The BriefA Blog about the LSAT, Law School and Beyond
A lot of people treat their law school applications like a long-distance race: they lope along, fiddling with their essays, and then sprint at the end.
These applicants have it backwards. You should sprint at the beginning, drafting your personal statement and other essays quickly, then slow down at the end. Why? Because you have nothing to lose but time at the beginning; you have everything to lose at the end.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. My name is J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, we'll be hearing from David Busis and Selene Steelman. David, as many of you know, runs 7Sage Admissions Consulting. Selene is on our team as well as an admissions consultant.
David's a graduate of Yale and the Iowa Writer's Workshop. His fiction and nonfiction writing has appeared in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and won national awards as well. Before joining 7Sage, David taught writing at the University of Iowa and was admitted to Harvard and Yale Law School.
Selene is a graduate of Swarthmore College and has a JD from Cardozo School of Law where, for the last 14 years, she evaluated JD and LLM applications as a member of the admissions committee. She also directed LLM admissions where she admitted and welcomed 27 new classes of students from over 25 countries.
Two episodes ago, you heard David and I talk about how to put together a strong application with an emphasis on writing a compelling personal statement. In the conversation that follows, Selene gives us a behind-the-scenes look at the admissions process from an admission officer's perspective. David, the floor is yours.
David: Hi, everyone, I'm David Busis. I am a member of 7Sage's Admissions team, and I am here with Selene Steelman. Hi, Selene.
Selene: Hi, David. Hi, everybody.
David: So Selene, I was hoping that we could pick your brain about the entire admissions process, which is such a mystery to people as they're applying.
Selene: I'd be happy to share with you any information that I have, with the caveat that every admissions office operates in a slightly different way. In my 14 years working at Cardozo, I was able to meet and speak with colleagues from various different institutions, and I was always amazed at the variety of setups that schools had in terms of who reported to who and how admissions offices were run, who sat on the admissions committees, who reviewed applications at what stage.
And so, I would be happy to share with you my experiences working at Cardozo, but it may be slightly different at other law schools.
David: Duly noted. So, yeah, let's talk about your experience. If I am an applicant submitting to Cardozo and I hit the button and my application goes into space, what on earth happens on the other side? I would love it if you could just walk us through the entire process from your end in as much detail as possible. We want to know all the wonky details, like whether you print out the applications or read them on a computer screen, how you decide which application to read first, how you even learn that a new application is submitted, so no detail is too small.
Selene: Okay. So when an applicant presses submit on the LSAC website, it takes anywhere up to two weeks to process all of that paperwork, up to two weeks to process a transcript, and maybe a week to process a letter of recommendation or any new item that they receive. So that all happens at LSAC in Newtown, Pennsylvania, and we in the admissions office don't actually see anything until that information is swept into our database on our computers.
And so LSAC sweeps new information that they receive on a regular basis throughout a day, so that a school does not have to affirmatively request any new information. As long as information is sent to LSAC, they will process it and pass it along to us. In our office, the back office support staff would organize the information that came in to our database, and then based on a strategy that is put together by our dean of admissions, different readers are assigned different buckets of files.
So one person would be in charge of, you know, files with scores from this to this number, and maybe you have a person who is in charge of the high end, the middle end, and then the low end. You may have a person who's in charge of international files. You may have a person who's in charge of all the diversity files. It really depends. And based on what the strategy is for that going year, the readers, the members of the admissions committee would have sort of sat down and decided, this is what we're looking for this year, and this is the approach that we're going to take.
And each year it's a little bit different, which I know is frustrating for candidates to hear, because maybe if you're applying two years in a row, you might get a different result for each of the years, and you're like, well, you know, it's the same school. Why is it different? It's because each office sort of plans a new strategy before they start reading files. And so, as a reader, you would get assigned a flight of files and you start reading them.
When I first started, all of our files or applications were paper, so we just had giant folders in our office, and when it was the height of reading season, we would drag these folders around in rolly bags or in backpacks or shoulder bags, and we would take them to our house and then back to the office. We would have reading weeks where, you know, people would read from home because we needed to concentrate.
And then gradually, as the world became more digitized, people started reading on screens. So by the time that I left Cardozo, everything was read on the computer or on an iPad, or even on your phone, you could, it's a little hard to read. But all the review was done electronically for JD applications at Cardozo, which was interesting because my LLM applications continued to come via paper. It was maybe 75% digital and 25% paper.
