Transcript

J.Y.: Hello and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, we present a webinar with Jacob Baska, the former director of admissions at Notre Dame Law. Jacob gives us a glimpse of Notre Dame's admissions process, talks about how he would choose candidates from the waitlist, speculates about why last cycle was so competitive, and gives great advice to future applicants. Here's the webinar.

David: Thank you for coming. We're really excited. I'm excited to host Jacob Baska. Jacob is, I was going to say our newest, but you're not anymore, Jacob. You're one of our newest 7Sage consultants, and extremely pedigreed. Jacob has worked in undergraduate and law admissions for over a decade. He has reviewed tens of thousands of applications. That is incredible, when you think about it.

He most recently served as the director of admissions and financial aid at Notre Dame Law School, and in that role, he was responsible for all matters related to recruitment strategy, file reading and decision making, yield programming, scholarship modeling, and connecting admitted students with faculty, alumni, and current students.

Jacob has also been active in the law admissions community. He's served on panels and subcommittees for the Law School Admissions Council, and despite a great deal of experience working on macrostrategy for law schools, his most rewarding moments have always been connecting directly with students to help them achieve their goals.

When Jacob is not working, he spends a great deal of time with his family. He's coaching one daughter's Girls on the Run team, and he's serving as the cookie manager of another's Girl Scout troop. Jacob, I didn't know that cookies needed managing. What does this position entail?

Jacob: That is a whole thing. We can leave that for the end of the webinar, but I'll put it as, it was great training to be a law school enrollment manager in order to be the Girl Scout troop cookie manager.

David: Okay. So you think your time at Notre Dame maybe just barely prepared you for the cookie manager role.

Jacob: You know, when I submitted my application to be the cookie manager, I think they looked at it and said, you know, maybe you can do it, maybe, but let's see how you are with Excel. And then I blew them away with my skills.

David: Nice. All right. Well, speaking of cookies, sort of, let's talk about waitlist movement right now. That's what's happening, or maybe it's what's not happening. So Jacob, I know that you still keep your finger on the pulse. Can you give us a little cycle update and tell us what's happening and what we might expect?

Jacob: It seems like everyone is still reacting to the craziness of last year, where applications just rose extraordinarily, as well as LSAT test scores. And that was an environment that, I had been in law school admissions for seven years, and I had not seen that. I came in to law school admissions in 2014, which was at the bottom of the decline of applications. So this was the biggest increase in applications since 2007, 2006.

Not a lot of us had been around at that time, and so last year caught a lot of us unawares, and it seems like a lot of schools were more cautious this year because of last year, either because of other classes this year being overenrolled in wanting to be more cautious in order to keep more towards their target class size, or just to see if any other craziness would ensue.

So, for example, in the previous cycle, there was a, typically, if you see an increase in applications, it comes early in the cycle, but in the 2020/21 cycle, it started to accelerate a little bit more in January, which was very unexpected, at least on the notary side of things. So it seems like folks were more cautious, that would seem to lead to more of a waitlist activity, but that's also been pretty quiet.

So I know in the last couple of days now that the T14 deposit deadlines passed over the weekend on May 1, it looks like Michigan took a couple, it looks like Duke has said they are full and Penn has said they are full. So, you know, it looks like it may be a little slow.

There have been other years in the recent past, though, for anyone who's saying, oh gosh, it's just not going to happen, there've been years where things have been super slow until June 5th or June 15th or June 20th, and then all of a sudden you see the schools at the top end of the rankings lists, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, Chicago, et cetera, take students off their waitlist, and then there is a trickle-down effect to that.

And it would hit us at Notre Dame at the end of June because we wouldn't lose students to Harvard, but Harvard would take from Michigan, Michigan would take from Notre Dame, and then all of a sudden we have a couple open seats. So I know it's really hard to preach patience, but it seems like it may just be a slow cycle.

And so hopefully students who are riding waitlists have made their, I don't want to say alternate plans, but their plans based on their offers, and not only admission offers, but scholarship offers at present. And I also recognize it can be a little bit of a game of chicken to decide, gosh, I'm happy deposited where I am, but when should I get my apartment? When should I get the moving van? When should I get my roommate? Because I really want to go to this other school.

You know, maybe give that another couple of weeks, but probably by June 1st, if you haven't heard, it's time to start making those plans, making those arrangements, because if there was going to be a ton of activity, those big players probably would have moved significantly by now, unless they're just really biding their time.

David: When you find yourself or found yourself with openings, what was your process for taking people from the waitlist?

Jacob: Yeah, good question. So you hit the nail on the head with the first question, which is, do we have open seats? First and foremost, you know, what's our target enrollment and are there any available seats thereof? The secondary questions then become, are we missing anything in the class? And I think the easiest things for students to latch onto are the hard stats.

So, for example, are we close to bumping up our LSAT median? Are we close to losing our LSAT median? Can we bump our GPA median up? And not to say those are the exclusive drivers, but those are the easiest things to latch onto.

Other examples could be, gosh, how's our diversity looking? Is that a little low? How's our geographic diversity looking? For a school like Notre Dame, how's the percentage of Catholic students looking? That's a thing that a university cares about, and for another school, it could be, what's the percentage of in-state students looking like? Is that a little high? Is that a little low?

Those factors will likely then drive the decisions that an admissions office makes from the waitlists. So if they find that, gosh, you know, our LSAT median is a little soft, we probably want to boost that up, and, you know, our male/female percentage, we're a little bit lower on women than we're usually at. Hey, do we have any high LSAT women who are on the waitlist, especially those who've been in touch with us to show interest so that if we reach out to them, they're likely to accept this offer, and the resume also really fits the class. They'd really add to the class in that regard.

