I had taken, my reasons for doing things. And I think even in one of our conversations, you also told me the same kind of thing, or it's like, you're not trying to take a stance or pick a hill to die on here. You know, you want to just convey that you are a good applicant, you'd make a great law student, you know, kind of just use that as your entryway into law school, to do the things, to accomplish the things that you want to do.
When I read your character and fitness addendum, what struck me was, one, the extreme succinctness, but two, they felt almost naked. And the reason I think that they felt naked to me is that there was this complete absence of defensiveness, which I think ended up working really well for you. It did not sound like you were protesting too much and it ended up conveying the sense that you didn't have anything to hide.
Yeah, and I think that was one of the focuses in just kind of refining this content, is to just make it as up-front and honest as possible.
Daniel, who did you ask for letters of recommendation from, and did any of these considerations, you know, your character and fitness addenda or your unconventional path to law school, play a part in your thinking?
As far as my recommender selections?
Yeah. Yes. So one of my recommenders was a previous supervisor in the police department, is a detective in the division that I worked for. So, given that that was my most relevant recent professional experience, I guess it would already stand to reason that I would get a recommendation from someone there.
But at the same time, speaking with Scott, you know, we decided that it would also be useful to just kind of not counter the character and fitness issues, but to just add more context to the work that I had done as a police officer. And then my other two recommenders, I think I ended up using three letters of recommendation, were from professors in my psychology program.
Yeah, that's good. Everyone's different, but in general, academic recommendations count for the most. And your academic work was relatively recent, so I would think that that would help assuage some possible concerns about your academic history, the fact that, like you said, that your undergraduate career spanned about 20 years.
Yeah, I remember when we started putting applications together and I saw how the end form that it generates, where you get that PDF that your completed application spits out, and I could see the education section. It must've been like two pages long. That's kind of concerning, like, is this going to be a problem? But it worked out, worked out okay.
The last thing I want to ask you about is just how you chose what schools to apply to, and then how you ended up choosing Cornell.
Yeah, so I wanted as much portability, I guess, as possible, and I wanted to go to a school that would give me options as far as what kind of law I practiced, what kind of job I eventually got. You know, I have an idea of what I want to do, you know, which, that's the whole direction of my application. I'm interested in public interests, policing reform, those kinds of things.
But at the same time, you know, I think I can just assume that, I'm not even in school yet, right? So, as I'm going through law school, it would be very likely that, you know, my career goals would evolve as I learn more. So, with that in mind, I decided to apply to just the top 14 schools. The cycle previous, I had gotten on some waitlists for schools in that range. Based on that, and my current career goals, and the numbers, the test scores that I ultimately got, that settled on the top 14 schools.
This has been really informative. I wonder if we can leave this conversation with a piece of advice from each of you, maybe specifically geared towards nontraditional applicants.
I guess I would say something like your past difficulties don't define you and they're going to limit what you can do only if you allow them to.
What about you, Nora?
It's a good question. I think figuring out what it is that you want your story to do, where your story ends, and then where the future is too. I think a lot of nontraditional applicants struggle to figure out how do I summarize my schooling, my career, and my life in a couple short pages in the succinct way that must be a lot easier for someone in their early twenties, just out of college, you know, hasn't done a whole lot yet.
And I think really figuring out, like, how do I focus on the past enough to give a context for who I am, but also remember to focus on the future, focus on where you want to go and how those experiences will inform that work, I think that's really important.
That's great advice. Well, thank you both for joining me, and Daniel, I really hope that you enjoy your last summer of freedom for awhile.
Thank you. I'm trying my best.
Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. And 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.
I think that that's what is one of the best things about going to law school, is that there is not one direct path to law school. You don't need to be a certain major. You don't need to have a particular job. And that's what makes for such an exciting law classroom, is that you have such a variety of different voices and people in the classroom. Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I am J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, admissions consultants Tajira McCoy, Christie Belknap, Elizabeth Cavallari, and Jill Steier of 7Sage host the Clubhouse Room to talk about creating a cohesive application package.
Tajira moderates the panel, asking the panelists to share their insights on what details to incorporate into a resume and how diversity statements, addenda, and other optional statements can build on required application materials to provide greater context, to build a big-picture view of an applicant's candidacy. The talk also includes Q&A with Clubhouse listeners.
So, without further ado, please enjoy.
Good evening and welcome, everyone. I'm Tajira McCoy, but you can call me Taj. It's so refreshing to see so many new members to Clubhouse in our audience today. Thank you so much for joining us. I am a professional writer and law school admissions and administration professional. For 10 years, I worked in law school admissions at four schools, spanning public and private institutions, including two Jesuit schools, a T14, and an HBCU.
Most recently, I served as the director of admissions and scholarship programs at Berkeley Law. Currently, I am a 7Sage consultant and an author of a couple of books. Tonight, we have a fun conversation planned for you. Tonight's panelists, my colleagues and I, represent 7Sage.
For those preparing to apply to law school, 7Sage offers LSAT preparation, admissions consulting, and editing services. If you visit our website, 7Sage.com, you can create a free account, which gives you access to some sample lessons, an LSAT prep test, and 100 question explanations.
The free account also gives you access to our discussion forum, where you can ask questions about the admissions process, hear from others who are currently in the process, and learn about our events we have coming up. You can also follow us on Twitter. Our handle is 7Admissions, with an S at the end. The four of us on the panel are admissions consultants and have worked on admissions teams at various law schools across the country.
Tonight, we're going to be speaking to you about creating a cohesive application package with resumes and optional statements. So this talk is really for law school candidates still in the process of preparing their application materials, or for future applicants who are in the planning stages. There will be time for questions and answers for the last 10 to 15 minutes of our conversation.
I encourage you all to ping friends of yours who may also be interested in this subject matter. And if you're not already a member of Club 7Sage, I also encourage you to tap on the green house on your screen. It'll take you to our club page, where you can follow us and be notified of upcoming events.
Let's go ahead and get started. So, to my panelists, I'm going to call on you one at a time and I would ask that you please introduce yourself, share which schools' admissions teams you served on. I'm going to start with Elizabeth.
Thanks, everyone. Hi, I'm Elizabeth Cavallari. I've been consulting with 7Sage for the past two admission cycles and I've spent over 10 years in undergraduate and graduate admissions, six of those years as the senior assistant dean for admissions at William and Mary Law School.
Great. Jill? Hi, everyone.
Thank you so much for joining. I am Jill Steier. I've worked in law school and undergraduate admissions for around 10 years. I've worked at Columbia Law School, and most recently, I was assistant director of admissions at NYU School of Law.
Great, and Christie.
Hi, everyone. This is Christie Belknap, and before working with 7Sage as an admissions consultant for the past three cycles, I practiced law in New York City for 12 years, and during that time, I worked in law school admissions at Cardozo Law School for two years as an associate director of admissions. Thanks for coming.
Great. So our first question for our panelists is, what are you looking for when you review an applicant's resume? Jill, I'll start with you.
