Brandon: So I was working from about five to noon doing the cleaning job, and then heading to school till about six or seven, and then grabbing a bite to eat on the road to my other job, and working nine to midnight, and then doing it all over again and finding time for school in between there. Yeah, it's just basically go, go, go, and I've found that the best way for me to accomplish everything, because I don't know what I would be doing if I wasn't doing it all at once.
J.Y.: Hello and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. On today's episode, David talks to 7Sager Brandon, who increased his LSAT score from a 144 diagnostic to a 170 while working 70 hours a week. There's more to the story, including a bug bite that resulted in a mysterious illness and possible superpowers, but you'll have to listen to the show for that. So here's the interview.
David: I have Brandon here with me. Brandon, welcome to the podcast.
Brandon: Hey, David. Thanks for having me.
David: It's a pleasure. Before we get started, Brandon, can you just tell me a little bit about yourself?
Brandon: Yeah, I'm a fourth-year business student. I wrote my LSAT this most recent summer, and I've just been going through the process of applying and hearing back from some schools.
David: Well, we're going to put a pin in that and come back to it. It'll be a little suspense for our listeners to hear how you've been doing. But before we get to that, Brandon, you have one of the most remarkable stories that I have heard as a consultant. I've been doing this for years. And it inflects your entire application process. Can you share the story that begins with your trip to Costa Rica?
Brandon: Yeah, it's definitely a bit of a unique story. It was after my first semester of college, we went on a family vacation up to Costa Rica, and while we were on a boat trip over to Nicaragua, we ended up crashing the boat into the side of a bank there, and a bunch of bugs shook off, and sure enough, one of them bit me, and that's kind of when everything went a little bit wonky, and it led to hospital trips, MRIs, spinal taps, everything you can name under the sun.
And ultimately it was a rare case of, they thought, malaria that caused encephalitis that would result in my brain swelling up and down, kind of like a balloon for the next several years. And yeah, it was a wild journey that had me sleeping 20 plus hours a day for a while there. And, ultimately, that would open my eyes onto why I want to go to law school.
David: First of all, I'm so sorry that you went through that. Have you recovered?
Brandon: Yes, absolutely. So it's been a long journey for sure, but I think it was those first couple of years that were the toughest. But since then, the brain's just been doing its part to heal itself.
David: That's great. And you feel healed now? I would think so, based on your LSAT score, but I want to confirm.
Brandon: Yeah, definitely feeling better.
David: Okay. Well, let's talk about the LSAT first. You told me that your first diagnostic was a 144?
Brandon: Yeah, so a few years ago, I took a cold score and, yeah, it was pretty abysmal and scared me out of if this was even a road for me.
David: And where did you end up?
Brandon: I ended up getting a 170 on the October 2021 test.
David: So fill in the gaps, because in addition to recovering from malaria, you were working to support your family, you were maintaining a nearly perfect GPA, and you managed to improve your LSAT score by 26 points altogether. So how did you do that?
Brandon: A lot of sleepless nights. But in all honesty, as cliche as it is, it was definitely thanks to 7Sage. I ended up taking a couple of spring courses that ran till about the end of April, and then that's really when I began my studying was May of 2021 and right up until the August exam. So that's about three, maybe four months of studying, really, and what it was was just using the 7Sage way.
And going through the core curriculum, I found, was the biggest help, especially when it came to logic games and logical reasoning. Yeah, and it was just studying day in and day out and really prioritizing the studying and knowing where I was going wrong, why I was going wrong, and just utilizing all those videos of beautiful J.Y.'s voice that you just never get tired of.
And yeah, it was just lots of countless hours of studying, and it was a long process. It was frustrating on August, I got a 169 and I'm sure lots of people would be happy with that, and it just kind of, something about not reaching that 170 mark when I was PTing in the mid-170 range, just kind of grinded my gears and I had to push through to October and do it again.
David: Were you really staying up late into the night to study?
Brandon: I was, but I wouldn't recommend it to most people. That's part of the unique work history that I have, where a lot of what I was doing was night cleaning restaurant contracts, and so I was used to those late nights, though. So four or five in the morning was kind of a usual thing for me. I'm sure a lot of people are kind of gasping now, but yeah, those were normal nights for me with work, and so, with studying, it didn't really change in terms of that pattern much.