I see a lot of chatter from students at this time of year, gosh, you know, it'd be nice if they could tell us the ranking of the waitlist at school X or school Y, but it's hard to quantify those things. You know, you don't know what you need until the deposits come in, and also that can be a moving target, because right now the target could be high LSAT women, but a month from now, you could lose five African American students off your deposit roster, in which case maybe you then seek out some students who can help you boost those numbers a little bit.

Maybe your GPA goes down a little bit when your graduating seniors send in their final transcripts and they caught a little case of senioritis for their final semester. Those things can shift depending on the next couple of weeks.

David: So it sounds like even though the strength of somebody's letter of continued interest is not your first consideration, it can move the needle a little bit.

Jacob: Oh, absolutely. And I don't mean to dismiss that, because, to speak from our experience, I think this is going to be the same for a lot of schools, at this point in the process, there are a lot of students who, if you just look at their statistics and the little Excel line for them on the spreadsheet, they can look really similar. But people are far more complex than one line on an Excel spreadsheet. They're far more complex and diverse than just an LSAT or a GPA. So what else can they bring to the class regarding their professional experience, their background?

But then also, if we are their top choice school, that's something that I think every school cares about in the sense of, we want students who want to be here. They're going to probably be a little happier here, they're going to be a little more successful if they're a little happier here, they're going to be that much more of a contributing alum if they're a little happier here. It's a good thing to know about. So those letters of continued interest and that demonstrated interest are important and are things that we did take into account.

David: And when is it too late to send one?

Jacob: Never. So I know students complain about the timeline of the waitlist, that gosh, you know, I hear from the admissions office that this could be up through orientation. That wouldn't be any of our preference, though. In an ideal world, we all have families, we all have summer vacation plans that we would like to attend to.

It'd be great to be done with the waitlist process by, say, June 1st, which is a common second deposit deadline. That way, we can go on with our summer plans, students can make their moving plans. But the reality of matters is that every year, we would have a student who would have, who'd get pulled off the waitlist at another school on August 3rd, or a family incident would happen on August 4th. Or, I kid you not, at Notre Dame, we had two students who won their state competition for Miss America and had to pull out of the incoming class in order to go compete for Miss America.

Stuff happens, and so openings can occur up to orientation, and so the last day would be right before orientation occurs. Realistically, though, I think for the vast majority of students, this is the prime time of year. It's May 5th. The majority of waitlist activity is likely to happen in May through mid-June. So now's a good time to be in touch with your top choice or top choices if you're still riding the waitlist for a few of those schools.

David: I want to turn back to what you said about how this cycle was historically competitive or, you know, more competitive than it's been in decades. In retrospect, can you understand why it was so competitive? What do you think led to that?

Jacob: Gosh, you know, in the admissions community, we all have our theories. So I think the big elephant in the room being COVID lockdowns and combined with the recession, so with the lockdown and with LSAC offering the LSAT-Flex, that just made it far more convenient to take the LSAT. People had far more free time to study for the LSAT.

When you remove restrictions to take the entrance to a professional opportunity, more people are going to take you up on that opportunity, as opposed to, this may seem quaint in the same way that, you know, David and I can riff on how when we were kids, we actually had to pick up a phone that was attached to a cord attached to a wall, you know, to make a call to our friends.

Hey kids, guess what? Back in the day, five years ago, when you registered for the LSAT, you may have found that your home university's test center was full. So you had to get in a car and drive to another university or to another test center to take the LSAT. And that hasn't been relevant for the last two years, because you could take it from the comfort of your home. And so removing those barriers, I think, has certainly allowed more students to take the LSAT, that's increased the applicant pool.

Additionally, with COVID, typically applications to grad school increased during recession eras, so if you're a student who graduated in 2020 when the pandemic first hit, when lockdowns first hit, it wasn't probably the best time to look for an initial job, so grad school looked a lot more attractive, and so more people were applying. Additionally, and this was the case for us and I think for other law schools as well, we certainly saw a bump in applications following the 2016 election.

I think more students became a bit more politically engaged and involved in the aftermath of 2016. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a similar phenomenon with the lead-up to the 2020 election, the aftermath of the 2020 election, the January 6th insurrection, et cetera, that it just highlighted to more and more students that there is an importance to the legal field, to politics, to governance, and there's service that you can provide to the greater good through pursuing a legal education, and we all are the entry for that in the law school admissions world.

David: So how did the swell of applicants change the process from your perspective?

Jacob: So at first, I'll admit that, let's go back to September 2020, if we can all jump back into our wayback machines, our first thought was, this is probably just an initial surge from students who have been in, this initial application surge is just an initial surge. Here are all these students who've probably been in lockdown and they're just ready to go with their applications. And so I think a lot of us collectively just treated that initial wave as, eh, it's just greater than usual number, but it's probably going to die down a little bit.

I think a lot of us started to treat it a lot more seriously once that wave continued in December, and we started to then change our targets for, our statistical targets for admission, as well as to jump ahead and consider, well, what should this mean vis-a-vis scholarship? This is a simple supply-and-demand curve.

If all of a sudden we see far more students applying, and they have higher LSAT scores and higher GPAs, and we're seeing more and more of all different demographics and different students, do we need to offer the same merit awards as we were last year or the year before? So really around December is when we, I think, collectively changed some strategies.