Great, thank you. So I am looking for cohesiveness between the personal statement and the letters of recommendation and the resume. So if a letter of recommendation from a professor talks about a particular research assignment that you worked on or an internship you've had, I'd love to see that on the resume.
If you talk about in your personal statement a commitment to working in, let's say, immigration law, I'd like to see your interests reflected on your resume. So whether that's work experience, internship experience, or a student organization that you may have been a part of, it's important that the resume kind of ties together all facets of your application.
Great. Elizabeth, would you would like to add anything?
I think it's also helpful to see what someone's path is. So not everyone's path is necessarily direct to law school, but knowing kind of what they've done over time, I think I'm really looking for succinct information, but even if someone is doing something that isn't directly related to law school, that their resume's still highlighting skill sets in that work that could make them be successful law students.
Great. Christie? So I would just say, you know, we're already going to see what undergraduate school, graduate school, and your GPA, you know, from your transcripts and the LSAC report. So your resume highlights your work experience, obviously, and that can be in college or after college. And, you know, you want to highlight your responsibilities. You want to do that, I think, in three bullets or less.
You want to highlight your volunteering experience in college and outside of college, and your personal section should tell us a little bit about you and what interests you have outside of the law, if your resume already speaks a lot to why you're interested in the law, so it can be a little bit more fun and something that we don't know about.
Great, thank you. I think it's also important to make sure that on your resume you're highlighting opportunities that you've had to be a leader. And so, in student organizations, if you held a specific office on the board, if you are part of professional organizations, if you're a volunteer and you've been doing that for a really long time, it's a great opportunity for us to see that you've taken initiative beyond being a member and that you're actually leading others, and what that might entail.
There's definitely power in that, especially when you happen to have been really involved on campus. If you list a whole bunch of student organizations, I would anticipate that some of those will include a leadership role. And so for our next question, and I'm going to pick on you a little bit, Jill, because you happen to have worked with NYU and Columbia, but do law schools expect applicants to take a gap year?
No, law schools don't expect applicants to take a gap year. If it was expected or required, it would be part of the application, it would be, we'd include it on the application. I think that that's what is one of the best things about going to law school, is that there is not one direct path to law school.
You don't need to be a certain major. You don't need to have a particular job. And that's what makes for such an exciting law classroom, is that you have such a variety of different voices and people in the classroom. I will say that law schools often like to balance their class and they think carefully about having a diverse class.
And that includes students with work experience and students coming directly from undergrad. And that number, often schools may choose to share that information. Often schools may let applicants know how many applicants come directly from undergrad and how many have a year out or more. But also keep in mind that these numbers may change each year.
So it depends on what the applicant pool looks like each cycle. I think the most important thing is that, you know, law schools want to see that you're doing something. And if you are coming directly from undergrad, they want to see that you feel that law school is the best decision for you right now, and that you feel prepared to take on law school, if you're coming directly from undergrad.
Great. Christie, Elizabeth, anything to add?
I think the only thing I might add is the average age for most law schools is between 22 and 24, so a good number are coming right from undergrad. So taking a gap year doesn't necessarily make you a stronger candidate. I think if you're planning to take a gap year, it's about the experience and what that might bring to the table for you as a law school applicant.
And I'll just say, I think that there are times when specific schools might have a preference for folks who have some work experience. When they have that preference, typically they're pretty explicit about it on their websites. And so it may not be that they require a gap year per se, but they may say that they want to see at least a year of work experience under your belt, and that might've taken place while you're in college or in grad school.
It really just depends when we're looking at students who are going straight through, one of the things that we want to make sure is that you're ready. And so if we can see that from your materials, then going straight through doesn't really leave a question mark for us.
And so, Christie, I'll start with you. Are there any common mistakes that you see when reviewing resumes?
I would say that a common mistake can be formatting and making the resume really difficult to read. So when I look at a resume initially, and I see just blocks and numerous bullet points, that it's hard to just scan. It just makes the resume almost unreadable. So, you know, I think you just, a lot of it, obviously, the substance is important, but you also just want to make it very easy to read and highlight what's important to you.
The other thing I would say is, you know, when there's an unexplained gap of, say, three months or more, that just leaves questions for the admissions committee, which is not something you want to do. You want to be able to have, you know, it easy to read and be chronologically, just fill the spaces. So, you know, there's no question about what you're doing.
Elizabeth? So I think, along with that, in addition to formatting would be typos. And so being consistent in terms of commas, dashes, things like that. So whatever format that you're deciding on, that you're consistent and have that consistency flow between sections.
Christie also mentioned this, but I think the number of bullets, I think it's hard to discern when you want to include everything, but it is important to say, these are the three or four things that I think are really important that will apply to law school, versus trying to list everything you might have done in a specific role. So some information might be figuring out what's important to you versus what's important to the law school. So figuring out what might be a little bit more insignificant and what might be most important.
And this is something not just for the resume, but for kind of any application, is thinking about that email address. So what email address are you putting on your resume, on your application? How will it reflect on you? So most people have school email addresses or work ones, or setting up a generic Gmail with your name and making sure it's something professional, because that's one of the first things they're going to see when looking at your resume.
Jill. One of the most common questions that I ask myself when looking at a resume is what are the dates that somebody was committed to something, and what were the, you know, what does this commitment look like? When somebody is, you know, very vague about the dates that they were participating in something. So whether it's just like a year, like 2018 to 2019, or if it doesn't have any dates at all, that makes me wonder why.
So if you can, you know, I recommend that students be a little bit more specific. You know, it's fine if you write spring semester or fall semester. If there is a full-time job that you did during school, please note that it's a full-time job because we'd like to see, how did you balance work with school? Maybe this did impact your GPA. So that type of information is helpful.
Something else that I think is helpful as well is, and this is especially for students that may have a STEM background, if there are any acronyms or terms that are very specific to your field, that we may not be familiar with, please just kind of spell it out in lay person terms for us.
I find that to be pretty helpful. You know, we're not familiar, even though we've reviewed a lot of different types of applications, we may not be familiar with the very specific type of lab that you're working on, or the acronym or shorthand term that you use in the military that you may use to describe something on your resume. So just keep that in mind, that you may need to spell things out for us.
Great, thanks. I would say something that I've been seeing recently is, I've had a couple of clients actually just completely leave things off of their resume just because they felt like they weren't there long enough. Maybe they worked an internship over the summer and they just thought, because it wasn't six months or more, that it wasn't substantial or it didn't matter.
And, you know, you don't want to lose the opportunity to tell us about your experience by leaving something off, when it, especially, you know, I've had folks leave off legal work experience and that's something that's extremely relevant to what you're doing when you're applying to law school.
I have been seeing a couple of hands raising, and we are going to have a question and answer period. It's going to be closer to the end of our program today, so I hope you'll hang in there with us and hang on to your questions.
The next question that I have is, you know, is it necessary to narrow down all of the experience someone has to a one-page resume? Elizabeth?
I think for the most part, yes. But it also depends, which is sometimes you'll get that depends on the school, depends on the individual applicant. So the first thing is follow the instructions. Some schools will say they want a one-page resume, and then you should absolutely just include a one-page resume.
