J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and in today's episode, four 7Sage consultants, our former law school admissions officers from Columbia, Berkeley, Notre Dame, and San Diego School of Law, talk about the application process from the other side of the desk. We had this conversation live, and after the panelists spoke, they answered a few questions from the audience. If you want to know what really happens after you submit your application, stay tuned.
Tajira: Welcome, everyone. My name is Taj McCoy. I am one of the admissions consultants at 7Sage. Thank you all so much for joining us. Hello to those of you that are joining us from all over the country and outside the country. Hello, Toronto and DC and California, I see you. Today's conversation is really for you all to listen in and hear some of the juice that happens behind the scenes.
We're here talking today with admissions professionals about the entire admissions process, but from the perspectives of the admissions office. And so my colleagues here, I'm going to have each of you introduce yourselves, share where you've worked, and then we're going to jump into a conversation that really will touch on processing and assigning files, application review, issuing decisions, scholarship offers and negotiations, considering application soft factors. And I think we'll end with parting pieces of advice. Jake, why don't I have you start?
Jacob: Yeah, sure thing. So, hi, everyone. I'm Jake Baska, one of the consultants here at 7Sage, and previously I worked for 14 years in admissions, including seven years as director of admission and financial aid at Notre Dame Law School.
Tajira: Wonderful. And Tracy.
Tracy: Hi, Tracy Simmons, and I am one of the other consultants, and I actually, I still work in admissions. I'm at the university of San Diego, and before that, I worked at McGeorge as part of the University of the Pacific, and before that I worked at Chapman, and before that I worked at Golden Gate. So I've been in legal education administration and admissions, financial aid and diversity for about 22-plus years, 23 travel seasons, according to Marriott. So that's important to note.
Tajira: Yes. And Susan.
Susan: Yeah, sure. My name is Susan Cersovsky. I just finished five years in the admissions office at Columbia Law School. Before that, I was actually an attorney. I went to Columbia Law School. I worked at Weil Gotshal, I worked at New York Life and did some pro bono work, so, before coming to 7Sage.
Tajira: Fantastic. And again, I'm Taj McCoy. Most recent admissions work was at Berkeley. I was the director of admissions and scholarship programs. I've worked in admissions at four law schools over the course of about 10 years, and then I also did about a year and a half in law school career services before jumping into consulting. And so, again, welcome, everyone. I love to see so many people here with us.
I'm going to jump in. Let's just say, you know, we're just talking about this process as if I don't know what's happening. When I hit that Submit button, Jake, what happens with my application when you receive it? Can you give us the details in terms of walking through processing and assigning files?
Jacob: Right. So the super exciting aspect of this, everyone signs up to hear the records processing side. So when you click Submit on the application, there's an overnight reset from LSAC and then the law school in question will get your application the next morning. Every admissions office has one or two records processors who are the ones who will go into the LSAC database to make sure that all, that the application is received, all the supporting documents have been received, and then to double-check if there's anything missing, coordinating that with the applicant in question.
But if it's all ready to go, they change that student's status, and so this is what you then see on the status checker. They may update that status to Application Received, Application Complete, and when they eventually assign that application out to someone for reading purposes, you'll see First Evaluator, In Review, In Process, whatever a school uses to indicate that your application's actually in the pipeline and has been assigned out to a file reader.
Tajira: Fantastic. When we're thinking about files being assigned, is that done in batches? Is it a whole lot? Do you have to kind of wait a couple of months after applications open before you actually submit, start distributing files, or how does that work?
Jacob: Yeah. And this may be a school-specific thing. So at Notre Dame and at most law schools, we're all so busy in September, in October, going to recruitment events that we don't spend a lot of time reviewing applications, just because we don't have the time. There are some schools that do start issuing decisions a little bit early, maybe because they don't do as much travel. Maybe they focus just on the tip-top applications, which are usually pretty easy to evaluate because the students are so strong that it's pretty clear they're going to be admissible.