And then it seems like for this year, a lot of that's continued. If you look at, for example, the law school data.org charts for a lot of schools, it seems like a lot of schools were hoping to bump their LSAT medians up another point or two this year, probably with the game plan of, heck, if we don't get this, we're kind of playing with house money. We can fall back pretty easily because there's still this surplus of applications.

David: And when you say that you changed your strategy in December, does that mean that you stopped offering less scholarship money or you started gunning for a higher LSAT median or something else?

Jacob: Adjusted targets and started having those conversations about, well, hey, you know, this is the scholarship model we've been having the last few years. Ooh, but is it relevant now if all of a sudden we're seeing far more applications, and not just far more applications, but far more applications in these specific LSAT target areas? Woof, man, maybe we can actually, we should tamp this down a little bit, because if we offer the same awards, we risk overenrolling those classes, which actually ended up happening at a lot of law schools last year anyway.

David: Was there anything that applicants could have or should have done differently, given how competitive the cycle was?

Jacob: Sure. I try to take the zen approach of, don't worry about other applicants, worry about your own application. There are so many things that are outside of your control, and it's probably beneficial not to worry too much about them. With that said, this was certainly not the year, again, to apply later in the process.

So the old rule of thumb that I would provide students is that, or would be that if you're applying by Christmas or New Year's, that's really the beginning of the wave of applications. The wave is going to show up in January. You want to avoid that wave if at all possible. And so let's work backwards. That means that if you're applying by Thanksgiving, you're applying early. If you're applying by Halloween, you're applying very early.

So if you can get your ducks in a row by Halloween or Thanksgiving, you're really in a good range. It seems like that window has progressively moved up the last couple of years. So now, if you are someone who is looking ahead to the coming cycle and applying, if you can get your ducks in a row, if you can get your applications in in October, that's probably to your benefit, unless you have an extenuating circumstance regarding retaking the LSAT or doing further research on law school, you had a rough start to your undergrad education but now you're really coming on strong and you want to show us one more semester's worth of grades. You know, those types of factors.

But otherwise, those dates have probably moved up. That's really the only thing I think most students can control, because they can't control if, all of a sudden, 3,000 other friends have decided to apply to this particular law school, or 10,000 more have decided to take the LSAT. You can worry about that, and I know applicants do, but I'd really encourage them, hey, just take that out of your mind, worry about what you can control and about what you want to achieve personally, professionally, and now go seek those things.

David: That's good advice. Can you give us a glimpse into the admissions office when all of these applications are piling in?

Jacob: It's, yeah, it's always humbling and exciting and a little harrowing because you realize, oh gosh, yeah, the tidal wave has shown up. And so our process, I'm sure it's very similar with other law school admissions offices, we have years of data and we track things along certain ways to let us know, hey, on October 1st, we typically have this many applications with this type of LSAT/GPA breakdown and this type of other demographic breakdown, et cetera.

So, hey, this year, we're a little high here, we're a little low there, et cetera. And we're tracking those things. September/October, though, for the most part, is really dedicated to fall recruitment, traveling to law fairs, going to visit with pre-law societies, et cetera. We are evaluating applications, but it's then not until November 1st that that dies down and we can dive much more fully into the evaluation process.

And that's when I would always tell our staff, for the first week or so, it is almost like getting in the swimming pool or getting in the ocean where the water first feels really cold and you just need to splash around a little bit. The first couple of applications you read, everyone seems like a really great applicant, because they are, but because you haven't gotten used to the applicant pool again, and to get a sense of, hey, here's what we're seeing with the applications, here's probably what's going to be competitive this year, versus where it was last year.

So it takes a little bit of a calibration period in early November, but then it really starts rolling. November, December, you get your admissions committee together and bring them up to speed on things, and then you just try to keep as best you can with those benchmarks.

Another perhaps clumsy metaphor that could be useful for some students is that when I first started in admissions, one of my trainers, the senior pros in the admissions office at Notre Dame, told me it's a lot like marathon training. So if you just keep up with the little charts, so if you have trained for a marathon, you can find any number of really handy charts that will let you know that over the month before the race or two months or three months, here's what you should be running: three miles on this day, five miles on this day, take a break, run three miles, run five miles, run seven miles.

You can miss one day, you can miss two days, but if you miss three days, you really can't catch up on that. You can't go from running three miles to running 10 miles the next day. You can't go from evaluating X files to X times three. That's just not possible. There aren't enough hours in the day and you can't do diligence to the students who've applied by reading things faster or reading files late into the night. You just got to keep up with it. You need to set the right pace based on past experience, based on the number of applications that you've received, and all that good stuff.

And then you just need to keep up with it through the cold, lonely hours of January and February. So I always joke with our staff that, you know, a benefit of being in the South Bend area is it's not like you can do anything outside anyway in January. So why not stay in with, you know, a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and read some applications, and then have faith that come March, we're going to have this amazing group of admitted students who then come to campus when the snow has melted, the flowers are blooming, and it's really going to be a great reminder of all the hard work that you've done from November through February, March.

David: Yeah, it's fun to think of you guys holed up and sipping your tea and poring over the applications. To the extent possible, can you give us any insight into Notre Dame's specific process in terms of who reads it first, how many people read it, how are they evaluated?

Jacob: Sure. So, and I'll admit, there may be a difference between when I was in the office versus what they're doing now. New administrations can change things. But for our purposes, so we had two assistant directors, me as director. We also had a couple of folks who were outside readers. And for those of you who may not have heard that term before, these are people who may not be fully employed by your office, but assist with reading applications.