I think the other question when thinking about how much additional value and additional and related experience that you might have, if you're thinking it's not a ton, but it just shows kind of timeline a little bit more, then I think potentially squeezing that down to include it still in a one-page resume.
But if you really do have substantial and extensive work experience, particularly if you're an older applicant, I think it is okay to use a two-page resume. But I would say, more often than not, if you're coming right from undergrad or just one to two years out, more than a one-page resume can sometimes feel excessive.
Admissions officers are reading everything, but we do try to read things quickly, because we're going through a lot of applications. So the more concise that an applicant can be in their resume, I think is really helpful that we're able to pull out the key things that you want to show us in promoting your application and why you might be a good applicant for our law school.
Anyone have anything to add?
Along those lines, I would say, so for the entire application, and this is kind of crushing to some people, I would say, on average, 7 to 10 minutes on the entire application. So the resume, you know, how much time is spent on that, maybe a minute, maybe a little bit longer, but so, that just goes to say a one-pager that highlights the most important things can often be most effective.
You know, again, if you feel, if you're an older applicant and there's a lot to include, maybe that justifies a longer-than-one-page resume. And obviously the instructions, if they allow more. But you don't want to use that to include those big block bullet points so that, you know, the effectiveness of your resume gets lost.
Great, thank you. If I don't have legal work experience, is it okay to put other jobs on my resume? Jill?
Absolutely. You don't need to have legal work experience to go to law school. And actually, this is something that I often say, and I'm glad that you talked about, Tajira, applicants feeling like they should not include things on their resume.
I often speak with applicants who feel like they don't want to put on the resume that they were a cashier during school, or, you know, that they worked in retail, because they feel like those skills aren't valuable or it doesn't relate to the law, and I couldn't disagree more. First of all, we understand that not every applicant has the financial means to take on an unpaid internship.
And so we'd like to see that you're just doing something. I'd rather have somebody include on their resume that they were a leader and that they were committed to their job working in retail or as a cashier than to have somebody put in information about an internship that they didn't really care about or that they weren't that involved in.
So I really, it's absolutely okay to put other jobs on your resume, even if it's not related to legal work experience. But just keep in mind, though, if you don't have legal work experience, it is helpful, you know, if you put somewhere else in your application, like in your personal statement, reasons for why you've thought carefully about law school and why this is the right fit for you.
That's great. Thank you, Jill. Go ahead, Christie.
I would say along those same lines, you know, I had an applicant who said, you know, I had so many different jobs in college and none of them are related to law. Should I include, like, for example, that I worked at Starbucks? And I said, definitely, and, you know, you don't have to list those out as separate entries in your resume.
You could say as one bullet point under your college extracurriculars that you worked at Starbucks and wherever else to help finance the cost of your education. You know, I think that's very helpful for admissions committees to know what you did with your time and that you were still able to excel in undergrad.
I 100% agree. A lot of times applicants don't think we do is, you know, if I have someone who's applying and they're a team lead, you know, somewhere in food service, I can glean from that that you can work with others, that you can be responsible for money, that you probably have great customer service skills, which means that you probably have a good amount of empathy.
There are things that we can glean from the skills that are required to do certain jobs that make it still relevant to us, because it gives us a sense of how you're going to operate on campus.
We've spent some time on resume, and so I think we're going to actually move on from there now. In considering whether an applicant should write a diversity statement, how would you define diversity? Elizabeth?
Sure. So I think defining diversity or kind of what constitutes being diverse, it can be challenging because there's not a ton of guidance for a lot of applications about what this means. So some factors to consider would be race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, educational background, physical abilities, potentially adversity that people might've had to overcome.
This certainly isn't a comprehensive list, but just kind of some examples. So I think when people are writing diversity statements, it's not just saying, here's why I think I'm diverse, but it's also being introspective about it, so that the law school admissions committee can get a better understanding of how an applicant's individual set of experiences has shaped the world view and how potentially that applicant will bring these perspectives to their incoming law school class.
Anything to add, Jill or Christie?
I think it can also be a great way to showcase your interest in a particular school. So if there is an affinity group that aligns to the diversity that you're talking about, feel free to make note of that in your diversity statement.
You know, note the student organizations or opportunities at the school that interest you because of your identity. Law schools really like to see that you are interested in contributing to the community once you attend their law school.
I would also add, a lot of times the things that make us diverse are often also the things that are motivating us and driving us to go to law school or to succeed in law school. And so, you know, tying these things together, that's a part of why we're here tonight, to talk about creating a cohesive application package.
Each different piece of your application is like a puzzle piece, and the more that you bring those things together and they layer upon each other, it creates a nice, clear picture for us about who you are, what's motivating you to come to law school, why now is the right time, and where you see yourself going, how you see yourself contributing to a law school community.
And so as you kind of think through utilizing different optional statements, you know, how does your diversity statement build upon your personal statement? If they're about the same thing, then you've lost an opportunity, but if you can take a facet of yourself that's a part of you that makes you you and gives you the perspective that you're going to bring into the classroom, that part really makes sense as your diversity statement. And then you can kind of utilize another story that's kind of proximate to your diversity statement, but not directly overlapping.
What does an admissions officer, and maybe I answered part of this, Elizabeth, but I'm going to still ask you the question anyway, what does an admissions officer hope to learn from a diversity statement?
Yeah. So I think you definitely touched on some of that already, Tajira. But I think we want to see how your background and experience has made you stronger, potentially, what you've learned from it, how you've gone through these different experiences or have this background that can be an asset to not only yourself, but also the community and the legal profession as a whole, knowing that people might look really the same on paper when it comes to numbers, but being able to glean some different information about an applicant that might not have fit within a personal statement.
So we're thinking about building classes, not simply on numbers, but diversity of experiences and backgrounds. And I think the diversity statement is a great way to get information that might not have a place in other parts of the application, but be able to make an applicant seem more whole, as we're doing this kind of holistic review process.
Great, thank you. Jill, what are addenda?
So addenda are optional statements that you can submit that will provide additional context to something on your application. So, for example, if you have quite a large jump in your LSAT scores, we may ask ourselves why, what happened there? And so you may let us know that you decided to use test resources provided by 7Sage or that your testing environment changed over the summer.
If there is a gap on your resume, feel free to let us know why. Perhaps you were traveling, perhaps you were injured or ill. The last thing we want is to be left with questions about an application. And so addenda are there to help provide the answers to any questions that admissions officers may have.
Anything to add, Elizabeth or Christie?
I think the only thing I might add with addenda is if there's a question mark anywhere in your application, that if you feel like an admissions officer might ask what happened here, and it's not somewhere in another place in your application, I think this is where an addendum could potentially be helpful.
Great. And so, with that, you mentioned taking the LSAT more than once and having a drastic jump. If I don't have a drastic jump but I did take the LSAT more than once, do I have to write an addendum? Christie?
