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J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, admissions consultants Tajira McCoy, Tracy Simmons, Jenifer Godfrey, and Jennifer Kott discuss the utility of diversity statements and optional statements along with the purpose of addenda, specifically to explain circumstances surrounding LSAT scores, GPA, or gaps in education or employment. Towards the end, they address questions from the audience. Without further ado, please enjoy.
Tajira: Hello, everyone. My name is Tajira McCoy. I am one of the 7Sage consultants here. I have about 10 years of law school admissions experience, as well as two years in career services, and I have been with 7Sage now for a little over two years.
I would like to welcome my panelists. We are jumping right in and we're going to be talking today about diversity statements, addenda, all of those things where there's a question mark. Should I, should I not submit? With me today, I have my Jens. I'm going to have them, one at a time, introduce themselves. Jennifer Kott, I see that you're sipping, so I'm going to start with Jenifer Godfrey, and please introduce yourself. Let folks know where you've worked and a little bit about yourself.
Jenifer: Hi, everyone. Super excited to be here tonight. I've actually been looking forward to this because it's been a rough week, so excited again to be here. I'm Jen Godfrey. I am an educational event planner and admissions consultant through 7Sage. Prior to joining 7Sage, I spent nearly 10 years in law school admissions at the director and assistant dean levels. I am a big believer in the land-grant mission, so I proudly served four land-grant institutions, including Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge here where I live today. Made my home here with my husband. He is a lifelong resident, which means that I now will be a lifelong resident. So, again, thrilled to be here. Happy for some good questions tonight.
Tajira: And Kott-tastic.
Jennifer: Yes. Hi, good evening, everyone. Hey, thank you so much for taking the time out of your evening to join us, right? You had a choice of things to do, and the fact that you want to spend a good solid hour with us finding answers to questions that would help assist you with your law school applications, thank you. Again, my name is Jennifer Kott. I am a consultant with 7Sage and have been with 7Sage for over a year.
Prior to that, I was in law school admissions for about 18 years. Had that opportunity, like my colleague Jenifer, to have worked at a land-grant institution, two of them, in the state of North Carolina, as well as Arizona. I've also had that opportunity to work for a top-tier law school, 14, if you will, Northwestern, and then a southern private institution, which we would deem as maybe the southern Ivy, other known as Tulane Law School in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Currently now I am director of enrollment at a top 30 college preparatory boarding school here in St. Louis, Missouri. So glad to be here. Happy to answer all your questions, and again, thanks for finding the time to join us.
Tajira: What I love is that all of us have worked for at least one land-grant institution. I worked at UDC in Washington, DC, as the dean of admissions there. I've also worked at a top-tier school. I worked at Berkeley as the director of admissions and scholarship programs. The three of us have also all worked at a law school in Louisiana. I was director of admissions at Loyola University of New Orleans as well.
Without further ado, I'm going to start the conversation on diversity statements, and we'll just kind of take it from there. And who's with us, know that you can be putting questions into the Q&A. I ask that you focus those questions specifically on diversity statements, addenda, optional statements. There will be chances for folks to raise their hands and ask questions towards the end. I'm hoping to reserve about 15 to 20 minutes for that particular forum, for you all. Just know, throughout, we will be seeing that those questions are there. I'll be monitoring those and I'll fold some into this conversation. And then the rest we will address during the Q&A.
First, Kott, I'm coming back to you. What is a diversity statement?
Jennifer: Great question to start off with and really set the temperature of the room. A diversity statement, in some essence, is a supplemental component that really sort of is a different conveyed message, right? It has a different temperature and tone under that structure of diversity, adversity. It's going to be different than what you've submitted in your personal statement, it's going to be different than what you've submitted in your "why X" statement, and it really sort of highlights, based on the question that is being asked of the law school, what do you see as a candidate in the sense of the diversity that you would contribute, right, to our community?
And so in this instance, it's really an opportunity for you to get real and honest and vulnerable if diversity sort of plays into your scope, if you will, your experience, things that you've overcome, right, setbacks that you've had, but then the comeback was even better, is that maybe you grew up in really hard circumstances, right? Financially, socioeconomically, you face challenges in terms of maybe your sexuality, right? Or your race, or let's say you're proud of your heritage, right? Or you're first-generation, right? First-generation college graduate, and you're about to be a first-generation hopeful, right, post-college graduate.
And so those are just an array, right, as we cast that net out of what diversity is, that's sort of what is encompassing in that statement, based, again, sort of on the structure and the protocol of what that law school's asking in reference to this question, it's important to answer the question and give them what they're asking for, especially as it relates to format, double-space, no longer than two pages.
But that's a very overloaded response to your question, and I think we can certainly build off that as the conversation continues, but I think that that's sort of just a good over general view of what that statement could be. Of course, I'm always, always curious to hear from my colleagues in the sense of what they would have to add to that.
Tajira: Anything to add, Jen?
Jenifer: Well, I think a good way to sum up was the diversity statement is diverse in and of itself. There are so many different ways that you can approach this essay, but of course, first and foremost, you need to heed her advice. Look for a call to the question. There might be a specific sort of diversity that the law school is interested in learning about or hearing about. If it is wide open, then know that your diversity is not going to and it doesn't have to look like everyone else's in the pool.
You are actually highlighting what is unique about you and what is it about your background, whether it has been rough or not, that is going to help you add a different shade to the classroom, help those AOs with that community-building aspect of putting together an admissions class, and why is it that the world needs another lawyer like you? What are you going to be bringing to the field that people who have not had the same path as you or the same worldview as you, that they just really can't contribute in the same way that you can?
Tajira: That's great. And Finney, I'm going to come back to you. A lot of times, I get this response from folks who are thinking about doing a diversity statement and aren't sure if they should do one or not. They say something like, "I feel like I could tackle my personal statement and my diversity statement in one document. Should I write a personal statement that covers both or is it actually necessary to write separate documents?" What's your thought on that?
Jenifer: I think it really depends on what you have in your treasure chest of things that you could write about for that personal statement. If it really is that that's the best story that you can tell, and it does cover both aspects, then I think you really only need the one document, but I find that hard to believe. I think a lot of times when people tell me that, I'm like, well, let's brainstorm widely. Let's dig a little deeper. How much of your story can you tell?
Because when you first sit down and all those pages are blank, you feel like, "Oh my God, I'm never going to fill all this up," and then once you really get a roll on, you're like, "I have so much more that I can say and I'm running out of room." So I think if you're having that thought, know that that is a common first thought, and think a little bit, push yourself, think a little bit more expansively and see how you can use all of the different aspects of your application to tell a cohesive narrative about yourself. But again, you don't have to feel pressured, and you certainly don't want these items to be redundant.
Tajira: That's great. Kott, I want to ask you, with diversity being so broad the way that you described, should everyone write a diversity statement?
Jennifer: Tajira, a very quick, simple, direct answer is no. And I'm thankful sort of in our existence of having and working in the industry and being passionate about what we do as consultants and former admission officers, we do have candidates that say, like, "Hey, I'm thinking about submitting a diversity statement because I spent my junior year abroad and really had the opportunity to be exposed to a culture that was completely different than my own." I'd probably advise the candidate that that's really not under the sort of focus of that diversity statement, and I would probably advise maybe not to submit it.
It's a great question, Tajira. I think if the candidate wonders if they should or they shouldn't, talk it out with someone, talk with your consultant, talk with your pre-law advisor for those joining us as current undergraduate students or recent alumni at your institutions. But I would say no, it's not always necessary and it actually can end up hurting an applicant. If they feel they submit something that calls for that diversity and really isn't, it wouldn't help, but I would always advise that if you're questioning, "Oh, I don't know, should I, should I not," ask, seek that advice. But when in doubt, don't submit it.
Tajira: I'm going to push back on that a little bit. Has there been an instance where you've received a diversity statement and it was off-putting to you, and if so, could you give an example? And I'm going to come to you with that also, Finney.
Jennifer: I've never found a diversity statement ever off-putting. I think they always come from a place of sincerity, this organic sense of being genuine and authentic. So, no, and out of all the files that I've read for all the institutions, I've not had one that's like, ugh, it's, or one that's made me like completely sort of make my decision based on that. Again, I've always found those statements extremely sincere, and I know they mean well in the sense of what they're submitting for a diversity statement, but it doesn't hit that sort of point of satisfaction, if you will, in terms of how I am looking to build the class. Now, I've seen a lot of other addendas that have kind of woo, wow-factor shocked me, but no, not when it comes to diversity.
Jenifer: A little bit related to this, I spent some time following my time in law school admissions and veterinary admissions, and at the institution where I worked, everyone was required to submit a diversity statement, but it was a very different call of the question. It was kind of like an appreciation for diversity. Do you get it? Do you know why we care about this? Do you know why you should care about this? And so those really opened my eyes to kind of all the different approaches in how everyone can kind of have something to contribute, because everyone did kind of draw on, as an illustration, a life experience of their own. So that really, I think, kind of helped to educate me now coming back into the law school admissions fold and helping those individuals who really honestly want to try to put their best foot forward in terms of a diversity statement.
But anytime that I've ever been put off by one in the past, it really did fall flat in that it's like, okay, you don't get it. Like if you're writing about being a redhead or left-handed, or as the case may be, it's like you don't get why we care about this and why this is a supplemental essay that you can provide. Certainly didn't ding the applicant in terms of like an automatic denial or anything like that, but it didn't enhance their application in any way and it did make me look for, okay, are there any other parts of this application that kind of reek of desperation or maybe a lack of preparedness and research in terms of your approach to applying to law school.
Tajira: I have an interesting question from someone in the audience that asks, in your experience, has a diversity statement ever been the deciding factor between two similar applicants? Kott, I'll start with you.
Jennifer: No, because in that essence, it would be wrong of me as an admissions professional to be comparing two applicants. I don't have two application files up when I'm reading a candidate. I am solely focusing on the candidate that is on my two screens. Multiple admissions officers have two or three monitors in their office. All the applications are run online. Typically, I'll wait about five minutes until I move on to the next application. But no, not when it comes down to deciding factors of two candidates.
What I'm looking for is someone that, again, that's going to contribute to the class, that's bringing a different lens, a different voice, that's someone that is, that's empathetic. I find that diversity statements are, they're personal, like they're even more personal than I would find in a personal statement in the sense it's real, it's vulnerable, and that's based on the candidate in terms of how comfortable they feel, right, sort of coming forward or sharing that information.
But no, it's never come down, diversity statements never come down to a decision on a candidate when comparing both of them. One, that's unethical. Two, that's not how typically admissions officers review files, and I hope that answers the question.
Tajira: Finney, what's your take?
Jenifer: I think a diversity statement, certainly for me and in the past, has been a factor that has motivated me when I'm walking into that committee room to advocate for a student and to really rally for them, because I'm going and feeling like, if this is a candidate that is on par with the rest of the applicant pool, that is worthy of admission given our limited seats, and they have traveled this distance, so kind of like the distance travel for me is a huge factor and it always has been in my review, it's going to be a candidate that I advocate for, it's going to be a candidate that I keep in mind when it comes to pulling people off of the waitlist. But again, that can also be achieved for some through the personal statement, but it is just a way to kind of tell that distance travel story that I think can make a difference in terms of having someone advocate for you.
Tajira: Thank you for that. What about touchy subjects like religion or political affiliation? Is it a bad idea to write about something that can be seen as controversial? Finney, I'm going to come back to you first.
Jenifer: I have never been put off by any diversity statement or personal statement that I've read about religion. I usually find that result of the sorts of institutions where I've worked at, but a lot of times if someone is writing, I'm curious about it, I'm interested about it, and I really love that they can be comfortable to share that and contribute that to our community. So it has been helpful. When it comes to political matters, it can be a situation where I'm like, okay, this is going to be a person who is going to maybe have to come and find their group and their niche and find a way to fit here if it is kind of running contrary to what the political current is at that law school. But it's certainly not something that I have ever held against a candidate.
Jennifer: I would agree and I would sort of say the same. I mean, here's the thing. I mean, that's the beauty of going to law school is that you're going to have classmates that you are going to have difference of opinions and you're going to see things differently in terms of, like, what place has better queso than another, right? Or there's always a political debate or debate about something, whether it comes to religion, hamburgers, chicken nuggets, religion. But as it relates to law school application, I mean, I think that, I think as long as it's done in a respectful manner, in a way that sort of doesn't put you kind of off-putting, I think it's okay to talk about it in that space.
And again, like, I think that's a great way for law school admissions committees also to kind of see, right, like how the student would fit into our community, sort of based on their passion, whether as it relates to their religion or political party, how would they seek that involvement? Let's say maybe in the Federalist Society or the Christian Law Society, right? Like in the sense of where that law school's located geographically. But no, I mean, it's never, I've never found it off-putting, again, that's that space for that to be conveyed. I just always sort of caution, like, just do it with a side of civility and just grace and respect.
Tajira: For candidates who feel like their story is similar to other applicants, and I know we hear this question all the time, like, I feel like my story is so similar to other people, like, it's not important enough for me to share that, and they ask, well, how do I make it stand out? What would be a piece of advice that you would give? And I'll start with you, Kott.
Jennifer: Well, I think, before you get started, I think you owe yourself to give that time and permission to yourself to really reflect about what the call of the question is, right, as it relates to diversity. And I would also advise, get yourself a journal and just start in that reflection, start penning, same like your personal statement. You want to labor over this, particularly if you feel, you know, you feel that this is important in your candidacy and to share with an admissions committee.
You want to make it stand out in the sense of obviously reading the directions, answering the call of the question. But I think a great diversity statement always sort of starts off with that strong introductory paragraph that hooks me in, right? That sets the temperature and the tone, provides me that background evidence, carries me through, through my undivided attention, throughout the entirety of the statement where I am right there with you. I visually can see sort of what you're feeling, what you went through, and then at the end, finding that conclusion or that resolution of what you're sharing with me, right?
And it's sort of putting the sort of puzzle together in the sense of, this is another trait about you that I can't find anywhere else in your application. So it's that different response that you would be sharing, let's say, if you were interviewing with an admissions committee, right? Like if you had something to talk about as it relates to your diversity. So you want to make yourself stand out in the sense, I think it's always wise to be authentic, be yourself, get a number of people to look at it, like you want that constructive criticism and feedback.
For those undergraduate students, check out your writing centers on campus. Ask your pre-law advisor to look it over. I know, as a former pre-law advisor, I read them over, but you want it to stand out in the sense that it tells that story, it tells that niche as it relates specifically to the topic at hand. Do not go off topic. Don't throw other things into it. Stay on point. And I think it's also important to be simple, direct, and specific.
Tajira: That was Kott's list of 20 pieces of advice. Finney, your take?
Jenifer: I look at, I mean, when people say that, I get where it's coming from a little bit, right? You're not the first person to be poor, the first person to have had a parent serve time in prison. You're not the first, all of those things. But at the same time, I have to push them to talk to someone who is more objective about the situation, right? So talk to someone that you trust, because you are the only person who's lived it in the way that you have lived it, and so your story is worth telling. Just because, I mean, there are no new plots, right?
So you're not coming up with anything that's brand-spanking new that we've never heard before, but we've never heard exactly how it impacted you and motivated you to move forward and make the decisions that you're making, to make some of the mistakes that you made and to bounce back maybe from some of those things. So I think that just because you're not the only person that it happened to or just because you were able to overcome it doesn't mean that it's not a story worth telling.
So those thoughts, I think, are nothing [to worry] about, and it's normal in the beginning stages of writing something like this, and you just really need to talk it out with other trusted sources and have confidence that this is something that's going to add value on paper for people who are trying desperately to get to know something, anything about you that deems you worthy of coming and joining their law school.
Tajira: Okay, great. Thank you so much for that. And we're going to move on so that we have plenty of time for Q&A. Finney, I'm coming right back to you. What are addenda?
Jenifer: They are kind of that little note aside about, they're context, they're filling in the blanks. If there is anything when you kind of step back from your law school application and say, "Boy, I sure do hope they figure out that the story that I told about breaking my arm in my personal statement, that that actually happened in fall of 2018, and that's why I got the C here." Like, if you think we're going to figure all that out without you telling us, you're wrong.
So anything that you're like, "Gosh, I hope they could figure that out," I think that belongs in an addendum. And then just anything where it's just like, "Okay, I answered the question, but also you should know this," but there's no space for it in another appropriate place on the application, that sort of explanation should go in an addendum.
Tajira: Kott, when is it best to write a GPA addendum?
Jennifer: When is it best to write it? When you submit your application, as you're putting your application together? I mean, here's the thing, right? Like you're going to be looking over your application, especially like depending on how many law schools you're applying to, right? That's going to be a lot. You're going to be managing, juggling different things. And as you're putting all this together, I mean, automatically, you're going to have to request your undergraduate transcripts, right?
And so you may have a copy of that, and you sort of may look back and be like, "Woo, oh, I forgot about that one semester. Oof." Or, "Oh yeah, that year. Mm, that year." You probably want to go ahead and start thinking about drafting an addenda as it relates to your grade point average. And as my colleague Finney had alluded to, like, what you want to do is you want to just, you want to tie that bow, right? You got a loose bow, you want to fill in that hole, you want to close the gap.
You want to do, what you want to do is you really want to be proactive and forward thinking and go ahead and provide the answers to the questions that we're going to ask when we're looking at your transcripts or your CAS report that's got your overall cumulative GPA, and we're going to see it semester by semester and year by year. If something, like, if I'm looking at your transcripts and I'm like, whoa, something's going to allow me to stop and pause, like, what happened here? It's probably advised to go ahead and start thinking about writing your GPA addenda and making sure it's done, clean, proofread, and submit that at the time you submit your application.
However, if you forget, or let's say you submit the application and there's that, "I really should've submitted something, I should've, oh gosh, I should've, I could've, oh God," submit it. Go ahead and submit it. Typically, you can send it to the general law school admissions account for a law school and let them know, but some law schools, I will tell you, they will not accept an addenda after you apply.
So it's very important to follow the directions. I think you've heard us be repeat offenders this evening when we have said, "Follow the directions," because there are law schools after you submit, and you're like, "Oh, I forgot to submit the addenda." They're like, "Yep, thanks. We'll note that, but we can't include this in your file." So, just be wary, attention to that. But I would always advise, submit the addenda at the time that you submit the application. Just you want to be prepared. It shows that you're prepared, you got your ducks in a row, that you're organized, and those are going to be great skills and traits that you're going to need, not only as a law student, but more importantly, in the profession.
Tajira: Thank you for that. And just as a point of clarification for anybody who's listening, when you're writing your personal statement, your diversity statement, a lot of times those are written more as a narrative piece. An addendum does not need the narration. We just need a factual statement that gets to the point of what it is you're trying to explain, whether that's about your GPA or your LSAT, which we'll talk about in a moment, or something else that you feel might leave us with a question mark within your application materials. This is a place for brevity, detailed brevity, but brevity.
I'm going to come to you now and I'm going to ask you, in terms of LSAT addenda, when does it make sense for a candidate to consider submitting one?
Jenifer: I think there are a few different circumstances when it makes great sense, one of which is when you have taken that bad boy more than the law ought to allow. So you've taken it a whole lot and you might want to explain what's up with that. I think when you've had a big difference in scores, so whether that be that you've dropped off between or you even increased your score, believe it or not, you want to explain like, "Hey, I buckled down, I said I needed a tutor in Logic Games," or whatever the case may be. You want to explain those sorts of things.
I don't think that it is necessary to, I get a question a lot and maybe it might pop up in the chat. People want to know, like if they need to kind of use an addendum to disclose whether they had like testing accommodations and things like that. And my answer is always no, that's not what that's for. It really is just kind of like, okay, explain some struggle that you've had with the LSAT in terms of like why your score isn't coming out the way that you desire, maybe why you have attempted the test more than three times, and big score differences, whether positive or negative, are the sorts of things that I suggest an LSAT addendum for.
Tajira: Anything to add, Kott?
Jennifer: I would sort of support Finney in terms of sort of her response. I think it's important to, again, take ownership of it, y'all. Like, I mean, if we see that you've taken the LSAT like five times, well, tell us that. Like, especially if there's, there was a few years in between you took the LSAT, right? Like, owe that to yourself, especially y'all, if you jacked up your score like 10 points or six points, like from the second time than you took it the first time, own that. Call out the admissions committee and say, "Dear admissions committee, I'd like to look that, like, I've increased my LSAT score," and maybe because your GPA isn't as strong. So you want to applaud yourself in that, acknowledge yourself in that.
But then also own, like, again, let's say you've taken the LSAT and you just can't seem to crack, right, that one score that you've been getting consistently. I think it's okay to support that voice, that testimony, but make sure you're direct, you're simple, to the point. Again, no narrative, just the facts.
Jenifer: I think a lot of cancellations oftentimes need to be explained in an addendum too, and I'm curious to see how that is going to ramp up now with the new cancellation policies. So yes, there can be too many Cs for cancellation. I think once you've kind of canceled more than once, you kind of need to explain what's going on there as well. So whether it be that you went in, you took it anyway, you didn't want to waste the time, the effort, the money that you studied, but you had the flu or you ran over your cat on the way to the test or whatever the case may be, which is horrible, but I actually have read that before in the application file.
Those sorts of things. It makes a difference because here I am, 15 years later, like, man, remember that girl that ran over the cat on the way to take the LSAT? So explain those things. Just, again, very matter of fact, you don't have to tell us your whole life story. Probably shouldn't go beyond a paragraph, but just let us know. Oh, and time differences sometimes can contribute to all those cancellations, when students are having to travel from places where the LSAT isn't administered there. I've seen those sorts of an addendum that have been effective.
Jennifer: Yeah, especially, I was going to say like the snowstorms that had kind of happened. Do you remember that a few years ago, and people were like stuck in traffic and they couldn't get to the LSAT and that. I got one for you, Finney. I had a candidate talked about marching band that was practicing outside the testing center. And so like, they were like, "No, my LSAT, like, it was horrible. Like it had the drums in my head." Anyway, but it's better than the cat, poor cat, like, anyway.
Tajira: That's crazy. The one thing that I was going to add to what Finney shared is, and we keep calling her that, that's just a nickname, but when Finney was talking about we can see the number of cancellations, we can also see absences, and they are marked differently on our CAS report that we receive on our end. And so know, like, whether you were a no-show or you canceled before the test or there was a cancellation after the test, we will see all of that.
It is important at some point to give context if there are multiple times where you were registered for the LSAT and then ultimately did not take it. It does at some point become a question mark for us of why is this person not showing up or not taking the exam? What's going on? That explanation, like, that's purely exactly what an addendum is for. If there's something that you think we're going to have a question about, then you need to explain it. And Finney, outside of the LSAT or GPA, are there other instances where you might suggest an addendum?
Jenifer: A common one that I suggest is the gap in employment. A, it's a good idea because a lot of law schools ask for it in the instructions for the resume, which can be sometimes very easily glossed over, even though you should be reading all those instructions, but you're like, a resume? Yeah, got that. Everybody wants a resume, but many of them do say, "Hey, if you have a gap of more than three months, you need to explain it." So it is a good idea just to explain it across the board for every school that you're applying to.
And I have seen with some of my clients at 7Sage, especially with the pandemic having interruptions and things with employment, that that can be a great space to kind of just talk a little bit about maybe something innovative that they did as a result of a layoff or something like that connected to the pandemic. So that's a space where you can kind of get a little pat on the back or toot of your own horn in a very factual context, just to put another little layer of what's going on with you in the application.
Tajira: That's great. Thank you so much for that. I think we've reached that point in the evening where we're going to go ahead and start opening up for questions. We have over 40 in our Q&A section, and so I'm going to hit some of these first and then we'll do some hands, and then we'll come back to more of these.
For anybody who's asking questions about character and fitness, we're not going to address that tonight. That actually is going to be the subject of next month's webinar, so stay tuned because we're going to have a lot to talk about. That entire session is on character and fitness. There's a lot to cover, and so just be ready for that. But for tonight, we're focused on addenda and diversity statements. Question that I have here is, how can you deliver a diversity statement without appearing as if you're seeking pity? Finney?
Jenifer: I think a lot of times it, you have to turn the story around. You have to talk about overcoming, you have to talk about how it's built you up and made you stronger as a result. It's a short amount of space, so I do realize that sometimes you, like you tell all the stuff that you think is relevant and then you've left out that part, but you cannot leave out that part because some of those, you come away from it and you're like, okay, and the dog died. My goodness. Like, what good came of this? And there has to be something because you picked yourself up enough to be forward looking enough to enter a profession like law where you are in a helping and service-oriented profession, but you can't make me assume anything. You have to tell me that.
