Brad: I still ask myself this question, you know, "What happened?" It literally feels, when I look back at my life, it feels like a switch. I remember waking up one time during selection and my sleeping bag was just full of water. It had rained that night, and so it demanded something different of me. I just realized that I had that inside of me. It doesn't take some kind of Superman or Superwoman to do it, you just have to have the drive.
J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping. Today's guest is one of the most extraordinary people we've ever worked with at 7Sage. Brad went from an LSAT score of 157 to a 172, and from homelessness to Harvard Law.
He talks to 7Sage consultants David and Aaron about his life, law school applications, and LSAT journey. So, without further ado, please enjoy.
David: Okay. Well, I am here with 7Sager, Brad, and 7Sage consultant, Aaron, and I don't usually say this, but Brad, I am genuinely so excited to talk to you. You are just one of the most interesting winning applicants we've ever worked with, and it's a real pleasure. So thanks for joining us.
Brad: Thank you, David. Just, I never thought I would be on the show. I've listened to all the episodes, though, so it's a real treat.
David: Well, now you've made it to the big time. And Aaron, you want to just say hi as well?
Aaron: I'm Aaron, I'm a writing consultant to 7Sage and I had the tremendous pleasure of working with Brad for, for quite a while, actually, since we delayed the cycle. So it was like two years.
David: Two years of Brad.
Aaron: Two years of Brad. I want more Brad. That's why we're on the podcast.
David: I know, Brad, I hope you apply to something after law school. Can we help you on your Supreme Court application or something?
David: All right. So, Brad, your story is really interesting. And it's really compelling. And, of course, the heart of your application strategy, as far as I can tell, was just to get out of the way of your story, which is great. And so I want to start with your story. Could you just give us the Charles Dickens opener? I don't know if we need to start with Brad as an infant, but tell us just a little bit about your background and growing up.
Brad: Okay. So, growing up, I was a young lad, like a normal kid, active. I was not a great student, just, you know, I liked playing outside, I liked doing everything else besides my schoolwork. And so I was not even an average student, probably like below average, you know, middle school, high school.
I was interested, I remember reading a lot of books, so I read a lot of books, but, you know, I probably didn't read the books I was assigned for school. I would read other things. I liked a lot of history, and then Harry Potter. History and Harry Potter was, yeah. So, and my dad was an entrepreneur, well, he worked for DuPont first, so he was an agriculture major and he worked for DuPont for awhile.
And so we lived out in the Midwest. So I grew up in the Midwest, Indiana, Chicago, or not Chicago, but Indiana and Illinois. And then he left DuPont and then he became an entrepreneur. So he ran a couple of laundromats and he also had a couple of rental apartments. So I started working from around the age of twelve or thirteen, helping out in the laundromat, assisting customers.
So, I was just a very face-timey type of person already from that young age. And my mom has been an accountant since I can remember. So she's the numbers person. I don't remember much of what I did in high school, but I just feel like I didn't do much.
David: And tell us about your college education. I want you to walk us through the whole story and then we'll circle back and talk about how you encapsulated it in your application.
Brad: So I graduated high school, June 2006, and so in that fall 2006, I enrolled in Delaware State University. So I moved from Indiana to Delaware. I didn't know anyone. I had family there. My family is from there, but I didn't know anybody at the school, so it was just a different culture, different people.
And I would just say, I wasn't really ready for it, looking back on that time. I didn't really want to go for the major that my parents really wanted me to go for, which was something practical that I would get a job with.
My dad majored in agriculture, and so they were like, do something like that, that's going to be useful. I've joked about it with my parents now. I had C's in high school in, like, math and science, so why would you stick me in a science major in college? It's not going to get easier. It's probably gonna get harder.
David: You wanted to major in the history of magic.
Brad: Yeah, exactly right. So yeah, you know, it just didn't work out for me, and I basically failed out there. So, at the end of the semester at Delaware State, my family kind of decided, "Hey, this isn't working out for you. You like computers, you like technical stuff, let's move you to a technical college and see if that works better for you."
And I, one, didn't really have a choice because I wasn't paying for my education, but then, two, I just tried to make the point that just because I can fix a printer doesn't mean I can do the stuff that was required of me at this technical college, right? So I was working with chipsets, software, just VMware, all this other stuff that I wasn't really used to and I don't think I was particularly good at.
And so I ended up dropping out of there. So, after spring, the spring term 2007 at Delaware Technical Community College, I had basically failed out of two schools in a very short amount of time. So it was summer and I didn't have a job or an internship or anything, so I went back home. And there, I was like, "Hey, this isn't working out for me."
And I started thinking and looking at other ways I could live my life, at least for the short term, and what I came up with was joining the Air Force. And my parents really cared about me and were coming from a place of love when they were like, "Hey, we don't want you to do a dangerous job in the Air Force."
It's 2007, a lot of people, a lot of our troops are dying overseas. They wanted me to do something safe. The problem with that was, that wasn't really who I was. I'm a pretty extreme person, which is to say, like, I just like adventure, sports, extreme sports or whatever. I just, I like adventure.
And so what I wanted to do in the Air Force is called TACP, the tactical, the part of the tactical air control party. You're the person who's going to be talking to, say, an A-10 overhead and direct their munitions on enemy targets. And I told my parents this and it just, it didn't go well.
And, like, a long story short, I got kicked out. And I think my parents' reasoning was that I'll kind of see the light and start agreeing with them if I don't have any money and I don't have any way to get around, but that didn't happen. So I was just homeless for around a month, and this was the summer of 2007.
When I was going through this homeless period, some people helped me. I didn't know anybody around the area, but random people started to kind of know me at this gas station that I kind of stayed at. And I still had this plan in mind, right, which is to join the military, and there's a couple of recruiters that you can talk to.