David: Well, my new theory is that your malaria gave you superpowers, because I know that you spent, what, three years where you had to sleep 20 hours a day, and now you just don't need to sleep for the rest of your life or something?
Brandon: I'm just making up for lost time.
David: So how many jobs were you working and how much time were you spending on your schoolwork? I think a lot of people would be interested to know how you fit all of this in.
Brandon: Yeah, I was working about 70 hours a week all through my degree and then school was basically the rest of it. So I guess a typical day for me before, you know, when I was working the most common hours that I was throughout my degree was, and this is when I had the cleanings in the morning, COVID obviously pushed it to night.
So I was working from about five to noon doing the cleaning job, and then heading to school till about six or seven, and then grabbing a bite to eat on the road to my other job, and working nine to midnight, and then doing it all over again and finding time for school in between there.
David: What was your other job?
Brandon: My other job was housekeeping at a gym. And then I also have started my own business as well over the last five years now, almost six years, helping out real estate professionals. And so that one's nice because it's a lot of phoning and emailing that I can do wherever and whenever, so it overlaps with everything else really nicely.
But yeah, it's just basically go, go, go, and I've found that the best way for me to accomplish everything, because I don't know what I would be doing if I wasn't doing it all at once.
David: It really is inspiring, Brandon. Were you able to think about the LSAT or do anything productive while you were working?
Brandon: I was to a degree, but definitely, like, while taking spring courses, my hope was to start immediately after that winter semester, which ended in about end of March there. So I was hoping to have that extra month and a half to utilize studying, but taking two spring courses as well. And then the work on top of that, that's what kind of pushed it back till about the start of May there. And yeah, it was just very hectic, but it seems to have worked out alright.
David: Do you have any tips to stay alert while you're tired? Were you standing up at your desk? Were you pinching yourself?
Brandon: Yeah, definitely. I think the biggest thing for me was just taking lots of intermittent breaks while you're doing the studying with the LSAT stuff, especially if you're doing so many PTs, like I had done in constant, endless hours of videos and reviewing and the core curriculum. It can be a lot when you're going through it for the first time, and so just lots of intermittent breaks.
Give your brain a little bit of a rest, because it's definitely strenuous, especially going through the practice tests, I find your brain hurts a little bit after that. And so it's a lot of those, just taking short 30-second, minute breaks. Just giving yourself a little break from the stress of trying to figure out what the heck the LSAT's doing to you. I found that helped a lot, and I'm sure it'll help other people too.
David: Well, things are starting to make a little more sense for me. You consider 30 seconds a break. I can see how you can fit everything now. What are your vacations? Like, a minute and a half?
Brandon: But maybe two if we're lucky.
David: How many prep tests did you take altogether?
Brandon: I think it was probably in the 40, maybe even 50 range by the time I was done with it.
David: Did you blind review all of them?
Brandon: No. So I utilized the blind review early on, especially I found it the most useful. And then as I was getting higher up in making more progress, I stopped using it for the entire exam and was just going through the sections that I struggled with and kind of going that way or skipping the questions that I knew without a shadow of a doubt that I had them right, and was just utilizing it for those ones where I had a 50/50 chance, or even an 80/20 chance.
Just utilizing it for those ones where I knew that something was tripping me up about the question, because anytime that happens, there's something about the tests that I've kind of learned that there's little tricks that they reuse over and over again, and it's almost like a game that they're playing with you.
So anytime there was really a struggle is where I would go back and use that opportunity to blind review the individual questions, and I definitely found that helped a lot, especially as you got closer to that 170 range, because it's just these small, minor things that you don't really see at first glance that definitely make the difference. And I found the blind reviewing is where you almost teach yourself what it is that they're doing.
But yeah, I mean, if I was to have blind reviewed the full thing for all of those, I don't know if I'd be here today.
David: Yeah, you'd still be working on that. And Brandon, you told me that at some point in your studying, you felt like you were plateauing?
Brandon: Yeah, there's definitely a couple of them. So I ended up getting into the 160s relatively smooth, and then it was around that 164, 165 range that I kind of plateaued. And I think that's when I first kind of stopped the main blind reviewing, and so that's when I was obviously getting annoyed and frustrated.