Tajira: And Kott, is it true that these statements should not contain content that's too traumatic?
Jennifer: I mean, I've read some pretty traumatic diversity statements over my career, some that I could relate to, some that hit a chord, struck a chord with me. Some that, at the end, like I just wanted to hug my computer and hug that person for just being so brave to share that information. Again, I think it's about tone. I think it's about language. I think there should maybe be some barriers set up in terms of what's too, too personal. So be mindful of that.
Again, this is, you're trying to make a favorable impression on the admissions committee, okay? Like, you sort of don't want to get into this habit that you run over dogs and it like deeply, gravely impacts you and to the point you get really depressed and then like accidentally start running over cats. Like, I mean, I think that there are the sort of guardrails that need to be put up, but I think it's okay to get personal and to share that vulnerability.
Again, I kind of echo like the song of LL Cool J, like don't call it a comeback. Like it is a comeback. Like, that setback, you learned something from it, you grew from it, and you take that lesson or that experience with you, and you contribute that to the world or you contribute that to another person or you serve that in another manner. But I do think you need to kind of set up some guardrails of really what's too, too personal to share.
Again, you want to leave a favorable impression on the admissions committee, but I, more times than 10, like I've really connected with people that shared the diversity statement, and it helps me just as a person in general, if I feel like I think I'm having a bad day, if I read someone's diversity statement in terms of what they've overcome, and I'm like, Jennifer Robin, get it together. So again, it's part of your story. There's only one you. You cannot be replaced. So keep that in mind when you share that, and as my colleagues have continually said throughout the evening, if you don't think it's important, we think it's important, so share that.
Tajira: Finney, should a diversity statement also address why law, or should they leave that in the personal statement exclusively?
Jenifer: I think it's more at home in the personal statement. Sometimes it might also tie into your diversity narrative, but you certainly don't want to be repetitive. And if you're only going to have it one spot, I think it should be in the personal statement. That's just my personal opinion. I can be a lot, I can be really structured, though, about how to put together an application. I'd be curious to see what Kott thinks about that.
Jennifer: Yeah, I mean, I think it's okay to reference it, but remember that's sort of what the personal statement's for, right? Like, you're sort of conveying that message of why you want to, why you need the tools, right? Why you want these tools in your toolbox to help you get to the profession to do great things, right? And so I think, I think I would definitely support maybe referencing that somewhere in the diversity statement. Don't have it be the entirety, but maybe provide another spoke of what's motivating you to get to law school and how that diversity factor plays into what you want to do in the profession, and more importantly, how you want to contribute in that setting within the law school community you hope to join.
Tajira: Should we focus on single diversity topics when writing the diversity statement? As a person, obviously we have intersections, and should we talk about those intersections or other factors contributing to diversity, or should we focus on one?
Jenifer: I think intersectionality is welcome. It definitely is literally a big part of what makes you you and what makes your story unique. However, and this goes for anyone, you have to be careful when you're putting together your diversity statement because the landscape is so small, you don't want it to sound like it's just this laundry list of, like, look at all the boxes I can check. I have read some that I'm like, you might as well have just copied an ancestry profile in here, because I'm like, you're not giving me any meat on the bones. You're just telling me about potential boxes you can check. But if you really can, in a very real or even scholarly almost way, talk about how you've lived life at the intersection of your identities, I'd love to know about that as an admissions officer.
Jennifer: I would even, I would agree with that. And even if you really sort of want to scale it down, three points, right? Maybe three points of this intersectionality that you could share with us, right? Like, so I would definitely agree with that, but then I would also support a single topic, right? Like, so just, again, just be mindful in terms of, again, that horizon that is very, very small, very small compared to that large landscape that the personal statement offers. So just keep that in mind.
Tajira: Yeah, I would join in and say, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how many you share, it matters the perspective and what's influenced your perspective. So it may be that some of those things cause greater influence than others, and it doesn't mean that leaving some of them out makes you any less than in terms of your identity. It's important to consider what the takeaways are supposed to be for these particular documents.
I'm going to go ahead and bring up our patient hand raiser, Miranda. Hi there, Miranda.
New Speaker: Hi. Thank you so much. Thank you for having us tonight. It's been really great hearing all of your advice and, yeah, so my question is more related to what if my diversity statement could also like address an addenda issue? So the one big thing for me, and I guess, so like I was a mature student going into university, but I actually have autism and I did not disclose at the beginning of my undergrad degree. I really desperately wanted to be seen as normal.
I know that's something that, as I went through university, I learned that maybe some of my younger generation, the younger generation has a better understanding of and a better grasp of than maybe mine did. But it did have a really big impact on my GPA. However, I did recover, like I did come back from it and I actually finished my last full year taking the most classes I had with a 3.9, but I did very well.
And so, but the one thing I, I think, struggle with trying to understand of like how to write about it is it was not something that was ever celebrated in my life, and it wasn't until I, yes, I did get accommodations in the form of like exams and stuff like that, but it was more like the process of learning how to advocate for myself, not from a place of shame. And so that's what I think has been the most challenging. And then also not being ultra repetitive, between both of, I guess, continuously writing the addendums and then also like the diversity statement, perhaps like repeating too much from, or, sorry, the diversity statement, maybe repeating too much from the personal statement, I guess, is kind of where mine, my issue lies. Sorry, if that was not clearly articulated.
Tajira: One of the Jens?
Jennifer: Well, first and foremost, Miranda, thank you, thank you for sharing that information with us. There's a lot of non-traditional applicants that sort of kind of talk about that space, and that's something that we didn't even kind of touch on in terms of maybe that gap in your education, right, or an interruption or a setback because of a diagnosis or a disability. You are welcome to talk about that in the sense of what you encountered, those accommodations that you had, and how much you've grown from it, and like the upward trends, like you want to be proud about that.
And again, that's sort of why I talked about like, you want to own this. I mean, come on, Miranda, share this. This is, law schools would love to hear something like this. Like non-traditional applicants are very welcome in the sense that law schools love to see applications from non-traditional applicants, like, the average age, unless it's changed, correct me if I'm wrong, colleagues, but the average age entering law school is 24, and you'll find some of my colleagues out there, other law schools, the median age is 27 or 28.
So you bring a wealth and a vast amount of experience and life knowledge and lessons into the classroom and in the law school classroom. And so part of that is also to share your story of this diagnosis and how you've grown from it and the sort of help that you saw, and how it helped you, right, like perform better. So I would definitely sort of encourage you, this, I think, depending on the school that you're applying to and what they're offering as it relates to welcoming an addenda academically or a diversity statement, I think in some capacity, maybe you could encompass, right, the intersection of this, you can talk about that, and one platform as opposed to two.
Tajira: Thank you for that, Jen. Thanks so much for your question, Miranda.
New Speaker: Thank you so much.
Tajira: Okay. Our next question is kind of, this one is interesting. Would growing up in an unstable household that includes perhaps mental illness or alcoholism be considered worthy of a diversity statement, or could disclosing such information hurt the applicant? Finney?
Jenifer: Included in a personal statement, if it isn't the applicant's direct struggle, they aren't the one struggling with the mental illness or anything like that. In a diversity statement, I'm kind of having a hard time seeing it, but it definitely is an experience that is unique to you. I guess if it comes along with something else. I guess while we're on, we've been talking about the thread of intersectionality, but if that sort of environment maybe led to there being issues with you having enough food in the house or having other needs met, certainly could tie into kind of like a socioeconomic sort of traditional diversity statement because of these things, or perhaps some other angle. I definitely think it can be touched on. Whether it is more at home in the personal statement versus the diversity statement would really depend, I think, largely on the facts.
Tajira: Addenda, would you recommend writing an addendum for multiple LSAT scores? They took the LSAT four times, there's three scores and a cancellation with a constant increase. The total increase is 11 points over time.
Jennifer: Yeah, absolutely. You've got to share that story, right? Because you're on an upward trend. You've been increasing each time, and again, you want to fill in that gap. You want to fill in that hole. I'd be curious to know what you did different. I'd be curious to know sort of how you've prepared differently from the first, the second, to the third. Maybe kind of share what happened with the cancellation. But it, there's a story to tell, but make sure that that's very brief, direct, to the point, but especially if it's got an upward trend, I think it's worthy of sharing with an admissions committee. No doubt. Let me put it to you this way. You'd be doing yourself a disservice in your candidacy if you didn't own that. So own it. This is your one shot, folks. Like, put it out there.
Tajira: Okay, Finney, the question is, in your experience, can a strong academic addendum make up for a poor GPA at high-level schools?
Jenifer: It could explain it, it could add some context. It can never fully make up for it because the GPA number does play a large role in the process, but it can help to instill a little bit more confidence in the admissions committee about why the GPA looks the way it looks. If left totally unaddressed, folks could assume the worst, they could assume that school wasn't a priority for you. They could assume that you're lazy or a partier or whatever the case may be. So it definitely needs to be explained, but there's always still going to be a price to be paid for a lower GPA, but the explanation does help.
Tajira: That's great. Thanks, Finney. Kott, have you admitted a candidate with a very strong diversity statement but an average LSAT and GPA?
Jennifer: I have because I believed in their story, because a lot of circumstances, just me as an admission professional, I was so, I was high contact, I was high relationship with my applicants. Like I was the, I was your recruiter behind the table that was like, "Here's my card, keep in touch." And I would, I would remember you. The interactions that I had with applicants, getting to know them through virtual forums or fairs or on-campus visits, I'd get to know them through emails and their tone and their temperature as a person, especially as, like, I'm building the class, right?
Like, if I see that this person, like, has really sort of made some growth with their LSAT and it's, again, it's below maybe our 25th, they've got some really nice work experience, their commitment to serve their community, yeah, the diversity statement has played a huge factor in that decision, but I've put my neck on the chopping block to fight for that candidate in the sense that I know that they're going to do massive things at the law school.
Tajira: I love that answer. Thank you for that. I just dropped something in the chat. If we're unable to get to your question, and I'm telling you now, we're not going to get to all of them, there's 48 open questions right now, if we're not able to get to your question, ask it in the discussion forum. I put the link in the chat. If you want to ask your question privately because you don't want the information that you're sharing to be public, when you're in that discussion forum page, you can click on my name and send the message to me directly. That way it stays private and we can get your question answered and have you still feel comfortable. Just know that that's an option for you.
And remember, this particular event was just about diversity statements and addenda. Next month we'll touch on character and fitness, but I will do one more question for those that were so patient and waiting. Let's see. This is a fun one. Will an addendum be needed because LSAC canceled your score for misconduct, or should we leave it to LSAC's report completely? Finney, I'm going to start with you.
Jenifer: Get your side of the story out there. You do not want that report sitting there without a committee hearing from you because, I mean, in a way it kind of looks like, yeah, their side is the only side that's the absolute truth, or it looks like you thought, "Well, maybe they won't find out about it." So, yeah, we need to hear from you on that. And again, factual, don't make a whole lot of excuses for yourself. But on that one, I would say take the space that you need. Don't limit yourself to just a paragraph sort of thing, like I said before, because that can really have very big and major consequences. So you want to make sure that you're advocating for yourself. You'll be your first client in that regard. So, yes, don't stay silent on that.
Jennifer: Well, as a former member of the Misconduct and Irregularities Subcommittee for LSAC, yeah, let's be up front, let's own it. Again, like, just own it. Put your side of the story out there. Be truthful, be factual. And again, use that space because, again, when admissions committees see that, they're going to want to know. And so you'd be, again, huge disservice to yourself not to address it. Go ahead and jump on it, own it and be direct, straight to the point.
Tajira: As another former member of the Misconduct and Irregularities in the Admissions Process Subcommittee, you have to give your side of the story there. Do not leave it to us to make an assumption that your side is correct when you haven't spoken on it. It only makes sense where there's anything about your application that you feel we're going to question or have issues with that you give us the context, give us your story, give us your version so that we can consider that with our committee and try to make an educated decision rather than trying to make up the story on our own. Remember that at the end of the day, the goal is to get us to yes, and it is very hard to say yes if we're left with a bunch of questions at the end of the day.
And with that, I want to thank my panelists for joining me tonight. This has been a wonderful conversation. For anybody who's present, know that this was recorded, and so we will be posting this to our podcast as soon as it's edited. Again, if you did, if we didn't get to your question, please ask it in the discussion forum or send me the message directly and we'll be able to make sure that your questions are addressed. But thank you again for joining us, and have a wonderful evening.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you are 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.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, admissions consultants Tajira McCoy, Tracy Simmons, Jenifer Godfrey, Elizabeth Cavallari, and Gina Cecchetti discuss how to navigate and answer application questions concerning character and fitness and the importance of candid disclosure. Towards the end, they address questions from the audience. Without further ado, please enjoy.
Tajira: My name is Tajira McCoy. I am one of the 7Sage admissions consultants. So glad that you're here to join us today. Today we have a very important conversation, navigating character and fitness questions and disclosure, the integrity of the profession, as it were, and this is going to be one of those conversations where some of the questions can get a little personal. So we'll start off with some questions that I prepared for our guests, who are all former admissions officers and are currently 7Sage consultants. We have each had our own experiences, and so I'll have everyone share which schools they've been a part of.
For me, most recently in admissions, I worked at Berkeley Law as a Director of Admissions and Scholarship Programs, but I've worked all over the country. I've also done career services, so I've been on the other end working directly with the State Bar of California. Certainly, this is an important subject that we're talking about tonight. And then I will have Tracy introduce herself.
Tracy: Hi, Tracy Simmons. I have been around for about 23 years. I think I've been at four ABA law schools, so Golden Gate, Chapman, McGeorge, and University of San Diego. Only admissions and financial aid and diversity. No career services on my side.
Tajira: And Jennifer.
Jenifer: Hi, everyone. I'm Jenifer Godfrey. I've been with 7Sage, I guess I'm in my second year now. Prior to this role, I worked at, I think, also three different law schools, maybe four. Most recent role was at the University of Arkansas in Little Rock, where I was Assistant Dean of Admissions there. But these days, I'm a full-time mom and an educational event planner. Happy to be here.
Elizabeth: Hi, I'm Elizabeth Cavallari. I spent six years at William and Mary Law School. This will be my fourth cycle with 7Sage, but I also have experience in undergrad admissions, and then just general grad admissions.
Tajira: And Gina.
Gina: I'm Gina Cecchetti, and more recently I was working as Director at Duquesne Law School, but also worked at Case Western as well on the admissions side.
Tajira: Wonderful. So as we go this evening, our attendees, please know that you can drop questions into the Q&A. I will be looking at those and posing questions throughout our session tonight. We will try to bring some folks up at the end to ask questions so that we can hear your voices and connect with you. Tracy, I'm going to pick on you first, Dean. What are character and fitness questions and why are they important?
Tracy: So the character and fitness questions are generally ones that are about items in your past that relate to criminal background, like action, being fired, lawsuits that you may have been involved in, bankruptcy, et cetera. Generally, they are framed after the bar, state bar questions in a particular jurisdiction. That is not always the case, but the law schools are basically looking to kind of basically get you ready for the character and fitness kind of aspect of the application process after you've actually graduated. Or most people will actually work on this during their third year or fourth year of law school.
And so basically they're a set of questions that each law school will have. Unfortunately for you all as applicants, the questions are not the same. There's no universal set of questions that we ask. The language is very different, and so it's super important that you be thoughtful about the questions that each school asks, but at the end of the day, they basically are about your character and how fit you are to serve in the legal profession.
Lastly, I'll say that the reality is that these questions are designed to ensure that the state bar in which you wish to be licensed knows who you are, your background, and the different issues or items that may appear as part of your background before they actually allow you to kind of serve the public in general. And so, again, I will just end with, it's often not what you did, it's the fact that you don't disclose it. And my colleagues here will go into way more detail about that as Ms. McCoy leads this conversation this evening.
Tajira: So thorough. Thank you. Jenifer, if I find that I'm in need of disclosing something, how much should I disclose, and what should I touch on?
Jenifer: It's not a dissertation by any means, but you do want full facts and circumstances if it is criminal in nature. You certainly want to talk about the disposition of the case and some of that more procedural element of what happened. But you definitely are going to be using at least a half a page depending upon maybe what happened. It could be longer or shorter, but it's really not a space for like a narrative or a long story. It really is just the facts and all of the facts, not leaving anything out. You want to be as candid as possible.
And just to kind of build on what Tracy said, the reason for this is at X point in time when you have completed law school and you are applying for your licensure for the state bar, most state bars, if not all, are actually going to ask for a copy of your law school application. A lot of times they will receive that directly from the law school itself. You sign off basically like a waiver to release your documents, and if it doesn't match, you're going to be in a lot more hot water later on down the road.
So you want to, as fully as possible, having to get into law school is going to cost you majorly later. Maybe you could even have your admissions offer rescinded three years later, or at least you got a JD, but you might not ever be able to practice. So it's really not worth hiding anything at this stage.
Tajira: Let me unmute myself. By a show of hands, has anybody seen someone's admission be rescinded? It's not a fun thing to have to do that. I've done it myself and like it's terrible news to have to give that to someone. But at the same time, there is a very serious component to this. This is the start of a professional career, very much with the application, that is the beginning of it. Just know that from this point on, everything that you do can be scrutinized as a part of your profession.
And so going into this is very serious. Character and fitness is very serious. Disclosure is serious. Take it seriously. Like when it comes to some of these applications and disclosures, a lot of times we'll find that candidates might have left things a little thin. And if they say, "Okay, well, I was found to have violated Penal Code Section 54321," Gina, how would you react to that statement?
Gina: With no other description, I want to know what that is. It sounds serious, but it, maybe it's jaywalking. You never know. So if I've seen statements that do include those penal codes, but then they explain what exactly happened, that's the important thing, because if the statement is a little thin and sparse, we have a lot more questions than answers, and so we will, some schools will reach out to you and maybe ask for an updated addendum, and so that's your opportunity to provide information.
If schools don't, that could be a red flag on their end and it may not give you that opportunity, and so you could have an unfavorable decision. So it's kind of best to err on that side with explaining everything without the kind of massive details, not a descriptive essay. Stick to the facts, though.
Tajira: Okay, Elizabeth, I'm going to talk, start with some criminal character and fitness to get us going. Charges were dismissed. Do I need to disclose?
Elizabeth: It depends. Often I would say yes, but what you'll want to do is look and see what school questions they're asking you. Often schools will align their character and fitness questions with bar exam, like the bar fitness questions with the state that most of their students will practice in. So like when I was at William and Mary, we aligned ours to Virginia, and so I didn't need that information. But there's other law schools that some people, that they would want to know if anything was dismissed.
So sometimes they will say include it if it's been dismissed, if it was expunged, if it was when you were a juvenile. They might want to know every traffic infraction. Some might want to know everything outside of moving violation. So it's really important that you read what the question asks and answer accordingly. Often if a student was answering character and fitness, they gave me everything, even though I wasn't asking everything, it also made me question judgment because they weren't actually reading the directions and disclosing accordingly.
Tajira: To ping back off of something that Elizabeth mentioned, there are some judgment calls that are made in terms of what is considered a minor traffic violation. Jen, could you speak to that, please?
Jenifer: It is not a DUI or DWI, so I would say a minor traffic violation, maybe speeding nine or less over? If you're getting into reckless driving and things like that, no longer minor. So if you're feeling like you're kind of splitting hairs or just trying to get on like the right side of the line, call the admissions office or reach out via email. It's worth your time to do that and make sure that you're giving them what they want.
But yeah, most of the stuff is like, for some people, I mean, some of us are totally open and honest with any and everybody maybe to a fault, but if it's something that you would kind of like not want somebody to know about, it's probably exactly what we want to know about.
Tajira: Continuing on traffic violations, Tracy, what if I don't remember all of them, and where can I get that information?
Tracy: Generally speaking, you can look at the public records. I mean, you can look for yourself and do the search. I always tell people that it's best to say things like, "To the best of my recollection, to the best of my memory, I did a search myself and I couldn't find the actual code or the exact date. This is approximately when it happened." But do your homework and do your research because, unfortunately for you, the state bar is going to find it, and so you want to at least give the appearance of doing your absolute best to actually find the information yourself and report it and disclose it.
That's something that I think comes down to, you're basically building your character in the rep, in the business, right? When you start this process, right? This is all part of it. And so I think going that extra mile and saying, "Here's, I did a Google search, I looked at some county records, I contacted the local police department, et cetera, et cetera, and this is all I could find," that goes a long way as opposed to being evasive and not trying at all, and/or ignoring it. That's just not a good look at all, and you don't want to be in that situation.
Tajira: Often you can also contact your local DMV because sometimes they will have different parts of your traffic record available to you as well. The stickier part becomes if you were driving in other jurisdictions, then you have to remember what state you were in to contact that DMV as well. Let's see. Gina, now, if I have an expunged history, do I need to disclose that?
Gina: Good question. I think, again, it depends how the questions are worded. So this is just something you have to pay close attention to. I kind of always err on the side, like, let's prepare a document in case, so we don't forget about it, but it is kind of a case-by-case basis. So, yeah.
Tajira: That's helpful. Thank you. Do parking tickets matter to schools or is that something that also just depends on the school? Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: I would say most likely not, but I would still check. I don't think I've read any character and fitness questions that asked like specifically about parking tickets, but it's better to do your due diligence and ask the question.
Tajira: And so I'm going to move along to my performance and academic discipline. Let's see, like if a school has already removed something from my student record, do I still have to disclose that academic discipline now that it's expired and there's no record of it? Jen?
Jenifer: Yes. I mean, if the question is asked, you do need to disclose what happened, when it happened, again, to the best of your recollection. Just because something isn't going to be notated on your transcript anymore, there's usually still some sort of record that it actually happened, and you can get the letters or whatever it is that the school is asking for to back that information up. But if they're asking for it and [_unintelligible_] it happened, it's best to go ahead and disclose.
Tajira: When it comes to issues that have been put before the honor board, things like plagiarism or other types of dishonesty, cheating, is that an automatic rejection? Tracy?
Tracy: That's a tough one. I feel like in my experience, it depends on the law school, it depends on the makeup of the admissions committee and the personalities. I think that there are definitely some faculty reviewers and some admissions professionals who feel like any academic integrity issue is and/or should be an outright denial. I think there are many of us who believe that there are nuances and that we need additional information. I mean, people can make honest mistakes, particularly when it comes to plagiarism and/or the lack of kind of quoting things, citing things properly.
And so this is where it becomes really important to be thorough and thoughtful. And I think one of my colleagues mentioned, or our colleagues mentioned not playing the semantics game. This is where this often comes up, and I have seen people literally have their offer of admission revoked first week, second week of law school because they were playing around with the language of the question and thought they were being coy, and upon receiving final transcript or something of that nature, we see this type of issue and it's like, this is serious. You're coming into a profession where your word and your reputation matter a whole lot. Sometimes that's all you have.
And so it can be cause for an outright denial. I think it's something that you need to contact each law school you're interested in, and you did ask specifically, "What type of information would the admissions committee like to see related to the specific incident that I was involved with, because here's what I've planned on sharing. I'm not sure if that's thorough enough." We will happily tell you because we want you to provide as much information as possible so we can make a good decision on your behalf versus kind of a half-baked decision because we don't have all the information. But it can be, it's very serious and it's something that you need to be really thoughtful about.
Tajira: In terms of the serious nature of it, I know that, and I'm playing candidate right now, I know that there are certain instances that kind of have to go before the admissions committee. Are those some of those instances, and if so, like what does that process look like? Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: So I think this would vary from school to school, but often if a candidate is someone that we think is admissible, but there's something in the file that gives us some question, it will often go to a larger committee, whether that's with other admissions officers on staff or to the faculty admissions committee. But often as like we look at things like plagiarism or violating kind of any type of like honor code that your school might have, it was what was the mistake? Like what was the intentionality behind it? But also like what have you learned?
And I think that's an important piece there where instead of just saying like, "Here's all the information," but saying like, "Here's what I did. I made a mistake, I messed up. Here's what I learned from it, and here's more who I am as a student today." Now, we're all human and we've all made mistakes and blips, but it's about kind of being open and honest about it, but then seeing the growth piece where we can picture where you've gone since that mistake.