And the Army just happened to be the branch that would allow me to join the fastest. And they were like, "Hey, we can get you in in a couple of weeks max, dude, like you should come join us. We have a similar job to what you wanted to do in the Air Force and we will offer you a bonus to join."
So that was a no-brainer for me. So I joined the Army that summer, July 2007, and I joined as the 13 Fox, so it's fire support specialist. And I did my basic training and the advanced individual training, called AIT, at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. It's not an exciting place to be, but it works for when you need to drop munitions like artillery and mortars and things like that.
And then after that, I did my airborne training at Fort Benning before being stationed at Fort Bragg, and my unit deployed to Ramadi, Iraq, in 2009. I was there for about a year, and when I came back, I was young, I was really good at physical training, called PT, and I asked for a slot to Ranger School. And my leadership said that if I could pass the Pre-Ranger Course at Fort Bragg, then I could go.
And so I take up this offer and I go to the course, but I quit. I quit, like, the second day, third day or something. Extremely unimpressive. I didn't even stick it out a week. And I lied to my unit when they asked what happened, 'cause I had to go back to my unit. So I go, I'm like, okay, the course is, I think, a couple weeks.
So I come, and, you know, if you show up three days later, people are going to be like, wait, what happened? And the easiest way out of honestly answering that question is just say, "Oh, I got injured." So that's what I did. I just said, "Oh, I got injured. You know, I'm going to go back. It's unlucky," or what have you.
But by then, my time in the Army was coming to an end, and I just left the Army peacefully after that. I went back to school at Methodist, still in Fayetteville, which is right next to Fort Bragg. They're one and the same. Fayetteville is Fort Bragg. And then I ended up going through just a lot of hard times.
I wasn't living in the best situation, and then on top with that, I started to realize that I didn't accomplish my goals in the Army. So, by fall 2010, I basically stopped going to class. I didn't have my support system. I didn't have my military friends anymore, even though I lived in Fort Bragg. And then, so that led to this serious bout of depression.
I felt very alone and I felt like a loser, to be frank, because I had quit something. I didn't quit because I couldn't do it, or that I was injured. I quit because it was hard. It was impossible to look at myself in the mirror and respect who I see. And so in that spring 2011, I had happened to watch a documentary on Discovery Channel about RASP, which is the Ranger Assessment and Selection Program.
RASP leads to, if successfully passed, it leads to the Ranger Regiment, which is the special operations unit. After I watched this documentary, I think I was kind of obsessed with the idea. So even though I'm overweight and not in a good spot to start training, I watched the documentary, I just start training that same day. The very same day.
And it hurt. I'm overweight, I've eaten like crap, I've been drinking a lot, not like an alcoholic, but going out a lot, having fun, partying. And so I eventually get into shape, because I'm like, "Okay, I need to go see a recruiter." By the end of the summer in 2011, I'm back in the Army.
And once I was at RASP, I remember knowing that I had chosen the right path for me, because the difference this time was that I'm physically and mentally prepared. And that's what I was missing, that mental preparation the first time.
I think the reason why most people don't make these kind of hard selection programs is because, frankly, their mind quits before their body. It's not that they didn't train enough, they didn't put in the miles. They put in the time, but it's easier, to me, it's easier to train the body than it is to train the mind. So I read a lot of books and I trained just like a savage to be ready for this course.
And it was still pretty freaking hard. Like, there was days I didn't think I was going to make it. But I was like, "Well, I will let them tell me to leave, but I'm not going to leave." And thankfully I had that kind of mindset this time because the experience of becoming and being an Army Ranger, being at a place, at a unit where everyone has to volunteer to be there and be selected, is just a totally different experience than what I had gone through in the rest of the Army.
And so around 2014, my contract started to come to a close, so I had a choice: either reenlist or do something else, go back to school or whatever. And the time at 3rd Ranger Battalion really changed the way I viewed myself. That showed me that, hey, I do, I have more inside of me than I think. I knew I wanted to prove to myself I could make it at a top school.
So I, basically, what I did is Google something like Ivy League college and veterans. I just knew Ivy League was good. It's like, Stanford's also good, but I just, I didn't really know anything about higher education. And what came up was the Posse Veterans Program. They match veterans with these elite schools, elite liberal arts colleges.
Around 2014, when I was looking at that Posse program, I was also taking online courses. And there, I think, there was the start of my kind of turnaround. I was getting A's in these online classes. Granted, they were not that hard, but I was trying to signal to people like, hey, I'm not the same person I was a couple of years ago.
And so I made it through the first interview. Posse Veterans Program, it's like a five-step interview process, like super competitive. They send a cohort of ten people to each partner school and thousands of people apply. So I just kept making it further and further into this process, and I was like, maybe I'll, I could do this.
And so, at the final interview, I was in front of the deans of admission at Dartmouth, along with the Posse people, and I was admitted to Dartmouth. After that, I remember I was on a plane when I got the call and I was like crying on the plane. I was trying not to cry, 'cause I was like, "Okay, I'm a pretty big dude. I don't want to cry on the plane," but I ended up crying on the plane anyway.
I got into Dartmouth, and there, my educational trajectory turned around. I started attending in fall 2016, and I just graduated from Dartmouth in March 2021. It was one of the best experiences I've ever had in my life, and I think of the school as a second home now. It was a really, really great time there, and I learned so, so much.
David: Is it fair to say that you felt like you were drifting and you weren't totally motivated and you certainly weren't pushing yourself to the best of your abilities until you reenlisted in the army, and the challenge of that made you push back and realize what you could do?