And so for us, we had a couple folks who had been former admissions officers at Notre Dame Law School or former admissions officers at the university who just pitched in to help us read applications on a part-time basis and were part of our evaluation process. So we would have an initial evaluator and then a second reader to kind of just make sure that they caught everything, and then the file would be reviewed by the admissions committee.

Sometimes there would be more evaluators along the way, just in case there was something off with the application, and by off, I mean that in the most polite of ways, but maybe there was something complicated. To use one example, you can think of the student who perhaps really, really struggled initially as an undergraduate student, maybe even had a character and fitness issue, but then left college, maybe worked for a little bit of time.

Oftentimes we would see this with military veterans. College just wasn't the right fit, they joined the military, they really put together an amazing professional career, they then came back to college, were a far different student when they came back, but those first grades still count, the character and fitness issue is still there. So, hey, it's helpful to get another set of eyes on this application, right?

And what we're keeping an eye on is not just the academic merits of the application, but also, how do we think the student is going to contribute to the best class possible at the law school? How are they going to add to the dialogue and the conversation? It's in a law school environment, it's all Socratic lectures, it's all discussion-based. A running gag with law school is that, you know, the answer that you should always give to a cold call is, well, it depends, and then just ramble from there. But, well, it depends.

How are you going to add to the "well, it depends" because of your professional background, your personal background? How are you going to help flesh out those shades of gray for your classmates? And that takes a lot of discussion to really bring that to the forefront. With that, though, we're also keeping an eye on, are you a good fit for us? Are we a good fit for you?

So, for example, the student who writes a Why Notre Dame statement about how they hate lake-effect snow, college football is ridiculous, and the last thing they ever want to do is spend more than three seconds in Indiana, okay, I'm not sure you've done a lot of research on Notre Dame. I'm not sure we're going to be a good fit for you. Are you going to be, if we admit you, are you going to be happy here? Are you going to be successful here, et cetera.

And I've chosen a very hyperbolic example. But the student who then makes the argument about, hey, here's why I want to go to Notre Dame, and either makes the argument explicitly because of these classes, this faculty, because of professional outcomes, or also the student who makes the implicit argument.

So, for example, there are a lot of students who would not submit a Why Notre Dame statement, but through the context of their personal statement, their resume, et cetera, we could see a sense of wanting to serve the greater good, wanting to use their talents to bring, you know, as a Catholic school, we could talk about such things, you know, bring the glory of God's kingdom to earth. The sense of you see yourself as serving others and using the law as that conduit.

Even if you're not Catholic, even if you haven't expressly said that, we can see that through your service with Teach for America, or the way that you've been involved in local governments, or the way that you have started up some nonprofits in your community. And now we're, if we admit you, we are going to make the argument to you as to why we're a good fit for you. But we've seen that in your application, that sense of fit.

And I imagine that's going to be pretty similar with a lot of other law schools, that yeah, the academic statistics are important. Those are the best indicators of whether or not you're going to be academically successful in law school, but that's not telling us about your dreams, hopes, desires, and what you're going to contribute to those classroom discussions. That's what we're trying to flesh out in those committee discussions.

David: It sounds like a very involved process. So what I'm hearing is that there are at least three readers of every applicant, two initial readers, and then it gets kicked up to you or a colleague. Wow, that is a lot of scrutiny. How are the initial readers doing their evaluation? You know, are they giving a thumbs-up sticker on it, or they just writing a paragraph?

Jacob: Sure thing. So we came up with a set of just basic review guidelines. If any of you have been in education before, you're familiar with grading rubrics. This is to ensure that not only can you kind of inform your students, hey, here are the things I'm looking for, and here's what separates an A from a B, a B from a C, et cetera, but also if there are multiple graders for a class, if it's a college class with TAs, for example, or in a law school environment, if you have three sections of con law and you want to have reasonable consistency among those professors, you have to have a grading rubric.

And so we would have a review rubric, so, effectively, it says, hey, what are we looking for academically? What are we looking for resume-wise? What are the things that we can do to make common parlance, so that way, if reviewer 1 is saying X, Y, and Z, reviewer 2 can read those notes and immediately go, oh, she caught on to X, Y, and Z. Got it. I know what she means by that. But, oh, hey, wait a second. I see that she missed Z1, and now let me add that to the notes field just so that way, when the file goes to the admissions committee, we have this full picture.

Because mistakes happen, right? We're all human beings and all that good stuff. So we would have a common rubric and a common language so that we could speak effectively to each other and catch a lot of those things. If that was what you were going at with that question, David.

David: Yeah, this might be completely classified, so feel free to just make a zipper sign with your fingers. You know, what kind of thing is on the rubric? Is it like leadership interest in Notre Dame? You know, life experience?

Jacob: I mean, everything, frankly, and I don't mean that in an opaque way, like, oh, it's all important, but there are so many avenues to law school, and so there are going to be those students who have significant leadership experience in different ways.

So, for example, significant leadership experience in student government at their undergraduate institution, and that has a certain cachet, a certain importance, et cetera. It's hard to compare that, though, directly to, we would have students who serve as legislative aids for United States senators or governors, or, you know, congressional representatives. They worked in the White House. Well, that's pretty significant too, right? You were in the room when these discussions were happening. That's going to be a real interesting conversation starter in your con law class.