Tajira: That's great. I think so often we have moments where that growth piece might be missing, and that's the point where sometimes character and fitness statements seem like they're not necessarily, the candidate isn't necessarily taking accountability because either they've pointed the finger at a circumstance or another person and kind of deflected, or they haven't really taken the time to look back and say, "This is what I would've done differently. This is how my life has changed because of it moving forward. This is what I do now to avoid those things." I think that is an integral piece for any of these particular statements that you want to make sure that you're considering and include.
In terms of academic probation, academic dismissal, I have a question from the audience. What should a previous academic dismissed law student write in their addendum upon reapplying to a law school? Jen?
Jenifer: So this definitely would be more detailed than your average addendum of this sort of nature. You do really want to give a lot more substantive information about what went right, what went wrong during the time that you were in law school. I have had clients that have literally gone into like the full weight of the fact, maybe someone, maybe their parents fell ill around final exams and having to really explain all of those things. And then also explaining kind of what corrective measures you attempted and how things would be different this go-round.
So just basically like knowing what I know now, maybe it is that you need to be seeking help or letting someone know that what's going on in your personal life early enough. So maybe you're withdrawing, or maybe it is that you now know that you need to be in a study group and not going at it alone. So you do need to basically illustrate that you have an awareness of like what it is to be in a law school and to perform well academically and how your circumstances will be different now compared to your first attempt.
Tajira: That's great. That's really helpful. Moving on to kind of the professional component, some schools will have a question that talks about professional affiliations, jobs, military affiliations, and they ask questions about if you've been kicked out of an organization, if you had been terminated from a job, if you've been dishonorably discharged from the military, what does that statement tend to look like? Or have you been at a school that's required that statement? Gina?
Gina: I've not been at a school that asked that particular statement. I have come across a few, and again, the theme is be open and honest and disclose it. Again, I think it also depends upon what exactly happened. If it's a firing, explaining that what the lesson, the consequences were. If it was maybe like a human resource action taken, that can be cause for some concern as well. So the theme of the night is explain and be open, because that's information that the committee needs to know. We need to think of the kind of student we want you to be in law school but should be as well. And so, yeah, just disclose and be open and honest.
Tajira: That's great, and if some schools ask for that particular information and others don't, Tracy, if you happen to be at a school that didn't ask for it, but I had already prepared it, is that something that you expect me to disclose because it's happened and I see that other people are asking it? How does that work?
Tracy: That's a tough one. I'm going to give the proverbial law school admissions answer: it depends. I think this is where it's important to remember that our jobs as admissions folks and folks in admissions offices are basically to help you, and so it doesn't hurt to call and ask. You can simply state, like, "I've seen this question at a lot of schools. If I'm reading your application correctly, you don't ask this specific question, but it seems like it'd be helpful if I disclosed it now in case I attend here or matriculate here and the bar examiners take this, come and basically visit your school and get my application."
I think it's important to kind of use good judgment and kind of put it in context, and so I would say it's always better to disclose if possible, because you just are putting it out there and you're going to be done with it. But it doesn't hurt to ask the specific question, like, is this something that your admissions committee would frown upon, because you don't ask this question specifically? Or avoiding the semantics game because if they ask a question that is similar, or a little more narrow or a little more broad, you'd be safe by just disclosing anyway because then you would've covered all your bases and you wouldn't have to worry about it.
And I think the big thing that we want you all to take away is that we don't want you stressing about this. We want you to get it, do it right, and be done with it so you can move on and focus on law school, as opposed to constantly worrying like someone's going to come behind you and figure out that you didn't disclose this, and then you're in trouble. So sometimes you're just better off just putting it out there and just being done with it.
Tajira: Elizabeth, why do some schools ask whether candidates have been a party to civil lawsuit?
Elizabeth: That is a great question and that's something I think I would defer to my colleagues, just because I haven't worked at a law school where we've asked that question.
Tajira: Have you, Gina? Tracy, please?
Tracy: I think mainly because they want to know kind of the things you've involved with. I mean, so if you think about it from a really practical perspective, the big thing from a general counsel at a university's perspective would be, is this person super litigious? I mean, basically, like do you want a student who's been involved with a bunch of lawsuits coming to your institution? Because the likelihood is that that may be someone who is going to kind of have the same behavior at your institution, and you might not want to be, yeah.
So you might not necessarily want that person on your campus. And so this is making the assumption that the lawsuits, they're multiple and that they weren't necessarily coming from the best place. Obviously, there are situations where we have plenty of candidates who have been involved in civil litigation for legitimate reasons, and they were well within their rights to kind of be involved in that case and what have you. But I think what we're looking for with everything, particularly related to character and fitness, is patterns of behavior.
And so, again, if you're someone that's been involved in 2, 3, 4, 5 lawsuits, that is going to set off some alarm bells for most institutions because the thought is that every time you have an issue or if something doesn't go the way you want it to, your first method of kind of resolving the issue is to sue. And again, as an institution, if I'm thinking of the institution and the well-being of my institution, I'm not necessarily going to want to admit someone that is then, that's their normal kind of mode of operation, so.
Jenifer: On the other end of that, all of that absolutely true, but then also it's a way to triangulate. If you're the one who's being sued, we might find out about the, what should have been a DUI when you were drunk driving and there's an insurance claim and you're being sued, we may find out about potential other behaviors that would be kind of tantamount to if you had an arrest, but it didn't go all the way through to charges and the whole nine yards in court. But just there is this accusation that maybe you did something wrong to a neighbor's property or something in that light.
So it just gives us an idea of maybe some of the less favorable things that you have been up to potentially, because at least you've been accused of it in a very official manner, and so it's just a way for the school to find that out. The one school that I worked at that did ask that question, it was the age-old just needed to match up with the state bar application, but it ended up coming in pretty handy for us a couple of times because it just, there was information there that we 100% did care about, and we would not have been asking that question on our own.
Tajira: It's so important to note, too, that sometimes we're not just asking the question because we know the state bar asks. We also are asking the question because sometimes us finding out early that there might be a pattern helps us to help you prepare. And so perfect example, Jenifer and I both happened to work at law schools in Louisiana. Louisiana is a state where there are open containers and all kinds of interesting things happening because we love an open container. But at the same time, you have to be very diligent and very careful, especially when operating a car.
And so for folks who happen to have multiple DUIs, that was something that the state bar took very seriously. In instances where we would see several DUIs on someone's character and fitness statement, we had to make recommendations to that particular candidate to reach out to the state bar because the Louisiana State Bar was likely to put them on a sobriety contract.
And so just understanding that there are different nuances in every single jurisdiction, and sometimes we're asking the questions not because it has anything to do with our decision-making process, but because we're trying to make sure that we're setting you up so that you can be as prepared as possible when you're going through the motions of getting your licensure and that you're able to get your licensure because those sobriety contracts are often three-year contracts and if you started at the beginning of law school, by the time you graduate, you're ready to practice, whereas if you don't start it until you graduate, well, now you're in a pickle. And so there are things to consider and nuances to all of this.
And I say that because the next question that I ask, it's a little difficult. What does all of this mean? And sometimes, are these character and fitness questions, are the responses used to justify a rejection? And I'm going to leave this to my entire panel so that if anybody wants to jump in, feel free.
Gina: I'll begin. But I mean, I think it depends. One DUI, not necessarily. What is it? A bad DUI with a huge major accident, multiple incidents, it can raise a red flag. My previous experience, we had somebody with a felony. They kind of got caught up in a scheme, and by the time they realized, they became a whistleblower. So it's great. They realized what was happening, became the whistleblower, but despite working with the proper authorities to, you know, bring some people down, they still ended up with the felony on the record. And so it was up to them to ensure that they could even practice in the state. But that was an issue that we even had to consider. Can we admit the person knowing that they may not be able to practice? So it greatly varies, I think.
Tracy: I totally agree. I've definitely had some candidates with a little more serious character and fitness items that we had to have a meeting, I needed to involve like general counsel and the dean of students and the dean, and then I had to go back and say, "Okay, candidate, why? Here are the things you need to ask the state bar, and we're going to waitlist you now while we figure this out because we have more research to do, you have more research to do, and we're just not sure right now," because ethically, we also don't want to admit people where we know there's not a strong likelihood that they will ever be able to be licensed. I mean, that's just not fair to the candidates.
And so I think it's definitely kind of going back to what you were saying before, to hear too about kind of why we ask some of the questions we ask. I mean, it's partly also because we are trying to figure out like are there things that we can help you work through, documentation you can get now if you're in the midst of a lawsuit, midst of charges being filed, things of that nature. Those are all things that if the charge was a misdemeanor and now because something else has happened and now it's a felony, that changes the whole game. And so those are things that we have to take in consideration.
So I think, as Gina was saying, it's a little more nuanced and it definitely varies. But it's definitely much more complicated, I think, than I'm going to say, "I'm denying you because of this one incident." It's usually more involved than that. And then the last thing I'll say for now is that several of the people that I've had to deny over the last couple years, it wasn't necessarily that what they had done, I mean, some of the things had been serious, but they had been, enough time had passed, they had paid their dues, had served their time, et cetera, et cetera.
But it was their lack of humility and their inability to acknowledge that they had made the mistake that the admissions committee could not get past, and they thought like, this is a person who will show up in these spaces and continue to make bad decisions and blame everyone else. And so again, not necessarily just what they did in terms of why we would deny them, but it's the fact that there was no acknowledgement of the fact that they had been involved in this issue, this incident, this crime, this issue, what have you. And so I think those are, it's a much bigger, bigger issue. But at the heart of what you were asking, it can be part of a decision, so.
Elizabeth: And I don't think, as we read files, we look for ways that we want to deny someone or find a way to justify denying someone. Yes, the law school admission is competitive and in a lot of places we deny far more people than we admit. But when I read files, I'm looking for the best in an applicant. So even in the character and fitness, as we're telling different examples, like we're trying to see where are the positives or the upsides in it? What have people learned? And so as we go through kind of the application review and thinking about character and fitness, we want to know these things because we want to, again, help you in the process, as my colleagues have said, and just make sure we get a full picture of who you are during the application process.
Jenifer: I would say I agree, obviously, with all of those things, but we looked at, in my past experiences, we looked at how the character and fitness fit into the whole application. So I mean, it still was only one factor in the whole, I mean, I really, honestly, over a 10-year career, can't think of anyone who got denied for one single thing. There were always other elements in the application. But one thing that I haven't said tonight, and it was always a big part of the decision with regard to character and fitness is, a huge function of an admissions officer, in my view, is building a community, and I have to think about others in that community as I evaluate applicants.
And so when I'm looking at a pattern of behavior, one that's coming to mind now as I had someone who just, not, just so many instances, I want to say more than four instances of stalking and just not having good relationships with others, I can't put that in my law school community. I can't expose other people in my community to that sort of potential behavior and harassment. They're safe, they're depending on us to provide a safe environment for them to learn in. And I'm not saying just because you've had that issue in the past that you can't overcome it, but it was clear that this person had not. So it can't be only about you, especially when it comes to character and fitness. I have to be thinking about the community that I'm a gatekeeper for as an admissions officer.
Tajira: Those patterns, that's actually something that I wanted to touch on, and I think that we see those patterns often both on the academic side and on the criminal side. You might have someone who, the biggest thing that they have is a speeding ticket, but they have like 12 of them. Or you have someone who has had six different opportunities where they've had alcohol in their dorm room, or things that start to show a disregard for rules and for trying to make sure that you're, you keep staying above board when it comes to whatever requirements are being set before you. When you start to create those patterns, what you don't realize is all of us have been trained to see those.
So if I see like four DUIs or I see seven speeding tickets, I'm starting to notice certain things and it makes me look at different parts of your application differently. It's important to note, like we start to look at for that behavior in everything. Okay, well, if we've got seven speeding tickets and we've got this kind of disregard over here, and now I'm looking at the LSAT and I'm seeing like multiple retakes but no behavior change, no practice change, and there was just an expectation that the score was going to change, I'm seeing a pattern across the board and it's starting to tell me about how you kind of attack certain instances and circumstances. It lets me know kind of the kind of student I can expect you to be. And so like, just know that we're looking at literally everything from cover to cover within your application.
If I apply to a law school and I realize that I forgot to include some information from my academic or my criminal record, genuinely just forgot, whoopsies, how do I fix that? Or can I fix that? I'll start with you, Jen.
Jenifer: Most places will let you fix it. Reach out as soon as you know, providing the proper addendum and explanation and apology to make sure and ask if it can be added to your file. I guess if the answer you receive is no, you just have to take that one on the chin. But I think that most law schools would appreciate the fact that you did try to fix the problem. I know, for instance, when I was at LSU, we even did the big kind of, kind of, I hate to say, scare tactic meeting even after the students were enrolled to just go back over character and fitness.
Was there something that should have been on your application that wasn't? Do we need to haul you on down to the admissions office and let you amend your application in the first [_unintelligible_]? We usually had a few that were like, oh yeah, that drunk in public. So, it's, I think you should always try to correct your problem as soon as possible, your error, rather, and most schools are going to be so open to that, to the tune of their, even at orientation, trying to bring you into the light and make sure that you're not having any problems down the road.
Elizabeth: We did the same thing, Jen, that I think most schools do during orientation. Hey, just a reminder, here's what you put in your character and fitness. Is it scarier to have to disclose it as a 1L after you've said no to other law schools and committed to one, because we can rescind your admission? Absolutely. Should you put it in your application initially? Absolutely. But sometimes people do honestly forget. Or sometimes you didn't think it was that big of a deal, and then you can include it later, but it really puts you in the strongest position possible to put it in your application and be transparent right from the get-go.
Jenifer: And that also goes for things that happen between clicking submit and enrolling in law school, actually, between clicking submit and graduating. You've always got to tell your law school what you've been up to. You're their problem until you're literally graduated.
Tracy: Ongoing duty to disclose, so don't forget that. Super, super important.
Tajira: Now, my understanding, or at least of the schools that I've been at, we've had instances where we had the folks who were like, oh, whoopsies, I forgot. And then they disclosed. I don't know if this was the case at any of your schools, but did you all have where the admissions committee then had to re-review their application to see if they would still offer admission? Because that was the instance at several of mine.
Tracy: Oh, sorry, Jen.
Jenifer: No, you go ahead. I was just going to say, only if it was like super bad.
Tracy: That's what I was going to say. If it was super, like it would depend on the severity, and sometimes I'd have to, I would go to the dean of students first and say like, "So, that student we really liked that just deposited, well, they just came in and said they did x." And then we would have a quick conversation like, is this a "I've got to go back to the full committee," or is this a "you and I can kind of decide and maybe do the scare tactic thing and say we need every documentation, blah, blah, blah right now, and then we'll see," or is this serious enough where we now need to run this up the whole chain and now get the dean involved in whatever, because there's a potential that we're going to have to revoke? But severity of it really made the difference.
Tajira: I've definitely been at schools where it depended and we would kind of consult, but I've, one of the schools that I worked at, and I've been at five law schools, one of them, it was every single instance. And so if someone amended their application because they had neglected to include something or omitted something or forgot something, we had to take that to the committee every single time, and the committee would discuss it and vote. If that vote did not go a student's way, then we would take it to the dean and then potentially that person would have their admission rescinded.
And it did happen on a couple of occasions where we did ultimately have to make that call where the person was, had their admissions rescinded. One of them was actually at orientation when we finally had the decision come back. And that's a terrible feeling. It's so, so important to disclose as early as you can, as detailed and as candidly as you can, because the last thing that you want is to be in a position where your admission's disclosed. And I've seen folks make it all the way through three years of law school and then have admissions disclosed, which means there is no longer a record of the three years that you attended school except for your student loans.
That's not a position that you want to be in. It's awful. Just know, like, it's always about giving that information up front. It's just about addressing it here. It's really for the state bar in most instances. And so what we're trying to do is we're just trying to help you get that narrative together, because you're going to have to tell it in even more detail when you apply to the state bar.
With that, I'm going to start jumping into some of the questions that we have from our audience. The first one is, do high school disciplinary actions need to be disclosed? The way some schools phrase their character and fitness section is to include the post-secondary school incidents. But what about high school disciplinary actions? Elizabeth?
Elizabeth: Again, this depends. Most schools, no, but there are a handful of schools out there that do ask for information. I was working with an applicant last year where application was 99% done. She goes, "Oh, I've got to tell you all the stuff that happened to me in high school," and not some great stuff happened. Like she rebounded, like rebounded, but it took us a long time to kind of work through them, figure out the right language to kind of show that growth, and so most schools won't require, but some will, and it still requires the same thought and care and disclosure, whether it happened at 16 or whether it happened at 25, when you're applying to law school.
Tajira: That's great. The next question is, I have an instance of academic dishonesty that is not on my record. When disclosing the event, should I mention that it's not on my record, or is it better to omit conversations about what is or isn't on my record? Jen?
Jenifer: I think that it's probably helpful to give those facts because there might be someone who's asking for some sort of documentation later. I think there's a way to say it without making it sound like you're trying to minimize or avoid accountability. It's just a fact that it's not something that's on your official record. But you have to do that in such a way that you're not trying to say, "Well, you know, I have this, but everything's okay because it's not even on my official record." That's not taking accountability.
So if you just state it factually, I mean, it is a fact. There's nothing wrong with saying that. And it might help to avoid some maybe questions or requests for certain things later down the road connected with it if it's already put out in the front that this explanation here is pretty much all there is.
Tajira: Gina, this question is, how do you go about taking responsibility for a cheating charge on your academic record if you were not really at fault for the cheating charge?
Gina: Oh man. At the same time, like, you may not really be at fault, but what was it with somebody looking off your paper? Knowingly you get caught up into it. Was it, oftentimes, I think when students are given take-home tests, sometimes group work may be done, although not supposed to. It varies, but I think, again, you have to own it. Like, it did happen, it's on your record, it did happen, you have to acknowledge it, but you have to acknowledge what went wrong and like how you're not doing that in the future. But yeah, that's, I mean, it kind of varies too, so.
Jenifer: I feel like we're seeing so much more of that with the pandemic times, with the ProctorU and the electronic things and somebody looking to the right three times, and now all of a sudden they have these academic dishonesty things. I think with that being kind of what everyone's reality was, I think you just kind of say what happened and say, basically, "This is the decision that the school came down with, and I have no choice other than to accept and respect it, but here's my position and I kind of stand by that I literally sneezed and looked to the right three times. Like I did not cheat, but I accept and respect the decision and I have to move forward with that on my record" would be, I guess, the best way to try to own something that you didn't do.
Elizabeth: And then I think in the case, like I'm working with someone this year where she sent a project to a classmate saying, "Go ahead, look at my project as an example," and the classmate completely plagiarized it. And so they both got in trouble and they were both cited, and the initial draft was, it was her fault and I got caught up in it. I'm like, "Well, should you really have sent her your entire project? Probably not. Maybe you should have had a conversation about it."
And so it was a good learning opportunity, and as she thought about it more, it's like, "I thought I was helping her, but I did something I probably shouldn't have done, and in hindsight, I would've had that conversation with my classmate rather than just saying, 'Here's all my work. Do with it what you want.'" And so I think there is an opportunity for learning, even in some of these academic dishonesty things that we want to see as an admissions committee.
Tajira: Okay, these next few have some nuance. Tracy, if the law school I was academically dismissed from had accreditation issues after, is it worth bringing that up in the addendum?
Tracy: My initial response is no, and then I lean towards a little bit, it depends. But the reality is that you were academically dismissed from the school prior to the accreditation issues, and that has nothing to do with your dismissal. So you would be best suited by stating why you were academically dismissed, what you learned from the situation, and why this time would be different if given the opportunity to attend law school again. And just leave it at that. You don't even know if anybody on the admissions committee worked at that school at any given point and may have some affinity and you might offend them. So that's not worth it. Just take responsibility and move on.
Tajira: Yeah, anytime judgment can get called into question, it's just not a good move because the second that you open the door to folks looking at your judgment, they're going to scrutinize everything. So be careful with that.
The next question is, what if you were in the wrong industry and you went to social media to say how rotten that industry was after you started asking questions, and the C-suite didn't like that and they offered you a package to leave that you took, and then the industry started to badmouth you to other potential employers, which recruiters let you know about, so you were even more sarcastic about that industry on social media? Elizabeth, would you like to tackle this?
Elizabeth: Sure. So I think what initially comes to my mind is I have a question about professional judgment, and I don't know the whole situation, I don't know kind of what levels of confidentiality might have been involved, but it makes me question how you might defend a client, or how you might speak about those clients, or how you might speak about your classmates or faculty or the community you might build.
And so I understand that people get frustrated and we often go to social media and things like that to kind of express our frustrations, but I think you need to own what you did and say, "Here's why I did it. Here are the consequences of that. Looking forward in a different circumstance, I may do it differently." Again, it'll probably depend on your own perspective, but you need to understand the way you will talk about this, based on how Tajira read the question, has me kind of question professional judgment and who you might be in a law school community.
Tajira: Anyone want to add to that? Okay. I have one that says, is it worth it to apply to a T-14 school with an academic misconduct charge like plagiarism or cheating? Jen?
Jenifer: Yeah, I think it's still worth it. I've had clients that have had some problems that have been admitted, but I think it's all going to turn on the facts and how you present them, and then also how compelling the rest of your application is. So I think it's worth it to apply, but realizing that those schools are a long shot for many reasons, not just character and fitness. But don't count yourself out. Everyone has a past. You're doing what you need to do to try to arm yourself with framing that past as best as possible by even being here tonight. So there's nothing wrong with hearing no. You're going to hear it a lot in your life. You're going to hear it a lot in your career as a lawyer. You just toughen up. You have to have a thick skin and put those applications out there if you have a genuine interest in those schools.
Tajira: Gina, this one says, if we already have to write a GPA addendum and a character and fitness addendum because poor grades, placed on academic probation, would it be best to meld the two issues into one, or should we write two separate addendums?
Gina: I'd be curious what my colleagues say, but I would almost err on the side of two separate ones. I think sometimes they might be tied to each other, but I think explaining it separately is sometimes helpful.
Tajira: Tracy, I see you nodding.
Tracy: Yeah, I mean, just because sometimes people, you don't want to conflate issues and you don't want to make things too convoluted. I mean, the goal with any of these, generally speaking in these statements, is to kind of be concise and but detailed at the same time, right? And so being thoughtful and having clear lines of communication might require two separate, distinct explanations. There might be a little overlap, but you really want to get to the heart of the issue quickly so that we're not dwelling on, because again, you don't want us to dwell on all these things that are kind of like the not the best attributes in terms of what you're bringing to the table, but you're trying to explain it in a way that leaves us with no follow-up questions. And so being clear might require two separate and distinct statements, like Gina said.
Tajira: Jen, what type of information does one typically look for concerning being placed on academic probation? What evidence, if any, needs to be provided to show that you were taken off?
Jenifer: A lot of times the schools are going to ask for a letter from whomever the academic dean is, or sometimes student and academic affairs are the same person. So sometimes just a statement from your school that documents that. Also for other schools, just the notation on your transcript is fine. Your transcripts are going to show whether you're on any sort of academic probation or anything like that. So it is going to vary from school to school, and they generally will let you know.
I know a question a few ago, someone asked about mentioning whether a school had been kind of shut down for accreditation. That might be an instance where you might say, "I have a hard time getting some of this stuff because XYZ happened." But if you are in a situation where you can't get your documentation, like legitimately can't, then you might mention it in your addendum as well, but not just because you don't feel like getting it or it's an inconvenience.
Tajira: That's great. Thank you. Just a reminder to everybody listening, you can still drop a question into the discussion forum. I'm only going to be able to get to one more question here, and so if we didn't get to your question, don't be afraid to either message me on the 7Sage website or to just respond and drop a comment in the discussion forum under the event page so that we can make sure that your questions are answered.
This last question that I have for my panelists tonight is, in the spirit of disclosure, does it ever work against us or show bad judgment to include instances that an admissions committee wouldn't need to be included? I think they mean just like kind of being overinclusive or beyond candid. Is it best to just kind of let the admissions committee make that call or should we try to limit what we're saying? And I'm going to leave that one open to the floor.
Jenifer: I can recall one instance in my career where someone was super just like detailed and bulleted, and it went like over a page, and I was like, gosh, this is not a C&F addendum. This is a rap sheet. And it's not so much that everything was so serious, but just the weight of dumping all of that, from dorm room violations on up. It was poor judgment, but it also just left me feeling like this candidate is so much worse than anybody else in the pool. And that probably wasn't even the case. They just like literally highlighted their own flaws.