Brad: Yeah, I would say that's exactly what happened. Seriously, I still ask myself this question, "What happened?" It literally feels, when I look back at my life, it feels like a switch. It wasn't a switch that I could consciously turn on or off. I think, I don't know, sleeping out, I woke up, I remember waking up one time during selection and my sleeping bag was just full of water. It had rained that night, we were out, open sky, and it was just full of water, no joke. And so, it just, it demanded something different of me.
I just realized that I had that inside of me. It doesn't take some kind of Superman or Superwoman to do it. You just have to have the drive, and we can go farther as humans than we think we can. If you think you're ready to quit, you've probably only gone like 70%. Like, you have a lot more inside of you. And that's what I realized, I think.
David: That's really inspiring. And Brad, I think that you wrote around this switch in your personal statement. You sort of targeted the moment before it happened, and then you showed us the moment after it happened. Can we turn to your personal statement? I wonder if you can actually just read the beginning?
Brad: Yeah, no, the first paragraph, does that work?
Brad: Yeah, no, this is perfect, and it kind of encapsulates exactly what I'm talking about. So it starts: After I left the Army in 2011, I looked in the mirror every morning and saw the face of a quitter. I had served honorably with combat service in Iraq, and for that, I was proud. But I had quit during Ranger training because of a lack of intestinal fortitude.
For months, I binged Netflix shows, ate unhealthy frozen meals, gained twenty pounds, and became a person I resented. Then I happened to see a Discovery Channel special on Ranger Assessment and Selection, RASP, and something changed for me. I started running the same day. I got back in shape, and in November 2012, I reenlisted.
David: When I read your personal statement, it has this quality of inevitability. I read the essay and I think, how else could a person who experienced this have possibly written about anything else? This seems like the personal statement you had to write, but of course, I'm sure it doesn't feel like that when you're actually crafting it.
And so my question is, was it obvious from the beginning that you were even going to write about this? How did you decide to choose this topic and focus on this?
Brad: Yeah, so, I was hoping it was going to be obvious. I ended up deciding, I'm so thankful that I got to work with Aaron because I decided, but he helped me get everything out so that I could, he made the decision easy. So I ended up, and Aaron, correct me if I'm wrong, but I ended up writing around like three full essays about just kind of explaining all of these important moments, life-changing moments in my life.
And from there, the story, we kind of took elements from different parts and then condensed everything. I mean, I'm really thankful I didn't really have to pick because I got everything out and we scrapped some stuff. Some stuff is semi-redundant and other stuff, it was like really fresh, and it's like, okay, this encapsulates what we're trying to get the message through here.
David: Aaron, can you talk to me about that process? What were you thinking as you read these initial drafts, and how did you approach finding the right essay and the right outline?
Aaron: Yeah, well, so, as everybody can hear, when you listen to Brad talk, he has this incredibly warm and inviting and modest way of talking about what is, in fact, an extraordinarily impressive and unusual trajectory.
So, when I was meeting him and he was sort of dolefully going through this early educational history, just thinking, like, oh no, how are we going to minimize this and contextualize this, to minimize the damage that it does to my application? And, you know, gradually I started to realize, like, that's not what's happening here, right?
Like, this is part of a bigger story that's not even, like, it's not, it's like a human story about a person transcending this relatively challenging situation. And so I started to think it was less about contextualizing whatever unhappy things an admissions officer would see on the transcript and more just about getting to the heart of this, really, this extraordinary moment that you and Brad have already touched on, that moment when he reenlists, I think.
And so we kind of, we use the other documents, the diversity statement and the GPA addendum, to add the necessary context, in a way, in order to clear out space for the personal statement that just gets right to the heart of that one moment.
You know, I think what Brad was saying about discovering that this was in him, right? In our initial discussions, we were trying to think about how to explain this moment when he essentially gets off the couch and he becomes an Army Ranger. And I think it was important to understand, at least for me, that it wasn't a change, right? This is who he already was and that's what he discovered.
And that was the moment that was so interesting to me. And so that increasingly just became the moment that we focused on as the thing that gives shape to the larger story, in a way, I don't know. Brad, does that sound right to you?
Brad: Yeah, no, I actually kind of forgot how afraid I was of my, of the educational history, and yeah, because you helped me realize I don't have to, I can just keep that in my GPA addendum, I actually kind of forgot that that was a huge concern of mine at the very start.
Aaron: Yeah, I think our initial conversation was just like, what are we going to do to explain this? But part of that was because you were also being kind of modest about revealing all this. Like, by the time I saw your resume, I saw an initial draft of your resume, and then we didn't actually work on the resume till after we had the personal statement pretty far advanced.
But your resume looks like ten people's resumes squashed into one. And you were like, well, should I include this? And it would be this incredible and absorbing activity that on anyone else's resume would be like the centerpiece, and on yours it's just like, it's something you were doing on Saturday mornings or whatever. So, to me, the relationship was just kind of like every day learning another amazing thing and just kind of having to recenter my own sense of the story.
Actually, how do we simplify what's ultimately a super impressive story and just draw a bright line for the reader so that this doesn't seem kind of overwhelming in its complexity?
David: Yeah, that makes sense because you're telling me that you're really worried about your educational history, but when I read your whole application, your educational history weirdly feels like a strength because it sets up the story.
It sets up a Great Expectations story. There's just such a clear before and after. At one point, you're living in a car in a gas station and you're failing out of college, and now you're going to Harvard Law. And your essays really put the finger on that moment of transition and everything helps to set up the story.
Brad, do you like writing about yourself? Did you find it liberating or really challenging?
Brad: I think both, right? I think that at first, one, I'm not as good at writing as I thought I was. I don't know how good at writing I thought I was, really, but what I realized very quickly is that it's really hard to condense things and get rid of stuff and to make it, to be super intentional about every sentence.