And so that's when I took a dive back into the blind reviewing again, just like we talked about, particularly with those questions that I struggled with. And I really did find that kind of fixed a lot of it. It was just taking a different angle at looking at these questions and realizing that there's something that's not really all that hard that they're doing.
It's just that weird thread that they're trying to push on you and you've got to find, almost like a puzzle is how I look at it, where there's just a little missing piece that you've got to find mentally and that kind of unlocks what's going on with the question. And so it was really just that pushing through and trying to figure out what in my brain wasn't understanding the question. And then that's where I was kind of able to push through that mid-160s range.
David: And how did test date go? How did your second test date go?
Brandon: The second test date was good, it was an interesting experience because we just ended up moving not too long ago, my family. And so I'm in between houses right now, and so test day for the second one, I ended up going over to my grandfather's house and writing for the first time in a unique environment, which I don't recommend to anybody, obviously.
There's some noise outside and just factors you can't control, but it's like it happened on test day, of course. But other than that, it was a good test. It was fair. I definitely felt writing that second test that I probably did a lot worse than ended up being the case. And I actually ended up being very close to canceling the night of the score cancellation deadline.
I was about to go in and 10:15 my time, which is on Mountain Time, so a couple of hours behind Eastern, I went onto the website on the LSAC site there, and was actually about to cancel and realized that it had been removed because the deadline was in the Eastern Time Zone, thank goodness, because otherwise I might not have that score today.
David: How about that? You were saved by your own mistake.
Brandon: Exactly. It's a blessing in disguise, that's for sure.
David: Yeah. That's like a little O. Henry story right there. So let's talk about your actual application. When did you start working on your essays?
Brandon: I want to say right around September as the semester started kicking back into gear. I remember it was actually the podcast that you had with Brad, From Homeless to Harvard, that I listened to that episode, and I had done some research prior on different companies of those who shall not be named that do sort of application-style stuff. And I had a few interviews with a couple of people and I just was very hesitant on quite a few of them.
And then that episode ended up coming up on my phone and I listened to it. And it was something about the story that Brad had that I kind of related to. I think it was more or less the sentiment of really overcoming some crazy adversity. And then too what Aaron was kind of inputting and out was truly a care for Brad in that situation that made me want to work together with Aaron.
And so I reached out to him specifically, actually on the 7Sage forums, and then I think that was in late August, maybe start of September. And then we kind of, as the semester progressed, were working through that while I was doing, obviously, work in school full-time.
And so it was kind of a process of trying to get bits and pieces down and shoot them over to him as soon as I can, and then get his response and find a window of time to keep it moving. But yeah, it was around September that we started, and I think I sent off my final application right at the last week of October, I want to say.
David: So you got everything done really fast?
Brandon: Yeah, we were definitely moving quick, but I think that's where your guys' service helped a lot. I mean, I wasn't even working with anybody else yet, but response times of 3, 5, 7 days, whereas, you know, Aaron was very prompt and responsive, and anytime I sent him an email or copy, he'd have a response to me immediately and then have the edits back to me within a couple hours. He was very good in that way.
And I think it worked out quite well with the hectic schedule, because as you can imagine, if it's, you know, I'm lucky to find an hour here or there, half hour here or there, and then I get the essay out, if I have to wait a week, and then on top of that wait to find when I can take the next look at it, it would have been a very different story, and I don't think I'd have any of them out yet.
David: Right, because when you were applying in September, you're still working 70 hours a week. You're still in school. You're still studying for the LSAT, I would presume.
Brandon: Right, yeah, exactly. So it was just go, go, go. But like I said, that's been life for me. It's living on the fast lane. I guess it's kind of been ingrained in me from a young age. I come from a family of eight siblings, so it's just, there's always something going on at every moment of every day.
David: Are you a fast writer?
Brandon: Yeah, relatively fast writer and thinker, so it wasn't really an issue with words and thoughts coming to mind, and then, yeah, the typing speed's pretty up there.
David: So were you able to draft an essay in one sitting? I'm just trying to figure out how you turn these over so quickly.