No, I would say if there is no big jump, then it's not necessary, and you've taken it more than twice. I guess the only time maybe, I mean, even then, I would say no. If there's no discrepancy between the scores, then I would just leave it, leave it quiet, and because we can interpret what that is.
Also, you know, I always tell candidates, go into the LSAT with a mindset that you are only taking it once. I think that's a helpful mindset to go in because you want to go in feeling completely prepared.
But often that is not the case. Most candidates take the LSAT, I'd say, two times on average, two to three times maybe. So, you know, I would say, and this varies for each school, but I would say if you take the LSAT five times or more, we may ask ourselves some questions.
So if I've taken it five times, I should write an addendum then?
Again, it varies for each school, but it would be helpful, because if you've taken it five times and there's no change in scores, that's another question that I may be asking myself, you know, are they changing their test prep? What is their goal? Why are they taking it so many times? These are questions that I would be asking myself if I was looking at quite a large number of LSAT scores.
Great. Elizabeth, when is it best to write a GPA addendum?
I think there's several different circumstances where a GPA addendum might be helpful. I think if there's a pattern of Cs throughout a transcript, or Cs or lower, I think that's helpful to include, you know, why on these particular ones.
But I think if there's also trends, so if you had a rough start and then you took a little while to hit your stride, I think that's helpful to put it in context, but I also think there's a really fine line between an explanation and an excuse. So in writing a GPA addendum, making sure that you're just providing the facts and not trying to excuse away behavior, but, more so, saying this happened, here's how I learned and grew, and this is how it led me to be the student I am today.
One place where, and some of the consultants might disagree, sometimes we'll see people switching from pre-med to pre-law. For me, that doesn't necessarily require a GPA addendum. I can look at your transcript and I can get a really good sense, based on the number of applications I've read over the years, if someone has made that switch.
So if you have orgo and biochem or calc one semester, and then the next semester you're switching to political science courses, I understand that switch and also kind of take potentially lower grades for those pre-med classes into account without you including additional information in a written addendum.
Now, I know that at least one instance was mentioned, but are there other instances, outside of an LSAT jump or kind of a GPA dip or change, where it might make sense to go ahead and write the addendum and kind of proactively answer a question?
I think maybe this is the one you were thinking about, but a gap in your resume where it's not clear what you were doing for three months or more, you know, you might explain unusual circumstances, and some of the applications will actually ask you to or require you to write an explanation for any gap that's longer than three months.
Any others that come to mind, Elizabeth? Jill?
I was also thinking if you took some time off of school, but I think I mentioned this earlier, if there's any kind of question marks on an application, so gap in resume, just other kind of personal circumstances that you think might glean something, it's helpful to have all that kind of written in advance, where some schools, as Christie mentioned, will ask, is there a gap on your resume? Explain. Did you take time off of school?
So instead of kind of writing it on the fly, as you're filling out these applications, that you have everything prepared, and then you can discern in an individual application, okay, do I want to include this or that? Having it pre-written, so you feel like you're putting your best foot forward and answering all these questions on the applications.
And I completely agree. I think, you know, the hard part is, there's not a ton of time, as Christie mentioned, you know, we're reading through applications relatively quickly. There's not a lot of time to kind of go back to an applicant and ask them questions.
And so, as we're reading through these applications, if we're left with a bunch of question marks, it's really hard to get to a favorable decision. If you can proactively, you know, just kind of look at your application, think about, you know, okay, as they're reading through this, what might they have concerns about?
What might they be curious about? Where are the gaps, or are there any kind of holes here? If there are, those are good opportunities for you to kind of give us that context up front because the fewer questions that I have at the end, the easier it is for me to go ahead and make that favorable decision.
So the next question is about "Why this school?" statements. So some schools allow for "Why X school" statements. When would you advise an applicant to write one, or should everyone? Elizabeth?
I think if a school allows for it, you should write one. In a lot of cases, if they say it's optional, with the exception of maybe a diversity statement, I would say optional isn't really optional. But if a school doesn't ask for one, I think it's okay not to include one, that I would much rather spend time in the 7 to 10 minutes I have at an application reading through what we have asked for as an institution versus what the applicant is like, well, I'm going to throw this extra thing in.
So if a school says, "Why X?" they really want to know why you're interested in their specific school, what program, potentially clinics, alumni, faculty you're interested in. These "Why X" statements, they want to know that you've done the research and have a genuine interest in the school. But if a school doesn't ask for a "Why X" statement, I don't believe that you'll need to include one.
Jill? Yes, I agree with Elizabeth. Something that I want to note as well. You know, one of the biggest mistakes I see with the "Why X" statement is that candidates may often just tell us facts. "I want to go to X school because this clinic does this type of work." Well, we know that, but how do you want to be involved in it? What, you know, what kinds of things do you want to bring to your research with this particular faculty member? How will this tie into you?
Something else I think that can be helpful and that students don't often think about, you know, it is okay to include external reasons for one of the reasons why you want to attend a particular school. So, you know, if you have a spouse that has a job in the same city as this law school, feel free to include that information.
If you have family members there, if you are an ice skater and there is a particular ice skating rink that you will go to because it is close to this law school, you know, it is okay to include that information. Don't feel discouraged. Intrinsic and extrinsic factors are okay to talk about.
Christie? Yeah, I mean, I totally agree with all of that. I think the most important thing is you find out about the school, either, you know, hopefully you can visit, you can attend law school forums, you can talk with admissions officers, friends, alumni who go to or went to a particular school, and then you, it's really important for it to be genuine. And the way you do that is by tying it into the things that you love to do and what you can see yourself doing at the law school based on what you've done in the past or what you hope to do.
Those personal connections really do make a "Why X school" statement stronger, and, you know, if you're not able to visit campus, maybe you can do a virtual tour or maybe you can sit in on an info session.
All of the faculty is listed right on the website. If there's a specific program that you're planning on listing within your "Why X school" statement, is there a faculty member that you can reach out to, to talk about their research or how that particular program is impacting the local community?
There's ways for you to create personal connections to the schools that where you think that there's a really good fit, and seeing those personal connections helps a law school admissions officer see that you actually really have thought about how it fits, how you fit within their community and how you might contribute in the future.
So, in addition to diversity statements, "Why X school" statements, and addenda, some schools also offer their own optional essays to supplement applications. Does it look bad if I opt not to write any? Elizabeth?
I think that it does. Schools are asking for you to submit these optional essays because they want to make sure that you have a sincere interest in their school.
So again, if a school is asking for something, even if they say optional, with so many applicants out there who've taken the time to say, yes, I'm interested in this school, for me, if I was asking for something and someone decided not to do it, it would make me feel that my school wasn't as much of a priority as potentially other schools they're applying to.
Jill? Absolutely. And you know, you have limited real estate with a law school admissions application. So, you know, please take any opportunity that you have to showcase your writing skills, showcase your personality, and showcase your interest in that particular school.
Anything to add, Christie?