And I have to admit that the reading process is different because you can hold, you know, pieces of paper in your hand, and if you read something in one document and you want to verify it in another document, you can put them side by side and flip through it. And the process is different, I have to admit, but we have access to all the same information, and I know there are some LLM programs that absolutely require you to submit applications to LSAC, so all the application files they receive from LSAC are digital.
So you read them digitally. It helps if you've got two computer screens, so you can view documents side by side. You take notes and then you make evaluations that way, and you make decisions, admit, deny, hold, waitlist. You know, how aggressive or how lenient you are going to be depends on the time of year during the application cycle, based on the admissions office's strategy for the year.
Then, if necessary, the members of the admissions committee would get together and discuss the files. If there are any questions, you may get other members of the administration involved. And in terms of how much time you spend on each particular file and, you know, all those essays that people have labored over for so many hours, we try to spend about 10 minutes on each file, maybe less.
David: Wow. All that work, hours and hours, weeks and weeks of work, distilled down to 10 minutes.
Selene: Yeah. Which is why I think putting in the effort beforehand is so important, because, you know, if a resume is hard to read because of formatting or because of font size, you know, you just kind of don't spend that much time on it. And if a personal statement is really hard to get through, then you don't spend that much time on it.
And, unfortunately, what happens then is that, you know, it's easier just to look at a file for the hard facts, which are the numbers, right? The GPA and the LSAT, which I think is too bad because, you know, people are so much more than just those two numbers, and the quality of a law student is determined by so much more than those numbers.
So, I think, visually and substantively preparing the rest of the application in a way that is most pleasing to the eye and, you know, as you read it definitely helps during the review process.
David: Yeah, I tell all of our applicants to submit on chocolate-scented paper.
Selene: Well, that would be sent to LSAC, and so they would enjoy that, but the readers, the admissions readers, wouldn't get it. You know, the chocolate smell doesn't come through digitally. But, you know, in the same way, if you do something that's going to turn off someone, you know, you have just a few seconds to make a good or a bad impression. So, you know, you, I think it would be good for the candidate to realize that you have one chance to make a good impression, and so you have to be very conscious of all the different parts of your application.
David: That was an incredibly helpful overview, and I feel like we could spend the rest of the hour unpacking each part of what you said. So I want to back way up, to the fact that schools formulate their strategies at the beginning of the admission cycle. And I'm wondering, what's the goal of the strategy, first of all? Is it simply to raise the school's U.S. News and World Report ranking? Or is it something else?
Selene: I think ranking has something to do with it. It could be financial. It could be that, you know, in the prior year, you had a class that was much larger or much smaller than you expected, and so whatever you did the prior year, if you don't want to end up with the same situation, then you're going to have to tweak it a bit, tweak your approach so that you don't end up duplicating that problem.
It's a delicate process because you can't really predict the behavior of the applicant pool, which is dependent on so many things, the economy, world events, you know, just things in the air. I was fortunate enough to be in law school admissions, I entered when it was the boom time, and then I saw what happened during the recession, and then, you know, as the legal market in New York at least started to sort of stabilize and come back to where it was before.
But still, people weren't behaving in the same way in 2016, 17, 18 as they did back in 2004, 2005. And so you have to adjust your approach every year, depending on sort of how you feel like other schools are behaving and how you anticipate the applicant pool to behave. And it's a delicate thing that the dean of admissions has a lot of responsibility for.
David: And let's say that you're looking at two applicants and one has, I don't know, a 160, a 160, and the other has a 170, and let's say that your target median is a 160. Because that first applicant with the 160 hits the median, are you basically indifferent to those two LSAT scores, or are you still going to prefer the 170 LSAT score? Or alternatively, are you going to be more worried about the 170, you know, leaving and going to a higher-ranked school, and so maybe you even prefer the 160? Based on the numbers alone, obviously.
Selene: There's a little truth in all of that. There's a little truth in all that, in that you would not want to put all of your hopes on the 170 if your median is a 160, because that 170 is going to be a target for some other school above you with higher medians. You know what I mean? So you, you know, you, maybe you admit that 170 with a lot of incentives and hope that's sufficient enticement for them to stay, and that will help bump up your median a little bit.