Brandon: Yeah, so when I first met with Aaron, it was kind of, you know, we had a phone call and then it turned into, okay, send me a draft of what you're thinking or some ideas, and probably had, I don't even know, six pages, seven pages of different stuff that we could include, and then kind of picked and pulled which parts of my life would be good for there.
And yeah, that was all in one sitting that I was able to kind of ideate everything and get it all out, and then each draft and stuff from there was kind of a one-sitting thing. But I think that's just from having lived such a unique experience, that I've thought about so many times over and over again on the whole encephalitis situation, where it's something you think about so often over the last five, seven years that it was kind of right there, sitting there waiting for me to write about it.
David: Right. I'm sure it feels that way now, but if you were drafting six or seven pages, did you know at the beginning that you were going to write about the encephalitis or were you considering other topics?
Brandon: I definitely considered other topics. I've got a very close relationship with my grandfather as well, the unique family situation, some of which we ended up drafting into a diversity statement for some of the schools. But I think I always had an idea and an inclination to writing about that for the personal statement, just because of how unique a story it is.
But at the same time, you don't want to pull or push your story onto somebody. And so I really didn't know what the best route would be in. So that's kind of, again, where Aaron came in and reassured that it was a good route to go. And sure enough, so far, it has been.
David: How did you and Aaron whittle away from that six- or seven-page first draft or brainstorm?
Brandon: It was a lot of, well, not even a lot of, it was just a back and forth on which ideas, you know, would be strong and which ones actually kind of seemed to flow together well. And so it was just a lot of figuring out which pieces of the puzzle we could fit together in a nice, cohesive way, so kind of chipping away to perfect this piece of, I guess, the sculpture that really just fits well together more than anything.
David: Would you mind reading a bit of your personal statement?
Brandon: Yeah, for sure.
David: Okay. Do you have it in front of you?
Brandon: Absolutely. Whenever you're ready.
David: Great. Can you read first what I would call the turn, which starts with, "At my lowest of lows." Just read us a couple sentences there.
Brandon: Yeah. At my lowest of lows, I created a plan for myself. I needed to work to help support my family of 11, but I knew that being an employee would be very hard given the minimal hours of each day that I was awake. So I started my own business instead.
Gradually my health continued to improve. As it did, I began to understand how profoundly my perspective had changed. I learned to value each and every moment, and I gained a firsthand understanding of the struggle that people feel when life is totally out of their control. I wanted not only to get back on my own path but to help others get back onto theirs as well.
I decided to partner with the homeless shelter and create a bi-weekly youth program for the less fortunate in one of the rough communities in my city. My own experience had taught me that some, if not most, of these young people had simply been dealt a bad hand, and I wanted to help them find a path back to success.
I am now fully recovered and I've since been attending the University of Calgary while helping support my family by working nearly 80 hours a week between three jobs. My new insight into the pain and helplessness that so many people feel has also become the driving force that's motivating me to seek a law degree.
In my education, I've been working both to make up for lost time and to ensure that I'm in a position to help those who are in no position to help themselves. While this ambition might take many forms, I would especially like to help young people in troubled communities who have begun spiraling off the path of their own.
David: I always love to compare first drafts to final drafts. This final draft, of course, feels so focused, and you do this classic bit of writer jiu-jitsu, where you turn a weakness into a strength, or you turn a hardship into a lesson. You're telling us, essentially, how your illness taught you something and clarified something for you.
Can I ask you, does it feel like life shaped your essay or does it sort of feel like your essay shaped your life? In other words, did you feel this way about your illness before you wrote this essay?
Brandon: I think a bit of both. I definitely didn't always have this perspective, especially early on, because it's such a unique and difficult thing to go through and having doctors tell you over and over again that they don't even know what's wrong or anything like that early on.
And so it's easy to fall into that "why me" attitude and feel sorry for yourself. But, you know, as time went on, it kind of started shaping my perspective and taking the attitude of, you know, that there was definitely a reason that it happened and it definitely has shaped my life entirely. And I think, to a degree, right, the writing of the paper itself definitely reminded me of how much that this experience has really shaped who I am as a person and opened my eyes.
And I look back to, when you're a 17-year-old at the time when this all happened, you're kind of maybe a little bit more arrogant than you should be, or think you're a little bit better than you really are. And I think that whole experience really did open my eyes and changed my perspective on a lot of things.