But for a lot of schools, that evaluation process really doesn't get rolling until November. Excuse me. So if you click Submit in September, you may see that your file gets sent out for review earlier, but it may just be sitting in someone's review queue until they finally get off the law fair circuit in early November.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. And Tracy, I mean, Golden Gate, Chapman, you know, USD, Pacific McGeorge, have your processes varied at all from that?
Tracy: Yes, particularly in terms of timing, and I would just say kind of globally in the time that I've been in legal education administration, I feel like the first probably 10 years or so, no one really reviewed files before, like, November, December. And then all of a sudden, I would say about, I don't know, seven, eight years ago, we would be on the road together, and I would hear a few of my colleagues who didn't even have early decision or priority deadlines in the fall start saying like, yeah, sent out a couple offers yesterday, and everyone's freaking out, like, what do you mean you sent out offers? It's October, like, we don't read files yet.
And so what's happened is that it's definitely picked up steam in terms of people kind of reviewing files a little earlier in the process. Now, some of that is because of volume, and I think because of capacity, I think some of the offices are not as big as they used to be. You know, when you have, I mean, higher ed is like any business, and so I think that as you kind of have structural changes and you're trying to figure out where you put your resources, sometimes, you know, you kind of take an admissions person and put them in another role or split their role.
And so what that means for you all is that, as Jake was pointing out, it's that you may have submitted your application, but it may just be sitting there, and it could be that it's in review or it could be that it's actually just complete. And so that will definitely differ depending on the school, but also as I noted, kind of tied directly to priority deadlines or early deadlines and things like that.
I would also echo what Jake was saying about the files that generally get reviewed first. If you're starting off kind of in the early fall, I really do think it's usually the competitive applicants that are reviewed first because those tend to not, depending on the structure of the committee, and again, the lawyerly answer, it depends, but you know, for those files, you don't tend to have as many reviewers. They don't tend to have as many people kind of touching the file, so to speak, and so those offers tend to go out a little earlier because, again, you don't have as much engagement on it.
Tajira: Okay. That's excellent information. Go ahead, Susan.
Susan: Yeah. So I'll just jump in and add that at Columbia, like Notre Dame, we really don't start reviewing until, you know, maybe late October or November for the same reasons, busy engaged in recruiting activities. Columbia also does have an early decision applicant pool, so those maybe get reviewed first, but other than that, we at Columbia would really review files in the order that they were complete. So, if you did get them in, you know, in September, even though we're not going to look at them, those files would be the first ones that we would look at once we do start reviewing files.
Tajira: Got it, got it. And just to offer a little tidbit from Berkeley, we did start reading applications in September. It really does run the gambit when it comes to how this process works. Okay. So let's say you've been assigned a queue of files. What does your process for file review look like, Tracy?
Tracy: So this is where it gets a little more complicated, and I apologize if this is going to be, like, kind of oddly worded, but the structure has literally been different, kind of almost based on my time in admissions, because I think when you're first starting out and you're a younger professional, the faculty committees or the dean may kind of want you to have a little more experience and exposure to kind of what it's like to do file review, but also kind of what they're looking for in a candidate.
And so for me, over time, what has happened is that I generally had a general admissions committee where a file would be assigned to two people, and if those two people agreed, that was the final decision. Most of us are, like, if you're the lead in the office, you tend to be called the chief admissions officer, and so some structures have been that if a file was assigned to two people, if I didn't agree with the person, I still could overwrite that decision, whether it was admit, deny, or waitlist.
What has happened over time, for me at least, is that I have enough experience now where my faculty committee members tend to say, like, you're actually the expert, not us, and so whatever you say goes, more or less, and I don't mean that to be, it sounds a little bit weird, but what I'm saying is that, ultimately, these are kind of singular file reviews, and so what that means for your purposes is that at least it goes through the process much more quickly. But I also note before we jump in and let my colleagues kind of speak is that there are still schools that have literally multiple people, meaning more than two people that have to agree before an offer is made.