David: Is yield protection real? Are there cases where you might just not admit the 170 because you don't think that you can or want to offer financial incentives and you just don't trust that they would go to your school?
Selene: I think it depends on what the strategy is and how aggressive that that dean wants to be.
David: Let's go back to the fact that these files are distributed to different people and everyone has their own beat. So somebody might have, I don't know, high-number people, someone might have low-number people, et cetera. Are all of these files read and then decided upon as soon as they come in? Because, you know, from where we're sitting, it seems like very strong applicants often hear faster, and applicants who are, you know, below median or right at the cusp have to wait a much longer time.
Selene: Well, depending on the approach of the admissions office for that year and whatever directives a reader has been given, and let me just back up a little bit and say, you know, in my experience, our office, the files were divided in that way, but in another office, you know, maybe one person gets, you know, a handful of files from each of the different levels. You know, it really depends.
But, yeah. So you're given directives to say, okay, make decisions, or, you know, if you see this, this, and this, then, you know, this year we're going to try to use a lot of holds, you know, because let's just see what happens. And other years it's like, you know, let's just aggressively waitlist because we don't know what's going to happen, so let's just, you know, let's see how this plays out.
Once an application is considered complete and is assigned to a reader, then, for us, at least, the readers knew that they had a certain number of files to get through a week, and depending on what other work you had to do and what other responsibilities you had, you might save them all till the very last day that you have to complete them by, and then read them all at once. And others might distribute them a couple, you know, each day or a couple every hour.
And then once you make a decision, the poor candidate doesn't hear until the office decides when to send out notifications, right? And notifications could come by mail or by email, depending on how the office works, and, you know, the office can decide, let's send out all the notifications every, at the end of every week or at the end of every two weeks. That is a decision that they have to make as well.
So it could be that you have a whole stack of applications that have already been read and the decisions have been made, but students aren't notified because it's a big production for all the admissions administrators to, you know, process the decisions and process the paperwork and process the emails and get the notifications out.
You know, if someone has to wait a while to get some sort of decision, it could be because the admissions committee was really thinking about this candidate's file and they were discussing it, the pros and cons, and really weighing it and taking their time. Or it could just be that, at this point in the application cycle, they're not letting people know at the end of every day.
David: Is there a strategic element to the timing of those notifications or are the notifications delayed just because it takes a long time to stage these big emails?
Selene: I couldn't say whether it was strategic. I know that at the end of an admission cycle, when, you know, it's getting close to orientation and you want to make quick decisions, decisions can be made in a matter of hours, you know, and if you really want to get ahold of someone to let them know, you'll get a telephone call. Right? So early on, I think it really depends on how an office is run, and I'm not sure that you can do a whole lot of tea leaf reading early on as a candidate to say, well, they must like me because XYZ or they hate my file because ABC, right? It's just, each office is run differently.
And when you do send out notifications, you just want to make sure that you send out the right notifications, and that, you know, there have been stories of incorrect notifications being sent out by email, you know, and that's when everybody has a hot flash and you're like, oh my goodness. Let's be very, very careful.
So I know that at Cardozo, we still used paper admit letters, and I used paper admit letters plus digital copies. Like I would send admit letters on paper in the mail, and I would send a PDF by email just to make sure that people were notified quickly, but they also had a hard copy.
David: In your experience, does each reader have total discretion about whether it's an admit, a deny, or a waitlist?
Selene: You always have more than one person who reads a file. I think it depends on the office. I've had the pleasure of working under two different deans of admission, and my first dean, whatever file I read, we would sit down and talk through each one, and if I had any reservations, I would tell him what they were. Maybe he would review the file. Maybe he'd say, let's get the dean of students to review this file and see what he or she has to say.
Or, you know, we should talk to the dean about this file because you might have some really positive things and also some slightly wonky things. But there are other files that were just much more straightforward, and so you could just make a decision yourself.
David: What kind of applications are the hardest to make decisions about?
Selene: In my experience, the hardest applications were the ones where the numbers would tell you one thing, but everything else in the application would say something else. Maybe the GPA would be very, very good, but maybe the undergraduate institution is not that prestigious, so you wonder to yourself, would they really be able to handle the academics at a law school?