And so, as crazy of an experience as it was and has had an impact on my life, I don't think I'd change it for the world. And yeah, I definitely agree that writing something like this and this intimate about your own life, it definitely shapes your perspective and reopens things.
David: You covered the same ground in your addendum, and I normally recommend that people don't do that. I normally recommend that you really separate the subject matter for your addendum and your personal statement, but of course you wrote about the malaria differently in the addendum. In your mind, what's the role of the addendum, and compare that to the role of the personal statement.
Brandon: Yeah, so in my mind, I think the personal statement is a lot more painting the story of who you are as a person and what you're going to bring to the law school. I think everybody's got a story that they can tell, and everybody's got different circumstances that they come from, different backgrounds. And so I think that's where the personal statement rather is great, mind you, you could call it a personal story, is that you get to tell yourself and your life and what you've been through.
And the addendum itself, though, is where, I think that's just more a direct explanation of the situation. And in this case, it was a withdrawal from two semesters due to the brain reswelling and having to pull out, and so it was really just more so explaining that that happened and giving the law schools just an explanation for why there are some little, I guess, tidbits on my transcript that may not look very pretty at the time.
And although, you know, you could leave it up to them to infer from my story that that was the case, it was also something where we didn't want to leave them to assume something and have them not fill in those dots.
David: Yeah. And reading both of them doesn't feel redundant to me. I mean, like you said, the purpose of the addendum is very narrow. You're just explaining something that appears in your transcript. It doesn't feel like a story and it shouldn't feel like a story. Your DS, on the other hand, does feel a little bit more like a story. You touched on this already, but how did you choose the subject matter for that essay?
Brandon: Yeah, so I think that kind of was created out of the same kind of first little conversation I had with Aaron there, where we had so many ideas out on the table, and that was just one of the strong ones that kind of sets me apart in a diversity aspect. And so we decided to go with that because it felt like it flowed well with the rest of my application package, but it also added something new and contributed to who I am as a candidate and how that diversity will impact my view on law school and what I'll bring to it.
David: Do you have your diversity statement in front of you?
Brandon: I can pull it right up for you.
David: Great. I would love it if you read the first few sentences and then skipped to the second paragraph.
Brandon: Absolutely. So I grew up in a family with eight brothers and sisters. Growing up in such a large family has made me a person whose loyalty in his life runs deep, whether that means staying with the same employer for almost 10 years or choosing to only visit one Vietnamese restaurant in the city out of our loyalty to the family who runs it.
This sense of loyalty is why I already have 10 years of work experience at the age of 24 and why I've worked several jobs throughout my degree. I want to ensure my family's well taken care of, and that my younger siblings don't have to worry about Mom and Dad not having enough money to buy them new shoes when their old ones rip.
I'm also the first person on both sides of my large family to complete a college degree. To me, this means blazing a trail of hope for my younger siblings and being a beacon of accomplishment for my parents and grandparents.
I will never forget what my grandfather said to me. I survived two wars, immigrated here in a difficult time, and was married to your grandmother for nearly 40 years, and nothing in this life am I more proud of than you graduating at the top of your class. Being a first-generation college student and soon-to-be first-generation law student has also shaped my perspective on education itself.
David: Thanks. What's working so well about this essay is the way that you weld your diversity factors together. I think that growing up in a large family is a diversity factor, but if you were to have a conversation with me and you didn't tell me any context about your life, you just said, "Yes, David, my diversity factor's that I grew up in a large family," I'd probably think, okay, meh. My first conclusion wouldn't be, oh, that guy's going to be awesome in law school.
So I really like how you braid that to this quality that you want to showcase. You say, "Because I grew up in a large family, it instilled a sense of loyalty in me." And then you transitioned to something else which is sort of a diversity factor. It's also sort of just a good soft, but it works really well here and it's quite impressive.
You use that to transition to a conversation about how you've worked for a long time, and we understand it, you know. If you were to tell me that you worked in college, I'd say that's great. You know, that's probably a hard thing to do, and I think that that's impressive. If you were to tell me that you worked about 70 hours a day, as I think you have in college, I'd say, wow, that's even more impressive.