Along those same lines, I would say, you know, in order to show your personality, like some of these optional statements, I'm thinking of Columbia's fun facts and Georgetown's, one of the options is a top 10 list. I mean, that's a great way to showcase something else about your personality that they might not know, you know, so they can get a sense of who you are aside from your interest in law.
I will say, working at Columbia, the fun fact was always something that I made sure to read. It was always like a little, like a special treat to be able to read that part. And I was always, I always appreciated when somebody took the time to write a thoughtful fun fact.
I really want to drive home the point that, you know, these optional statements are extra opportunities. If a school is giving extra opportunities to learn more about you, take every opportunity that you have. If you think about, you know, the fact that law school is the start of your legal career, well, then your law school application, pretend that's your first case and you're the client, you know?
So are you going to really advocate on behalf of yourself by taking advantage of all of these opportunities to let them know who you are and what you're about? These statements really are meant to give a really clear picture. And so it, as I was saying earlier, these are just additional puzzle pieces that make the big picture even more clear.
And so my final question before we get to Q&A is for each of our panelists, and it is, is there any strategy that you recommend an applicant employ when deciding which optional statements to write? And I'll start with Christie.
So I would say a diversity statement, if you have a valid diversity factor, number one, and then just as you were saying, any optionals that allow you to show another side of your personality or background would be great. Another piece of the puzzle to show us, you know, the whole picture of who you are.
But in terms of tackling, like in terms of the order that I would go in, I would say personal statement, diversity statement, "Why X" essays, and then the other, maybe fun kind of.
Jill? Yes, I agree with that order as well. I touched on this in the beginning and it's included in the title because it's so important, but really having it be cohesive is something that I think is incredibly impactful.
So making sure that whatever is discussed in your statements are reflected in your letters of recommendation, the courses that you've taken, the organizations that you've been a part of, the work that you've done, your personal statement, your optional statements, your diversity statement can also tie into "Why X."
We just want to make sure that this is all a cohesive package and that it makes sense.
Great. Elizabeth? And I think along with that, you're also showing that through your application how you'll be successful as a law student. So I'm thinking of applications I've read where applicants have had a little bit of a checkered past, and that ties into their transcript and their GPA addendum.
And it's spelled out in the personal statement. And sometimes with these applicants, they spend so much time talking about what happened in their past that I lose a little bit of who they are today, where what I want to see, yes, I want to see that they've grown from their past and that's not who they are today, but sometimes I lose a little bit of how they're going to be a great law student because they spent more time explaining what happened in the past than who they are today will help them in the future, if that makes sense.
And so, again, making sure it's cohesive and well rounded, but also thinking about, how will this application show an admissions office that you're ready to kind of tackle the rigors of law school?
That's great. And I would add, you know, one of the things that we're always looking for as we're reviewing applications is to determine, after graduation, how is this person going to contribute to our community? Are they going to be somebody who sticks around and, like, really is ingrained within our community, they're going to volunteer or they're going to mentor, they're going to donate.
They're going to do any number of ways that they can kind of contribute, whether that is in hiring later on, whether that is in, you know, really being a part of and helping to build programs or even come back and teach. Has this applicant thought about the different ways in which they intend to really submerse themselves in a specific campus community when they're talking about fit?
All of those things really play a part. And the other great thing about optional statements are, you know, as an admissions officer, like you can see how much effort someone puts into an application when they're doing all of these optional statements, when they're taking all of those opportunities and really running with them versus the person who, you know, just kind of gives you the bare minimum.
There's no way to really know then with that person, are they really serious? Because they didn't necessarily show me that in their application. So I'm going to leave that there and we're going to get to our question and answer period. But first I would love to thank my panelists, Elizabeth, Jill, and Christie. Thank you so much for your answers and for your candor tonight. I think this has been a really fun conversation.
We're going to open it up to questions. And so, with that, I will bring up our first person. And it looks like I'm bringing up Tanisia.
My question is when it comes to the "Why X" statements, I know some schools will ask for them and I wanted to know, because a lot of other schools, they, in the personal statement, they'll like a small, maybe like a tidbit of why you want to go to that school.
So in the event that a school asks for a "Why X" statement, should you still include that small tidbit in the personal statement?
Elizabeth? So I think that if a school is asking for a separate "Why X" essay, if you're potentially providing different information for both, you could, although I think I would err more on just including a"Why X" and not including the tidbit, but if you are including something about why you want to go to a law school in your personal statement, I urge you to make sure it's cohesive.
Sometimes I'll read a personal statement, and it's a really strong statement. And then at the very end, they throw in a paragraph about, "and I want to go to this law school because," and it almost takes away how impactful the personal statement is because they threw something in at the end that doesn't quite fit.
So just make sure it's cohesive if you're adding it at the end. But if a school is asking for a "Why X," I don't necessarily think you'll need it in both places.
Great. Does that answer your question, Tanisia?
Yes. Thank you so much.
Okay. And so the next person I'm going to bring up is Nathaniel.
Hi, thank you so much for taking my question, and thank you for all this great advice. So my question is about a resume addendum due to COVID. So I'm assuming lots of people, or I guess law schools understand, you know, that people may have been unemployed for more than three months due to COVID. And I just wanted to know if you all thought it would be a good idea to submit an addendum for that.
Yes, so I would say, hopefully you can say what else you did during the time when you could not find a job. Yeah, so I think it would be if you have something that you can point to, that you did productively with your time, yeah, I mean, I would say yes, that would be something that I would like to know. Hopefully you were not just doing nothing, even if it was just reading interesting books that got you more interested in, you know, XYZ, I think it would be helpful to know.
Thank you, Nathaniel. Okay, I'm bringing up Jaylin.
Hi, my name is Jaylin. Thank you for hosting this event. It's very helpful. My question is, in addition to the traditional three-year program, some schools also offer an accelerated two-year JD program for foreign law school students.
If I qualify for both and I want to apply both simultaneously, will this hurt my application, because I'm concerned they will think my goals are too big. Thank you.
Any panelist. So, you know, just speaking based on my experience with Cardozo, I know they have a two-and-a-half-year program or a three-year program. You can start in May versus starting in September. With that program, you had to decide which one you were going to apply to. You could not apply to both.
But I don't know the specifics, if it's the case that you can apply to both at the same time with Pepperdine, then I don't think it would affect your chances. You know, you're just saying, I would do either program and I'm happy to do either program because I really want to go to your law school.
But I would definitely check in with Pepperdine or whatever school that has separate programs like evening versus daytime programs, whether you can apply to both simultaneously.
Sometimes the application itself will limit you. It depends. So I worked at Southwestern and they had a two-year accelerated program, but their application cycle was completely different than the standard JD application cycle.
And so for Pepperdine, it may be that they're both on one application and you can rank. If they're separate applications in the LSAC system but the application period is open at the same time, you're actually only going to be able to submit one of those applications. That's a rule in their system. So I would get clarification specifically from Pepperdine about their application.
Thank you for answering my question.
Thank you so much for joining us. And next I am bringing up Dalia.