And maybe the LSAT is just not that strong, but boy, their personal statement is just fantastic and everything else about their application, their letters of recommendation and their resume, and they just seem like really, like a really interesting, good person, like you'd want to be their friend. And you would call that person in and have an interview, and everybody would say, let's meet this person and see how they are.
And then, you know, you could have a situation where everybody who interviews this person completely falls in love with the person and you say, oh, can we, this person totally belongs here. Can we absorb their numbers? And, you know, depending on how the year goes, you know, you might put them on hold and maybe you can make their day and have them come. Those are the hard ones.
David: Yeah. How often does it happen where you just really like an applicant based on everything she wrote, but you're not sure if you can absorb the numbers, and then you find a way to do it?
Selene: How often does that happen? I can count on my hands. I can count on my hands because it's really hard. It's really hard. And, you know, you can go up to bat for the person and try to justify to the rest of the committee, you know, there are people who just don't test well. Right? But that doesn't mean that they can't be good lawyers and they can't be great law students.
And then, you know, depending on how compelling they find the total application and how well you advocate for them, then you might hear, but the bar exam is a standardized test. And, you know, if they can't pass the bar exam, then that's just not going to end well. So that, you know, this might be an otherwise great candidate, but maybe they don't belong at this law school. So you do what you can.
David: You referred to a budget for financial aid. Can you explain what that means?
Selene: There's a budget for how much merit scholarship you have available to bring in a class for a year for a certain cycle.
David: What's this number like? Are we talking a couple hundred dollars, a couple million?
Selene: It depends on the school and the program.
David: Got it. And how do you decide who gets these merit scholarships?
Selene: The admissions committee has a strategy, a plan at the beginning of the cycle, and then you sort of adjust as you go along. I think the first deposit deadline tells you a lot about how that year is going to play out.
David: And how can an applicant maximize her chances of getting more scholarship aid other than raising her LSAT score or her GPA?
Selene: Well, I think a candidate can maximize their chances of getting merit scholarship if they apply strategically to law schools. Right? So depending on your number pairing, I think the 7Sage approach of applying to a handful of safeties, a handful of targets, and a handful of reaches is actually great because it's become quite a thing for candidates to play the market.
One school is willing to offer a certain amount, so you can take that amount and you can go to other schools and say, I was offered this amount from this school, but I really would like to come to your school. Can you help me? What do you think of this? And this is something that we were seeing more and more of, of students sort of seeing what their market value is.
And also for people on the admissions committee to sort of see what is this candidate's market value, right? And if you hadn't made a decision at that point, your view might be colored a little bit by knowing these other offers of admission and awards are out there.
David: In other words, someone could come to you and say, you know, I really like you guys. I haven't heard from you yet, but this other school, which is a peer school, not only admitted me but offered me a lot of money. Are you saying that might influence you?
David: Even though it means the applicant is more expensive?
Selene: That applicant has been given a certain value, I guess. And so it helps sort of place them. It helps position them against the rest of the applicant pool and also lets you know, oh, so this year, that particular school thinks that this type of candidate is worth this much. Right? And so if you're savvy, then you can sort of make decisions based on whatever information you have available to you, and you learn about what the market is doing based on the information that, you know, candidates are giving to you.
So when I was reading files, I would always tell applicants, if you have any information about other offers of admission or scholarship, please let me know. I want to know, and that will make the admissions committee, it will help the admissions committee make a fully informed decision.
David: It's funny, there's almost a paradox because applicants are both human beings who, you know, write essays, and these essays are a very important part of their value to the law school, and, of course, these essays are about what makes them unique. And on the other hand, the applicants are also market commodities with a fluctuating value that, you know, depends on all the other buyers, which in this case is the law school.
Selene: Yes, you are right.
David: Let's go back to something that you said, speaking of how applicants express their individuality. You said that if a personal statement, for example, is hard to read or if a resume is hard to read, you're more inclined to make a decision just based on the numbers. And you gave us some idea of what makes a resume hard to read, if it's jam-packed, or if the font is microscopic or something like that. What sort of thing is a turnoff in the personal statement?
Selene: If you spell the name of the school incorrectly. I'll just tell you my personal, the way that I would evaluate an application. So for me, I always read the personal statement first. I put a lot of weight on the writing and I wanted to be entertained. I want to see good writing. I was an English major, and I love to read, and I want to see how skilled you are as a writer.