That may not be the case for a waitlist or hold or deny, but the structure really is different, and I think it's important to just note that, you know, as I'm looking at the chat and you guys are asking when and things of that nature, all that we're saying will be influenced by kind of when your file is ready and competitive. And we'll get to more of that, Tajira will kind of steer us in that direction a little bit later. The structure really does differ in who reads what when, really does vary from school to school.
Tajira: Jake, what was your experience?
Jacob: We had a couple outside file readers, people who had worked in admissions but had since moved into other fields but still wanted to help out where possible, so kind of part-time file readers. They would usually be the ones who would start reading files a little bit earlier to kind of warm up the application pool for us. And then when we came off the road from file reading as a staff, me as director, my two assistant directors, we would reread the files that they had already done to see what their evaluation was, but also to judge those decisions within the context of the applicant pool as it had developed by early November.
So by early November, we had received maybe 20 to 25% of our applications for the year. We're actually starting to see some of those trends develop on, will applications go up this year, go down? Where are we seeing LSAT scores, where are we seeing diversity, et cetera. So then some of those applications were so strong that we could feel confident they were clearly admissible, some at the other end of the spectrum, unfortunately, but then we could also start to identify that middle area.
So then going forward, typically having two or three people evaluate an application before making a final decision, sometimes engage in our faculty committee, but kind of like Tracy said, they had a lot of faith in us and a lot of trust in us, so we would report to them. They would review decisions at a macro level, but it's not as if faculty were sitting down with every application and with, you know, their smoking jacket and pipe, and really weighing over every single application. They were looking at more of the big-picture items for us. But every school can be a little bit different in that regard.
Tajira: Okay. And Susan, what about your experience?
Susan: Yeah, so at Columbia, faculty did not, were not involved in decisions whether to admit or deny. So there were just about five or six of us that were full-time officers who would make those decisions. At least two people would read every file. So there was a lot of file reading and we would do that after we were done with the recruiting season, as I mentioned. In my time at Columbia, we had anywhere from 7,000 to almost 10,000 applications in a year, so it was a lot for us to get through since there were two reads. And we really did read them in the order that they were complete, and every application got to read, so we didn't sort them or, you know, we didn't have any grid-ins or cutoffs or anything like that. So anyone who submitted an application got at least two reads.
Tajira: Is it true that everybody reads applications within five or 10 minutes each?
Susan: I'll just answer that. For us, not necessarily. It depends on the application. You know, some applications are, you know, the ones that are sort of obvious admits can actually be a little bit faster, or obvious rejects. It's sort of the people in the middle that take a little bit longer, or if somebody has something that's really strong or their application's very strong, but maybe one thing is a little bit off. Maybe they don't have a lot of experience or maybe one of their quants is lower than we'd like. That might take a little bit more time, actually, to read that application.
Tajira: Jake? Tracy?
Jacob: Yeah, and I did a lot of that. I would also say that for us, as the person who reviewed the application last before issuing a decision, I would typically take a little longer than 10 minutes on the admitted students, even if they were very strong, just to make sure that I'm crossing, checking off all those boxes, just to make sure that we're not missing anything prior to issuing a decision.
But then also that I was taking note of, if we're going to admit the student, let me take note of perhaps some faculty who I may want to have reach out to the student or alumni to reach out to the student now that we're transitioning from evaluating the applicant to now recruiting an admitted student. And it's easier to do that while the application is still, you know, I'm making the symbol with my hands, it's still on my screen, as opposed to I've already processed the application and now I need to go back and get it.
I'd take a little bit longer for the students who, unfortunately, it was pretty clear that they were not going to be admitted. Yeah, five to 10 minutes is pretty normal. But then as Susan said, those median files, that competitive middle, it could take a little longer than that, just because you really want to make sure you understand the student and get the context of where they're coming from if you're going to argue their merits versus another student's merits down the road.