But now let's take the, to use the parlance of admissions, let's take the KJD student who maybe is a first-gen student. They had to work 40 hours a week during undergrad, and so they didn't have the opportunity to seek out those leadership positions, or they may not have had the opportunity to seek out those leadership positions or have the time to do those. We're also taking that into account too.

That contextualizes what they were doing during their undergrad education, and we want to take that into account. We can't change their GPA, we can't change their resume, but we can sure take a look at that. Those are also things that occasionally would come through via the letters of recommendation as well, that perhaps the student didn't want to tell us that they were working 40 hours a week and then also commuting a half hour each way to school, but their professor would, and that would really change the way potentially that we would review that application.

So on this rubric, we would make note of, here are the different things that you may see, and here are the ways that we want to refer to those things, so that way, we all know what those terms mean very quickly. So that way, the first reviewer is almost like the trailblazer, catching the vast majority of the material on the application. Second reviewer's just double-checking things, making sure nothing was missed, et cetera. And then as an admissions committee, we have the full notes together to really talk about the applicant fully.

David: Given that you are responsible for maintaining these medians, how much leeway do you have when you're selecting students who are falling short of those targets?

Jacob: Yeah, I think that comes back to rolling admission, that earlier in the year, there's more leeway, right? Because you know, going into the year, that not everyone is going to meet or exceed your medians. If everyone would, your medians would be 4.0 GPA and 180 LSAT. So there are going to be students who fall short, and probably, realistically, you only have X number of seats for them, okay?

Because you know, on the other end of the spectrum, through years and years of data, there are probably only going to be X number of students who are going to exceed both of your median stats who are going to enroll. So, you know, as you start to review applications, do you want to wait until the end of the cycle to start admitting those students, or if you find a really great one early on, gosh, you know, do you want to wait on that student?

My thought was always, if they've applied early, if they're amazing and they're great, and we think they'd really add to the class, let's take them in November, let's take them in December, and let us be in a position come February, March where we say, oh gosh, I wish you had applied earlier, and in some cases reaching out to that student who may then be on the waitlist to say, hey, if you're still interested in Notre Dame, would you consider applying earlier next year? Would you consider possibly transferring to Notre Dame, because we think you'd be amazing here. So, yeah.

David: Can you talk more about recommendation letters? What are you looking for and how do you use them in your process?

Jacob: Yeah, so, you know, what's funny about that is I actually, I was speaking with a student today who had been considering a PhD program and now has switched gears and was thinking about law. So he asked me about those because, in his mind, he's still thinking of a letter of recommendation from a PhD standpoint, wherein for our audience who may not know the difference, so for PhD programs, you really are hoping to study something really specific.

The ideal PhD candidate in a science or a liberal art field is someone who can not just say, hey, I want to be a PhD student in philosophy, but you can really drill down and say, not just philosophy, but how Nietzsche really transitioned from early career to mid-career to late career. That's what I want to look at. Really drill down. Or history, not just history, not just colonial American history, but the way in which different societal classes interacted on issues of race in colonial Massachusetts. Okay, really drill down.

And so letters of recommendation, in that case, you really have specific scholars and specific professors who you had classes with speaking to colleagues who they probably know and have talked with at conferences and they can really talk turkey effectively. Here's who the student is, here's their background, here's what they want to study, here's why I would vouch for them.

In a law school and also in an MBA environment, you just have so many students coming from so many backgrounds that I don't think the expectation of faculty writing letters of rec or managers writing letters of rec is that they're speaking to a direct academic peer in that regard.

The most equivalent situation, I think, would be the student who maybe has worked for a paralegal or a legislative aide, a legal research assistant for a couple of years, and now are coming to law school, and we get a letter of rec from the lawyer they worked with, the politician they worked with, et cetera, who can very clearly say, here's how the student contributed to this legislative program, our legal office, et cetera, and here's what I think they'd do in law school, et cetera.

So for letters of recommendation, once we put that aside, what we're really hoping to get is almost like a cross-reference. So here's the image that we've created in our minds of the student from reading their application, going through their academic papers. I typically review that side first. I want the student to have the first word in creating their image in my mind. And now I'm going to read the letters of recommendation last, just as a cross-reference.

Here's the image I've created. Now, let me go through the letters of rec to see if that corroborates the image I've created, and if it hasn't, why do I think that is? So, for example, and I should say, the vast majority of letters of recommendation corroborate. I have an image in my head of the applicant, I read the letters of rec, and I go, yup, that makes sense. The ones that wouldn't corroborate, maybe only about 5% of the time, it would be the letter writer who would really add something substantial to the file.

So let me take that first-gen student again, who maybe is working their way through college. Maybe they didn't say it, but the letter writer said it, and that changes the way I perceive that student now. Okay, that adds a really significant piece of the puzzle. On the flip side, there could be that student, to create a hypothetical, let's say it's a student who had a very low GPA during undergrad, like a 2.8, a 2.9 or so, and then a very high LSAT, and there are any number of reasons why this could be the case, that they have this discrepancy.

But then if we read the letter of recommendation and three faculty say, this kid is super bright, they're wonderful, they're nice, I could tell they just weren't focused during class, that is then telling us, gosh, probably the reason for this discrepancy is that they kind of goofed around for two, three, four years, but now they turned it on for the LSAT. Okay, from our standpoint, how do we feel about that? Do we feel confident that they're going to come in here and really apply themselves?