And, you know, after a while, you see all this sort of formulaic stuff that turns you off, like starting off with someone else's quote, I hate that. And if it's a big chunk of someone else's language at the top of the personal statement, so it eats up like two inches of space, you know, I hate that. If you go through a prose version of your resume, where first I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this, also very boring.
It's, I like to see that someone put a little thought and effort into the personal statement, and it's not just, it's not just information that you're trying to convey. You're also trying to convey a style and also convey a sense that, you know, how seriously do you take this process? So I've read personal statements where people have been too familiar, too casual in their approach. That has turned me off because I asked myself, well, this person clearly does not respect the process. They clearly didn't put any more than 10 minutes' effort into writing this thing. And if they did put more and this is the result, then they're not very good writers. Right?
So I like to see that someone has made an effort, that they're able to tell a story, and they're able to tell a story in a way that's engaging, and that it's engaging in a way that is straightforward and honest and simple. I think a lot of times you have people who write personal statements and they're writing as if it's a personal statement with a capital P and a capital S, and they're using all of their SAT words.
And it's just so convoluted that you feel like your brain is being tied into knots and it's very, very strenuous to read, and so your eyes just sort of glaze over and you just skim to the end. And I would say that that personal statement, yeah, you completed the requirement because you filled up two pages, but you failed because I have no sense of you as a person because I just couldn't finish reading it.
David: What's an example of a personal statement that's too familiar, too familiar or casual?
Selene: I want to go to your law school so I can pimp my resume and get some really great experience in New York City.
David: How do you feel about contractions?
Selene: I think there's a time and place. But I think that, you know, just like when you come in for an office visit or an office interview with a member of the admissions committee, you should come in dressed really nicely and you should be aware of how you sit and how you look and how you smell and what you say. And so I feel like, you know, a personal statement should be respectful, should be respectful of the process.
David: Got it. Yeah, this question about contractions causes a lot of consternation among our applicants. I personally believe that there's nothing wrong with contractions, even in a formal essay, but then again, I'm not the one who's evaluating files.
Selene: Yeah. I came from working at a law firm where I had a partner who was quite intimidating and he was very proper, and I would never ever consider using contractions in anything I wrote to him, whether it was a memo or an email. So I think that has sort of followed me into my admissions career.
David: I'm also wondering about small questions of styles. So, for example, I see a lot of applicants who capitalize fall semester or spring or something like that, and seasons don't actually have to be capitalized. So it is a mistake, but it's not a very big one, and it probably passes under the radar of a lot of people. Does stuff like that matter?
Selene: Like if you say I'm applying for fall 2019?
Selene: Yeah, I would capitalize the F.
David: Oh, really?
Selene: And capitalize the S. Why is that? Well, at least in our office, we had people, we used to have people who applied for fall and spring in May, and so for us, fall 2019 or spring 2019 is a thing.
David: It's a proper noun.
Selene: Yeah, yeah. And so I would just instinctively capitalize it.
David: How much of a big deal is it if someone makes a typo?
Selene: I would ask myself, why didn't you use a spellchecker? Who doesn't use spellcheck in this day and age?
David: Okay, what if they, what if there's a homonym, right? So it would have passed spellcheck because it's the right word. I mean, it's, it is a word but it's not the right word for the sentence, something like that.
Selene: Well, when I would read, I told you I dealt with a lot of international applications, and I would read those personal statements with a pen in hand, and I would start circling and underlining all the mistakes that I saw. And then if it got to be too many, then, you know, you're saying, you could say, okay, this person clearly didn't have any help, but they also, you know, this was their best effort. So, what do you, what do you think of that?
I would say, you know, sometimes typos, like even the best person, you just don't see it. And if I didn't see it, then I guess it wouldn't matter. But if I saw one or two, I don't think it would turn me off in the way that like, say, plagiarism would turn me off.
David: Or applying to Cradozo.
Selene: Right. Or Cardoza.
David: Speaking of international applicants, that must be sort of a tight rope that they have to walk, because I would imagine that you see some essays that are just not plausible. They're too perfect.
Selene: Yes. And so, in those instances, you might arrange a telephone call. I've done enough of those telephone calls to be able to decipher the difference between someone just being nervous and someone reading off of something, and you can hear the papers being shuffled or someone like holding up cue cards for them.