That's one thing that was really brought out as important to me, is making every sentence matter. That's not an easy task, but it was also, I think I had to, especially on my diversity statement, that I wasn't, like, crying writing it or anything, but it was thinking, going back to that time, it wasn't traumatic or anything, but it was just like, holy crap, I remember all of this stuff that I don't really think about all that often, and wow, what a journey.
It was just like, whew, glad I don't have to do that again. But it was something that really shaped who I was and led to this great independence that I've carried around with me ever since then.
Yeah, I loved, I eventually started to love writing about everything, but at some point, I just wanted to get it done, and then Aaron would send me, like, eighteen more edits and I'd be like, ah, I thought I was almost done. Okay.
David: I mean, Brad, knowing you, you're going to end up being like a novelist in addition to the other seven things that you are.
I want to turn, actually, to the diversity statement because that's another moment to enter the story. There are a lot of good moments, and this one focuses on what happened before the transition. Brad, would you feel comfortable reading the beginning of the diversity statement as well?
Brad: Yeah, of course.
David: Okay, great. Could you read the first paragraph and then the first couple sentences of the next one?
Brad: Sure. After my spring term in 2007 at Delaware Technical Community College, I went back home to my parents' place for the summer, like many college students. One evening, I tried to explain to my parents that I had talked to the Air Force recruiter and wanted to join in a few months when a slot opened up. My parents, however, would not support me.
My father threw me out of the house with some clothes and only $5 to my name. I had a car, but he slashed one of the tires. With adrenaline surging through my body, I got in the car and drove until the tire was completely flat. I ended up at Kangaroo Express Gas Station, and this is where I lived for a month, sleeping in my car as I started searching for a job.
David: Your essays are, and this does not happen to me very often, but your essays gave me chills. Both of them. I just came away from reading these and I just thought, like, how could anybody in their right minds not admit this guy to their law school?
But how did you get here, how did you decide to put this in your diversity statement and to focus on your reenlistment and the personal statement? Were you thinking of the whole application from the beginning and saying, I'm going to allocate this part of my story to this essay and that part to the other essay? Or did you do the personal statement first, and then say, what else do we have to say? Tell me more about the process of putting all the essays together and making sure that they work together so well.
Brad: I'm fairly certain, you know, this was a long process. I'm fairly certain I started working with Aaron and we started on the personal statement. And again, I think one of the strengths were maybe I didn't, this decision kind of came naturally is because I did end up writing multiple essays.
And there we had this really big picture that encapsulated everything that I was probably going to talk about. And I think here, I did certain things on campus, ran certain school organizations. I had particular goals, that Army story, that more Army-centric story, fit in to that personal statement just almost naturally, because it's a kind of, I don't know, Rocky-esque story, right, where your back's against the ropes and what are you going to do? You got to get out of the corner, right? You're getting pummeled.
And that was the kind of, you know, "from rags to riches" story of sorts. And so that uplifting story's kind of maybe juxtaposed with something similar in that diversity statement, but also it is maybe a little bit more depressing. And so, you know, but it's a very short kind of depression. And then I think we also, it's almost like, not two personal statements, but I think it's just on the face of it, it says diversity statement, but it really all, the one thing I love about my documents is that I really do just think they're almost seamless.
I just think it would hurt the story to have one without the other. So, like, it does say diversity statement, one does say personal statement, but I think it tells one cohesive narrative, which I think is just the huge strength. And I focus on, I use that diversity piece, in a way, like, Aaron helped me to use that diversity, like homelessness and, hey, what am I tying that into?
Hey, what do I want to, why am I telling the admissions committee that I was homeless? Like, what does that do? I don't want to just tell them a sob story. It's like, oh, it actually connects to things that I want to do in legal practice, or I hope to do in my legal practice. And so maybe this is bold, but I just think I could swap my personal statement for my diversity statement. It's just, I don't know, it's all so cohesive.
David: Yeah, I agree. And I, normally, I'm not sure that I approve, normally, of writing a diversity statement that is also a personal statement, but it really works well for you. I mean, one reason it works is that at the center of it is what we can call a diversity factor, which is the fact that you were homeless.
And that's a big one. I mean, I think that definitely distinguishes you from a lot of people in school. But then, of course, the other reason it works is that it's so substantive. Could you draw out that connection that you made for us? How does this experience relate to your goals as a lawyer?
Brad: Yeah, so I think one of the things, you know, I'm working, I'm lucky enough to be working at a big law firm this summer, and I think one of the things that I realized is it grounds me, I think, and maybe that's the message I was trying to get across is that no matter what I do, what happened here grounds me in a particular type of way where I can't really forget my past.
And I'm going to keep, you know, because it's such a, it was a precarious situation, I'm never going to forget those people in those situations because I can't, right, I was there. I realized what it feels like to not have anything, to not, you know, people look at you like you're a dog or something, right? And so, in practice, I hope to, starting when I'm at school at Harvard and then later on, maybe pro bono cases, or maybe I'm doing more than that, helping two populations that overlap: homelessness, or homeless people, and veterans, right? Those are two, the intersection there is pretty big.
And so, I didn't plan it, but they work really well together in terms of telling that story. It told itself. I don't need to tell everyone that a lot of veterans who are having troubles are also homeless.
David: Aaron, how did you approach the formation of this essay and sort of carving out its own story fiefdom that was distinct from the personal statement?
Aaron: Yeah, it's interesting. You know, initially, I think we did, like Brad says, they both seem like great topics for a personal statement, right? I think maybe we approached it with a relatively simple goal of keeping the personal statement as affirmative as we could.
Like Brad says, I think we worried a tiny bit about leading with the story of homelessness, even though the story would immediately be about transcending that moment, just because we wanted to sort of start the reader off on the right foot. So I think at the beginning, maybe it was a relatively small decision, but as we went along, there's this interesting thing that happens, which is that the personal statement ends with some of Brad's work with veterans on campus, and some simple statements about what he might ultimately hope to do.