And if you were to tell me, as you do here, that you work so much because you were helping to support your very large family, I don't know. Then it turns from something that feels like a good but kind of anonymous soft factor into a fact about you, a fact that really makes me care about you and root for you and wants you to succeed.
And I suspect the admissions officers are going to feel the same way. To see someone who's working so hard to support their family. Like it's just hard to read that and feel totally unmoved.
Brandon: Right. I think that was the strong part of this statement was that cohesiveness and tying together that sense of loyalty and why it has also contributed to my work ethic and why I ended up working so much, but also the fact of, like was brought up in that second paragraph there, the further sense of family and the pride that it brings to my grandfather, for example, and really setting an example for the younger siblings, but also the older ones.
I can't tell you how many times the older siblings in my family have also reached out to me, especially lately as I round up my degree here and tell me how much hope it gives them when they saw me at that, you know, sleeping 20 hours a day plus, and now here I am graduating top of my class, and it's just remarkable. And also seeing that hope that it instills in them, I think that's a big driver for me, is really blazing that trail for other people. And there's always an upside to something, and there's always a better day ahead.
David: Well, put us out of our misery now. So I think you have had some results already. How have your applications been going?
Brandon: Yeah, they've gone really well so far. I've actually been kind of surprised at how early on I heard back from schools. I knew that using that 7Sage tool there on the website for admissions predictor, I had some, okay, good chances at certain schools, but being an international student as well I know has an impact on that.
And so I definitely thought I was going to have some, a little bit more delayed responses, but so far I've heard back with two full-ride opportunities to Florida and Arizona, as well as some acceptances scattered throughout, such as Houston and Texas A&M, and then a couple of the Canadian schools with UBC and Osgoode.
And it's kind of fitting, I blanketed a lot of schools just because there's a lot of uncertainty on what the future's going to hold and what the circumstance of this cycle were going to be. So I figured it'd be a lot better to kind of blanket a lot more schools and set myself up for the best position possible, especially if that meant needing to negotiate scholarships down the road and closer to acceptance time.
David: Yes. So hopefully you're not going to have to be working as much when you're a 1L. I think it would be even harder, although knowing you, I'm sure you could do it.
Brandon: Yeah, no. And it was funny, actually, that some of the applications they make you tick off a box acknowledging that you know you can't work during first year, and so that's already something I'm thinking, oh man, what am I going to do with all this time?
David: Yeah, well, we'll check back in with you, because I know that you're still waiting to hear from a couple of the more highly ranked schools.
Brandon: Yes, absolutely.
David: Yeah, and I'm hoping you'll get some good news from them soon.
Brandon: Yeah, that'd be ideal. I applied to most of the top 14 like I'm sure a lot of people do, kind of covering those, but there's definitely a few in there that I'd hoped I would've heard back from already, but it is still only December. So I'm sure those will trickle out as time comes on.
But yeah, I think that was the biggest upside of working alongside Aaron and Selene through this process was just how uncertain the whole cycle was going to be with the number of applicants and scores, and what I saw last year was pretty all over the place, and just getting that extra level of assistance and knowing that I had some sort of foot up going into what was going to look like another crazy cycle definitely put my mind at ease a bit. And I think it's going to ultimately help me with those top 14 schools. I'm putting it out there.
David: Me too. Crossing my fingers. Brandon, it was such a pleasure to talk to you. I found it really inspiring.
Brandon: Yes, absolutely. The pleasure was all mine. And, you know, if there's anybody out there that's kind of on the fence about anything to do with 7Sage, I've told people at my university too that have been talking about taking the LSAT, for that purpose alone, I definitely recommend it, but even the admissions stuff, that's definitely an upfront cost, but you save in the long run.
And I can't say enough good things about working with Aaron, Selene, and the whole team. And you had even helped me there too for a bit, David, and really just the whole process has been made from something so difficult to something so seamless. And it was just unbelievable working alongside all you guys.
David: Wow, thank you. I really appreciate that. And by the way, listeners, I did not put Brandon up to this.
Brandon: We're on Zoom, so there's no way that he's tossing me five under the table either.
David: Okay, Brandon. It was a pleasure.
Brandon: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
J.Y.: Hi everyone. It's J.Y. again. Thanks for listening. If you're prepping for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself, and see you next time.