Tajira: Now, Jake, I'm going to pick on you for a second, because you said something really interesting. You said, you know, for those folks that you're possibly considering for admission, you're checking to see, do they tick all these boxes? Now, do you have a checklist that you're looking for certain traits or anything, or would you expand on what you mean?
Jacob: I haven't missed the character and fitness issue, right? Let me make sure I'm reading that really closely. Let me make sure there are no red flag issues in here. Those classic types of things, as opposed to thanks for mentioning that. So when I say check the boxes, I just mean they haven't killed anyone, right? Check. There are no significant character and fitness, check. They didn't write their "why Notre Dame" statement telling us all about why they want to go to Northwestern, right? Okay, check. No, all the pieces are in place here before I make an offer of admission. And later on down the process, an offer of admission and an offer of scholarship.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. And so, like, there was another thing that you touched on, but I'm actually going to pick on Tracy with this. You mentioned folks that happened to be right in that middle, right around the medians, right kind of in your bread and butter. Can you give me some for instances on why someone who might be right at or above both medians might not be accepted, Tracy?
Tracy: So one would be the timing of the review, if in fact, okay, a better way of explaining might be that if this is October, November, December, the class is wide open. The number of seats is wide open, the faculty, the dean, they're not paying as close attention to the actual numbers, and so I have a lot more leeway at that point in time. When I get to, say, March, April, July, things are very tight, and so we're paying very close attention to our yield, we're paying very close attention to how close we are to kind of hitting our target goals for LSAT or GPA.
And so if the person is right there, the dean may say, well, that person doesn't really help our numbers. And I know this is part of the challenge for you as applicants, because we talk about it not being numerically based, but this is kind of that part of this question that Ms. McCoy's asking is, you know, this is why someone who is at those numbers may or may not be admitted because of the timing of their actual application.
The other reason, though, is that sometimes, in reviewing those applications, the numbers are spot on, but the writing is really, really poor. And the challenge is that so much of the law is tied directly to writing the written materials, and so we don't want to put you in a situation where you're not competitive in law school, but also ultimately not competitive when you are out there kind of in the field. And so that's another reason.
And then the last one for now, I mean, and again, we, you know, we could talk about any one of these for like three or four hours on their own, right? Another one would be character and fitness. I've had some candidates where, you know, I wanted to either meet with them or I wanted to get more information from them. Sometimes with some character and fitness issues, we have to kind of run it up the ladder, meaning I need to engage with the dean of student affairs. In some instances, I need to bring in the dean.
In other instances, I've had to bring in general counsel because the issues are serious enough and, you know, we're not trying to penalize students, but we have to be mindful of the fact that, one, we have a responsibility to the students on campus, two, we're trying to make sure that you can actually pass character and fitness before you spend a hundred and $200,000 on an education where you can't get your license. So that would be another reason is that there's some concerns about character and fitness, and maybe we're waiting for additional information and/or waiting for other feedback and opinions about that particular issue or incident.
Tajira: And Susan, getting 7,000 applications, I would imagine at some point the class is just full, right? Like, is that another reason for why you might have like perfectly good numbers, but you just don't have the space, is that right?
Susan: Yeah, that's exactly right. And as Tracy said, like, timing can be an issue there. So all things being equal, you know, I would advise people to get your applications in early. Maybe, you know, don't necessarily wait until January. Although people still do get in who, you know, submitted applications in January, but it does make it more difficult for the reasons that you just said.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. And Susan, so Tracy mentioned goals. And so those goals, are they set before the cycle starts and do they change throughout the cycle?
Susan: Sure. You do have an idea sort of going in what you're looking for when you start doing the reviews. But I think Jake mentioned this: you get some data that comes in on the applications. You have years and years of data that you look at where you see, like, okay, by October 15th, we had this many applications in the past. Where, what does it look like now, and what does that breakdown of those applicants look like in terms of demographics and scores? So you sort of balance the medians that you had in last year's class and against sort of what the applications are looking like so far, and that sort of helps inform what you're looking for in this year's class.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. Are these goals set, Jake, by people outside of admissions sometimes? Or where is that coming from?