Maybe that we can see that, based on their professional resume, what they've done since undergrad, that we're not worried about that anymore. Or, even if we think that they're going to perform close to that GPA because of other factors in their application, we're still confident they're going to contribute to the class, we're still confident that they're going to pass the bar, we're still confident they're going to get a job afterwards because of all of these other things we're seeing professionally and personally from them.

But that's where the letters of rec come into play. But that's, it's really a cross-check for us. And in most cases, it's a great cross-reference, that it does corroborate with what you've already seen from the earlier parts of the application.

David: Well, we love to hear everybody's voices, so if you have a question, please raise your hand and I'll call on you. We like to interact with you. You can also use the Question and Answer widget, but we prefer to talk to you. As you work up the courage to do that, another question for you, Jacob. How often did you read the LSAT writing?

Jacob: Oh, man. Rarely, because my thought was, you know, you've given me enough other writing samples. You know, do I really want to read about your, man, what are some classic LSAT writing topics, why you think this person should open a restaurant instead of open a cafe. But I will say this. So who are the students for whom I would read that? It would be students where the written pieces seem to be written by different people.

So the personal statement maybe was really polished, really well written, but then they submitted a Why Notre Dame statement, and there were a lot of little grammatical issues. Well, did they just somehow mistakenly submit a rough draft instead of their final draft? Or maybe did they get significant help on their personal statement, and then now this is really who they are on their Why Notre Dame statement? Let me take a look at the LSAT writing sample, just to corroborate matters.

To that end too, students for whom English is their second language, it's another check for those guys, because we want to make sure that, law school is a really intense academic environment, we want to make sure they're ready to rock and roll and be academically successful. So, hey, that's a case where that additional writing sample can be really useful, just to make sure that they're ready to come into this environment.

David: Kenya, we'd love to hear your voice and take your question.

New Speaker: I'm curious for, when you say you look at the rubric, you look for everything. Is it more like diverse experience in college, or is it more like overall diverse experience that's combined with academic success and also like working experience? And if working experience, do you prefer to look at people who work in one company, or do you prefer people like, you know, people graduate from college and they don't know what they're doing, they kind of try different things. Would you like that better, or is there just really no certain answer?

Jacob: Yeah, and that's a really great question. And I think, again, I mention this, you know, this moment of zen, that hopefully you just focus on yourself, because this may be a frustrating answer, but I hope you find the zen here. The first answer is that when you're building a law school class, you want people with different backgrounds. And so you may find that student who is just a little off kilter, so to speak, and has had interesting life experiences beyond the professional realm.

But I think for the majority of students, this is a professional school. We are interested in, what is your professional background? Why do you view this as the next logical step in your professional development? And so what are you going to bring to the discussion? What are you going to bring to the field? And that could be your academic background, that could be your professional background, it could be your personal background.

On the personal front, I mean, to use an example that I think most people can latch onto pretty easily, you know, I think it'd be really hard to have a class, a crim law class that discusses disparities in incarceration among socioeconomic lines or racial demographic lines without any students of color in there, without any students who are first-gen.

Similarly, I think it'd be really problematic to have a class discussing firearms if you don't have any kids who may have a background in hunting or in rural environments where they can't rely on law enforcement to be at their home in case of an emergency within a half hour or an hour, et cetera, because they live so far away.

Having students with different backgrounds and different life experiences enriches that discussion, and really it helps their classmates to become better lawyers. And so that's something that we're attuned to. We're not just trying to check boxes along the way. We're trying to figure out how can we not just build the best class for us, but how can we build the best class for our students so that you learn from each other, you have a great network, a great community, and that when you graduate, you're prepared to be the best lawyer possible. So hopefully that answers your question.

David: Yeah, okay. Well, thanks so much for your question and good luck. I'm going to call on D.B.

New Speaker: Hey Jacob, I have a question about the letters of rec. So in the fall, I did like a few info sessions for masters and grad programs, and something really interesting that I heard, they said, get your writers of your letters of rec to focus on different aspects of your life. So ask one writer to focus on your academics, another writer to focus on your personality, your experience, someone else to focus on your professional career. I'm wondering if you think that's a good strategy for law school, or if you, if you guys look for it to be specifically like, this is why he will succeed in law school.

Jacob: Yeah. And you may have noticed me making faces like this, because I think that on the one hand, that's, so that's a great question. If that can happen, that's wonderful. I'm guessing the reality of matters is that most recommenders, most faculty who've had you in a class, probably they all know you in roughly the same way, as a student, but maybe with a little twist, because maybe you were a TA for this professor, this other professor was the chair of the department so maybe they knew you a little bit better through that context, or this professor was also a faculty advisor for a club you were in. That's all great.

I don't think, from an admissions perspective, we're expecting that. If we get that, that's awesome. But at the heart of the matter is what we're trying to ascertain through the letters of rec are who is this student on an academic level on an everyday basis? What do they bring to the classroom? And if it's a professional letter of rec because it's an applicant who's been working for, say, two plus years, who are they as an employee? What have they added to their team? What have they added to their field? So what are they going to bring to the class?

And so again, if you want to be strategic and divvy up kind of those different aspects of your personality, work backgrounds with different letters, different recommenders, that's great. That's why I made this face. But if you don't feel like you can do that, or if you feel kind of awkward asking one professor, actually, I'd like you to focus on my personality, my favorite CDs are, my favorite albums are bing, bing, bing, books, you know, I'm more of this person than that person, that's okay. Don't worry about going down that road, because we're still going to get really useful information out of that.

New Speaker: Okay, awesome. Thank you.