So my question is I'm a minority and, obviously, being a minority on these type of applications is like a big flag. But my question is, with regards to your diversity statement and your personal statement, where do you draw the line with, like, I'm a minority, so I've been through, like, crap in the South. Where do you draw the line with regards to that specific thing? So like, obviously, diversity statement is like hardship, but for personal statement, how do you separate that?
So, no one is saying that you have to separate these things out. When it comes to your personal statement, can it be about an experience that you had that you experienced simply because of your background? Absolutely. However, when you're trying to create a cohesive application, you're trying to build one thing on another.
And so, like, your diversity statement then can still be about you being diverse, but maybe instead it gives a picture of what it looks like with your family seated around the table or something that is important in your culture. It doesn't have to necessarily touch on the same facet of your diversity in the same way.
And so, like, when you're kind of thinking about these things, your personal statement, you're either telling a story or you're giving us anecdotal information, or you are providing law schools with kind of a lengthier version.
And so, you know, while your diversity is 100% a part of you at all times, you have different facets to you as a person, and you have tons of stories to tell. And so it's just a matter of determining, okay, when it comes to my personal statement, I think I want this one to be about this.
And then for my diversity statement specifically, because I want to talk about the perspective I'm bringing to the classroom, I want to talk about, you know, how my family does this together, and it's important to us because this, and I intend to bring that with me through law school and find others who, hopefully find others or create community even where there is none. And that looks like something because I also built that community while I was in college, et cetera. Does that make sense?
Yes. Yeah, it does.
Okay, good. I'm going to bring up one more, and then for anybody else, please go ahead and ask us questions on Twitter. Our account is 7Admissions and use the hashtag 7SageonCH. So the last question is for Cindy.
Hi, I'm Cindy. Thank you for doing this. It's been very helpful. So my question is I took the LSAT the third time in January, but I had a score dip. It was quite a large one, it was a five-point dip. I'm wondering if I should include an addendum explaining this, or it's actually not necessary since it's quite common to see those score dips if you take the LSAT several times.
Elizabeth. So a five-point dip is within a score band, generally. Most people score within like four to six points of when they're taking the LSAT. But I think if you're thinking about an addendum, you'll think about the reason why. So if there were circumstances that affected the LSAT performance, and there's been a lot of technical issues with the LSAT-Flex, if you were sick, things like that, I wouldn't potentially include an addendum.
But if there weren't other circumstances besides for you just happened to score a little bit lower that day, then I wouldn't necessarily include an addendum. Again, you're trying to provide an explanation of what happened and if you can't really have a circumstance for an explanation of it, then the addendum might fall a little flat.
Okay, but is retaking the LSAT again a better solution, since if I can bring my score back to my normal level, does that help?
I would have you think long and hard about taking it again because you can score higher, but you can also score lower. And so you need to be really, really, really confident that your score is going to improve.
But also know that that means that's yet another score that the admissions office is going to have to consider. Now, the highest score is the one that's reportable, but once you have, you know, a handful of scores, it becomes harder to discern which one is an accurate reflection of your abilities. And so you want to be really careful about continuing to retake.
Okay, thank you.
Thank you so much. And thank you to everyone who joined us this evening. Again, to my panelists, thank you so much for joining us this evening. You're wonderful. And everyone have a wonderful night. Thank you.
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.
My environment did affect me greatly at the time at a young age, and I realize that now, by owning it, it shows maturity. It shows that I have moved on from this and I'm willing to own it. And it's become part of my career trajectory. I want to help people in low-income communities and families and youth to have opportunities so this doesn't have to happen to other people.
Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, David interviews a student named Christian who had to change his approach to get into law school. Although Christian had high numbers, he was waitlisted or rejected from every school he applied to, two cycles in a row.
But after he got out in front of his character and fitness issues, he was admitted to Northwestern with a full ride. Okay. Here's the interview.
Christian, thanks for joining me today.
It's a pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Yeah, so I know that this was not your first cycle, and I'm wondering if you can start by telling us about what happened before you applied this cycle and came to 7Sage.
Sure. Like you said, this is my third cycle, so I began applying to law schools during my senior year of undergrad. I was convinced that I was going to start right away because I had such a high GPA and I had a decent LSAT score. I was a little too overconfident, actually, thinking that that alone would get me in, and I thought I had a cool story.
But I ended up getting waitlisted at every school I applied to, which were most of the tier 14, during my first cycle. So that was a wake-up call for me that I needed to improve my application. I had a 168 LSAT and a 3.9 plus when I first applied.
And do you have a sense of what went wrong in the first two cycles?
I know now it was a combination of two things. One, I did apply kind of late, I didn't actually turn in all my applications until the beginning of January. That was mainly because I was waiting on letters of recommendation, which I didn't plan ahead for. But the second, probably more important part is I just was not communicating my story well. I didn't really know how to write a good personal statement or diversity statement.
I kind of, reading back at it now, it's kind of cringe-worthy because it was clear that I just did not know what the law schools really wanted to know about me or hear about me or how to present myself as an attractive candidate. I was saying good things about myself, but I just wasn't really expressing myself as one cohesive applicant. I was kind of all over the place, and I really think that was the main issue.
And what made you decide to work with a consultant? Did you realize this on your own?
Well, after my second cycle applying and still getting similar results, even though I tried redoing my essays on my own and there was an improvement, but it still wasn't good. I knew that my score was good, my LSAT scores. I knew my grades were great, and I felt that I had very good experience on my resume.
So I think that the issue had to be that I just wasn't presenting myself correctly and I wasn't going about the applications and the communication with the schools the right way, and it was clear that I just didn't know how to do it myself. And I didn't have many people that were going through law school that could give me pointers.
And it just seemed like if I really wanted to do this, I didn't want to quit. I wanted to get into one of these schools. And I knew I would have to work with a consultant that knew what they were doing.
So let's talk about how you ended up framing your story. Your personal statement was the centerpiece, as it usually is, and it is a version of a life story essay. I was wondering if you'd be willing to read us the first paragraph.
Sure. I'll just go right into it.
If my high school friends could meet me now, they would not recognize the man I have become. The most impressive things they had taught me to do by age 15 were riding a skateboard and weighing out drugs. Those friends were part of a string of bad influences I was exposed to growing up in a low-income neighborhood in Kissimmee, Florida.
Although my parents put a roof over my head, they taught me nothing about life and they did not surround me with people who did. They divorced when I was nine, and my dad's idea of father-son bonding at 14 was to take me to Vegas to watch him gamble at the poker tables. That's the first paragraph.
And then, Christian, would you mind summarizing the rest of the story?
Sure, so basically I feel I had a rough upbringing. I was going down a terrible path with drugs and the juvenile record and not doing very good in school, even though I feel I had potential. And the main point is I definitely came out of that. You know, I changed my life around at a young age. I went to a new school that would give me more opportunities and I really applied myself to graduate early and to become, in the community, something better.
I didn't want to be around negative influences. I became very involved in church and a youth ministry, and I did a lot of volunteer work just because it just was very fulfilling for me at the time. And I knew it was giving me a good purpose and was helping me to become a better person and to come out of the path that I was going on beforehand.