The diversity statement, even though it reaches back to a moment before the moment that the personal statement begins with, also turns out to just be a way of extending the whole story into the future. By discussing the experience of homelessness and linking that to the plight that a lot of veterans face, we were able to kind of, we reach back and then look forward again.
So, in a way, it's like it adds a larger frame to the personal statement and puts it in a larger context, and sort of, it skips forward into this kind of hypothetical future, in a way. And that's what we realized that there was that possibility in it. As I'm talking now, I think I'm also imagining the reader, you know, going through the personal statement and then the diversity statement, and then finally hitting the GPA addendum, which was the piece that we were so worried about at first, and just imagining how not exactly trivial the GPA addendum was, but how different it would seem after you encountered these other stories.
David: Talk to me about that. I'll ask Brad first. What was your strategy for the GPA addendum? This is the piece that you were most worried about at the beginning of the application process.
Brad: Yeah. Yeah, no, I, literally, I was so worried about this GPA addendum that, or my GPA, you know, just writ large about a year, I just said to myself, oh, law school is not for me because of my history. No joke, I was actively pursuing, you know, I was with my career coach, I was actively pursuing other routes because I was like, I want to be a lawyer, but my GPA is going to hold me back.
And so, honestly, I have to give credit here to you all because Aaron helped me contextualize this and, I think, really minimize and separate out who I was before and then who I was after, right, where my GPA addendum's very short and sweet, no emotional stuff in there. It's just like, it's a very, like, I own up to everything I've done.
Like, hey, you know, this was the situation that, you know, and we put in dates like, you know, very matter of fact, here are the dates. Look at the huge gaps, right? I was this person with this terrible GPA, and now I have this great GPA, at Dartmouth no less. And so I didn't have to try to convince anyone because the record convinces them, you know, on its own. It doesn't need anything from me, really. So I'm lucky in that sense.
David: Brad, can I share your LSAC GPA?
Brad: Oh yeah.
David: It's a 2.71. Is that right?
Brad: Yeah, 2, let me see. Yeah, 2, okay, 2.84.
David: Oh, 2.84. Okay. What were you worried about?
Yeah, I hear what you're saying. I think the GPA addendum works because you read it, it feels very forthright, but at the same time, somehow, you do kind of leave me with the impression that it's no big deal. I'm like, so he was in and out of college a couple of times. No big deal.
But the only reason I had that impression is because you really prepared the way with your fantastic personal statement and diversity statement. And by the way, I don't want to give anyone the impression that that's the purpose of a personal statement and diversity statement. It's not. You told your story and you did such an effective job of telling your story that the explanation for the GPA was already implicitly there.
Brad: Right, right.
David: Brad, I feel like we can look at your story as a Great Expectations narrative or a Rocky narrative. You're on the ropes and suddenly you're punching out Apollo Creed. But we can also look at it as a story of a learner and a student figuring out what he's interested in.
And I wonder if you can zoom in on the moment when you did start to get excited about academics again, because I think you told us that you majored in agriculture, it wasn't for you. You were good at computers, but you didn't really take to technical college, soldering chipsets or whatever you do in that program.
And then suddenly like the light went on when it came to academics as well, and you're taking courses and doing well and getting excited. When did that happen and how did that happen?
Brad: Yeah, so I don't remember the exact year. I know I was, I remember for a fact I was in the Army, and I think this was, I don't know what else to call this, but this was at the time when people like Christopher Hitchens, you know, like he was already popular. I think I told Aaron I wanted to write like Christopher Hitchens, I think. You know, Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, like this kind of, they called them, like, the new atheist or what have you.
But like, the bigger point was just that I started getting into reading more, you know, denser texts about metaphysics and things like that while I was in the field. So I would just bring out books. We had a lot, in the Army, you have a lot of downtime. So you have a lot of time of excitement, and then, or very little time of excitement and then a whole lot of downtime.
And so I started reading there, and again, you know, I wasn't reading like Hegel or anything on my own. I'm not trying to pretend like I was. But I was getting into philosophy. I don't really know where the interest truly came from. I think it really was just this kind of, like, I loved watching YouTube debates between these speakers on different topics, and I just thought it was so cool to be able to use words and ideas in this kind of battle.
And so that's where it really started, and I kind of hoped it was, I didn't know that I could do it. I really didn't, I didn't have anything besides these online classes before I got to Dartmouth to know that I could do the work. I was just kind of, I ended up trusting that the people who told me I could go to Dartmouth and do well, that they knew more than me.
I just hoped that was true. So I ended up majoring in philosophy. And I think the great part about Dartmouth, I sound like I'm trying to sell the school now to other people, but the great part is that you can't even pick your major the first year. And so what they really encourage is for people to explore their own interest.
And so there was no pressure on me to even pick my major until the second year. And so there, I had a lot of time to really know, hey, I'm definitely not the best philosophy student, but I really enjoy it and I want to get better at it. And so that's how I ended up deciding and kind of making the academic turnaround, just finding my passion.
David: And when did you have any inkling that you wanted to go to law school?
Brad: That, I would say, honestly, I think before, it's always, I'm not a type of person that says, oh, I watched X show early on in my life and I knew I wanted to be a lawyer. I don't think that happened. But I do think that I watched, like, I've always wanted to be in a service role.
So I read, like, Stephen Ambrose books and he writes military history. I just always have been a type of person like, oh, I want to go to the, you know, some three-letter agency, I want to, I just want to serve others. And I think that my, the kind of real turning point where law school seemed like the best route for me was when I was thinking about what I was going to do, and if I was going to go.
Some of my friends went and are doing their PhDs in philosophy now. And I was like, okay, honestly, I'm not as good as them at philosophy. I've edited their papers, right. You know, peer edits. I am not on that level. They're just really good at this, and they read a lot more than me.