David: Thanks for the great question. Good luck. Hi, Sarah.

New Speaker: Hi there. I was just kind of curious and to clear up some things that you said in regards to military members, was that if they can excel in the Socratic method way of learning. I think there's some sort of negative connotation to service members and the fact that it's always like a yes, sir, yes, ma'am sort of attitude. But I think as the military is evolving, that has become much more politicized and there's a lot of things that you do in a leadership realm that would reflect things such as participating in student government and things of that nature. And I'm just curious if admissions kinda know the evolution that is occurring.

Jacob: Well, Sarah, thank you for that question, and I'm very sorry if I gave that impression. That was not what I meant to convey with any of my comments. So with veterans and with active duty military, typically, it's such a hard comparison because how do you compare someone who is working artillery for the army versus the student who's a regular old senior in college and the most challenging thing they do in their day is setting up their Madden League for their friends?

That isn't an apples to oranges comparison. That's just so drastically different, and that's something that we would take into account. As far as how we would view, we typically view veterans in the classroom and what they would bring.

There's just such a dynamic, real-life experience and perspective that they bring pound for pound, and that they have seen, many of our veterans, through their application materials and then through talking with them, if they were student ambassadors for our office, would convey that they simply, through their engagement around the world, they saw when the law was respected and was acted upon, and they would see the breakdowns thereof, and they wanted to serve more towards ensuring the success of legal systems and political systems, et cetera.

So we never had a worry of their contributions to Socratic discussions. Instead, we viewed it as, gosh, you know, this student or this applicant, based on what they've accomplished, based on what they've done, can you imagine what they would contribute to that discussion in Socratic environment, because they can talk about rule of law from their time in Afghanistan. They can talk about, they're not talking about, gosh, you know, a lot of students would mention in their applications they're really interested in international human rights issues.

It's almost like the running joke that as a parent of small children, every little kid wants to be a zoologist, they want to be a paleontologist, and some of them will be, and some of those law students will be international human rights lawyers, but active duty military, a lot of them have seen things, they've experienced things, and having that direct contribution to the discussion in the classroom is absolutely invaluable. And we would seek that in our applications.

And so I hope I didn't didn't give the impression that we didn't view that as a valuable contribution because we think they'd be, yes, sir; no, sir; yes, ma'am; no, ma'am. We were never worried about that in any way, shape, or form, so I'm glad you brought up that question so I could clarify matters and clear up that misconception. So thank you, Sarah.

New Speaker: Thank you.

David: Thanks, Sarah. Good luck. Hi, Kieran.

New Speaker: Hello. Thank you so much for both of you for being here and taking the time to share with us. I was wondering, if you had three years out of undergrad, do you still like to see and expect to see letters of rec from professors, and how important are those academic letters versus professional letters?

Jacob: Yeah. Hey, good question, Kieran. And once you get to that three-year-out mark, you're kind of on a sliding scale. So if there have been some professors that you've been, you've maintained good contact with, it doesn't hurt to have one from a professor or two from a professor, but if you've now been working for three years, and let's say it's been at the same organization or the same company, I think our expectation is we're probably going to see a manager letter as well.

So we wouldn't be shocked if we saw two or three from faculty, we wouldn't be shocked if we saw two or three from management, but likely we're going to see a mix of those. And then once you really get past that three-, four-year mark, I think we'd be surprised to see an academic letter just because you're so far out of that experience, unless you've really maintained close contact with those faculty.

And as a brief note on the professional letters of recommendation, I think I mentioned this earlier, what we're really hoping to get out of that is what you've done project-wise, what you've brought to your teams, what you've brought to your organization. And if your recommender can give us a sense of maybe your professional goals and how law school may contribute to that, that's great too. But that's what we're hoping to get out of that, and that's kind of different from what you bring to an academic classroom setting on an everyday basis, similar in some ways but distinct.

New Speaker: Gotcha. Thank you so much.

Jacob: Yeah, you're welcome.

David: All right. Thanks, Kieran. H, we'd love to talk to you.

New Speaker: Hey, Jacob, thank you so much for being here with us, and all of the information. I just have a quick question about international applicants. Could you maybe elaborate a little bit more, like what you're looking exactly, because I know a lot of international applicants, they even don't have like standardized GPA.

Jacob: Yeah, sure thing. So, and thank you for that question because international applicants really are kind of a different, there are some similarities. So again, this larger sense of who is this person? What do they want to achieve? What are they going to bring to the classroom? Are they a good fit for us? Are we a good fit for them? All of those questions still apply, but on the evaluation side of things, there's some drastic differences.

So for those of you who may not be aware, LSAC will only provide a reportable GPA for students who attend either an American or a Canadian undergraduate institution. So if you're an American who attends St. Andrew's in the UK, but if you're a Chinese national who attends Emory University, you will have a reportable GPA. So for students who attend universities outside of the US and Canada, you know, if you stick in admissions long enough, you get to learn a lot of the universities.

So, for example, prior to entering the law school, I actually worked in, when I worked in undergrad admissions, I was responsible for a lot of our international admission. So just kind of by proxy, although I was working with high school students, I learned a lot about different university systems, especially in my territory, I was responsible for east Asia, so a lot of the top universities in China, Korea, Taiwan.

And so when I would see students applying from those undergraduate institutions to Notre Dame Law School, I'd go, oh, wow, they're coming from Korea University, they're coming from Seoul National. Oh yeah, that is one of the finest universities in Korea. I'm very familiar with those institutions, et cetera. The GPA field would be nonreportable, it doesn't factor into your medians, but we are trying to get a sense of what's the grading scale, what should we expect?