So that culminated in me excelling in school and doing my associate's degree at a somewhat of a community college in Orlando. And I eventually transferred to Harvard extension school with a scholarship. So that's not much of a summary, but I ended up becoming a congressional intern at 16. I ended up graduating high school and my associate's degree pretty early.
I had very great grades, and I chose to study government economics and ended up working in affordable housing research and development as a way to give back to low-income communities. And this was influenced from my upbringing and a low-income community and the issues that I faced, and I wanted to apply my education in a way that would help other youth and people in low-income communities.
So that's the gist of my personal statement, and it led to me in my current work now in affordable housing, but also in what I want to do as a lawyer and what I've stated I want to do as a lawyer, working in community development.
It's a great story. It's an inspiring story. Is this what you wrote about in your original personal statements?
It's been a while since I looked at it. I think I did. This was the gist of it. I just wasn't able to communicate it as well as I was able to in this essay. I was less direct on how my upbringing really was. I tried to kind of avoid the rough parts and focus more on the good, if that makes sense.
Yeah, that makes sense.
I did speak about wanting to help low-income communities with my education and in law, but I wasn't as specific as I was in my latest version.
Right. If you show us that you grew up in a low-income community, and if you show us how it affected you, it's so much more compelling when you tell us that you want to help other people in low-income communities.
Right. And I understood that only when I worked with consultants at 7Sage, and they helped me to realize all of that and to communicate it. Even though I had the story, my life didn't change during my cycles of applying. I gained some more experience with work, but my story remained the same. It's just now I was able to communicate it correctly and effectively.
Let's go to the turning point in your essay. That's paragraph three. Would you mind reading that as well?
Sure. Everything changed when I was 15. Kicked out of high school because of a drug charge, I'd spent the night in a juvenile detention center. As I lay on that cot contemplating life, I knew deep inside I could be so much more than what society and my environment were trying to make of me. After I was released, I knew I had to take some drastic measures.
With nobody guiding me, I found my way to a public charter school, out of necessity, and church, out of a spiritual responsibility, where I found positive role models who changed my entire outlook on life and my future.
This essay is really successful because there's such a clean before and after. And I don't know if every essay has to follow this model, but you do make it really easy to understand your story and to summarize it, which in turn makes it more memorable by giving us this joint. Here's where everything changed. Tell me how you arrived at this structure.
Well, in my life there was a period where it was kind of a clean break from the past. It did happen quickly.
Did you know that this would be the turning point of the essay when you started writing it?
No, no. I mean, it was all developing. I mean, I guess I'd kind of had to pick a spot that would help to communicate exactly the before and after. There were several points I could have used to do that. I just felt this one was able to communicate the before and after the most clearly, while remaining true to my actual story.
You know, and the consultants that helped me to pull that together, but I just thought this was an actual turning point for me. And this was a moment within a period that, as a whole, was a turning point for me.
Do you remember how many drafts you did on this one?
Oh my goodness. Dozens.
Oh my God. Dozens?
In fact, we started two or three drafts and then completely scrapped the whole thing and started all over.
With the consultants, and Sarah and Selene were totally there for me in making this. They did not hesitate to just start all over if we needed to. And that's exactly what we did. And we really did go through dozens, I can show you the emails. There's a lot of back and forth.
And even when I thought it was done and it couldn't get any better, we still had dozens of drafts left to go after that. And I really thought we were done so many times, and we really weren't. No, it got better every time.
Wow. Yeah, that's the thing about writing. You can always make it a little bit better. So you wrote this personal statement and you, finally, dozens of drafts later, came to the end. How did you approach the diversity statement?
I had already written diversity statements in the past that tried to capture the essence of what the new one arrived at. I wanted to communicate more about my background and it really was just building off of the personal statement. I almost put things in my diversity statement that I just couldn't fit in my personal statement.
And it was meant to complement the personal statement and not be a whole separate thing entirely, if that makes sense. It was just adding more context to the parts of my background that spoke about coming from a low-income community and family and being a first-generation student without much guidance.
And I spoke about that in my personal statement, I just was able to elaborate more on it in my diversity statement, so it complemented the personal statement.
Would you mind reading the first paragraph of the diversity statement?
Sure. Two weeks before graduating from college, I bought my first car. This was almost as symbolic of progress in my life as the degree. In south Orlando, cars are a necessity. Neighborhoods are sprawling and the heat is brutal. For years, I had only the scarce public bus to rely on. I would ride it to my charter high school, then to the community college where I was dual enrolled, then to church, and finally back home at 10 p.m. I often fell asleep against the bus window with a book open on my lap while trying to keep up with my class readings.
It's a great first sentence. It's simple, and it's not immediately evident why we should care that you bought your first car, except that you're putting it in that place of importance. Talk to me about the beginning. How did you choose to start here?
Because to me, not having had a car, living in south Atlanta, everybody has a car. Everyone has a car or their parents buy them a car. Or a teenager, they buy one immediately. It was just, to me, was such a big deal for me. It made everything so much tougher for me just getting around.
And it was clear to me every day, hey, I am not coming from a wealthy background. It was clear to me every day I took that bus where it was less normal to take the bus here than somewhere else. That being low-income was a big part of my upbringing. And again, it was just an example that highlighted, hey, I'm coming from a low-income first-generation background.
And this seems like a simple way to communicate that, and a clear and honest way to communicate that without being too, I guess, dramatic or gimmicky.
Yeah, it's not gimmicky at all. I'm going to have you read the second paragraph too because you do something that I think works so well and is so smart, and I think that other people would really benefit from just listening to you do it. So go ahead and read that second paragraph, if you don't mind.
Okay. When I transferred to Harvard, I often felt like an imposter because I was a first-generation student from a lower-income background. The community felt worlds away from my hometown, yet because of the extra difficulties I faced while working my way up, I had a unique perspective that my classmates found valuable. I often informed our discourse on poverty, class, and opportunity from the viewpoint of a first-generation student looking through a window on a public bus.
In my urban policy class, I could speak firsthand to the importance of affordable housing located along transit routes and the opportunities that afforded me. I told them about how I was able to get ahead by attending a public charter school instead of my overcrowded, underfunded regional high school. My anecdotes supported and complemented the data and research we were discussing in class.
In another course that focused on peer-to-peer discussions on social issues and class relations in the United States, I was always prepared with personal anecdotes that helped to shed light on issues of economic mobility for low-income Americans.
What I love about this is that you give examples of how you contributed to the discussion in class. I feel like so many students say, or at least imply, that they're going to add a new perspective to class discussions given their diversity, but you actually show us how you've done that. And that's why it works so well in my opinion.
Yeah, and I've got to say, I mean, again, my story never changed. All this information was always there. It existed as part of my life, but I just wasn't able to piece it together. I mean, I've got to say Sarah and the consultants really helped me to find these anecdotes and to know to include these anecdotes, that they would help my argument that I'm trying to present in my diversity statement.