I'm just like, I'm probably not interested enough to do a PhD in philosophy. And so I asked one of my, I remember asking one of my professors about, like, is there, are there real careers as a bioethicist or something like that? Trying to combine philosophy along with something pragmatic.
And I think that the natural route for me was just, oh, well, law, in some aspects, depending on what kind of law you're doing, I think it really does include that, at least an underpinning of philosophy, a strong underpinning of philosophy, right, depending on what kind of law it is. And so I still get to kind of keep that theoretical piece along with something pragmatic.
And I think that's why the law, you know, law school was and is the right route for me.
David: And so once you decide that you want to apply, you have to turn to the LSAT. And I think you had your own little mini journey with the LSAT. Is that right?
Brad: It was a long journey.
David: Can you speak to us about that?
Brad: Yeah. I cried to Aaron because he was like, you need to get your LSAT score first. Yeah, I ended up with five takes. Okay, so, you know, everyone's worried about, like, oh, if I take it two times, and it's like, okay, well, I took it five, so you'll be okay.
My situation was a little bit weird. I don't know if I would have had five takes if it wasn't for this kind of weird situation. So I feel like an old-timer now, 'cause it's like back in the day, July 2019, the LSAT first switched to digital. It was like that hybrid, they were doing half digital test, half paper. And at that time, they were offering, you get to see your score on July 2019, that test, you get to see your score, and then you get to cancel it and you get a free retake.
And so there was nothing to lose for me. I wasn't really ready for that test, but it's like, well, at least to get real test experience, and I get to cancel it and I get to see my score. And if I don't like it, I can just cancel it and I get a free retake. So I'd lose no money. I just lose a little bit of time.
And so I took that test and I ended up canceling. I think I got, I don't know, a low score, 150, high 150s or something like that. And then in September 2019, I took it and got a 161. And Aaron and I were talking at that point and I was ready to apply, but a 161 just wasn't it, right? And so I made the really hard decision to delay my application because there was just no way that I could see the type of outcomes that I wanted were going to be realized with a 161, especially with my LSAC GPA.
And so I delayed a cycle. And I was still in school, I was studying a lot, long story short, I was studying a lot, but I start and stop because, again, I was in school and also doing body building. And so, you know, sometimes I'm starving, getting ready for a show and things like that. So I'm just like, you know, kind of in and out of LSAT world.
So, June 2020, so we go from September 2019 to June 2020. September, I had that 161. In June of that next year, 2020, I had a 168, and I felt really confident leading up to this test.
I think I was PTing in the low 170s, and I'm telling Aaron, I'm like, okay, I think this is it, like, I can do this. I just need to push. And I remember taking this test. I was like, I just need a 168. Because, to me, when I look at all the numbers, how all the numbers play out, a 168 is that, it's a really good safe point, or at least during how I was thinking about it, it was a good safe point.
I feel okay with it. I can do better, but my school outcomes won't be super terrible with a 168. But I knew I could do better. So I take it in July 2020, and I remember that test so well. I was so excited, but I was too excited. And I was shaking. I remember shaking on the logic games, okay. So it was just kind of insane.
I was too hyped, and so I got a 164. And, you know, I know I can do better, but I know I have four takes, and so I start doing mindfulness, because I realized I can't be shaking on the test. I really need to just focus. So I go, I start doing mindfulness and I go into that August test, seriously, with just, it's okay. I knew it was going to be okay. Like, it doesn't matter if I get a 170 or not. It's going to happen no matter what, so I might as well just enjoy the process, this test, and whatever happens, happens.
And that really paid off, and I got a 172. Still a little bit lower than my practice test, but I wanted to save one retake just in case I was on, I don't know, like the top five schools I was on waitlists for all of them, I figured I could retake, and I knew I would get, like, a 170, something higher than a 172.
David: Wow. That is so inspiring. I love the tidbit that you threw in there casually that you're also a bodybuilder. So you're like a light metaphysics hobbyist incoming Harvard 1L bodybuilder writer guy who can fix my printer.
Brad: Yeah, exactly.
David: This is what I meant at the beginning when I was like, how could anybody possibly not want you in their law school? But going back to what you said about the LSAT, I think what you did to prepare for the last test is so important, right?
First, in order to succeed on the LSAT, you have to get the fundamentals. You have to get good at the test. You have to understand the material. Then you have to learn the timing. But there's still another piece: you have to get past yourself. And it sounds like you did everything but the last thing. You knew the stuff, you knew that you were capable of getting a great score, and you couldn't get past your nerves or your excitement.
And so, in the end, you were the object that you had to overcome, and you did it by sort of becoming a Buddhist, it sounds like, temporarily for the test, at least.
Brad: Yeah, no, exactly. The low GPA really helped me, because I would not give up. Like, people kind of thought I was crazy, one, for, you know, like, okay, I delayed my cycle, and then it's like with that 168, I told other people who knew about the LSAT and my parents, and they're just like, that's a good score. Like, you know, it's the 90, like 95th percentile or something.
I'm just like, I need to know, like, coming out of the Army, you know, I didn't get into Dartmouth the regular way or what I consider the regular way. I just needed to know that I could compete at that level. I needed to know that, even if, like, I would have felt a lot worse if I got into Harvard with a 168. Like I just wouldn't have felt like I was smart enough.
And so it was really like this kind of test against myself. I didn't care what anyone else got. It was just like, I need to do this, and I really just wasn't going to accept no for an answer at the end of the day.
David: And that's one of the themes of your whole application. That's what happened with the Army too. You did accept no, and then you reenlisted, in large part, it sounds like because you weren't satisfied and you knew that you could do better.