So I think you do want to take care and provide what we've asked for, unless you've asked, called and asked or emailed and asked, and you've been told to do more, but for the most part, you don't want to be overloading us on negative things about yourself. Like pump yourself up in your application. It's a small landscape.
Tracy: I think there's a hard, I love what Jen just said because I think there's a hard balance between that kind of confidence and humility, and I definitely think in the character and fitness space, you want to demonstrate that you've learned something, that you're not going to repeat the same mistakes, et cetera. But there's a point in which you're just, if you're going on and on, you've not done yourself any good. You're not serving yourself. And so you're still advocating for yourself in the application process.
So be thoughtful and judicious about what you share. Like are the facts there? Have you done the who, what, where, when, why, and the lesson learned? And then move on. Like we don't need necessarily the graphic details of every single incident if we get to the heart of the matter in terms of what the incident charge, blah, blah, blah was. And so I think having good judgment about why you're sharing the information is definitely something you want to be thoughtful about in the process, because I think it says something about who you are and your maturity and how closely you're paying attention to the details, but also being thoughtful that for many of these admissions committees, they're reading thousands of applications and they don't want to go on and on and on about anything.
And so get to the point and move on. Like, again, it's kind of like, "Oh yeah, by the way, you may have seen that I have this charge on my record. Here's what happened, here's why, and I learned, paid my fine, served my time, and now I'm ready to be an upstanding citizen and I've not been in trouble since. And now back to my great personal statement about why I'm ready to go to your law school and I'm going to be a great fit." That's literally what you're trying to do. So I think take what Jen said to heart in terms of like, you're going on and on and on, then you're leaving us lingering with like, well, what else did you do and what else happened? You don't want that.
Tajira: Well, with that, I just want to thank my panelists so much for your time this evening. It has been a lively conversation about character and fitness and integrity in the profession, something that always makes me really proud because we want strong integrity in this profession. We want this to have a strong reputation and to be seen as something taken seriously. We want strong advocates out there championing our communities.
With that, I will thank everyone who attended. For our attendees, again, please don't forget that you can drop questions in the discussion forum. I'll be checking them throughout the week, but don't, also, if you happen to be in one of the Discord groups that I'm a part of, you can also message me there, but if you do have a question, do let us know, because we'd love to make sure that we get that answered for you. And this recording will be available via our podcast soon. So again, thank you to my panelists, and everybody have a great night.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you are 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.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, Admissions Consultant Tajira McCoy hosts consultant Tracy Simmons, who is the Assistant Dean of Admissions, Financial Aid, and Diversity Initiatives at the University of San Diego School of Law. The two of them discuss the application process and programs of USD Law, including Q&A from the listeners. So without further ado, please enjoy.
Tajira: Welcome, everyone. My name is Taj McCoy. I'm one of the 7Sage admissions consultants, as you probably already know. Today I am joined by Tracy Simmons. She is the Assistant Dean of Admissions, Financial Aid, and Diversity Initiatives at USD School of Law. Prior to joining USD, Dean Simmons worked for the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, Chapman University, Golden Gate University.
She has also served as a consultant for the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, CLEO, Achieving Success in the Application Process Program for over 13 years. She's a member of the Association of American Law Schools, AALS, serving as the chair of the Pre-Legal Education and Admission to Law School section twice and as the chair for the Part-Time section. She also served on the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, NASFAA, Consumer Information and Law School Law Student Information Task Force.
Dean Simmons has also been involved with the Law School Admission Council in a variety of roles, including serving on the board of trustees and as chair for the annual meeting of law school professionals in 2021. In our field, Dean Simmons is what we call a veteran. Dean Simmons, thank you so much for joining us today, and welcome.
Tracy: Thanks for having me. Super excited to be here.
Tajira: I'm so glad you're here. Yes, yes. We get to talk all things University of San Diego School of Law, and so perhaps we can start with you sharing a bit about the school with us.
Tracy: Yes, so I've actually had the pleasure of being at the University of San Diego School of Law for a whopping almost four months . So I'm still pretty new and I'm actually learning quite a bit about the institution, and I will say kind of the proverbial standard things that most people want to know right off the bat.
We offer a full-time program. We offer a part-time evening program. We are located on the University of San Diego actual campus, and so the business school and the Peace and Justice Center and things of that nature are right down the way. So we have the benefit of being on a big university campus. We are in what is called Linda Vista, so not too far from the airport, not too far from downtown. Amazing views of of San Diego from different points on the campus.
And we have everything from legal clinics, 11 of which are client facing. We also have several centers, institutes, everything from consumer protection to child advocacy. We also offer some concurrent degree programs. One, obviously, that is traditional for most law students, a JD/MBA, but we also offer one with international relations and we offer one in peace and justice studies, and so that's kind of unique and special and we're super excited about that as well. And I could go on and on, but I'll let you kind of ask questions and steer the conversation a little bit.
Tajira: Certainly. Well, being in San Diego, of course, the first thing that I think of is the beach and the weather there. How much would you say location plays into how people view the school?
Tracy: I think it's a big part of it. I mean, I think that at different points it's been named one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. San Diego is often one of those cities that people often refer to as the place that they, everyone wants to go. I will note that when I posted on LinkedIn that I was transitioning from McGeorge to USD, the number of people that offered to visit, very, very interested, interesting compared to people wanting to come to Sacramento, so, which is the capital of California.
But I think, for a number of people, I had a young man yesterday, we had a military mixer for our incoming students with some of our faculty who run the Veterans Clinic and alumni and current students, and he stated that he was all set to go to law school in New York, and he just happened to see something about University of San Diego and he decided to take a chance and visit, and now he and his dog are here, ready to start law school in a few weeks. And so super excited about that. But yes, I think the weather and the skyline and the idea of actually sitting on a lawn and studying con law or contracts is attractive to a lot of people, so.
Tajira: Kind of wish I had had that scene when I was in law school.
Tracy: Me too.
Tajira: Yeah, we like to get a sense of the other side of the desk, as you know from a previous conversation that we've had. What parts of the cycle are you in right now? Are you reading files or considering waitlists, or is all of that done for you for the summer?
Tracy: Ay, ay, ay. So, no, unfortunately, we are definitely in the throes of where we still have people on the waitlist. The deadline at University of San Diego for this year and for many years prior was actually July 31st, so it had a really, really late deadline. That is good and bad in some ways, right? Like I think for candidates who often come to this late in the process because they finally realize that life has come together in a way that they actually could go to law school this year, it works for them, right? To have this really late deadline.
The challenge, though, is that by the time an application is complete at this point in time in the cycle, most of the seats are gone, most of the scholarships are gone, and so unless you're a really, really competitive applicant, the likelihood of being admitted this late is not strong. So we're pretty settled in terms of the class. I think we've had a couple of mixers and events and, you know, billing will start soon, and we sent over the sectioning information to the registrar's office so our incoming students will know what classes they're going to have soon and things of that nature.
But we are blessed to have had over 3,600 applications this year. Generally, for an incoming class of about 260, 265, associate dean would love it to be closer to 250, 255, but that's kind of where we live right now. So that's kind of where we are in the cycle.
Tajira: Okay, and closer to 250, 255, would that mean that maybe moving forward, that might be a goal that school is looking at, perhaps?
Tracy: You know, I think it's one of those things, you've done this for a long time along with me, and I think that, you know, we all start off with one goal that we're told kind of September, October, November, and then things may change or happen come January, February when the board kind of decides on tuition rates or other things of that nature.
I think the sweet spot for the University of San Diego School of Law to keep their student faculty ratio around 8:1 is kind of between 250, 260. I think that's the ideal size in terms of making sure the writing courses are small, making sure the tracks are not too big, to make sure that the students have enough one-on-one attention. I think it works for academic success, bar success and the student affairs office as well.
Tajira: Now, you mentioned that we're getting to the close of this cycle. We're about four weeks away from applications opening once again. And so for our prospective applicant listeners, people are always talking about how it's best to apply early. Is that true? And what's considered early for USD?
Tracy: It's such a good question and it's such a hard one to answer for every candidate. I mean, I think of my colleagues or our colleagues who will say things like, "It's great to apply early as long as that means your application is competitive," and that is going to differ for each candidate because it depends on when you're taking the LSAT and when you get your letters of rec and things like that.
Our application will generally be available after Labor Day. We hope to start reading files in early November. Obviously, that's all contingent upon the dean confirming with the faculty what our goals are going to be, and goals generally, for most of us, are tied directly to the metrics, meaning LSAT goal, GPA goal, class size goal, things of that nature.
So for us, generally speaking, we hope to see a good number of candidates apply before the end of the calendar year, which is end of December. I just tell people that that's a good time to apply because that's when LSAC, it's kind of before they get this big kind of influx of applications because you have schools that have early decision or early binding programs who have deadlines in mid-November or December 1st or so.
And so a lot of people, if whether they're applying to those schools or not, will spend that kind of quiet period at the end of December, whether it's kind of because they're on holiday, because they're out of school, because their jobs are closed down, kids are out of school, whatever their life circumstances may be, a lot of candidates will spend that time actually working on their applications.
And so what that means for LSAC is that they get this huge influx of transcripts that they have to do the grade summarization for and things of that nature. So if you can get in before that, your application is much less likely to be delayed versus like January, a lot of us see this huge influx of applications, and so if you can get it in before the end of the year, that's always better in my opinion.
But again, don't rush it, like until you feel like you put your best foot forward, until you feel like you've explained all the different nuances of who you are, and why your grades are what they are, and why your LSAT score is what it is, or GRE for those that choose to take the GRE, we do accept the GRE, until your letters of recommendation are top-notch and things of that nature, don't hit submit.
I mean, again, don't put yourself in a situation where you've not done your absolute best to submit a thorough application, and in the time working with folks like you at 7Sage, I mean, I think the amount of time and energy spent on really cultivating a very, very thoughtful application, it takes a while. And so to do that well and to be in that kind of what we consider early part of the pool, that means for the 2023 applicants, they're doing that now, they're starting now.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. In thinking through your application requirements, does USD have any optional statements or special requirements outside of personal statement, diversity statement, resume, or potential addenda? And then what does the application review process look like for you?
Tracy: So we allow for the optional or additional essays. So if someone wants to explain why they had two semesters where there were a number of withdrawals, or they want to explain why their grade trend went down and then back up, or why they started off kind of on a rocky road in undergrad, typical, "Mom and Dad said they would only pay if I was pre-med." We see that a lot, right? So we give you the option and the opportunity to kind of explain those things. If you have some adversity that you've overcome or you think you bring a specific level of diversity to the campus and to the law school, you're allowed to explain those things.
Our process is pretty typical in comparison to many of our peer schools and schools around the country, the 197 or so ABA law schools out there. So we require an application, we require a personal statement, two to three pages. We are actually going to encourage applicants to submit two letters of recommendation, preferably from a professor, unless you've been out of school for five years or more. We'll take up to three. We require a resume. And so some of these things are going to be a little different on the website because we're changing some things for 2023, so we'll get that information up there soon.
And then lastly, the big, big thing is getting those transcripts in, and I think, for a lot of candidates, they don't understand that if you have like an unacknowledged transcript, like you have a hold from a community college or a college you attended early on, like that can delay you quite a bit. But traditionally speaking, if you go to the Law School Admission Council website, if you go to the 7Sage website and you look at the actual elements of an application, those are the things that you would need for the University of San Diego to apply.
And then in terms of the review process, we actually have faculty reviewers. There are three of us on my team that read files, and then we have [_unintelligible_] readers. These are ones who did well, who can basically kind of like either they're waiting bar results and/or they are in jobs where they can kind of pick up extra tasks and responsibilities. And so we've had a couple readers with us who are thriving in their new jobs as new, young attorneys, but they had some extra time to earn some extra money, and so they're actually reading files too.
And I will say they are the most helpful readers in a lot of ways because they're super thorough and they really are often championing the applicant in a way that sometimes admissions folks or faculty don't, because sometimes we're just, we do this so often and we're just kind of formulaic in how we go through it, but they have a different focus. And so I think that's great for the candidates, actually.
Tajira: I love that. So you touched on one thing that I know I get so many questions about as a consultant, it's that five years are more rule when it comes to academic letters for letters of recommendation, and there are often students, for whatever reason, sometimes because of the pandemic, who weren't really able to build strong relationships with faculty members during the course of their education, and so are concerned about trying to reach out to get those academic letters, even though it has been less than five years. What would your advice be there?
Tracy: That's a tough one. I just was emailing the candidate about this literally last night, and it's a really tough situation because, for us, I would try to give folks some grace, particularly if they've made the effort to explain why they don't have academic letters, because that's always a confusing thing. If you've been out of school and it's 2022, you're applying for 2023, and you have no academic letters and you don't say anything about it, and your grades are kind of what would consider to be so-so, that's a really tough one because it's hard for me to convey to my faculty, who are looking to get the opinions of other faculty or teaching assistants about you, why you may have avoided that, not done that, right?
And so the concern, one, is that, did you not make any connections? Because law school, there's such a significant portion of law school that is tied to how you connect with people. I mean, most of us are graduates. They get their jobs because they've networked and because they've kept in touch with their faculty and their faculty are looking out for them. And so there's that weird part of that.
But you are right in that COVID made this so much more challenging. So one example would be, normally you see a number of students who will have transferred from community colleges and junior colleges to four-year programs, particularly on the West Coast. That's very typical. That's what we're used to. And normally you would see them have maybe one letter from the community college and maybe one from their four-year program. And I noticed that quite a few were only having them from the community college, but that's because they weren't remote when they were taking their community college or A-level work, and so it was easier to make that connection for them.
And so I think that for the candidates, if I'm working with you, working with clients, my advice would be to reach out to the school and ask them specifically what they need, what they, what they're looking for, because you don't want to just ignore it, particularly for the law schools that actually require academic letters no matter what. You definitely want to be in that space where you're asking the question. For USD, we'll try to give you a little grace and leeway, but I still would say there's nothing wrong with including a paragraph about why you don't have academic letters or why your letters are from your freshman year and it's four years later and you weren't able to make other connections to get newer letters.
But I think it's about communication and about transparency and also about being authentic and genuine and just really, I mean, it's weird for me in this space because I'm talking about USD, but I'm trying to be broad because I want the people listening to kind of do what's best for them as they submit their other applications too.
And I just think that it just never hurts to ask the law school exactly what they want. Because trust me, we will tell you what we want. We won't lead you astray. And so it's in your best interest to just reach out to the school and kind of say like, "Hey, this is my situation. What do you think I should do? How can I ensure that I'm not viewed less favorably in this process if the majority of my colleagues, peers, other applicants are going to have academic letters and I can't get one?"
The last point I'll make, Miss Tajira, is that for students who maybe were international, I had another candidate, we were at a Lavender Law, the LGBTQ+ event this weekend, and LSAC co-sponsored a panel for the Southern California law schools. And so we got on this conversation and so this young woman followed up and she went to school in France and she's having a really hard time getting her transcripts.
That's another example of like, just reach out to the school and ask, because you'd be surprised in terms of the flexibility some schools may give you, if they can see that you've made an earnest effort to meet the requirements.
Tajira: Right, right. Well, so now I'm going to throw you a curve ball. Numbers being identical, right? What is it that makes an applicant stand out to you? If you have two candidates and one has like great work experience, but the other is this great writer and tells you a super strong story, who do you pick or do you have to pick?
Tracy: Well, in December, February, March, I probably don't have to pick. I can probably take both of them and be just as happy. In May, June, July, I might have to pick. And at that point, it's really going to depend on, like, things like what stands out the most, what from this particular application versus A versus B, what do I see in terms of the application that means this candidate will thrive at my institution? Do we have programs that align with what he or she is saying they want? Are they already focused on a particular clinic or particular faculty member?
It's really hard. I mean, the challenge is that, this is also going back to your original question about why apply early, and it's because we have so much more leeway. Right now as I'm looking at files, I'm literally, the dean is in my ear, whether he's physically there or not, like, okay, this has helped the numbers, this has hurt the numbers. Who's more likely to come?
I mean, I think since we're having this real talk, I mean that's the other part of this that I think candidates need to understand is that there are so many factors that go into why a candidate, like I was waitlisting people two weeks ago that a month ago I would've probably admitted with scholarship, but right now I have no room for them, and so I can't offer them a seat because there's, we have no room. And so I think it is a curve ball because it's a hard one to answer, and I think it's really kind of instinct and timing. And sometimes it's like, I read this one first, that's who I'm making the offer to, and this other person has to be waitlisted. It's tough.
Tajira: That's helpful. Should candidates try to stand out or is that a misnomer?
Tracy: That is a huge misnomer. I mean, I feel like, we spent a lot of time on this. We were doing CLEO with the University of Chicago this weekend, and that question came up multiple times, and we felt like we had covered it, and then we realized like, okay, so they're not really hearing us, so let's speak on behalf of, like, there are maybe four or five law schools represented on this panel at that point, and we were like, okay, we're going to all say it in different ways so that you all can hear us.
Like, this is not a process where you want to stand out because, besides trial lawyers, you need to fall in line. Like, you have to kind of follow the rules, you have to follow the script, you have to follow the instructions. And so I think the way that you often can stand out in this process is actually by following directions. I mean, and I say that and people are always like, oh yeah, and I'm like, you have no idea how many people don't follow directions in this process.
Like, I get excited when I open a file and my staff did not have to follow up two or three times to get you to do the basic things that you need to do. But our outline on our website, outline on the LSAC information for the application, and I know are traditional things that most ABA law schools are looking for. And it's sad, but it's true. Like, I'm super happy because I'm like, oh my gosh. So now my dean of students won't be mad at me if I admit this person because they already know how to follow the rules. That is literally what we're thinking.
And so the idea of standing out is, I think, something that societally we've taken to a level that often doesn't translate into all difference, particularly in the professional school space. Like, you don't want to be known as the gunner, right, in class. You don't want to be known as the person that is the jerk in the class. You don't want to be the person who's calling the law school and harassing people, right? And so I think, in this space, following the rules is super important.
But the other part of this is that I hope people will take to heart that your individual story is unique in and of itself. You know, Tajira McCoy's story, Tracy Simmons' story, on our own, they're unique because we've lived different lives and we come to the table with different things. And so I think you don't have to worry so much about standing out as you just do actually submitting the best application that is a good reflection of who you are today, what you've overcome, what you've learned, what you bring to the table, and what you're willing to learn, I think are way, way more important than trying to use weird fonts and adding a photo to your resume and doing a haiku, or trying to submit a [_unintelligible_]. We don't want to see all that. That's just, you don't have to do that. Like, that's not, that's not what you need to do in this process.
Tajira: When it comes to the personal statement, I've been hearing that there are some admissions officers saying, "You don't have to talk about law at all." And then there are others that are like, "Yeah, absolutely do." And then some people are like, "Well, it depends." What is your stance?
Tracy: So, oh man, I think, oh gosh, this is a tough one. So I was talking to a 7Sage person the other day on a Zoom, and I actually went to the websites for two schools in LA because I wanted to show, kind of illustrate more or less what you're talking about and how different, although these schools have a lot in common. I wanted to show how different the language is on both of the websites about the personal statement.
And so this is where, again, we're going to use that proverbial "it depends." And for USD, I would say it depends on what your strategy is as it relates to your overall application. For some people, they're going to want to write why they want to be in San Diego and why our programs, our centers, our institutes, our clinics make the most sense for them.
But for somebody else, they're going to want to talk specifically about why law, why now, and that's okay. But I'm also fine with someone literally talking about the fact that they had a con law class when they were in seventh grade and but they thought about nothing since, and so they're ready for law school and this is why they're coming. That's fine.
So I think that part of the challenge is that each law school is so different in terms of what they're looking for. I would say that there's still a number of schools who specifically want to know why their school, and I think that is not necessarily, doesn't always necessarily fit with your why law, right? Like, it's really about that institution and kind of the culture of the institution and the faculty and what you like about the student body and the alumni and things like that.
And so what you're also trying to demonstrate, I think, in the way that you address the personal statement is kind of what homework you've done and what research you've done about the institution. And so I think, for me, I'm definitely in that space that when I'm reading a file, and again, all things being equal, stats are fine, resume, they got a little work experience, they have a little leadership experience, they speak multiple language, they volunteered with old people or puppies.
All those things being equal, I'm looking to see, do you write a good statement? Like, are you a strong writer? Are you coming with the basics that will allow the writing professors to kind of bring you up to that level that we need you to be in terms of legal writing? And so sometimes I think candidates get really stuck on the what and they forget about form and substance.
And I think for those of you that haven't purchased a package with 7Sage, I'm going to encourage you to do so because I think the writers and the supervisors and the [_unintelligible_] in the space do a really amazing job of having you kind of ferret out, like pull out what is the heart of your message, like what's your goal? And I think to kind of get more back to your general question about like law, not law, it doesn't matter.
I think, honestly, if you do brainstorming exercises and you really just start writing and thinking out loud and just jotting things down, this will come together better for you because you'll have a more cohesive, thoughtful statement, because then you can look and say, okay, this is what I was trying to communicate to the University of San Diego, and this actually sounds like it's actually more for California Western, because this seems more in line with what their goals are, or I really wrote this for New York Law School, but it's really sounding like this is for Quinnipiac. I need to change this up, right? You know what I mean?
So if you go back to your original question about, like, what you should focus on, whether you should talk about law or not, I really do think that it's very, very school specific. And if it's left open, like if they're saying write about whatever, that's a good way to do a little bit of law, a little bit about why your school and why I'm ready. But beyond that, follow the instructions to a T. It will really help you out in the application process.
Tajira: Does USD have a preference between a tailored personal statement and a why USD statement?
Tracy: No. Which I know people hate sometimes, but...
Tajira: Right. Truly. Are there any points given to candidates who visit the school or attend events? Like, do you track that information?
Tracy: We do. I mean, I think this is my fourth law school and we track that information for all of them. I will tell you this: I do think that when you are waitlisted, it makes the biggest difference. I also think that it makes a difference when there's time, like honest to goodness, this happens to me all the time. This is, again, my fourth law school I've worked for, and you'll have a development person or someone's like, "Hey, guess what? We just found this pot of money." Okay, I know it sounds crazy, but it does happen.
Tajira: It does.
Tracy: So when that happens, what we're really looking for, like the people who've been super engaged. Oftentimes, like, I may not remember everyone, but my team will, and it's like, hey, that Tajira McCoy, she just, she was at the last three events and she seems super excited and she's already talking about moving here. She's someone that would probably benefit from that type of scholarship. And so that's where it does kind of matter, I think. I think that level of engagement can really make a difference and an impact.
I often encourage prospective students to just show up and attend the events, because, one, you're going to learn more about the school, and that might actually help you with the application process, particularly the personal statement and things like that, because you'll get a sense of like who they are and what they're looking for and the types of programs that they focus on and things of that nature.
So I do think that a lot of schools actually track that information, and you'll notice that for many of us, we do follow-up emails and sometimes we're going to share contact information from alumni, prospective students that you met that you want to keep in touch with, because honestly, I've had a couple candidates who, they were just in my queue, and I just had not got, they weren't even waitlisted yet. And from an event, a student followed up with an alumnus or faculty member, and that person emailed and said, "Hey, Tracy, I really want to advocate for Tajira. She was phenomenal. We've been in touch since the event. I think she'd be a great fit for the program, xyz."
And it's like, well, everything looks good. Okay. I mean, I know it seems, I know it seems simplistic, but sometimes the things help move the needle a little bit. And so, and again, they're not aggressive, they're not whatever. It's just like someone else advocating for you can never hurt you. And so being in the space and being present doesn't hurt you.
Tajira: Now, if a candidate submits their application and then realizes that there's a typo in like the personal statement or something like that, should they send a corrected version or does that bring more attention to the error?
Tracy: Personally, I would send the corrected version. I would just say, "Oh, I made a mistake in my editing process and I attached the wrong one. Can I please update this new version?" I think it shows a level of responsibility and I think it shows a level of honesty that most of us would appreciate. And honestly, I mean, you have writing professors sometimes on these, on the faculty review committees, and they are not going to be happy if they see a typo. And so why not do yourself a favor and just get out in front of it and catch it beforehand.