Different colleges, different university systems around the world have different grading systems. And so in the States, it's very common to see students get between a B and an A average, but in other countries, it's rare to see a B average. If you get a B-plus average, that's graduating with honors, et cetera. We would try to educate ourselves so that we could factor that into our evaluation.

Another difference is that we would typically see among many of our foreign, or students who attended foreign universities, not as many undergraduate organizations and activities. It seems like perhaps it's just a difference in what's an expectation of going to a school in a country outside of the States versus what you do at a college inside the States. So we wouldn't worry as much about that with our foreign national students.

I do think, though, going back to those larger questions of who are they, what do they want to do, the fit, I think for a lot of our foreign nationals, and I think this may be specific to Notre Dame, perhaps other institutions, I know from my experience recruiting internationally for Notre Dame, Notre Dame just is not as much on the radar for foreign nationals as they are for domestic students. Notre Dame has a very broad domestic name recognition appeal that wasn't the same abroad.

So if you're applying from abroad to Notre Dame, why do you think we're a good fit for you? That question of fit and why us is really important, but that may be less so for a school on the coast or one of the T14, where again, just anecdotally, I would find that they would just have far more name recognition overseas, or, you know, there are direct flights between that student's home city and Los Angeles or New York or Chicago, so it makes more sense for them to look at those opportunities.

So that's the only thing I'd offer specifically is, hey, if you're looking outside of schools, if you're a foreign national looking at schools in the States, you probably then have to do a little more research, and maybe that Why School X statement is a little more important for you because we may just be a little more naturally curious.

Gosh, if you're coming from India and looking at us, why? What about us? There are no direct flights from Delhi to South Bend. It's going to take a little more effort to get here, so why do you think we'd help you get to where you want to be? So does that answer your question, though, H?

New Speaker: Yeah. Thank you so much.

David: Good luck on your applications, and we'll go to Hawthorne.

New Speaker: Hi, thank you both so much for this very informative evening. I want to ask about the addendum or a diversity letter for people who, for instance, who have graduated a couple of years back, have had different experiences in life and the professional world. Do these letters, like, are you seeking for a complete story like that you would see in a personal statement, or could it be like kind of, you know, many stories combined together because of diversion to where like different experiences that people are trying to put into one statement?

Jacob: Yeah, that's a good question. So, to take a step back, over the course of your application, we're trying to get a composite picture of you, who are you, and we can get different information about you from different pieces of your application, but then we're bringing it all together to form this composite whole.

With that information in mind, I always encourage students that you don't need to accomplish everything. You don't need to tell us everything about yourself in every statement, right? Because you have a lot of ground where you can spread out this information, that it can all communicate to each other. So on the diversity statement, we want to give students the opportunity to let us know, what is the unique voice that you would bring to a law school setting, based on your background, professional experiences, who you are, what you want to achieve, et cetera?

The addenda or addendum is really more a catchall. So, hey, is there anything else you want to tell us about yourself or your background that you haven't had a chance to before? Maybe because we didn't ask about it, maybe because it just didn't fit cleanly into any of your other statements. But now we just want to give you the chance, before you wrap up your application, to let us know about everything. And so that's what's appropriate on the addenda.

Now, specifically regarding your question, so is it better to write a coherent whole or to kind of give these little vignettes? I guess it depends on where you believe it would be best to, what you want to communicate to us throughout the course of your application and where you think would be most appropriate to include that information.

So if you take that step back, you may realize, gosh, you know, part of what I would normally put in a diversity statement is really what I'm going to reflect on in my personal statement. So, really, I don't need to go over that same information in my diversity statement. But if they're giving me the opportunity to give them some more information, gosh, I'll tell them a little bit more about my professional background instead, because that'll be a little different.

And now on the addenda, what I really want to tell you about is, hey, I'm, you know, I served in the military. I want to give you a little more information about that. Hey, I'm a foreign national, I went to a school outside of the States. Here's how the grading system goes over here. That kind of information on all the addenda, which really doesn't fit cleanly into some other parts of the application. So does that answer your question, Hawthorne?

New Speaker: Yes, my head was running through a lot of things while you were describing all this. Yeah, so I think, yeah, I think you answered my question. Thank you.

Jacob: Okay, great.

David: Good luck, Hawthorne. I'm so sorry, everybody. We're out of time, and I know that there are a lot more questions. Why don't you post them on the forum and we'll do our best to answer them.

Jacob, I want to thank you for sharing your insight. You know, you're funny, you're specific, you're compassionate. It's always reassuring to know that people like you are reading the files that students like those who attended this webinar and those who are listening worked so hard over. So thanks for sharing.

For anyone who is tuning in, if you might want to work with Jacob, we are running a special for admissions consulting. We have about 10 packages left at a discounted rate, so I'll just put in the details there. And if you just want to do a free consultation, talk about the cycle, talk about what the process looks like, no pressure, let me just send you the link.

Okay, well, everyone, thanks for coming. If you're preparing for the upcoming cycle, then godspeed. I hope you do well on your LSAT. I hope you start writing, you heard Jacob, because it's really never too early to start. And if you are on a waitlist, well, I hope you get some good news this month, but I urge you to do what Jacob said and send another letter of continued interest. So thanks, everyone. And thank you, Jacob.

Jacob: Happy to chat with everyone. Good luck with your applications, everyone.

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.


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