And I didn't think to include all of these in my last two cycles. It was only in this recent cycle that I was able to realize this with the help of the consultants.
So let's back up. When you started working with the consultants, probably before you drafted any of these new essays, you must've been wondering whether you were reaching too high, whether you should apply to the same schools, whether you should totally change your approach.
And I was hoping you could just make us privy to some of those discussions, if you can remember them. What was the conversation like at the beginning, and how did you decide to reapply to these schools that had rejected or waitlisted you before?
Yeah, so it's funny. My first meeting with Selene and Sarah, I was convinced I only want to go to Harvard and Columbia, and Selene was like, okay, well, just in case, what other schools do you want to go to?
I mean, which was realistic because, you know, I didn't make it into those schools, and previous cycles only was waitlisted. But I did open up my mind more about which schools and what my goals really were, and which schools could help me to accomplish that. And, you know, there's not just one school. There are multiple schools that could have helped me to achieve my goals.
So, definitely advice from Selene and Sarah, where their advice was pivotal to me expanding my horizons and applying to more schools, even to think about schools that weren't even on my radar beforehand. Like, I had never applied to Northwestern. I had never thought about Northwestern as a school.
You know, Chicago was just, seemed distant to me. I had no ties to Chicago. But I started to think about it with Selene's advice, and I realized, you know, that actually, Northwestern's an amazing school. I could apply there, and it could be one of the schools I applied to, and I could probably achieve my goals there just as much as I could at some of these other schools I was applying to.
And it wasn't just Northwestern. It was other schools I applied to as well, like Georgetown, which I had not applied to in previous cycles. But yeah, Sarah and Selene helped me to broaden my horizon of target schools.
Zoom out one more time. Can you talk about how your different essays fit together?
The diversity statement was very much an extension of my personal statement and speaking more about my low-income, first-generation background that I couldn't really go into detail on in the personal statement because of space requirements, you know, length requirements of the personal.
But the personal statement was supposed to tell the full, my background growing up, the pivot point, my academic interests, and how I came to want to go to law school and how what I want to do with my law degree fits in with my life story and makes it all one cohesive story. And I accomplish all that in the personal statement, whereas the diversity statement emphasizes more parts of my background of low-income and first-generation that really does fit the criteria of diversity and bringing diverse perspectives to the law school community.
My character and fitness statement, out of necessity, I needed too, because of my juvenile background, my juvenile record. I had to disclose some information about charges, but what I never thought to do before, which I thought was brilliant, that Sarah and Selene helped me to do, was to turn that into an essay.
Before, I had it as just a list of things that had happened and that I did as a teenager, but they helped me turn it into an essay that shed further light on my environment growing up, and you know, why did this happen? And to own what happened and to not shy away from it while making clear, obviously, this is part of my past, not my present or my future, but to make it almost part of my personal diversity statement.
Let's turn to that. You don't have to answer this question if you don't want to, but in vague terms, what kind of character and fitness issues did you have to disclose?
I mean, I had two domestic battery charges from when I was 13 and 14 years old and also had a possession of cannabis and possession of drug paraphernalia. So those are four charges that I had as a juvenile. And I was 13, 14, 15 years old when these happened, you know, I had to do a teen court program, I was on probation for a period of time at a young age. So those were the issues I had to disclose.
And tell me more about what you mean when you say you worked them into an essay.
Well, I didn't just give a list in this most recent version of my applications that I had help formulating from 7Sage. It wasn't just a list of what happened and dates and times. I mean, it was that, and I was very blunt with what happened, but also I gave more context on what happened. Like, hey, this is my family environment, here's what was happening with my family and me at the time.
And it's by no means an excuse for my behavior. And at no point did I make this an excuse, but I did want to give context of my upbringing and how, of course, I apologize and I've moved on from this, but this is part of my upbringing. My environment did affect me greatly at the time at a young age.
And I realize that now, by owning it, it shows maturity. It shows that I have moved on from this and I'm willing to own it. And it's become part of my career trajectory. I want to help people in low-income communities and families and youth to have opportunities so this doesn't have to happen to other people. So I kind of worked it into my career trajectory.
Let's talk about your timeline. When did you manage to get all these applications in?
I believe I had them all submitted around November, for the most part. Maybe one stayed until December, it wasn't until December that I submitted. But I had most of it completed, most of the essays completed earlier on when the applications opened up, but we were taking our time to go through draft after draft and make sure each application was perfect before actually submitting it.
And how long did you have to wait to get some good news?
Oh, I didn't receive my first decisions until February, I believe. Late February. That was early February that I got the decision from Northwestern, which was the first decision I received. And then, I believe, at the end of February, I received a notification that I got the full tuition scholarship. So yeah, till February.
Tell me about that period of waiting.
Oh my goodness. Well, I was trying to remain active. I did have some resume updates at the time, so I did send an updated resume, I believe, in January to all the schools, but besides that, it was just a whole lot of waiting and stressing and hoping for the best. You know, it was my third cycle applying.
I had gone through an LSAT retake. I'd gone through the help of consultants and I was just really hoping that this was all worth it. So it was very stressful, but it ended up surpassing my expectations.
What did you do when you got the good news from Northwestern first, that they accepted you?
When they first accepted me, I was very, very happy. That was actually my first acceptance at a tier 14 in my three years of applying. So I thought that was amazing news. Because I got one acceptance, it just made me excited that I would get more acceptances and perhaps scholarships at other schools. I wasn't rolling over in joy just yet.
I wanted to wait until the other schools got back to me. It wasn't until I received news of the full tuition scholarship at Northwestern that I just broke down crying. You know, it really validated my years of work and all that time and effort and money spent, trying to create perfect applications.
That is fantastic. So have you moved yet?
No, no. I have a few weeks left before I move to Chicago. I have my lease signed and I'm so excited to start at Northwestern.
Ah, so exciting, Christian. What are you going to do with yourself for the rest of the summer?
Well, there's a lot of logistics with the move, but I'm still working on affordable housing development and I'm just trying to relax and gear myself up mentally to go into law school with the right mindset and do a bit of focus, you know, saying goodbye to friends and family, and working some, but enjoying myself in the meantime. I know it's going to be a very busy time during 1L.
I want to end with some advice for other people. Can you take a moment to think about the difference between your first two applications and then your third batch of successful applications, and try to extract something that might be useful for other people who may be feeling discouraged or just anxious?
I would say really think deeply on who you are as a person, what your story really is, and what really drives you. Don't come up with something that you think the admissions committees want to hear, you know, but think of what is actually genuine to you and what's special to you. It doesn't have to be a crazy out-of-the-world story, but be as genuine and deep as possible.
And I think once you figure that out, it should flow much more naturally, you know, the examples and the story you're going to put together of yourself. It's going to be much more impactful and genuine and believable and relatable to an admissions committee. I think they have a more open mind than we might think.
Thanks for your great advice, Christian, and thanks for talking to us.
It was my pleasure. Thanks for having me.
Hi everyone. It's J.Y. again. Thanks for listening. If you're prepping 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.