I think it looks good for candidates. And I know, again, it's hard because when schools are getting 7, 10,000 applications, it's a lot, so you need to contact the school and ask them what's the best way to do that. But for most of us, we will be happy to receive an updated personal statement with a note stating, "I'm so sorry I attached the wrong one. Can this please be added to my file?"
Tajira: You can't take out the previous one, though, right? Okay.
Tracy: So it's there, but at least the note that you, that you caught it before we did, I think, is a positive. So, yeah.
Tajira: I would agree with that. So how much does legal work experience matter to you and the USD, like, admissions committee? Are there concerns when there's been no prior exposure to law?
Tracy: No. I mean, I can tell you from experience that most professors love it when you come in with no experience because they want to teach you the law the way they want to teach you anyway, and so they're super happy. I mean, we get this, we kind of get this feedback a lot. We have a paralegal program too, and so we get a lot of folks who are like, "Oh, I'm going to join this paralegal program and then I'm going to apply to law school."
And it's like, well, don't do that because you're applying to law school. Do that because you want to do it and because you want to have that experience. You want to earn money as a paralegal while you're in law school, something like that. But don't do it for the sake of going to law school, because most professors, they want you to come in blank slate. They want you to come in and just be super open-minded and just ready to kind of take it all in.
I think, and one of our colleagues and I had a little, a conversation with a candidate who was very adamant about the fact that her paralegal experience was going to somehow really propel her to the front of the pack for the application process. And we were like, well, it's not going to hurt you, but it's definitely not something that's going to put you over the edge. If I had one seat left, I'm not necessarily going to pick you over another candidate just because you have paralegal experience, right?
So, similarly, like if I had two seats left and someone had done an internship in a firm and someone else had done an internship at, I don't know, for the San Diego Padres, all things being equal, I'm still, I'm looking at writing experience, I'm looking at what your professors and and supervisors have said about you, I'm looking at your grade trend, I'm looking at your LSAT score or GRE score and things of that nature.
So it's not necessary when, I think if you feel like right after undergrad you're ready and that you've, you know, you have the mental capacity and the mental acuity and you have the physical stamina to just go straight through, do it. I mean, our age range is very broad, 20 to 50-something, and so there's room for all of you here, so.
Tajira: That's great. I happen to have a client that's in the room and so I know that she would ask this question. Does USD have a fee waiver program for applicants?
Tracy: Application fee is free.
Tajira: Oh, for everybody?
Tracy: Right now? Yep.
Tajira: Wow. You guys should jump on that because that was not something around when I was applying.
Tracy: Me either.
Tajira: So being new to USD yourself, what would you say is one thing you've learned about the offerings or programs that you think is particularly notable and worth highlighting?
Tracy: I, so, can I say more than one? Like, can I...?
Tajira: Sure, of course.
Tracy: So, one, I was super, super surprised, as someone who's only worked at California law schools, I was stunned at the clinical offerings, I have to say. I went and met with a couple of the faculty, and they have this wall in the clinical building, and it's a wall of where alumni that were students in the clinic, where they work now. And the depth of the work, I just, I wasn't prepared, I think, for, yeah, yeah, yeah. Like, I really thought, yeah, I mean, ever since clinics and centers, and I mean, like, okay, no big deal.
But then when I actually saw, like, these people were doing amazing work, and so everything from the Consumer Protection Clinic to the Child Advocacy Clinic where they're actually focused in Sacramento and in DC doing policy work, I mean, we have this DC externship program. And so for folks who want to kind of continue that policy-level work, like, that's available to them, and I think that's a really cool opportunity. I also was pleasantly surprised in terms of the Veterans Clinic and the amount of work that they do to support veterans.
Obviously, San Diego is near, I mean, obviously we have a ton of military folks here. We do, I feel like they do a good job of kind of ensuring that the students can maximize their Yellow Ribbon benefits in a way that, fortunately, all the schools I've worked for had Yellow Ribbon, but I think having a budget dean who used her husband's benefits really benefits our students because she really understands the nuances of it.
And then the last thing would be, I think, it's easy to underestimate geography in terms of kind of the proximity to things. And so I think I was happy to see how close many of the courts and the small firms, big firms, public service government agencies and entities are for our students in terms of their internships and externships and the investment in, whether it be kind of that corporate-level work versus that public service-level work, like it seems to be there equally for our students, which I think is really, really cool because I think that's a big concern for a lot of people that go to law school, is kind of like, is anybody going to help me with, like, I can't afford to just work for free. Like I want to do public service, I want to do public interest, but I can't work for free.
And so kind of utilizing work study funds to really fund a large number of students this summer I think was a pleasant surprise to me. I didn't know how engaged and invested the law school was in that. I was pleasantly surprised by that, because the volume was significant and I think will be life-changing for these students because they'll have had real experiences where they didn't have to worry about going to get, I mean, you remember. I mean, for our summers we were trying to take a class, trying to get an internship, and trying to work the money somewhere, and these students, and I think that's life-altering, so.
Tajira: Absolutely. That's great. Thank you for that. I'm going to switch gears now. We do have a couple of questions in the Q&A section. For folks that are still here with us, if you have questions that you would like to ask, please go ahead and start raising your hand, and I will get to you right after we answer these two Q&A questions, okay? So you can utilize, it's right along the bottom here. There's a thing that you can click that says "raise hand," and then I'll be able to call on you, bring you up. I'll have folks come up one at a time, and let's limit to one question each until we make sure we can at least get to everybody that has a question.
The first question is, I had a professor write me a recommendation letter almost five years ago when I initially applied to law school beforehand. Unfortunately, I had to set this plan aside for a few years. My question is, can I still use that academic letter of recommendation for this current cycle? Should I ask for an updated one from the same professor?
Tracy: I think it's a good question for the law schools, I mean, for our school, I would probably just want a little explanation about why it is the age that it is and just kind of state, this was an important one for me to have. I had a good relationship with this professor and I thought that she could write the best letter for me, and so that's why it's stated there. And then have one or two that are newer. I think that's fine. I do think for some of my colleagues around the country, I do think that some of them might say they prefer newer letters, but not all of them. Most of us try to be pretty reasonable in the process, and so I would just literally ask the question, like, what's too old for your application process for the 2023 year?
Tajira: Great. The next question is, do the majority of USD law students stay in San Diego after graduation?
Tracy: So, no. I mean, we do get a good number. I mean, we laugh because, like many law schools, we recruit around the country and what we do is we want y'all to go home so we can kind of claim you as ours in your home state. But San Diego is one of those places. California is one of those states where we get people from all over and they end up wanting to stay. But we do have alumni in all 50 states and 55 countries internationally. And so there are a good number that stay here, but they don't all stay here, and we're happy about that.
I have met with, so far, I've met with alumni in the DC area, I have met with alumni in Arizona and other places like that, and so we literally, the alumni development team are working to kind of ensure these different chapters around the country are active for students who may want to go elsewhere.
The Office of Career and Professional Development also will work with you to kind of ensure that you get internships or externships in the places that you want to be. I think this is particularly important for those of you that are thinking of coming out of state to go to law school. You can always do an internship back at home in the summer, or you can always visit at another school and get an internship that way as well, so.
Tajira: I love it. Nobody wants to raise their hand. They're all putting their questions in the Q&A. So the next one is, overcoming substance abuse, good or bad, or leave out? Can it be put in a positive light?
Tracy: I absolutely, so, so here's the thing. So I think that anything that you overcome, you need to find a way to positively talk about why that makes you who you are today, why that's going to make you a better policy maker, rule maker, advocate, attorney, judge, et cetera. I think that, one, you'd be surprised at how many of your peers and classmates will have been through the same thing, but two, I think, what lessons did you learn from that experience? What did you learn about yourself? What makes you a stronger human today because of what you went through?
And so it's all about how you frame it and phrase it. I do think that in this situation, there could be the tendency to just kind of state, like, "Oh, and I was addicted to X, and it really messed me up, and it was hard on my family, and I did these bad things," and then period, and it's like, okay, so that's not helpful.
You need to go, okay, period. And so from there, here are the things I've learned. Here's how I made these things up to my community, my society, my family. Here are the things that I've done since then. This is how many days, years, weeks that I have been clean. Here is how I deal with stress now, because one concern that often comes up in the law school space is that if you have had to overcome substance abuse, alcoholism, et cetera, that can be triggered by stress, law school will be stressful.
And so what we're looking for is like, so what do you do when you cope with stress now? Now that you've overcome this, what tools do you have in place now that will ensure that you don't have a relapse when you're in school, and if you get close, what do we need to know about so that we can support you? That kind of thing. So really, I think there's a huge opportunity there for you to kind of share your story, but it's about being thoughtful and it's about showing what you've overcome. I think that is most helpful in that space and will serve you best in the application process.
Tajira: That's great. The next question is, what are the key differences in applying for full-time versus part-time? Any specific suggestions for applications for the part-time program?
Tracy: I mean, there are no key differences. The applications are actually exactly the same. You're just checking a box, full-time versus part-time. And I think what's really a function of what your, what your needs are, I mean, I think for some people they choose part-time because they have a family member that they need to care for and they can switch off with someone else and go to school in the evening, and that works for their family. For other folks it's because of childcare and because they don't have, they don't want to leave their kids with just random people, and so they'd rather do part-time evenings so that their child can be with someone in the middle of the day, that they be with them in the middle of the day and then be with family while they're in class in the evening.
I mean, I really, there's no big difference. The thing for you to note is that the qualifications are the same, but you have to be just as competitive and that you still have to have 88 units to graduate, and the requirements are the same. It's just the way that you do law school is different because you're going to take fewer units.
But I would lastly say that please remember that for most ABA law schools, part-time programs are really more like three-quarter-time programs, and so I think sometimes people make the mistake of thinking like, "Oh, I'll go part-time. It'll be so much easier." It's not generally that much easier because you're literally, it's more like a three-quarter-time program than it is full-time and it's still hard.
And the only thing I think that really helps a lot is that the part-time cohorts tend to be smaller, and so they tend to be way more connected and way more supportive of one another because they know each other well, because they're pretty much all they have. And so you often will find that they, as a small group, their families are closer because they end up relying on each other a lot more because it's like, "Hey, I can't make it. My boss, I have to finish this project." And both students will have notes from their classmates before they can even finish saying, "I'll be there tomorrow" kind of thing. And so I think that's the beauty of those programs is that the cohorts are smaller and they're really connected. But the application process, it's the same.
Tajira: Yeah. And as someone who's done a part-time program for law school, I can just add it's a hundred percent definitely hard and it's, you don't feel like you're taking it at all slower because you're still there every day. And on top of everything, you still have whatever your day job is to contend with. So what I would say especially is the nice thing about part-time programs are you're among a bunch of other people who are often working professionals and who know how to manage their time. Being in a part-time program, especially when you have, whether it's family obligations or a job or whatever it is, being able to manage your time is the most important factor to success when you're in a part-time program.
The next question, Dean Simmons, is, how is diversity on campus, and what sorts of affinity groups do you have for diverse students?
Tracy: So I think diversity is fine. I think it's, oh, I would say, okay. I think it's something that, when I interviewed here in January and when I started, I think the dean, the diversity kind of connection through student affairs, my director, all have expressed a desire to kind of continue diversifying law school. I will say that my second week on the job, I went to a Board of Visitors meeting, and again, as you can imagine, most Board of Visitors are mostly older white men, and they were all very, very much focused on the diversity numbers. They had very specific and pointed questions, talked very openly about their desire to kind of switch some of their scholarships to help with diversity-type scholarships and things of that nature.
I think we're very typical in that when we have these big percentages in California, unfortunately, those numbers often mean that we have many more Asian American students than we do Latino, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, African American black students, Native students, and so that's an area that we're just definitely trying to focus on.
Some of the things that we've done this season since I've been here, we partnered with a firm, a pretty well-known firm here, Snell and Wilmer, and had a diversity reception, for example, and so we brought in some of our admitted students who are first-generation immigrants, diversity candidates, and they basically sat with a panel of lawyers to talk about like what it's like to get through law school as a woman, as a person of color, as a first-generation student, as a person with learning disabilities, et cetera.
And then we opened it up and brought the current students there to mix and mingle with the partners and attorneys and brought our career development staff and alumni staff. And so those are the kind of things that we're trying to do. We just had, tomorrow we're having our LGBTQ+ alumni and allies, calling it a shindig at a place in Hillcrest to kind of welcome those students on campus, but to let them know who their allies are.
We've hosted some first-gen-type webinars and sessions to kind of make sure students kind of understand all the opportunities that are going to be there for them. We did a summer seminar with academic support faculty to kind of get them to start learning about how you seek out support. And so those are some of the things we do. In terms of the affinity organizations, all the traditional ones you can think of. We have Pride Law, we have the Black Law Students Association, we have our Asian Pacific Islander student organization. We have our Latinx group.
There was one, I forgot the name of this one that I thought was super cool and I meant to remember it for today because I had a feeling this question was going to come up, and of course I can't remember, but it's, there are about 35, 40 different organizations, and, I mean, it's everything from, we also have the Christian Legal Society, for example, and Federalist Society for those who are kind of interested in that route. But we also then have things like Law Students for Cross-Cultural Understanding. That's something that's different.
We have your traditional public interest, Public Interest Law Foundation group, which most of us call PILF, but we even have things like animal groups and women law caucus and things like that. So a pretty wide variety, which we're proud of, and it's pretty easy to start if you find something that you are interested in that we don't have. But there are groups, folks that love animals as well as the groups for those that love constitutional law and the Constitution. And so more liberal, more conservative, more moderate, religious, ethnically based, gender based, etc. So pretty broad variety there.
Tajira: That's great. The next question is, is the USD application available through the LSAC website or is it open separately on the USD website?
Tracy: For 2023, it will be available on the LSAC website, but not until after Labor Day of 2022.
Tajira: Okay. And the next question is, how does your program feel about splitter candidates? Is there ever a point where the acceptance, the admissions committee would overlook GPA due to high LSAT score?
Tracy: Yeah, I mean, I think most candidates are splitters, so the reality is that this is kind of where the, I know everyone thinks they're unique, but like the reality is that most candidates are splitters to law school these days. And so that's obviously, if you're looking at the 25th percentile, the 75th percentile, in the median, the middle, most people kind of are in those, one of those weird ranges, like they have a super high GPA, but their LSAT score is eh, or vice versa. Like GPA is like, eh, but their LSAT scored is competitive.
And so what we're looking for though are how strong are your writing skills? What type of courses do you take in writing, particularly for those that have the higher LSAT scores, because historically, in many institutions, students with really high LSAT scores but weak GPAs or lower GPAs sometimes struggle because of study habits and things of that nature. So what we're looking for, for a splitter that has the high LSAT, lower GPA, what are your professors and teaching assistants or supervisors saying about your time management skills, your problem-solving skills, your writing skills?
We're looking at transcripts to see how many writing-type courses you take. We're looking to see, did your grades go up or is your GPA lower because you were in a really tough major? Were you a philosophy major at a really competitive school? Were you a civil engineering major? Were you a communications major in a really competitive program? Those kind of things. And so we're really looking to kind of find ways to support you and get you in, but we're also kind of taking into consideration a number of other factors.
So I'll say it one more time. Most candidates are actual splitters, and so your job as a candidate is to be thoughtful about who you get to write your letter of recommendation, how well you pull together your personal statement, and what else you highlight on your resume in terms of opportunities that will kind of demonstrate, like, learning new concepts, learning to speak multiple languages, things of that nature.
And so again, your job as a candidate is to kind of explain anything that you think an admissions committee might have a question about, and if you're looking at our academic profile and you see like, okay, their median is a 161 and their median GPA is a 3.7, and I'm a 165 with a 2.7, then you might want to call us, you might want to hop in on our virtual office hours. We have them, the three lead admissions people, we have office hours every week, virtual office hours.
You can just pop in and say like, "Hey, this is my situation. What kind of things would you like to see me focus on to kind of demonstrate to the committee that my GPA is not the best reflection of who I am today, and that's kind of who I was years ago, and I've matured since then, and I've done these things since then to improve on my study habits or writing skills or what have you."
Tajira: So if someone was a high LSAT splitter and they submitted only professional letters of recommendation, how would you look at that?
Tracy: It would depend on how long they'd been out of school, and it would depend on what those recommenders said. Like if they got, if they were smart and wise and used good judgment and told those recommenders to focus on the same attributes that an academic letter would focus on, that will probably work in their favor.
But if they don't, and it's kind of like that generic, like, "Oh, Tommy is a great employee and he shows up to work on time, and I'm excited that he wants to go to law school even though I hate losing him, and I think he'll do fine." Like, that doesn't tell me anything. Like, that doesn't help at all, versus the one that says, "Tommy let me know that there might be some concerns about his undergraduate GPA, and I can tell you that he's a really hard worker and that every time we've given him new projects, he picks up on the materials quickly. He's also someone that is able to communicate effectively in the written form, and I've watched him take on new projects with ease." Very, very different letter, and it tells me a lot more about who he is substantively.
Tajira: Alright. Next question. You have a spring start program, is that correct?
Tracy: Just for junior, just for transfers and visitors. Fall only.
Tracy: No one else.
Tajira: So fall only for this particular question. Someone asked about getting waitlisted for a spring start program, but that's only for transfers and visitors. So, next question is, how do you view candidates with a double major? Is that considered more competitive or is that kind of a normal occurrence?
Tracy: It's not as normal as I think people would think. Like, I feel like the majority of candidates still only have one major and a minor. I tend to get excited when I see a double major because I'm generally interested in the juxtaposition, like, of kind of like how people have chosen some, because sometimes they're very extreme and very different, and I think how lucky they were to be able to kind of find their way and obtain both.
I'm also looking to see how they did substantively, though, right? Like were they able to kind of manage that and do well while still playing a sport on campus or being, doing community work with their synagogue or their mosque, or were they super active with Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or were they active in their sorority or fraternity or things like that?
So I'm looking to see how they balanced things and if they, and you tend to do well in things that you love, and so the idea for me generally is that they must be passionate about both things that they selected, and so then I'm just looking to see how they perform. But it's not as common as people think, and again, how many applications have we read in our careers at this point? Like, and I still would say, I feel like every, I don't know, I feel like I could easily go 20, 30 files sometimes and not see a double major.
Tajira: Oh yeah. Absolutely.
Tracy: Does that, I mean, I feel like that's, yeah, I still feel like it's not as common as people think, so if you're choosing to go that route because it's something you're really passionate about, do it. If you're doing it because you think it looks good and you're not going to perform well, don't do it. Focus on the one and get the best grades you can because that will serve you on the end.
Tajira: Right. Okay. And I think this is going to be our last question. Where can we access the USD admissions office hours?
Tracy: So if you send an email to JD info, we will, you can just email me directly and we'll send you the [_unintelligible_] in the chat, and you can actually, oh, can I send it? Can I send that to them?
Tajira: I think so. Let me see.
Tracy: But it's just email@example.com and someone on my team can actually send you the actual link. And we generally speak in there, generally Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, usually in the middle of the day, we usually have an hour. I try to, sometimes I'll try to do two hours, but we just have you pop in and I will do, I like to just have people come in individually, so I'll just like, like Ms. McCoy was doing earlier in kind of sending a message to the waiting room, and I'll just say like, oh, there are two people ahead of you.
And I try to kind of, if there are a couple people in the room, I'll just kind of have them wait, but, so people can kind of ask their questions one on one so it's kind of private in that way. But yeah, it's an easy way to kind of get questions answered and get to know the admissions folks and stuff like that, so.
Tajira: Perfect. Well, Dean Simmons, thank you so, so much for your time this evening. I know that our guests really appreciate all the answers to their questions, and I think this is going to be really illuminating for those that are listening to our podcast. So thank you again for your time. I really appreciate it.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you are 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.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and in today's episode, four 7Sage consultants, our former law school admissions officers from Columbia, Berkeley, Notre Dame, and San Diego School of Law, talk about the application process from the other side of the desk. We had this conversation live, and after the panelists spoke, they answered a few questions from the audience. If you want to know what really happens after you submit your application, stay tuned.
Tajira: Welcome, everyone. My name is Taj McCoy. I am one of the admissions consultants at 7Sage. Thank you all so much for joining us. Hello to those of you that are joining us from all over the country and outside the country. Hello, Toronto and DC and California, I see you. Today's conversation is really for you all to listen in and hear some of the juice that happens behind the scenes.
We're here talking today with admissions professionals about the entire admissions process, but from the perspectives of the admissions office. And so my colleagues here, I'm going to have each of you introduce yourselves, share where you've worked, and then we're going to jump into a conversation that really will touch on processing and assigning files, application review, issuing decisions, scholarship offers and negotiations, considering application soft factors. And I think we'll end with parting pieces of advice. Jake, why don't I have you start?
Jacob: Yeah, sure thing. So, hi, everyone. I'm Jake Baska, one of the consultants here at 7Sage, and previously I worked for 14 years in admissions, including seven years as director of admission and financial aid at Notre Dame Law School.
Tajira: Wonderful. And Tracy.
Tracy: Hi, Tracy Simmons, and I am one of the other consultants, and I actually, I still work in admissions. I'm at the university of San Diego, and before that, I worked at McGeorge as part of the University of the Pacific, and before that I worked at Chapman, and before that I worked at Golden Gate. So I've been in legal education administration and admissions, financial aid and diversity for about 22-plus years, 23 travel seasons, according to Marriott. So that's important to note.
Tajira: Yes. And Susan.
Susan: Yeah, sure. My name is Susan Cersovsky. I just finished five years in the admissions office at Columbia Law School. Before that, I was actually an attorney. I went to Columbia Law School. I worked at Weil Gotshal, I worked at New York Life and did some pro bono work, so, before coming to 7Sage.
Tajira: Fantastic. And again, I'm Taj McCoy. Most recent admissions work was at Berkeley. I was the director of admissions and scholarship programs. I've worked in admissions at four law schools over the course of about 10 years, and then I also did about a year and a half in law school career services before jumping into consulting. And so, again, welcome, everyone. I love to see so many people here with us.
I'm going to jump in. Let's just say, you know, we're just talking about this process as if I don't know what's happening. When I hit that Submit button, Jake, what happens with my application when you receive it? Can you give us the details in terms of walking through processing and assigning files?
Jacob: Right. So the super exciting aspect of this, everyone signs up to hear the records processing side. So when you click Submit on the application, there's an overnight reset from LSAC and then the law school in question will get your application the next morning. Every admissions office has one or two records processors who are the ones who will go into the LSAC database to make sure that all, that the application is received, all the supporting documents have been received, and then to double-check if there's anything missing, coordinating that with the applicant in question.
But if it's all ready to go, they change that student's status, and so this is what you then see on the status checker. They may update that status to Application Received, Application Complete, and when they eventually assign that application out to someone for reading purposes, you'll see First Evaluator, In Review, In Process, whatever a school uses to indicate that your application's actually in the pipeline and has been assigned out to a file reader.
Tajira: Fantastic. When we're thinking about files being assigned, is that done in batches? Is it a whole lot? Do you have to kind of wait a couple of months after applications open before you actually submit, start distributing files, or how does that work?
Jacob: Yeah. And this may be a school-specific thing. So at Notre Dame and at most law schools, we're all so busy in September, in October, going to recruitment events that we don't spend a lot of time reviewing applications, just because we don't have the time. There are some schools that do start issuing decisions a little bit early, maybe because they don't do as much travel. Maybe they focus just on the tip-top applications, which are usually pretty easy to evaluate because the students are so strong that it's pretty clear they're going to be admissible.
But for a lot of schools, that evaluation process really doesn't get rolling until November. Excuse me. So if you click Submit in September, you may see that your file gets sent out for review earlier, but it may just be sitting in someone's review queue until they finally get off the law fair circuit in early November.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. And Tracy, I mean, Golden Gate, Chapman, you know, USD, Pacific McGeorge, have your processes varied at all from that?
Tracy: Yes, particularly in terms of timing, and I would just say kind of globally in the time that I've been in legal education administration, I feel like the first probably 10 years or so, no one really reviewed files before, like, November, December. And then all of a sudden, I would say about, I don't know, seven, eight years ago, we would be on the road together, and I would hear a few of my colleagues who didn't even have early decision or priority deadlines in the fall start saying like, yeah, sent out a couple offers yesterday, and everyone's freaking out, like, what do you mean you sent out offers? It's October, like, we don't read files yet.