It was no one else telling you, you have to do this. You felt driven to prove to yourself that you could do better. And then you did the same thing in miniature with the LSAT. I don't want to compare the LSAT to reenlisting in the Army, but, you know, they're sort of analogous even if they're not on the same level.
Brad: Yeah, yeah, no, exactly. I just refused. I remember one thing on a forum, on an internet forum, it was an Army forum, like a military forum. And it's like, there was a quote, just like, people say, "Once a quitter, always a quitter." And that, in like a lot of cases, it's true, right? Like if, when somebody quits, you get a, there's this term in the Army, you might get a Do Not Return, a DNR, from a selection course.
That just means you can't return. Your intestinal fortitude is just so weak that you can't ever come back. Never, like, ever. Right? It doesn't matter. Just don't ever come back. And I was just like, I can't have that. I can't look in the mirror every morning and be a quitter. I could fail, that's okay. It's okay to fail. But I couldn't be a quitter. So, yeah.
David: Well, Brad, congratulations on all of this. What are you doing with yourself in your last summer before you become a 1L?
Brad: I'm trying to contain the dumpster fire of being an SEO Law Fellow. I'm working at Goodwin this summer, and, out of their San Francisco office, and I've got a couple of assignments. And so that's what I'm doing, the big law thing, for the summer.
David: I wonder if you, actually, I'll start with Aaron so you can have the last word. But I'd love to hear from both of you one last piece of advice for people who are frustrated and feel like they can't do it, or really just for anyone applying to law school who feels daunted by the whole process.
Aaron: Yeah, so, a lot of people begin the process worried about their GPA, right, and we talk about the GPA addendum, and it's like, oh, if you can show an upward trajectory, that helps. But your numbers limit you, right? I mean, in Brad's case, his numbers, that GPA did not limit him, and that's kind of like, it's an inspiring thing to think about, and it's inspiring to think that his, this crisp articulation of an incredible story was enough, you know? Because it should be enough.
I think the other thing, just like, as I'm reflecting on this, is that I worked with Brad on these essays before the LSAT thing played out, 'cause we had the essays ready to apply that fall. And even though the essays were super impressive, but they were retrospective, they involved things that happened before I met Brad, the LSAT thing played out while I knew him, and he was telling me, you know, he's starting in the high 150s and he's just telling me, oh, I think I can probably do this, you know?
And so I, in a way, I saw in real time this tiny little version of the bigger story that we'd already told, you know, which is Brad's extraordinary, it's a mix of like extraordinary confidence and a kind of extraordinary functional modesty, which leads, like he says, to a kind of calm about it, the kind of sense like it's going to be okay, you know, it's fine.
I just saw that happening, and it was kind of this, it was such a, by the time that final score came in, I had already, I already knew it was going to be what he told me it was going to be, I guess. And I think probably readers of his application come away with that same sense of just, in a sense, trusting him that if he says he's going to do these things, like, I believe him. Just get out of his way, you know?
David: Brad, what about you? Can you give us a last piece of advice?
Brad: Yeah, no, that was really nice, Aaron. Thanks.
I have so many, I watched so many, my other alternative career in some other universe is a motivational speaker. I just really, like, I listen to a lot of motivational speeches. It's just like, one thing I, you know, I tutored people in the LSAT for a long time or for a while, until I started working at this job where it's just, I have less time now to tutor, but I tell people to really enjoy the process.
A lot of what I see on Reddit, or wherever, is people being neurotic about things they cannot control and, you know, Aaron, it was really great having someone who sees the big picture. And really, it was just like, hey, we can, you can send me this edit, but at the end of the day, you need to get this LSAT score.
So my job was extremely clear. I knew exactly what I had to do. And I thought about the things I could control. And then for the things that, like, oh, this is a competitive cycle, this is not, like, all this stuff is happening, blah, blah, blah, I just, I really didn't care. Like, Reddit wasn't really toxic to me.
Because it's like, okay, like it's okay, right? I have things to do and I'm just going to keep doing them. And so what I just try to tell people, remind people, enjoy the process. It is, in a way, it's a game. And you can control some things and really work hard on them.
I was obsessed with the admissions process. I hate to admit it, but along with the 7Sage podcast, I've listened to every other podcast. I'm not even going to name them. And I've listened to all the episodes. I'm just, I was obsessed with the process, not the end result.
And so there, no matter what happened, I wasn't going to be disappointed because the process was, I got enjoyment out of that. I realized who I was. And so no matter what happened at the end of the day, I knew I did my best. And I can't, you can't be mad at yourself for that. You can't do anything about it, right? You put your best foot forward.
And I just think that a lot of times when people are really disappointed or at least sometimes, it's because, basically, at the end, I've had this happen to me, you realize that you didn't really, you were worrying about things that you couldn't do anything about and you actually didn't do the best you could. And so really just making sure that you're putting your best foot forward.
One of the craziest things, I know I'm talking a lot, but you have to be willing to delay your cycle. I talked to so many people that aren't willing to do it, and it's just like, I don't think people realize how important three points, four points on the LSat is.
It's tens of thousands of dollars, and it could make you a completely different candidate. That 168 to 172, I think is substantial, right? It's a different candidate. And so, take it seriously. It's the start of your legal career. Don't rush it. Like, why would you rush the most important part of the process, besides maybe 1L grades, right?
Besides 1L grades, what else has so much effect on your future legal career? I don't know anything else, or maybe there is something else, but I don't know it, but take the application process seriously and don't rush it. A lot of these people are 22, 23, 24, and it's like, you have a lot of working years, it's going to be okay.
David: That's really great advice, Brad. Thanks so much for joining us. It was really, really a pleasure to talk to you.
Brad: Thank you for having me.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you're studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself and see you next time.