David: Wow. Has that ever happened?
Selene: You know, when you're having, when you're trying to have a very easy conversation with someone and you're just asking them about things on their resume so that they're comfortable talking about things that they supposedly experienced, right, and you start hearing certain phrases or sentences over and over again, and you realize like they've either got a script or they've got cue cards or they're being coached by someone, and they've run out of things to say, so they're just repeating the same thing.
David: Wow. And yet you haven't noticed that I'm sitting here looking at the cue cards that J.Y. is showing to me.
Selene: But honestly, like it doesn't, you're not, you're not helping that candidate in any way, because they would show up, I mean, even the strongest international candidates show up and there's a learning, there's like a, there's a period where there's a lot of learning and growth and frustration and despair at the beginning of every, you know, every new, every 1L's class, right?
I mean, you see it even with domestic candidates who thought they knew things and then they show up and they realize they don't know anything. And so you just imagine, like, how much greater those feelings, those emotions might be for an international candidate for whom English is not their first language.
So I always feel like you want to make sure that they're going to be able to handle it, or if it's rough going, that they're going to be able to work through it, because otherwise you're going to get an upset professor in your doorway saying, what happened here?
David: It must be hard to tell, though, because I would imagine that there are international applicants, people who speak English as a second language who just have stronger writing skills than speaking skills.
Selene: Absolutely, absolutely. And I have had experience where you have people who are very, very strong on paper and can write well who never, ever talk to you, or they speak very infrequently. And you kind of wonder, like, are they getting anything from this educational experience? But then they go off and they pass the bar with flying colors. So you're like, okay, those are their strengths, and that's fine.
David: I've heard a lot of admissions officers say that they read the LSAT writing sample either more frequently or more carefully for international applicants. Is that something that you did too?
Selene: Yes, when I first started, I was taught to go through a file and never forget to read the LSAT essays, even though they're really hard to read because they were handwritten. But you can learn, you can learn things from the LSAT essay. So I do read them pretty carefully, and it's always illuminating to see the difference in writing between a polished personal statement and something that's written under time constraint.
And then you ask yourself, well, you know, this, I sort of get the point. It's not the best writing, but you know, it's pretty clear. You get a sense of what they're trying to say. You know, they're not just like rambling, and rambling is stuff that you see even from domestic candidates, right? You just, the gun goes off and then you just start writing everything, hoping that whoever's reading the essay will just be able to pick out the important parts, as opposed to like, just really carefully and methodically outlining your answer and writing down what you want to say very simply. And I like that approach for both LSAT essays and personal statements.
David: So what advice do you have for international applicants, especially international applicants who are worried about their English, but who have the ability to think and learn and write in English, even if it's not perfect?
Selene: I think a good exercise would be to sort of think about what they want to say, figure out the topic, the substance of what they want to say, and then rather than try to write it all down, maybe record a conversation that they're having with a real person or an imaginary person where they're just trying to verbalize what they want to say, because I find that, especially with international students, where they learn to write English a certain way and they learn to speak English in a different way, that gulf is very wide, and I think the best place is somewhere in the middle.
And I think the very simple sort of straightforward, to-the-point way that you would tell someone what you want to do, I want to go to law school because XYZ, that you can start from there. That's a better place to start, you know, write down, maybe transcribe what you've recorded or what you've said, and then build upon that, rather than trying to write out something that is going to seem impressive.
Because I think international students are so interesting because they're coming from a completely different place, that what's impressive is more what they are and who they are, and they should worry less about how they say it, if that makes sense.
David: Yeah. I think that's good advice, though, for everybody. I mean, sincerity is, in my mind, almost always what distinguishes a great personal statement from a good one. I also want to ask you about diversity statements. So probably everyone listening to this knows what a diversity statement is, but just to be clear, a diversity statement is an optional essay, and not every school, not every application is going to call it a diversity statement.
Some of them do, some of them will ask you to write about your background, and some of them won't have a prompt about diversity statements at all, but it's an essay about your identity or your background, how it shaped you, and how you might bring a new perspective to the matriculating law school class. My question is, Selene, whether you encourage people to write diversity statements if they don't have traditional diversity factors.