And so what's happened is that it's definitely picked up steam in terms of people kind of reviewing files a little earlier in the process. Now, some of that is because of volume, and I think because of capacity, I think some of the offices are not as big as they used to be. You know, when you have, I mean, higher ed is like any business, and so I think that as you kind of have structural changes and you're trying to figure out where you put your resources, sometimes, you know, you kind of take an admissions person and put them in another role or split their role.
And so what that means for you all is that, as Jake was pointing out, it's that you may have submitted your application, but it may just be sitting there, and it could be that it's in review or it could be that it's actually just complete. And so that will definitely differ depending on the school, but also as I noted, kind of tied directly to priority deadlines or early deadlines and things like that.
I would also echo what Jake was saying about the files that generally get reviewed first. If you're starting off kind of in the early fall, I really do think it's usually the competitive applicants that are reviewed first because those tend to not, depending on the structure of the committee, and again, the lawyerly answer, it depends, but you know, for those files, you don't tend to have as many reviewers. They don't tend to have as many people kind of touching the file, so to speak, and so those offers tend to go out a little earlier because, again, you don't have as much engagement on it.
Tajira: Okay. That's excellent information. Go ahead, Susan.
Susan: Yeah. So I'll just jump in and add that at Columbia, like Notre Dame, we really don't start reviewing until, you know, maybe late October or November for the same reasons, busy engaged in recruiting activities. Columbia also does have an early decision applicant pool, so those maybe get reviewed first, but other than that, we at Columbia would really review files in the order that they were complete. So, if you did get them in, you know, in September, even though we're not going to look at them, those files would be the first ones that we would look at once we do start reviewing files.
Tajira: Got it, got it. And just to offer a little tidbit from Berkeley, we did start reading applications in September. It really does run the gambit when it comes to how this process works. Okay. So let's say you've been assigned a queue of files. What does your process for file review look like, Tracy?
Tracy: So this is where it gets a little more complicated, and I apologize if this is going to be, like, kind of oddly worded, but the structure has literally been different, kind of almost based on my time in admissions, because I think when you're first starting out and you're a younger professional, the faculty committees or the dean may kind of want you to have a little more experience and exposure to kind of what it's like to do file review, but also kind of what they're looking for in a candidate.
And so for me, over time, what has happened is that I generally had a general admissions committee where a file would be assigned to two people, and if those two people agreed, that was the final decision. Most of us are, like, if you're the lead in the office, you tend to be called the chief admissions officer, and so some structures have been that if a file was assigned to two people, if I didn't agree with the person, I still could overwrite that decision, whether it was admit, deny, or waitlist.
What has happened over time, for me at least, is that I have enough experience now where my faculty committee members tend to say, like, you're actually the expert, not us, and so whatever you say goes, more or less, and I don't mean that to be, it sounds a little bit weird, but what I'm saying is that, ultimately, these are kind of singular file reviews, and so what that means for your purposes is that at least it goes through the process much more quickly. But I also note before we jump in and let my colleagues kind of speak is that there are still schools that have literally multiple people, meaning more than two people that have to agree before an offer is made.
That may not be the case for a waitlist or hold or deny, but the structure really is different, and I think it's important to just note that, you know, as I'm looking at the chat and you guys are asking when and things of that nature, all that we're saying will be influenced by kind of when your file is ready and competitive. And we'll get to more of that, Tajira will kind of steer us in that direction a little bit later. The structure really does differ in who reads what when, really does vary from school to school.
Tajira: Jake, what was your experience?
Jacob: We had a couple outside file readers, people who had worked in admissions but had since moved into other fields but still wanted to help out where possible, so kind of part-time file readers. They would usually be the ones who would start reading files a little bit earlier to kind of warm up the application pool for us. And then when we came off the road from file reading as a staff, me as director, my two assistant directors, we would reread the files that they had already done to see what their evaluation was, but also to judge those decisions within the context of the applicant pool as it had developed by early November.
So by early November, we had received maybe 20 to 25% of our applications for the year. We're actually starting to see some of those trends develop on, will applications go up this year, go down? Where are we seeing LSAT scores, where are we seeing diversity, et cetera. So then some of those applications were so strong that we could feel confident they were clearly admissible, some at the other end of the spectrum, unfortunately, but then we could also start to identify that middle area.
So then going forward, typically having two or three people evaluate an application before making a final decision, sometimes engage in our faculty committee, but kind of like Tracy said, they had a lot of faith in us and a lot of trust in us, so we would report to them. They would review decisions at a macro level, but it's not as if faculty were sitting down with every application and with, you know, their smoking jacket and pipe, and really weighing over every single application. They were looking at more of the big-picture items for us. But every school can be a little bit different in that regard.
Tajira: Okay. And Susan, what about your experience?
Susan: Yeah, so at Columbia, faculty did not, were not involved in decisions whether to admit or deny. So there were just about five or six of us that were full-time officers who would make those decisions. At least two people would read every file. So there was a lot of file reading and we would do that after we were done with the recruiting season, as I mentioned. In my time at Columbia, we had anywhere from 7,000 to almost 10,000 applications in a year, so it was a lot for us to get through since there were two reads. And we really did read them in the order that they were complete, and every application got to read, so we didn't sort them or, you know, we didn't have any grid-ins or cutoffs or anything like that. So anyone who submitted an application got at least two reads.
Tajira: Is it true that everybody reads applications within five or 10 minutes each?
Susan: I'll just answer that. For us, not necessarily. It depends on the application. You know, some applications are, you know, the ones that are sort of obvious admits can actually be a little bit faster, or obvious rejects. It's sort of the people in the middle that take a little bit longer, or if somebody has something that's really strong or their application's very strong, but maybe one thing is a little bit off. Maybe they don't have a lot of experience or maybe one of their quants is lower than we'd like. That might take a little bit more time, actually, to read that application.
Tajira: Jake? Tracy?
Jacob: Yeah, and I did a lot of that. I would also say that for us, as the person who reviewed the application last before issuing a decision, I would typically take a little longer than 10 minutes on the admitted students, even if they were very strong, just to make sure that I'm crossing, checking off all those boxes, just to make sure that we're not missing anything prior to issuing a decision.
But then also that I was taking note of, if we're going to admit the student, let me take note of perhaps some faculty who I may want to have reach out to the student or alumni to reach out to the student now that we're transitioning from evaluating the applicant to now recruiting an admitted student. And it's easier to do that while the application is still, you know, I'm making the symbol with my hands, it's still on my screen, as opposed to I've already processed the application and now I need to go back and get it.
I'd take a little bit longer for the students who, unfortunately, it was pretty clear that they were not going to be admitted. Yeah, five to 10 minutes is pretty normal. But then as Susan said, those median files, that competitive middle, it could take a little longer than that, just because you really want to make sure you understand the student and get the context of where they're coming from if you're going to argue their merits versus another student's merits down the road.
Tajira: Now, Jake, I'm going to pick on you for a second, because you said something really interesting. You said, you know, for those folks that you're possibly considering for admission, you're checking to see, do they tick all these boxes? Now, do you have a checklist that you're looking for certain traits or anything, or would you expand on what you mean?
Jacob: I haven't missed the character and fitness issue, right? Let me make sure I'm reading that really closely. Let me make sure there are no red flag issues in here. Those classic types of things, as opposed to thanks for mentioning that. So when I say check the boxes, I just mean they haven't killed anyone, right? Check. There are no significant character and fitness, check. They didn't write their "why Notre Dame" statement telling us all about why they want to go to Northwestern, right? Okay, check. No, all the pieces are in place here before I make an offer of admission. And later on down the process, an offer of admission and an offer of scholarship.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And so, like, there was another thing that you touched on, but I'm actually going to pick on Tracy with this. You mentioned folks that happened to be right in that middle, right around the medians, right kind of in your bread and butter. Can you give me some for instances on why someone who might be right at or above both medians might not be accepted, Tracy?
Tracy: So one would be the timing of the review, if in fact, okay, a better way of explaining might be that if this is October, November, December, the class is wide open. The number of seats is wide open, the faculty, the dean, they're not paying as close attention to the actual numbers, and so I have a lot more leeway at that point in time. When I get to, say, March, April, July, things are very tight, and so we're paying very close attention to our yield, we're paying very close attention to how close we are to kind of hitting our target goals for LSAT or GPA.
And so if the person is right there, the dean may say, well, that person doesn't really help our numbers. And I know this is part of the challenge for you as applicants, because we talk about it not being numerically based, but this is kind of that part of this question that Ms. McCoy's asking is, you know, this is why someone who is at those numbers may or may not be admitted because of the timing of their actual application.
The other reason, though, is that sometimes, in reviewing those applications, the numbers are spot on, but the writing is really, really poor. And the challenge is that so much of the law is tied directly to writing the written materials, and so we don't want to put you in a situation where you're not competitive in law school, but also ultimately not competitive when you are out there kind of in the field. And so that's another reason.
And then the last one for now, I mean, and again, we, you know, we could talk about any one of these for like three or four hours on their own, right? Another one would be character and fitness. I've had some candidates where, you know, I wanted to either meet with them or I wanted to get more information from them. Sometimes with some character and fitness issues, we have to kind of run it up the ladder, meaning I need to engage with the dean of student affairs. In some instances, I need to bring in the dean.
In other instances, I've had to bring in general counsel because the issues are serious enough and, you know, we're not trying to penalize students, but we have to be mindful of the fact that, one, we have a responsibility to the students on campus, two, we're trying to make sure that you can actually pass character and fitness before you spend a hundred and $200,000 on an education where you can't get your license. So that would be another reason is that there's some concerns about character and fitness, and maybe we're waiting for additional information and/or waiting for other feedback and opinions about that particular issue or incident.
Tajira: And Susan, getting 7,000 applications, I would imagine at some point the class is just full, right? Like, is that another reason for why you might have like perfectly good numbers, but you just don't have the space, is that right?
Susan: Yeah, that's exactly right. And as Tracy said, like, timing can be an issue there. So all things being equal, you know, I would advise people to get your applications in early. Maybe, you know, don't necessarily wait until January. Although people still do get in who, you know, submitted applications in January, but it does make it more difficult for the reasons that you just said.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. And Susan, so Tracy mentioned goals. And so those goals, are they set before the cycle starts and do they change throughout the cycle?
Susan: Sure. You do have an idea sort of going in what you're looking for when you start doing the reviews. But I think Jake mentioned this: you get some data that comes in on the applications. You have years and years of data that you look at where you see, like, okay, by October 15th, we had this many applications in the past. Where, what does it look like now, and what does that breakdown of those applicants look like in terms of demographics and scores? So you sort of balance the medians that you had in last year's class and against sort of what the applications are looking like so far, and that sort of helps inform what you're looking for in this year's class.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. Are these goals set, Jake, by people outside of admissions sometimes? Or where is that coming from?
Jacob: By deans or trustees? Yeah. So no, at this time of year, law schools are wrapping up their incoming class. They're maybe rounding out things off the waitlist, they're keeping track of any students who may have a change in plans and aren't going to enroll. But they're also asking the question of, so, how did we do, how close were we to certain thresholds, certain targets? Were we low in certain areas this year? And this is something we want to address in the coming year.
But then also looking at the national trends. How many people just took the LSAT in this past iteration? How many people have taken the LSAT over the past year? So realistically, what may we expect as far as an applicant pool going forward? And so directors of admission, deans of admission are having those conversations with the deans of the law school, with the faculty on their committees, and potentially a little higher too.
And occasionally, usually everyone's on the same page because, ultimately, the applicant pool nationally is what it is, and if it goes down drastically, there's nothing that we as admissions officers can do to change that. So some direction may come from leadership, even though we're all on the same page. So again, if this year maybe racial diversity was a little bit lower, maybe that's something we want to have as a point of emphasis for the coming year.
But then that can change after the actual applications come in, things shift on us. Usually things are pretty consistent, but certainly we all experienced two years ago a drastic increase in applications across the board, and it's something that we kind of expected. We expected a wave. We didn't expect a tsunami coming, and a lot of us had to change our goals pretty quickly because of that and inform leadership about that pretty quickly.
Tajira: That's really helpful. Tracy, I mean, these goals, I know that they can probably change over time, you know, as you start to see the class shape up, do you ever receive directives like mid-cycle where they're like, well, actually, we want to change our priorities to this?
Tracy: Absolutely. I mean, one, they can change because of the budget, and so all of a sudden your budget dean and/or the university is saying, we want a bigger share from the law school, and that changes the revenue goal. It could be that there's a change in the budget related to scholarships because they want to give more money to the continuing students, meaning the current law students.
And then the other thing could simply be that, you know, U.S. News comes out and things look great, and they're like, well, since we did so well this last time, let's shoot for X. And you're like, whoa, we've been admitting now since October, November, and so to change gears is really challenging, but it does happen. That part is definitely, you know, part of the challenge in terms of thinking through our goals and the timing and things of that nature. So it definitely kind of, those things were a little bit of a loop, but we do our best to adjust and provide as accurate a picture as we can because, as Jake noted, there's so many moving parts and so many factors that we don't patrol.
If all of a sudden, when an LSAT administration was going to happen in mid-cycle, and there was a major weather issue that impacted, you know, technology and the internet in a certain region, we couldn't have accounted for that, and maybe we were anticipating that we were going to get a certain number of candidates from that part, from that LSAT administration. Literally, you have no impact, you know, no control over that, but that could directly impact our goals and the timing and things of that nature. So.
Tajira: Mm-hmm, that's great. I'm going to kind of detour us back towards application review just for a little bit. Jake, I'm curious, you know, when it comes to admissions committees, how is it that, you know, it's determined a file should go to them as opposed to one of your standard admissions officers in your office?
Jacob: Sure. So again, every school's a little bit different in this regard. So our committee trusted us a great deal. So for the most part, we were just referring files to them if they were significant. If the student was competitive for admission, we wanted to admit them, but there were some significant character and fitness issues that we felt the faculty needed to discuss.
And so by that, I know character and fitness issues can sometimes be a source of concern for a lot of applicants. For the most part, the things that students are reporting to us are pretty benign or can be categorized as youthful high jinks: underage drinking citations, for instance, or to pick on Notre Dame as an institution, for example, football tailgate citations, right? So one or two of those throughout the course of a collegiate career, not a problem. A small number of speeding tickets, not a problem.
But we would see students with more significant issues, maybe regarding DWI or related to assault allegations. So not convictions, but allegations, and how do we want to discuss that and handle that? So we would refer those files to our faculty committee and would talk about them as a group. So those files would initially be reviewed by our staff. So we would do the initial review before sending them on, because we wanted to provide the faculty with the initial filter of, we think they're competitive, we like them, if not for this character and fitness issue that is beyond the blessings that you have given us to process on our own.
Tajira: Now, Susan, sometimes I see, you know, reading on Reddit and things like that, I troll just to get a sense of how people are feeling in the cycle, there are times when people say, you know, like other people are receiving decisions and I just seem to be on hold. Why might an admissions team hold a particular application as opposed to issuing a decision right away?
Susan: Yeah. There are a couple of reasons. Earlier in the cycle, it might be because you're on the border of maybe some quants or, you know, the rest of your application, we're not quite sure if we're, if we're going to take you this cycle and we're just sort of waiting to figure out where those numbers are going to be. That was especially true when the Flex was introduced and some of our numbers were just completely thrown off.
It might also happen that we are not sure, we're not convinced that you're actually very interested in coming. And so you might get held for those reasons. And so, you know, maybe if you end up going to Harvard or Yale and you withdraw from Columbia, that might be a reason why we might hold you. So if you are held and you do have really strong quants, you might want to write the school, you know, and just write them a letter that you're interested in them.
Tajira: That's great. Can we talk a little bit about splitters? When it comes to high LSAT splitters versus high GPA splitters, which sometimes they call those reverse splitters, is there a preference? And when they are a splitter, does that make things more difficult in terms of making an offer? I'm going to start with you, Tracy.
Tracy: Yeah, it's challenging. It's challenging. I mean, here's the thing. Most candidates are splitters. If we're being really honest, most candidates are splitters. You do have some candidates who have a low LSAT score and a low GPA, and you have some that have a high LSAT score and a high GPA, but most people have one or the other.
And so, honestly, this goes back to what we were just talking about in terms of the goals of the institution, the metrics they're looking for, the idea that at any given point in time, you might say, you know, the school's focused on moving their median numbers because they've had some success with U.S. News, with hiring, bar pass rates, for example, in states that have really high, complicated, difficult bar exams. And so that may be the focus that year.
And so that means that maybe candidates that have what would be considered to be weaker LSAT scores, and again, this is all relative for each institution, because it doesn't mean that you're not going to be a good lawyer. It doesn't mean you're not going to be a good advocate. It's just for that particular school, we are focused on how competitive you are for that pool in that moment in time. And so I think the other part of this is kind of thinking through scholarships.
There are times when the scholarships may differ depending on the goals of the institution. And so for one candidate, so I'm looking at, you know, Susan, I'm saying, okay, her LSAT score, great, her GPA's okay, and right now we're so focused on GPA that I might not be able to offer her the same scholarship I would Jake, who is the reverse. He has the high GPA and the lower LSAT, and since we're focused on LSAT, we're going to take, you know, we're going to give Jake this. And so that's where it gets a little bit complicated.
I think the big thing to think about in context is that you have to kind of watch the numbers of the schools you're applying to, you know, in terms of the class that was admitted the year before, because that will give you some indication in terms of what they were focused on and what they prioritize. And I'll stop there for now, because there's, we could talk again about this for a long time, because there are a number of different factors.
Susan: No, it's great.
Tracy: Because I was going to say the thing about, like, letters of recommendation is the other piece of this. If your GPA's not strong, this is where you probably want to have academic letters versus employer professional letters. So I'll stop there. Go ahead, Taj, I'm sorry.
Tajira: No, that's great. That's great. Thank you, Tracy. Susan, I'm going to spin this a little bit for you. You know, how often does it happen where you really, really like an applicant, but maybe one or both of their credentials aren't where you need them to be? How often does it happen where you're really able to champion that candidate and take the risk on admitting them? And is it actually a risk or, you know, are there things that help you to feel really confident in those particular candidates?
Susan: Sure, that definitely happens. Sometimes you read somebody's personal statement, their diversity statement, and you're just like, wow, this is an amazing person, and I would love for them to be at this school, and I think they would offer so much to the class, but their quants aren't there. And it is tough, but let's say their GPA's not where it should be, but they had a rough, you know, first year of college, and you look at the trend and there's an upward trend in their GPA, or let's say they write an addendum and they had mono, or they had a death in the family or something like that, and that accounts for maybe their GPA being a little bit lower than you'd like, but you can tell that they would succeed at this school.
You know, you don't want to admit someone that is going to take out student loans and not be able to complete their law degree. So, but if you're convinced that they, you know, that they're going to be able to do a good job at the school and be there, then you can argue for them, and sometimes it does work. You know, it really is for people that have incredible stories and amazing personal statements where you can sort of overcome those quants. So it happens.
Tajira: That's great. Now, Jake, I'm going to spin it slightly different for you. I've heard of something called yield protection, and I might be really, really interested in the school, but my numbers are kind of vastly higher than their medians, and they won't admit me because they think I won't come. Like, is that really a thing? And if it is, how do I convince that school that I really want to be there?
Jacob: Sure. And it can be a thing. I think there, and you can see this, I think, on websites like Law School Data, or previously, students would usually use Law School Numbers. They are the students who are in that high LSAT/GPA range, who you see all these green dots, but then who are these yellow dots and who are these red dots? And Tracy also kind of hinted at this before too. They could be those students where there are character and fitness issues. There's weak writing. There's a red flag somewhere in there that makes you go, the stats are good, but I'm not sure the stats are real because of these other factors.
It could also be because there's just no way they're going to come here, and to speak for my experience, the way I usually put this to my staff was if we're going to feel disappointed when the student chooses another institution, a higher ranked institution, because they're such a great candidate, they'd be an awesome fit here. But, you know, hey, if Harvard comes calling or Yale comes calling, we understand. You know, we're going to be disappointed, as opposed to are we going to feel silly that we even bothered?
Because if we admit a student, we are getting faculty in touch with them, current students, alumni, we're going to really put on the charm offensive, and there's nothing quite like putting on the charm offensive to someone who's like, yeah, not so much. We don't want to waste the time of the alumni, the faculty, the students, et cetera, so we're going to feel silly because there really wasn't anything beyond the stats in here to make us think that they were going to come here, they were going to choose us.
And I don't think that really swayed us in a whole lot of cases, but occasionally you would read that file where you would say, and I think Notre Dame is a pretty specific institution, holy cow, they seem to not have any ties to the Midwest, they don't seem to be really interested, their whole personal statement was about how much they hate football and lake-effect snow. Do they know us? Have they seen anything about us? So there could be those discussions, but they were quite rare.
There are some schools that may be a little more concerned about that, and the reason is not just because of the charm offensive, not just because of the effort, but because yield is a small factor in U.S. News, and it's much smaller than the LSAT, it's a smaller factor than the GPA. It's much smaller than the judicial ranking, than the peer ranking, what other law schools think of your school. So some schools put a lot of weight on that because they want every last little bit to help them in U.S. News. I think most of us kind of view it as, how much time and effort do you want to put into this if you, if you don't really know?
So now back to the student perspective. If you're worried about that, about a school, applying to a school where you are way over their medians and they may just not even believe that you're going to go there, convince them, write that optional "why this school" statement. If they don't allow for that statement, include that information into your personal statement. Maybe take an opportunity to visit the school either in person or virtually, because most schools track that type of interaction. Make them feel the love, so that way, they understand you are applying with serious intention, as opposed to just applying as a pure safety with no intention of enrolling even if you were offered admission and a generous scholarship, et cetera.
Tajira: Mm-hmm, great. So, given the amount of time we have, I'm going to move us forward. We're going to move and switch gears a little bit and talk about scholarship offers and negotiations just for a time before we jump into application soft factors, which I think a lot of our listeners will really appreciate. Now, when it comes to scholarship offers, most of the time it's actually the admissions office making these offers, right? It's not financial aid. So students, like, when they're wondering where that decision's coming from, typically, it's from admissions, right, Tracy?
Tracy: Yes, for a lot of schools, that is part of the process. It's part of the decision-making process. That's something that, you know, we're thinking about as we're making the offers, also tied to all the other things we've discussed this evening in terms of timing, and who's making those decisions at what point and what the goals are and things of that nature. I think it's important to pay attention to the fact that it is different from school to school, and so for some institutions, you're going to get an offer, and whatever you're eligible for at that point in time, you will get that in the letter, and if you don't get it in the letter, it's because you're not eligible.
When there are other institutions where you may receive a scholarship offer, merit-based type offer a little later in the process, and then that's completely separate from possibly getting, you know, your award letter with your actual financial aid package, which includes loans in addition to scholarships and other things of that nature.
Tajira: And can any of you talk to, would that be the same when it comes to need-based aid? Is that also through admissions or would that all be through financial aid?
Tracy: Depends on the institution, for sure. I mean, most institutions are waiting for a FAFSA of some sort, for candidates that can submit a FAFSA, and then for international students and DACA students, many of them will have a separate form that you can fill out if they have need-based aid. So I think the big caveat here is that not a lot of institutions have need-based aid. I know that's disappointing for folks, but that's really something that you all should be paying attention to, that that's not something that's widely available at the 196, 197 ABA law schools, and so that's just something to think about. But generally speaking, that is a separate process.
And then lastly, there are some institutions that will have separate funds that you can apply for that are basically donor-related sometimes. And so the donor could say, I want someone who loves Notre Dame football, and you demonstrate that by some photos and an essay. I mean, it could be something that's for a single parent or someone who speaks three languages and has a degree in econ. It really is school-specific and donor-specific, but those are other opportunities out there for you all.
Tajira: And for merit-based scholarships, I mean, is there a rubric? Is it like LSAT, GPA, they meet at this number, so I award this? Or how, who determines how to make those awards and what candidates should receive what amount? Jake?
Jacob: Sure. So we try to be equitable and fair for the most part, and also trying to keep in mind goals for enrollment, for budget, how much scholarship money do we have available this year, et cetera. But then the outside factors that we take into play. What are some of our peer schools doing? We get lots of data from LSAC regarding if a student applies to our school, here are the most common schools they also apply to. And if they're admitted to that other school, here's how many came to your school, here's how many go there. We have to keep track of that too.