Brad’s Personal Statement
After I left the Army in 2011, I looked in the mirror every morning and saw the face of a quitter. I had served honorably with combat service in Iraq, and for that I was proud, but I had quit during Ranger training because of a lack of intestinal fortitude. For months, I binged Netflix shows, ate unhealthy frozen meals, gained twenty pounds, and became a person I resented. Then I happened to see a Discovery Channel special on Ranger Assessment and Selection (RASP), and something changed for me. I started running the same day. I got back in shape. And in November 2012, I reenlisted.
I thought I knew what to expect from Ranger Selection, but nothing prepared me for week two of RASP, otherwise known as “Cole Range,” which is like the Navy Seals’ Hell Week, but without water. Sunday morning, when it was still dark outside, the bright barrack lights turned on and the cadre gave us ten minutes to get up, get ready, and be outside in formation. With our fifty-pound rucks, our task was to march twelve miles to Cole Range, where the rest of our training would take place. We had three hours to do it. I started at a fast-paced walk, but then I realized that everyone else was running, so I ditched my game plan and did the same. Every 400 meters, I’d slow down for a moment and shuffle my feet, and I rewarded myself every mile or so with a water break and some walking time. I made it in the allotted time, in the “winners’ group,” but that was only the beginning.
At Cole Range, the “Pit” was our home. We ate, slept, and kept all our belongings in and around the Pit. It was a large area with sandbags around the perimeter. There was no grass, and it rained most of the week, so it soon morphed into a giant mud pit. The cadre found it funny, and we had to eat our cold MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) in the muddy pit every day in under ten minutes. On cold mornings, all you heard was the cadre’s yelling and the sound of teeth clattering together. If people didn’t quit because of the cold and the rain and the mud, then the hotdogs got them. At night, we would stand at “parade rest” in silence as the cadre lit a fire and told us that anyone who wanted to quit could have some plump dogs, chips, and a drink. We stood out there for as long as it took for a sufficient number of people to break down and quit and walk over to the fire. Out of our class of 150 candidates, only sixty-five of my fellow Rangers graduated with me.
In 2016, I pursued and won a full-tuition scholarship with the Posse Foundation to continue my education, but I left Ranger Regiment with lessons I could never have learned in college. I’d done something I didn’t think I could do, and now know that with a “why” or greater purpose, I will never quit anything again.
The transition to Dartmouth was relatively easy for me. I’d discovered that I loved to learn, and I was thrilled to study with the leading scholars in their fields. When I arrived on campus, however, I noticed that some of the other veterans were having a hard time dealing with the transition to civilian life. We are much older than the traditional Dartmouth student, so some veterans didn’t feel like they could relate to their younger classmates. This led to feelings of loneliness and isolation on our small remote campus.
After describing these problems to the Veteran’s Dean, I assumed the role of President of the Student Veterans association and assembled a team of veterans to help lead the organization. My first project was to lobby the school administration to give veterans a common place to gather on campus. Historically, we were one of the only minority groups who lacked such a space. It took over a year, but I was able to secure a lounge for all student veterans on campus, and it now serves as a gathering area that veterans use to remedy the isolation problem.
The end of my time serving was not the end of my compassion for veterans, soldiers, and those who face difficulties as minorities in the country. When I wrote the constitution for the new charter for the Student Veterans Association, I also included a public service component, and after reaching out to a few organizations around the Upper Valley in New Hampshire, I found our first mission. The VA hospital in White River Junction, Vermont, helps thousands of patients but doesn’t have the staff or funding to complete extra projects. The SVA leadership team and I got to work, and we put together a team of over thirty volunteers to clear debris for the walking path.
I serve veterans because it is my “why” in my post-military life. Unaddressed mental health issues, unemployment, chronic homelessness, and suicide are some of the major systemic issues that veterans face in the U.S. today. In law school, I will explore ways to continue advocating for the veteran community, this time on a much larger scale. The lessons from my time as an Army Ranger will serve as a foundation for me to become an effective lawyer.
Brad’s Diversity Statement
After my spring term in 2007 at Delaware Technical Community College, I went back home to my parents’ place for the summer, like many college students. One evening, I tried to explain to my parents that I had talked to the Air Force Recruiter and wanted to join in a few months when a slot opened up. My parents, however, would not support me—my father threw me out of the house with some clothes and only five dollars to my name. I had a car, but he slashed one of the tires.
With adrenaline surging through my body, I got in the car and drove until the tire was completely flat. I ended up at a Kangaroo Express gas station, and this is where I lived for a month, sleeping in my car as I started searching for a job. Because I didn’t have regular access to a computer, I read some of the books packed away in my trunk to pass the time. I hardly recognized myself during this period. I looked and smelled dirty, and felt people watching me. Nothing from my middle-class upbringing prepared me for digging in a trash can to find a meal. I always asked people for food instead of money because I didn’t want them to think I was a drug addict. I didn’t go home because I needed to make it on my own. I was thrown out with the intent of having me come back, but I realized I could forge my own path.
What carried me through this terrible time was the kindness and charity of strangers. I had to trust in others, like the man who allowed me to stay in his trailer near the end of this period, just before I left for the Army. I learned first-hand the difference between sympathy and empathy. When people would throw me a dollar or two, I felt like the object of pity, but there were a few people who saw me at the gas station every day and would speak to me like a human being. Trapped in this situation, trying to imagine a way out, their empathy gave me optimism, and now the guiding principle in my life is empathy, not pity. I will never just throw a dollar at a homeless person. Instead, I will give them some of my time and try to understand who they are and what has happened to them.
One of my goals as an attorney is to focus on legal issues that block homeless people from transitioning successfully into a life of dignity, with employment and secure housing. The poor and the homeless are two populations I want to focus on in my legal career, and I know that my life experience will help me to bring empathy and understanding to that work.