So traditional diversity factors are probably race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, maybe sexual orientation or religion. A non-traditional factor might be something like an applicant who was a champion Go player. It's not even really a diversity factor, but they could theoretically write an essay about how, you know, their experience of playing Go has shaped their perspective and might give them a way to add something to the incoming class. How do you feel about writing optional essays like that? They're non-required and they interpret diversity very broadly.
Selene: I think that is great, and that it's another opportunity for the candidate to show off their writing skills and also to highlight something about themselves that they feel make them unique. I think the point of all of the writing samples in an application is to fill in all the space around the number pairing. Right? You've got three people with 3.7s and 172s. So you're not all the same. How are you different? How are you distinctive? How would you stand out?
Even if, you know, you all grew up in upper-middle-class suburb, right, and on the surface, it's very hard to distinguish, but let's say one person composes music and another person in their spare time was training for the Junior Olympics, or another person, you know, they were working very diligently with the elder community. That was their passion.
I think that those are all aspects of the candidates that would make them distinctive and memorable to an admissions reader, and if you're not already writing about something like that in your personal statement, I think a diversity statement is a great space for you to continue talking about how unique and interesting you are.
David: Do you think an applicant's at a disadvantage if she does not write a diversity statement?
Selene: I don't think so, but if you're given a chance to highlight something about yourself, why not take it? I mean, maybe if you're not a good writer and your diversity statement is just a big mess, you might turn off a reader because they're like, oh, this, you know, the personal statement is super polished, but this one, they just sort of threw this together because they felt like they want to take advantage of this whole diversity thing.
Then, you know, you might turn someone off, but if you're approaching your writing samples with the idea that this is my chance to continue highlighting the ways that I am a unique person, then, you know, why not do it?
David: I just worry about importuning admissions officers with unnecessary reading material. I'm sure that nobody wants to read something that feels like a stretch and that doesn't really enlighten them.
Selene: Right. Well, I mean, the way that these files show up on our screen is that it's a giant PDF and you just scroll, right? You scroll through your transcripts, you scroll through letters of recommendation, you scroll through your electronic applications. So if you don't want to read a particular, you know, addendum, like, you know, someone says, here's an LSAT addendum. The LSAT, I'm not a good standardized test taker, and this score that I got is not a good representation of the kind of student that I'm going to be. You should look at my GPA.
It's like, you've seen that addendum a million times. You can just skim over that in two seconds. Right? So it's, I think that if a reader does not, if a reader thinks that diversity statements should only be for certain types of diversity, then, you know, they're going to read the way they want to read.
David: So you think the worst that happens is they keep scrolling?
Selene: Yeah, I think so. And, you know, the best outcome could be that, you know, if you have multiple people reading your application, that the diversity statement is going to appeal to somebody who's going to say, huh, that really moved me. That touched me. You know, I like this file.
David: Well, Selene, do you have any final pieces of advice, big or small, for people who are applying right now?
Selene: I think that the application process is something that needs to be taken seriously, and that you should treat it as if you were approaching a job, and that, you know, you should take the time to really put down on paper something that you would be proud of, that you wouldn't mind having appear on the front page of the New York Times, and that you should share it.
A lot of times I've met candidates who just don't want to share their personal statement or their writing with anyone, and so they're writing in a vacuum. When it's just you and your brain, you sort of lose track of what it is that you're trying to create. So I think sharing is definitely good, sharing your writing.
And then approaching the application process like, you know, this is really a professional school, and so when you reach out to admissions offices that, you know, you are respectful and you're polite and you do proper punctuation and spelling in your emails, and that when you call, that you speak like an adult, and that if you have a chance, you should go show your face at an admissions office, go take advantage of counseling office hours.
Some schools have an open-door policy where you can just kind of make an appointment to come talk to someone. Some schools have student-led tours, and if you can, you should go on those tours either in person or sometimes they have virtual tours. See if you can communicate with a current student so that you know more about this thing that you want to pursue, which is a law school education. I think the more you know about the process, the better you sound in your application, if that makes sense.
David: It does. Thank you so much, Selene.
Selene: Thanks, David.
J.Y.: Hi, everyone. It's J.Y. again. I hope you enjoyed that conversation. I thought it was really interesting. I also thought David did an excellent job reading those cue cards. Selene truly had no idea. I think this means we should start a new service for 7Sage Admissions. The cue card interview prep, proven effective.
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