How are our awards stacking up with a couple of those benchmark peer schools? What is everyone else doing? We would typically create a grid every year based on the applicant pool, based on the budget to try and figure out the balance of all those things. But then it could be adjusted over time too. So as Tracy mentioned, we may find as we go through the process, gosh, you know, here are our LSAT, our GPA targets, but you know, we're just, we're seeing more LSAT targets than what we were expecting, so perhaps we don't need to offer quite as much merit in that field.
On the other hand, you know, looking at the other end of the process, those last waitlist admits, do we have any scholarship budget left for those guys, even if where they would be normally on the grid would be at a rather high award? But if we don't have any money left, we don't have any money left, unfortunately. So that can vary a little bit too. But I think most schools use some sort of standardized method, and you can intuit that pretty easily on Reddit or on Law School Data by looking at a lot of those statistics, if you spend enough time to try and crack the code.
Tajira: And Susan, people talk about LSAT and GPA a lot when they talk about merit-based awards. Are there any other factors that are considered for merit-based awards?
Susan: Yes, and I do think it's institution-specific as Tracy and Jake have said. One thing I will say, at Columbia, the financial aid office was completely separate. So at Columbia, we admitted need-blind, so without any consideration whether you could afford to pay, and then if you were admitted, then you would go to financial aid and get a financial aid package. Our, the merit aid was all handled through the admissions office.
There was some merit aid that was more heavily aligned with quants, but it wasn't only quants. We would look at factors, you know, certainly LSAT and GPA, and by GPA, I mean, sort of in context, like looking at your whole academic record, but we would also look for other factors because for our sort of top scholarships, you would get a faculty mentor, and we want to make sure that it's somebody that the faculty are really going to enjoy being with over the next three years and having them, having the student be part of their research. So we would look at your resume and your personal statement very carefully.
Those are for like the full-tuition and half-tuition merit scholarships, but we also gave full-tuition merit scholarships for people that had a demonstrated interest in public service, so that was another set of scholarships. There was a new scholarship last year that was geared towards first-generation students that was full tuition.
And then there were other merit-based scholarships that were surrounded, you know, something like leadership qualities that were tied to, you know, maybe a specific donor. And so our scholarships, our merit scholarships at Columbia were, they were either rewarded with your admissions letter or you were nominated, and then there may or may not be an interview process. But there were no like separate applications that you made.
Tajira: Now, it's been noted all over that it seems like certain higher ranked schools kind of delay their scholarship process a little bit and maybe wait to start awarding scholarship around December or January, as opposed to with their admissions offers. Can any of you give me a sense of why that might be?
Jacob: I can take that one because that was our policy, certainly. So the reason for that was that we wanted to make sure that we could offer our most competitive scholarship just once. And so by December, we have received enough applications where we knew where the pool was and we could feel comfortable beginning offers of admission.
But really, come February, end of January, February, at that point we received about 75% of our applications for the year. We know what the applicant pool looks like. We know what merit is defined as this year, because we've seen all the shifts in the pool up to this point. And so we know that we can now issue that most competitive scholarship possible, as opposed to maybe still guessing a little bit in December and then finding we may have to bump things up in March or April in order to be competitive with a lot of our peer schools.
So it's just our effort to make sure that we could still be as competitive as possible. And other schools kind of take that same approach. For others, and maybe because they're waiting to process your FAFSA and if a need factors into the award, they just need a little bit of time to process those things.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. Susan, you look like you wanted to weigh in.
Susan: Yeah. So at Columbia, we didn't issue any admit decisions until January, and sort of in those first batches of admits is where we made some of our merit awards, most of the merit awards. So they were kind of on the earlier side of our admits, but our admit decisions were maybe on the late side compared to some of the other schools.
Tajira: That's great. I'm going to switch gears again so that we can get to soft factors. This part, I think, will be fun for us because, you know, this is all the juicy stuff. In talking about personal statements, what sorts of things might really strong candidates, let's say they're above both medians, might they include in their personal statement or other statements that might turn you off? What would be some personal statement or other statement don'ts?
Susan: I would say, I think Tracy actually mentioned this earlier, but you definitely want to proofread your personal statement and have it well written. Really, law school admissions officers rely on that as a writing sample more than any writing that you do on the LSAT. That's just something to keep in mind. And I know I read one application, you know, while I was at Columbia that said, so that's why I want to go to Cornell Law School. So, you know, we, you want to make sure that you've really dotted your i's and crossed your t's and proofread your application before you submit it.
I think other things that might be a turnoff is just regurgitating your resume. You know, as we've talked about throughout this webinar, admissions officers do read applications quickly and have a lot of applications to read. So you want to make sure that you're really getting the most bang for your buck in sort of what, you know, how admissions officers are spending time reading your application. So you don't want to repeat just your resume. So that would be one thing that I would say.
Tajira: So with proofreading, if there's a spelling error, is that an immediate no?
Susan: It's not, it's not, but, you know, it does raise eyebrows just because the law is a very exacting field and you should really be putting your best foot forward in your personal statement. And, you know, it's perfectly fine to ask someone else to proofread your statement for you before you submit it, and that would be very advisable. Don't just like be typing up until the deadline and then hit Send. I would say, you know, give yourself time to proofread and have someone who you trust to proofread the statement.
Tajira: Okay. Tracy, a don't?
Tracy: Oh my goodness. I would say don't ignore the instructions. I think that kind of along the same lines of kind of proofreading and being detail-oriented, one of the tests basically in this process is your ability to follow directions. And so I think candidates often focus on trying to stand out, and I would say that this is not where you want to stand out. You want to kind of fall in line and fall in pack and basically deliver a statement that basically demonstrates that you are a strong writer, that you follow directions, and that you basically can be concise in terms of addressing what you think conveys your best story.
And again, kind of echoing what Susan said, you know, without regurgitating your resume, transcript, CAS report, et cetera. That's my, I mean, and then there are 20,000 other ones like quote and stuff like that, so, I'll let Jake jump in now.
Jacob: Yeah, I'll go even more basic. So, to make sure I'm not double-negativing this, I'll go with be professional, so don't be unprofessional, but be professional. When you asked this question, the thing that came to mind was the student who, in all the files I've ever read, took the greatest blowtorch to his application and just burned it down. So academics were good, great undergraduate background, solid resume. I made the joke earlier about what's the tie here to the Midwest? Maybe he was from Chicago, et cetera.
But then on his "why Notre Dame" statement, he effectively wrote, this is a stupid question. Why does anyone ever write, ask this question? I think all you ever want to hear is stuff that's going to boost your ego, and I'm not here to boost your ego. I'm here to keep it real. And he kept it real for two pages, and it was to the point where I actually, like, I had to step away from my computer and take a couple deep breaths.
I called my boss just to say, hey, I'm just making sure I'm not too upset about this, right? What do you think as someone who used to be a partner at a law firm and work for the government and all that stuff, what do you think? And he read it and said, yeah, no. That's not showing the type of temperament and restraint and good judgment that we want at our law school. So he was one of those green dots that year who was a red dot instead, you know? So be professional, be polite, follow instructions, proofread. I mean, it all seems pretty basic, and yet we can all assure you that some people fall short of those benchmarks. Remember they're entering what should be a serious profession.
Tajira: Right. Switching gears a little bit, is there any difference on how international applicants are evaluated? Susan?
Susan: Yeah, I'll say just looking at the quants. The LSAT maybe carries a little bit more weight than the grades. We don't get a GPA exactly. We do, LSAC does do a pretty good job of kind of explaining what their grades mean, but it doesn't factor in to U.S. News & World Report or anything like that. So the LSAT does, you know, sort of matter more beyond that. I think English language skills matter if you went to an undergrad institution that's not English speaking. So just being able to demonstrate those skills somewhere in your resume is helpful, and in your writing.
Tajira: Tracy, how often did you read or do you read LSAT Writing samples?
Tracy: Yeah. I literally saw that in the chat and cringed a little bit because it's somewhat to the example that Jake just gave, and I think that anything that a law school asks for, you should take seriously. You don't know who will read it and how often they read it and what they will use it for. I think it's pretty important for candidates particularly who are kind of like on the margins, around the medians, under the medians. It becomes a little more important.
I have worked with a lot of other law schools who've said specifically for those specific candidates who don't have majors in which there was a lot of writing involved. That is another reason that the writing sample becomes really important. But I also think it says something again about like what Jake said about professionalism and temperament. So remember that the writing sample is your only real raw analysis that you kind of provide us. I mean, this is a big part of law school, and so it's the one chance we get to see how you've got to work on the fly.
And so I think that's really, really important. And I think, you know, drawing on the writing sample, saying no one's going to read this, these are real life examples that we've seen, is just really immature and unprofessional. And so, again, because you don't know how many schools are using it very seriously, looking at it very closely, and/or using it to compare your actual writing, to make sure that you didn't buy an essay on the internet, you should pay very close attention to it and do a good job and be as thorough as possible in the time that you're given.
Tajira: That's great. And Jake, now that diversity statements have such a broad and inclusive approach, should everyone write one? And is there a ding against a diverse candidate if they choose not to?
Jacob: I'll handle that second one first, because I do think that sometimes there are candidates who worry that they're kind of like mining their pain to justify their admission and to take a step back for a moment. Yeah, I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable applying to my law school or any law school. What I hope to learn out of an application is who you are, where do you come from? And I hope to be able to contextualize your background or your academic performance and your professional experience based on where you come from, because some people have had some significant hurdles to overcome based on parent education background, based on socioeconomic status, being in a rural area or an urban area, et cetera.
And it's really useful to know that, and to use a real, real basic example I think most students don't think of, those of you who had to work during undergrad for 20 hours a week, 30, 40 hours a week to pay the bills, it's great to know that. You may not think that that's a diverse experience and it's worth mentioning in a diversity statement, but it is. That type of blue-collar experience, the type of nose-to-the-grindstone experience, we want to know about that, not only to know about you and to know about your background, but also to then look at your transcript and say, wow, he got a 3.8 GPA while working 40 hours a week, or commuting an hour each way. That's really impressive.
So don't feel as if you need to, don't feel as if it's required. We try to write the topics broadly, though, so that students from a lot of different backgrounds can feel like they can offer that voice to us, but only do so if there are things that you want to tell us about yourself. If you want to hold some things back, we respect that. But it also is a little weird when we read about something on a letter of recommendation where we go, wow, working 40 hours a week, first in our family to go to college, I wish I had heard a little bit more about that from the applicant herself instead of from a professor.
Tajira: Fantastic. Well, we are in the last two and like a fraction of a minute left, and so what I would love to do is receive a final piece of advice from each of you for those that are planning to apply this fall that are listening right now. And so, Susan, I'll start with you.
Susan: Sure. One thing that people don't necessarily think about is reaching out to student groups. Law schools can be very helpful, so if you are ex-military or in the military, reaching out to the military, student groups can be helpful or any, you know, identity groups that you might want to be a part of that can, they can maybe help you navigate this process. I'm going to say proofread, proofread, proofread, and apply early if you can. And then also don't worry about the things that you can't control.
Tajira: That's great. Tracy.
Tracy: I agree with everything Susan shared. I think a big one is using your own kind of research skills and your own spreadsheets and things of that nature. I'm seeing a lot of responses in the chat by people who are also in the application process who are trying to be helpful, but they're not giving kind of the caveats and the nuances. And so they're saying yes or no, and that's not really how admissions works from the admissions professional's perspective.
And so I would say that, you know, whether a GPA is high or low, whether a diversity statement is more an adversity statement, all those things really go back to our lawyerly answer: it depends. And so I think it's really, really important that you do your own homework. I think that you have to remember that the admissions professionals and consultants are all people who have done this work for some time and their objective is to get you into law school, not to keep you out.
And so the best advice you're going to get is from the consultants and from the law schools themselves, not from the blogs, not from each other. Even though you have good intentions, you don't actually know what we do and how we do it. And so sometimes you kind of put your, you put yourself in a box or you kind of shut your own opportunities down without really giving yourself the full opportunity to kind of get out there and see what's available to you. And so just don't block your own blessing. Basically, be open-minded and do the work. It will really work out in your favor if you do the work yourself.
Tajira: And Jake, bring it home.
Jacob: Man, I had a whole list, and then Susan and Tracy knocked them all out. But no, to reiterate, though, find your zen, control what you can control, don't worry about other people, okay? So worry about your application. Do not be afraid to ask questions. And to build off Susan, student groups are so wonderful to reach out to. Use your LinkedIn network, use your buddies who are in law school, but then, really, what Tracy said to you. Don't be afraid to contact admissions offices.
They are here to help you out and they're here to ask, or to address those questions. They're not here to mislead you by any stretch of the imagination. So just ask questions. Think of yourself as a lawyer already. Lawyers don't sit back really timidly, waiting for something to happen. They're asking questions or doing research, they're building into contingency plans and all that stuff. So start to think about that a little bit. Don't be afraid to ask those questions. Don't be afraid to be in touch with people.
Tajira: Fantastic. Well, thank you, panelists. You have been phenomenal. This has been a wonderful talk. So appreciative to each of you. I sent a message to David, one of our partners at 7Sage, and told him, you know, at one point we hit 600 attendees in the room. That's a fantastic showing for tonight. Thank you to everyone who joined us. We really appreciate you all. If you do have remaining questions, you can ask them in the discussion forum for the event. We'd be happy to jump on those as you ask them, but certainly stay tuned because there will be other events coming up next month, and we'd love to see you there. So in the meantime, thank you again to my panelists, and we'll see you all soon.
Susan: Thank you. Good luck, everyone.
Tracy: Thanks for having us.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself, and see you next time.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, David talks to Lexie Holden, the runner-up for the 2020 7Sage 7K Scholarship. Lexie received an admissions consulting package and a $1,000 scholarship to defray her law school tuition. Her story is inspiring from both a personal and an admissions standpoint. In this fall, she'll begin her studies at Yale Law.
David: Well, Lexie, it's so nice to talk to you. I'm so glad that you could join us for the podcast.
Lexie: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for having me on.
David: So Lexie, I want you to start by taking us back in time and just tell us a little bit about where you grew up, how you grew up, what was your life like before you decided to apply for law school?
Lexie: Absolutely. So I was born in and spent the first 15 and a half years of my life living in Germany. I'm an army brat, so I spent my almost first 16 years of my life growing up overseas, attending the American schools on the U.S. Army posts, while also living simultaneously in German villages and attending ballet classes with other German students. So I had sort of the best of both worlds, but I also, I'm a citizen of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
So that sort of threw in that third world. Military brats are often considered third-culture kids, because, you know, when you ask them where they're from, it's like, well, where did I live the longest? Which place did I like the best? You know, what's the answer you're looking for? So I was sort of a fourth-culture kid when I throw in my Native American culture and heritage as well.
David: Did you feel like it was something that separated you from other military brats?
Lexie: Oh, definitely. So having spent so much time in Germany and having been fluent in German, I was often considered too German for the American kids. And I also lived off post in German villages, so hanging out with me after school was usually a challenge because, you know, I'd have to coordinate, you know, having my mom come back to pick me up if I went over to a friend's house on post.
The opposite was true for the German students who, even though I spoke German, I didn't necessarily know the dialect or the slang, so I was too American in their eyes, and the other American students that they knew, you know, moved pretty frequently, so it was always a question of like, when was I going to leave? And then trying to tell either side, you know, that I was Native and that I'm, you know, a citizen of Choctaw Nation blew their minds, just really threw another wrench into their plan of trying to figure out which culture to put me into. So it made for an interesting upbringing, to say the least.
David: Well, I'm going to go out on a limb. Please tell me if I'm just totally in the wrong, but I would guess that there aren't a whole lot of Native women or members of the Choctaw Nation in Germany, where you were. Is that the case?
Lexie: So Native Americans actually serve in the military at a higher rate than any other demographic group. So there are a lot of Natives relative to other demographic groups. However, we are still a very small population overall. So in terms of other Native students that I knew of growing up, I really can't think of any off the top of my head. There were a couple more once I moved to Washington State when I was in high school, but then none again when I moved for college to Chicago. So yeah, it's, we're a pretty elusive bunch, but then, you know, I feel like once you find Indian country, you kind of find everyone, because we all sort of tend to congregate near one another.
David: Well, I want to get to that, but first I just want to ask you how you fostered your identity as a member of the Choctaw Nation growing up in Germany.
Lexie: Absolutely. So I'm very thankful to my mother because, so she's a historian and she was the one who really kept the family stories alive, the, you know, our ancestry, you know, telling me about, you know, who my family is, what we used to do, where we come from, you know, stories that had been passed down from generation to generation. And that's not something that everyone who is Native, you know, has the privilege of.
You know, a lot of folks are separated from their families, a lot of folks have traumatic family histories that are difficult to bring up, but I was very lucky and fortunate in the sense that my mom told me everything. So I, even being thousands of miles and an ocean away from my tribe, always felt at home in the stories that she would tell me. And then coming back to the U.S., it was much easier to just fit right back in. It's like I'd never been away at all.
David: And you say that it's easier to connect with other Natives once you get to Indian country. How did you get to Indian country?
Lexie: Yeah. So I always knew I wanted to do something that would ultimately serve other Native Americans. I, again, as an army brat, you know, service is something that I'd always seen in my life, something I knew that I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing, not in the military sense. I wanted to do it through policy and law, and it wasn't until my first year out of college that I was finally able to do a fellowship where the bulk of my work was centered on tribal communities.
I always tried to sneak it into previous internship opportunities or other things I'd been doing, or even, you know, for papers and classes or research projects, but it was never, I was never able to make it like the center focus of what I wanted to do and the work I was doing until after graduation, when I was serving as a Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellow and was placed with the Native American Agriculture Fund for my field placement.
David: So what did you actually do as the Hunger Fellow?
Lexie: Absolutely. So the bulk of my work with NAAF, and it's a six-month placement with a field placement and then six months with a policy placement in DC, but while I was with the Native American Agriculture Fund, I was tasked with writing a report about a very small but very important program under the USDA called the Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program, which, while I have a lot of family members in the past who were engaged in agriculture, my great-grandparents on one side were sharecroppers, there were farmers on another side.
You know, agriculture has since skipped a few generations. So I was being tasked with, you know, studying this very small group of folks, helping farmers and ranchers do their job better, as a total outsider. So I asked my supervisor, I said, "Oh, great, great. Okay, so the FRTEP, that's what I'm working on. What's extension?" And she was kind enough to say, "Oh, you know, it's the person you call up when you, you know, want to figure out what type of soil you have so you know what to grow, or maybe to build a hoop house."
David: Yeah, of course. Come on, Lexi.
Lexie: What's a hoop house, though? I just Googled that one on my own. I didn't ask her. I was like, okay, I've already proven myself like ignorant enough in the realm of agriculture, but I'm coming at this with a good heart, I swear. So, and then over the next six months, I got a chance to interview these agents, to learn about the communities they serve, the work they do, and also the ways in which the way the USDA is currently structured fails them in their communities, and really come up with a lot of policy recommendations out of that, that I'm still currently working on today.
David: Can you give me a small example of one way that the USDA is failing them?
Lexie: Yeah, absolutely. So there are currently 36 FRTEP agents. They were created as an alternative to the traditional cooperative or county extension system, which has 3,000 agents across the country, one in every county. If you do the math, there are about 80,000 Native American farmers and ranchers across the U.S. So if a traditional county extension agent is looking at serving about 200 farmers each, these FRTEP agents are looking at serving about 2,000 each, which is completely unsustainable.
And I can't even keep up 2,000 names in my head, so I can't imagine keeping up 2,000 names and operation plans and all the things necessary to, you know, helping someone make their agricultural operation work. So figuring out how to get more funding for the program is one of the number one priorities, so that they can actually hire more agents to be able to do more good in Indian country.
David: So what does it actually look like when you're trying to get more funding for the program?
Lexie: Yeah, well, it's a farm bill provision, which is very convenient because the connections that I made while I was a fellow with NAAF led to me being hired as a policy assistant with the Intertribal Agriculture Council, which led to me becoming the Associate Director of Policy and Government Relations. We're one of the founding members of the Native Farm Bill Coalition, which is the largest coalition of tribes working together for a single policy purpose ever, as far as our history records indicate.
We represent 270 tribal nations, inner tribal alliances, and native organizations, and their Farm Bill priorities, which is, you know, the Farm Bill's a huge piece of legislation, comes up every five years, and essentially, if you eat, the Farm Bill affects you. So, thankfully, this little program that I was researching as a fellow is now something that I get to continue working on and advocating for in this larger Native Farm Bill Coalition work that I do.
David: Can you give me an example of a typical day or maybe two? I'm sure that no day is typical, but maybe like a typical day in the office, as much as you can approximate it, in a day in the field that's not atypical?
Lexie: Absolutely. So a lot of my work that I do in the office, let's say, I work remotely, but is connecting to our stakeholders. So reaching out to tribal leaders and Native ranchers and farmers to tell them about opportunities to engage with USDA, for opportunities to meet with us, also having conversations to hear about how particular programs are working or not working in their communities.
I also do a lot of outreach to allied organizations or non-Native organizations who are interested in supporting our work. That involves a lot of like Indian country 101 conversations where we strip it down to like bare bones basics of like, this is what a tribe is, here's how long agriculture has been going on in this area. So it's a lot of relationship building and sort of education, I would say. And then a lot of writing as well.
So I do a lot of writing for our comments that we submit whenever, you know, a different federal agency is trying to propose a rule change, submitting testimony. I've gotten to testify in front of Congress a couple of times so far. So preparing comments and things like that. Sometimes writing up blog posts or articles, though that not as much anymore as when I was a fellow.
And then a day out in the field, that, you know, depends on the community that I get to visit. This past year, I did a six-week-long road trip across Indian country to meet with our producers. So that took me everywhere from Alaska to Montana to Arizona. So a lot of different climates, a lot of different environments.
Sometimes I was, you know, riding around in a Jeep, going off on crazy trails as we did tours of olive groves. Sometimes it was wading through cow poop in a field in Montana so I could see what their regenerative agriculture practices looked like, or fending off mosquitoes in Alaska, because I don't know how they do it up there, but the mosquitoes are the size of dogs up in Fairbanks. And hearing about, you know, how they're doing traditional foraging or, you know, fishing. So it's a pretty cool job. I get to do a lot of different stuff and it's all in service to Indian country, so that's what makes it so great.
David: What was your best and worst moment on the job?
Lexie: Best on the job would probably be some of the incredible opportunities and meals I've gotten to have with folks. A lot of these round tables we do for work involve traditionally made foods made by Native chefs, featuring food items that are from the local producers, and getting to sit down and eat bison meatballs and different corn, beans, and squash stews, and things like that, and sit down with a producer and have them tell me all about their life story and why their operation is so important to them and their families, and how many generations back they've been going.
Probably worst day would be not wearing long sleeves in Fairbanks and getting eaten alive by mosquitoes and looking like I was doing interpretive dancing while I was trying to explain to people what the Farm Bill is and why it's important to Alaskan Native communities. That was not one of my shining moments in professionalism, but I think they understood I was an outsider, and they were kind and took pity on me.
David: Well, you're already doing really substantive stuff. So, you know, how is a law degree going to let you do more?
Lexie: Absolutely. I have been so lucky in this job because I have so many mentors around me who are attorneys working in the field of federal Indian law and Native food and agriculture law and policy. However, at some point, I'm sure they would love for me to not have to call and ask for their advice about something. Having a legal training that lets me know how a particular piece of legislation needs to be worded in order to have the impact it needs to on the ground to actually help producers in the way I want it to is something that I need a formal legal training around.
You know, it's one thing to be able to take stories from the field and turn it into something that legislators can really get behind and tugs at the heartstrings and really shows them how important Native agriculture is, but if you don't have the ability to craft the legislative language in the very precise way it has to be done to target Indian communities, that's a problem. That's where there's a disconnect and that's where a formal legal education and going to law school is going to make me that much more of a better advocate for the communities I'm hoping to serve.
David: Well, you have a really developed motivation. How did you end up shaping your background and your motivation into a coherent application? I guess what I'm really asking is, what did you write your essays about?
Lexie: Yeah, absolutely. So I took my personal statement and diversity statement in a little bit different directions. My personal statement really focuses on what it means to be a Native American woman and to be a Native American woman wanting to do food and ag law and policy, whereas my diversity statement was about my experience as a survivor of domestic and sexual violence in college and how I use that experience to help me essentially be more empathetic and how it helps me in my work and how I can use my experience as a survivor to try and create better policy to help folks who are survivors of other traumas, so that hopefully it won't happen again. So that's what I did.
David: Yeah. I feel like most people would've been tempted to flip-flop those. I just feel like, like my first instinct is, you know, your identity as a Native woman sounds like a diversity statement, and being a survivor and being motivated to help other survivors sounds like a personal statement. So how did you settle on this allocation of the story?
Lexie: Absolutely. Well, I knew I didn't want my identity as a Native woman to be just a box that's checked, a, you know, something like, oh, this is a diverse candidate coming in. She identifies as American Indian, she meets this core demographic that perhaps we're trying to target in her admissions decisions, versus being a survivor, I know that I do not have it in me to go specifically into domestic violence and sexual assault survivor type of law.
I know that that's not a field that I can work in. It's work that's incredibly important, and the people who can do it, like, more power to them, but where I see myself having impact is in tribal communities, doing this food policy, which is what I'm passionate about, and frankly, what I have the mental, emotional, physical capacity to be able to deal with right now. So that was sort of my reasoning for flip-flopping the two. Plus I had a lot more to say about my identity as a Native woman than my identity as a survivor, which is one facet of me, whereas being Native is who I am.
David: Would you feel comfortable reading us any portion of your essay?
Lexie: Yeah, absolutely. Which one would you like to hear?
David: I'd love to hear the personal statement.
Lexie: Sure. Okay. In Indian country, we don't ask where you come from. We ask from whom you come, because we care more about your relation to others than your zip code. Most non-Native Americans I meet like to ask the former, and my answer is always longer than they'd usually expect. As an army brat, my family and I have always lived wherever the military sends us. I was born and raised in Germany for nearly 16 years and graduated from high school in Puyallup, Washington. I attended the University of Chicago in Illinois, interned in Washington, DC, and worked remotely from my grandparents' home in Fort Smith, Arkansas. Yet I wouldn't say that I'm from any of those places.
David: That's great. And you don't have to read the whole thing, but just walk us through what happens next.
Lexie: Yeah, absolutely. So just talking a little bit about what I was speaking to earlier about being too German for the American kids, too American for the German kids growing up, and then throwing out the whole being Native American, and the American kids would be like, "Oh, you don't, you know, you don't look like the pictures of the Indians in our textbooks," or "Aren't they all dead?" And then the German kids would want to play cowboys and Indians with me.
So there's a lot of misinformation around what it means to be Native and about whether we even still exist today, which we absolutely do. And just growing up around the military and how that really instilled in me a sense of service, and how I was able to turn that sense of service into something that I wanted to do for my community and, you know, not just my tribe, although I hope that what I do impacts members of my tribe, but Indian country more widely.
I talk about my, one of my ancestors, my five-times great-grandmother who survived the Trail of Tears and how, because she was able to survive, I'm able to be here today and I'm able to be able to do this work and to serve Indian country. And so one of the things that's fundamental to being Chahta, which is the Choctaw word for Choctaw, is that we have a mission to honor our ancestors and to make the world a better place for our descendants, and so choosing to honor my five-times great-grandmother's history and her survival by choosing to do this work, to make sure that the type of starvation that our communities faced on the Trail of Tears, that that's never something that we have to go through again. And, you know, that's really what's inspired me to go into law and why I specifically want to work in food and agriculture law.
David: So did you know all of this before you started writing, and writing was a process of distilling that into words? Or did you figure some of this out as you wrote?
Lexie: Yeah, I think the story has always been there, and I knew what kind of work I wanted to do before writing my essays, but I think finding a way to tie together all of these seemingly very disparate places and very, you know, disparate aspects of my identity and, you know, the type of work that I want to do, and probably not a whole lot of people graduate from UChicago and are like, yeah, I want to work in agriculture. So trying to be able to show the connection between all of these different things.
And it just took a lot of asking questions about how one thing led to another in my life, and at that point, the story was very clearly laid out. Every decision that I had made or that the universe had made on my behalf, it led very naturally into the next thing. And that's, it was just a matter of finding the right words to convey that story. And that's where the essay came from, after many, many rewrites.
David: How many rewrites?
Lexie: Oh, I want to say the general outline and the core values about myself that I wanted to share, that only took one or two times to get it done. But I would say probably between six and eight, going through figuring out the right words I wanted to say. I tend to use far too many commas and like a lot of run-on sentences, so cutting those back, you know, that took a couple more times as well, but it didn't take too many in the grand scheme of things, but more than, say, my entrance essay for UChicago, which I somehow did in like two takes. I don't know how.
David: Did your other essays, like the diversity statement, take as many drafts?
Lexie: Diversity statement took a lot longer. It was a really difficult topic to write about, but one that I still felt I needed to share in order to really give myself sort of the credit for what I had gone through, and to be able to show that even though all of this was going on during my time in school, that I was still a great student, that I was still doing all of these, you know, extracurriculars, that I was still, you know, focusing on giving to others and focusing on service to others rather than just shutting down, which is also a perfectly appropriate response to trauma, but I wanted to be able to show how that wasn't something that happened.
And it took, that one took a lot more even just to decide, you know, what did I want to write about for the diversity statement, knowing that I didn't want to just, you know, duplicate what was in the personal statement.
David: Yeah. Are you proud of what you ended up with?
Lexie: Oh, incredibly. Yeah. Anytime someone is interested in applying to law school and hints that maybe wanting to read my essays, I'm happy to send them a copy. I think, you know, looking back on them a year after having written them, they're still great pieces. They're still, they still really tell my story and a safe version of my story, and so I'm always happy to share them with folks. And I think, yeah, it's, I think they were great. I did a good job and I've got to pat myself on the back for that one.
David: Would you be willing to share the first paragraph of your diversity statement?
Lexie: Yeah, absolutely. So in my third year of college, I was working for Illinois State Senator Kwame Raoul when two advocates visited his office, looking for a senator to introduce their group's sexual assault survivors' bill of rights to the legislature. Instead, they found me. As they described the length survivors currently had to go to in order to receive justice, I reflected on why I had decided to not report my own year of sexual assault and emotional abuse.
David: So it's a sort of a frame story.
Lexie: Yeah. It's, it was, I want to say almost a year exactly after I'd gotten out of that relationship. When these two advocates came to our office, I was the only one in the office, and, you know, they were looking for the senator and they found me, and really wanting to introduce the sexual assault survivors' bill of rights, and hearing, you know, what other survivors had gone through, knowing what my own experience was like, you know, having been a survivor in the DeVos, you know, Title IX era, I just knew that barriers that I faced as being someone who was in a very privileged position when all of this happened to me could only be even more insurmountable for people who didn't have the same privilege.
So I, you know, listened to their spiel, I collected all of their one-pagers and takeaways and leave-behinds and everything, scanned them all in to the senator, and wrote up an email saying that, you know, I wish that something like this had existed a year ago, because I wasn't brave enough to tell my story then, but I'd like to tell my story to you now in the hopes that you will be a sponsor of this bill, which he ultimately was. And then when, a year later, he became attorney general for Illinois, it was under his office that they were responsible for actually implementing the various policies that fell under the survivors' bill of rights.
So even though I didn't necessarily get direct justice for what I had gone through in college, I was still able to contribute to a wider sense of justice for other survivors throughout the state of Illinois, and, in my mind, that was enough for me.
David: Yeah, that's a, I'm really heartened that it ended that way.
Lexie: It was definitely terrifying to send that all in an email to a state senator, but ultimately it worked out and he was the lead sponsor for the bill and it passed.
David: Is all of that in your DS?
David: So let's talk about another happy ending. What was the upshot of your applications to law school?
Lexie: Absolutely. So I ended up applying to, let me think about this, I think 13 schools. I was, I think, admitted to seven and waitlisted at six, and I will be heading off to Yale Law School this fall. So that was the final decision.
Lexie: Woo! I'm very excited about it.
David: When do you move?
Lexie: In about two weeks, actually. So.
David: Good for you.
Lexie: Move up to New Haven.
David: Well, I've got some pizza recommendations for you.
Lexie: Apparently, that's the big thing up there, is there's a lot of debate around the pizza, so I'll happily take those recommendations later.
David: Yes, it's a debate that I, when I was there in college, I played out nearly every week.
Lexie: That's good to know. Yeah, in Chicago, they had very strong opinions about deep dish as well, so I feel like I'll fit right in.
David: Well, I will actually also be interested to hear where you come out on. The New Haven pizza is sort of antithetical to Chicago's deep dish.
Lexie: It is. I mean, Chicago pizza really is its own institution. Some would even say it shouldn't be considered pizza. I would say that's blasphemous because I love Chicago deep-dish pizza, but I am excited to try the New Haven varieties, even if they aren't possibly as good as Lou Malnati's. I'm just going to go ahead and throw it out there.
David: I do know Lou Malnati's too. Well, I'm sure that experiencing both sides of the pizza debate is also going to make you a better lawyer.
Lexie: I hope so, yes. Have to examine all the evidence before coming to any sort of conclusions.
David: Well, Lexie, thanks so much for sharing some of your story with us, and a huge, huge congratulations.
Lexie: Thank you. I really appreciate having a chance to come and speak and tell you a little bit about my experience and hopefully inspire some other folks to shoot their shot and apply to whatever dream school they have.
J.Y.: Hi there. It's J.Y. again. Thanks for listening. If you're interested in applying for the 7Sage 7K Scholarship, head on over to 7Sage.com/7K-scholarship. That's numeral 7, the letter K, hyphen, scholarship. I'll also add a link in the show notes. Applications for 2023 will open in January.
If you're studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, or prepping for the bar exam, head on over to 7Sage.com. We can help.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself, and see you next time.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, David talks to two consultants and an LSAT tutor about deferrals. Well, sort of. So here's the thing. They were supposed to talk about deferrals and they did, but then it turned out that 7Sage consultant Taj used to be a private chef for NBA players, and Jake tours the world in search of the perfect brisket, and Ben is teaching second-graders how to make galettes before he starts Harvard Law. So they wound up talking about the kind of stuff you might do if you defer law school. Anyhow, it's a good conversation, and I think you'll learn something about law school admissions. Enjoy.
David: Ben, I love summer camps. I am like a longtime camper and counselor. What's the deal with your summer camp?
Ben: So this one is in this town of Crestone, Colorado, which is about an hour away from where I live in Alamosa, but it's basically run by AmeriCorps members, so people serving a year of national service through a nonprofit called Alpine Achievers Initiative. So there are three to four of us every day that have essentially complete discretion to run whatever kind of program we want with about, you know, 12 to 15 first- through fifth-graders.
So we've been doing, the theme is connection. So, you know, something different every week, food or, this week is nature, we had an art week. So it's been really fun. I've been, I got the kids to make homemade galettes like last week. You know, most of them didn't know how to pronounce the word when we started, and they're pretty good cooks. It's been fun.
David: That's so fun. So that's the main activity for everybody.
Ben: I mean, there've been all sorts of activities, but yeah, that's, I mean, I run food, so I do all the lunches and I get them to, you know, really it's just less work for me so that I make them work for their food, but I have them make pizzas and galettes and all sorts of fun stuff.
David: That's cool. Do you have a cooking background?
Ben: Somewhat. My mom is a, like, semiprofessional. She's been working as a cook and a chef for a really long time, and when I was home for one summer, I cooked something on the Great British baking show every day with my mom, so it was like a new, a new challenge every day, and so now I have a few different things under my belt.
David: Taj is also a semiprofessional, really, a professional cook. She has like nine jobs before. Short-order cook.
Tajira: It's true. I was a private chef for NBA players for some years.
David: Wait, I didn't know that!
Jacob: Wait, for real?
Jacob: Okay, the podcast is changing now.
Tajira: I thought you guys knew that part.
David: Are you serious, Taj?
David: You have lived so many incredible lives.
Tajira: I just do what's fun.
David: Can we stay on this for a second? So how many clients did you have? Was this a full-time job? Did you like live there? Did you go there every day? How much are you cooking for an NBA player?
Tajira: It was part-time. It was actually while I was in law school. So I was living in LA, I was doing the evening program, and when I let go of my full-time job in insurance, I picked up some law jobs and things, but those didn't pay well, so I also picked up some side things. And I was living with a girl who was dating an NBA player, and he was the first person I cooked for.
And then I started staging for some others and cooked for a few families. I can't say who, obviously, but yes, it would be full weeks' worth of meals, loading up their fridge, just doing the things. Everybody in the house had different dietary restrictions, you know, so it was like trying to make sure everybody was covered, sometimes wives and girlfriends.
David: Do you remember—
Jacob: Not wives and girlfriends for the same house, right?
David: Do you remember, I don't know, like a decade ago now, I'm so old, I've lost all track of time, but when, you know, Michael Phelps was in the winter Olympics, I feel like every day, NBC, I think it was NBC, did a special about what he ate for breakfast, which was by far like my favorite part of the Olympics, because it was like 13 eggs, six omelets, four blueberry pancakes with sandwiches stacked on top. It was like that Beauty and the Beast song where Gaston is like bragging about how much he eats. Was it like that with the NBA players?
Tajira: Yes, because they had to have high-protein, high-carb diets because they were in the midst of like training or doing whatever. A lot of times the wives would be on like something completely different, kind of like, I guess what we would call keto now, but it used to be called like Atkins, and, you know, everybody was dealing with something else, or you'd find someone that's like, oh, well, I'm doing like a macrobiotics thing, and then I'd have to go research what that meant.
So it just depends, but that was the private side. And then, as David knows, more recently, some friends of mine opened a wine bar that has a full restaurant and they needed a chef for a while. So I stepped in for about two months last year and was their cook there.
David: This is fascinating. Let's get started, because it also transitions into what Ben is doing right now. So...
David: A little late. So I'm David. I'm a partner at 7Sage. I'm joined by Taj McCoy, former director of admissions at Berkeley, former insurance adjuster, didn't know that either. Former private chef for NBA players. Also with Ben McAnally. Ben, did I get your last name right?
David: All right. I nailed it. Slam dunk. So Ben is a 7Sage tutor, also a chef, also a camp counselor. And I'm here with Jacob Baska. Jacob, can you give us like the fun fact now?
Jacob: Oh, sure. So, right. So my cooking thing. So barbecue aficionado, which means semi-pro, right. So the out plan I always have is that if something goes sideways professionally, we'll just open up the brisket and ribs and pulled-pork truck and just boogie outta here. And we've also checked out the barbecue scene in like Auckland, New Zealand, Vancouver, British Columbia, again, in case things go sideways and we need to skedaddle. There's a need for good old-fashioned American barbecue, and a couple good markets internationally, and so we've already, we've scoped that out.
David: Nice. What was your favorite barbecue?
Jacob: Oh, man. You know, to go off, a little off-kilter, so my main things are brisket, ribs, pulled pork. The best I've had, though, is in Seoul. So some barbecue in Seoul, but American barbecue, and so just to see the ways that it gets filtered through different cultural lenses is really amazing. And, I mean, at the end of the day, just getting some ribs is always satisfying, especially in places where you don't expect it.
David: Right. And what I didn't mention, perhaps least importantly, Jake is also the former director of admissions at—
Jacob: In a former life, yes.
Tajira: I was just going to say really offhand, Jake, my parents and I, we usually go to the Best of the West BBQ Rib Cook-Off every year in Sparks, Nevada. You guys should come. It's amazing. People come from Australia and all over the world. It's incredible.
Jacob: Oh man. Yeah, that's, my wife and I have all these food- and drink-based vacations lined up for once the kids get a little older, you know, so that's on the radar.
David: Maybe we'll have a 7Sage summit meeting there.
Tajira: That would be amazing.
David: Ben, I wanted to ask you about your cooking and counseling because I think that you have something else lined up. You're going to Harvard Law School in 2023, and you got in early through Harvard's Junior Deferral Program. Is that right?
Ben: Yes, that's right.
David: So I wanted to talk today, not just about barbecue and cooking, although that is much more fun. I did want to talk about deferring law school, and I want to start by asking you, Ben, to tell us about Harvard's program. How do you apply? Who's it for? Why should people consider it?
Ben: Yeah, so the program is geared toward people finishing their junior year in undergrad. So the idea is for some sort of nontraditional students basically having at least one more year of college ahead of you, and you apply, it looks like the deadline next year, I just checked, it's probably going to be April 1st, and you apply. It's not rolling admissions like most law school admissions. There's a single deadline. You do have to take the LSAT, and you have to take it early, and there's, you know, some rec letters, an essay, standard things, but then you actually hear back sort of mid to late summer, I think July 1st.
And then you sort of go into a senior year of college knowing that you have a law school admission. The catch or the bonus, depending on how you think about it, is you have to take a two-year, or get to take, at least in my opinion, it's certainly get to take, a two-year deferral between college and law school where you don't have to worry about taking LSAT or, you know, recommendation letters from people who barely remember your name or something like that, and then get to go after that. So that's the basic pitch of the program.
David: And why is it a bonus, in your opinion, to take two years between college and law school?
Ben: In my opinion, it's this really wonderful gift that's actually twofold. I think the first is it helps to take some time between undergrad and law school for a few different reasons. I actually worked with a group of Junior Deferral Program students to write a series of blog posts for HLS admissions office and was trying to gather together people of who sort of fit into different categories of why somebody might want to do this.
And the categories I found were some people just want to see if law school's really for them, right, and confirm, and so they work at a law firm or in, you know, some sort of legal adjacent or related field. Some people want to get extra experience outside of direct law in whatever area they want to go into. So somebody worked for basically undergraduate college doing minority admissions work, right, because that's what they eventually want to do in a legal field. So they worked in an adjacent area. Somebody wanted to get basically experience, a ton of experience, working really hard and making some money before law school, and so they went and did management consulting.
And I think those are three of, you know, three pretty standard categories for why people are in this program and do deferrals in general. And then there was me, which was like a total sort of left-field card. I'm not doing anything related, at least this year, to what I plan to do later on. It was just get out into the broader world, slow down, swerve, and build some, in David Brooks' words, eulogy rather than resume virtues. Some things that are just sort of broadly applicable to life rather than law school admissions.
And I think the beauty of having a deferral program like this is you don't have to build a resume in the intervening two years, because, one, it's probably not going to show up the next time you apply to anything anyway, and so it gives you an excuse to do something you might not otherwise have the courage to do.
David: I like that distinction between resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Tell us more about how you've been using your time and how you've been building up the eulogy virtues.
Ben: Yeah, I actually heard that distinction for the first time at a keynote address in DC. I was about halfway through a two-month road trip around the country after graduating, basically just living out of my car, and I heard David Brooks give this address and he was basically making a pitch for people graduating college not to immediately jump into their future careers, the argument being the actual career window is getting longer.
People are able to work later into life because of, you know, improvements in healthcare, and the expectations are not that you're committed to one sort of career track for the rest of your life, and that a lot of these things that people are looking for are not things, you know, employers and just life, you know, people in your life in general are not really looking for things that you can get just staying on one track.
And so actually at that point, I had just gotten an offer from my dream law firm, this boutique federal appellate litigation firm in DC, to do this two-year fellowship, and it was sorely, sorely tempting, and David Brooks at first, generally, talking with him briefly afterward, directly told me don't do that. That's a bad idea. You're wasting time partially because of, you know, opportunity cost, and partially just because, you know, if you want to work at a law firm and you're sure that you want to go to law school and work in a legal field, and I do, that you should really do something else before you go to law school and build some other kinds of things.
So I chose to go do this AmeriCorps position in Southern Colorado. I, during the academic year, was working with second-graders doing academic interventions, and the reason that I chose that is because I'm doing this collaborative storytelling project, which is a whole side passion project of mine. But now I'm running a summer camp, as David briefly mentioned, and cook for 12 every day, and I'm teaching kids how to make fun pastries and food. Also cleaning up a lot of child messes and opening juice cartons and fun stuff like that.
David: Yeah. The Capri Suns are really difficult. We could do like a master's program in that. To aim it, and you like, you always pierce the back.
Ben: Exactly. I've become kind of a pro, if I do say so myself.
David: I believe it. I believe, you're a man of many talents. Actually, I want to go back to the storytelling project, but let's put it on hold. We'll focus on deferrals for a second. I'm interested to hear about the collaborative storytelling project. But turning to our former admissions professionals, and also, of course, food professionals, do we have a sense whether Harvard's JDP program is more or less competitive than, you know, applying through the regular channel? And I'm also just wondering, you know, why a school would offer a program like this. What's the advantage from an admissions perspective?
Jacob: Yeah. So, you know, to jump in on that one, at least per Harvard's website, they try to make it pretty clear that it is no more or less competitive to do the JDP versus regular admission. I think it's still a reasonably new enough program where we don't have enough of a track record on that, though I'll let Taj jump in with her two cents on that one, but you know why a school would do this?
Because it's an opportunity to lock in some amazing students and have the bonus of them getting that experience for a couple years, that it's never a problem to see students come right through from undergrad, but there is that missed lived-in experience because you're going to go into a law school environment where it's a Socratic educational process, and having lived-in experience, having professional experience, having a variety of different backgrounds to contribute to those conversations is really beneficial to the larger educational process.
But it can be hard to tell people, go do something, go work for a little bit, then come back, if they have that feeling over their shoulder of am I putting myself at a disadvantage if I go to work for a little bit of time? I know they're telling me to do this, but do they really mean it? So it gives students this guarantee of, or this blessing, hey, we'll see you in two years' time, go do something out in the world. And as Ben mentioned, the variety of backgrounds and experiences these students are accumulating, that's only going to enrich the Harvard educational experience, which is already a pretty rich experience.
David: Taj, do they really mean it when admissions officers tell you to go get experience before you apply? Because, of course, that's the other way that you can unofficially defer law school, simply by just actually deferring your application.
Tajira: Sure. You know, the fun thing about this particular program is I think it kind of gives folks the opportunity of, instead of applying and going straight through, I want you to apply, I want you to show me what a great candidate you are right now, and I want you to also show me that you're mature enough to sign on to this and guarantee that you're going to go get experience. It's a really smart program because it takes those folks that would otherwise be trying to go straight through and funnels them to go get experience first instead.
And I like that about this. I think, you know, in terms of this versus the folks who apply and then ultimately request deferral, the processes are a bit different because, for some schools, deferral is, there's some hurdles that you have to overcome to get to a yes on deferral otherwise. But for this, it's a planned thing.
It doesn't surprise me that their acceptance rate for the JDP program would be similar to their acceptance rate in the rest of their program. I think that's what most schools would try to do even with their early decision programs as well. So that's pretty standard. And so, in my mind, I think this particular program is actually quite brilliant because where some schools, you can tell that they lean towards candidates that have experience, and you can tell that based on their average age, here, they're giving folks the opportunity by kind of building it into a program and just getting those folks to go out there and get that experience. And it's like it's their idea.
David: Let's go to something else you said. You mentioned that there are hurdles for folks who ask for a deferral after their acceptance. What are those hurdles and how do you get to a yes if you've already been accepted and you want a deferral?
Tajira: That's a great question. As you know, I've worked at five different law schools, and so at each one, the deferral process has been a little bit different. For the most recent law school where I actually helped to manage the deferral process was at Berkeley. Typically we had people submit a form. The primary reasons why we would approve a deferral request was if someone was either completing another graduate degree program and they needed another year, maybe they were being deployed by the military, maybe they were a Rhodes Scholar and had another year of fellowship or something like that.
Typically there had to be some sort of a major reason. It couldn't just be, I just want to gain a year of experience. For that, we would tend to stress to applicants that you need to apply in the year that you actually intend to enroll. And so it depends. For other schools, because maybe they've overenrolled, they offer to everybody. There are some schools that will offer the opportunity to defer to folks who are on the waitlist, in a way to kind of begin building their class early. And so it depends on the strategy of each school that offers deferrals.
I found where some schools, they really don't want to offer deferrals because they don't want people to try to tag along their scholarship money because sometimes scholarship can be deferred also. And so there's a lot of moving parts to consider. It's also knowing that if you offer that deferral, that's one less seat you get to offer in the next cycle and your goals are going to be different in that next cycle. So a lot of times, senior admissions officials tend to be careful and cautious with how many deferrals they're going to offer, simply because from year to year, your goals change and you've got to be prepared for that.
David: Jacob, talk to us about deferrals at Notre Dame or deferrals in your experience.
Jacob: Yeah. To drill down specifically into what we did and to build off what Taj said, I think that we were probably at the more liberal end of matters