Jacob: By deans or trustees? Yeah. So no, at this time of year, law schools are wrapping up their incoming class. They're maybe rounding out things off the waitlist, they're keeping track of any students who may have a change in plans and aren't going to enroll. But they're also asking the question of, so, how did we do, how close were we to certain thresholds, certain targets? Were we low in certain areas this year? And this is something we want to address in the coming year.
But then also looking at the national trends. How many people just took the LSAT in this past iteration? How many people have taken the LSAT over the past year? So realistically, what may we expect as far as an applicant pool going forward? And so directors of admission, deans of admission are having those conversations with the deans of the law school, with the faculty on their committees, and potentially a little higher too.
And occasionally, usually everyone's on the same page because, ultimately, the applicant pool nationally is what it is, and if it goes down drastically, there's nothing that we as admissions officers can do to change that. So some direction may come from leadership, even though we're all on the same page. So again, if this year maybe racial diversity was a little bit lower, maybe that's something we want to have as a point of emphasis for the coming year.
But then that can change after the actual applications come in, things shift on us. Usually things are pretty consistent, but certainly we all experienced two years ago a drastic increase in applications across the board, and it's something that we kind of expected. We expected a wave. We didn't expect a tsunami coming, and a lot of us had to change our goals pretty quickly because of that and inform leadership about that pretty quickly.
Tajira: That's really helpful. Tracy, I mean, these goals, I know that they can probably change over time, you know, as you start to see the class shape up, do you ever receive directives like mid-cycle where they're like, well, actually, we want to change our priorities to this?
Tracy: Absolutely. I mean, one, they can change because of the budget, and so all of a sudden your budget dean and/or the university is saying, we want a bigger share from the law school, and that changes the revenue goal. It could be that there's a change in the budget related to scholarships because they want to give more money to the continuing students, meaning the current law students.
And then the other thing could simply be that, you know, U.S. News comes out and things look great, and they're like, well, since we did so well this last time, let's shoot for X. And you're like, whoa, we've been admitting now since October, November, and so to change gears is really challenging, but it does happen. That part is definitely, you know, part of the challenge in terms of thinking through our goals and the timing and things of that nature. So it definitely kind of, those things were a little bit of a loop, but we do our best to adjust and provide as accurate a picture as we can because, as Jake noted, there's so many moving parts and so many factors that we don't patrol.
If all of a sudden, when an LSAT administration was going to happen in mid-cycle, and there was a major weather issue that impacted, you know, technology and the internet in a certain region, we couldn't have accounted for that, and maybe we were anticipating that we were going to get a certain number of candidates from that part, from that LSAT administration. Literally, you have no impact, you know, no control over that, but that could directly impact our goals and the timing and things of that nature. So.
Tajira: Mm-hmm, that's great. I'm going to kind of detour us back towards application review just for a little bit. Jake, I'm curious, you know, when it comes to admissions committees, how is it that, you know, it's determined a file should go to them as opposed to one of your standard admissions officers in your office?
Jacob: Sure. So again, every school's a little bit different in this regard. So our committee trusted us a great deal. So for the most part, we were just referring files to them if they were significant. If the student was competitive for admission, we wanted to admit them, but there were some significant character and fitness issues that we felt the faculty needed to discuss.
And so by that, I know character and fitness issues can sometimes be a source of concern for a lot of applicants. For the most part, the things that students are reporting to us are pretty benign or can be categorized as youthful high jinks: underage drinking citations, for instance, or to pick on Notre Dame as an institution, for example, football tailgate citations, right? So one or two of those throughout the course of a collegiate career, not a problem. A small number of speeding tickets, not a problem.
But we would see students with more significant issues, maybe regarding DWI or related to assault allegations. So not convictions, but allegations, and how do we want to discuss that and handle that? So we would refer those files to our faculty committee and would talk about them as a group. So those files would initially be reviewed by our staff. So we would do the initial review before sending them on, because we wanted to provide the faculty with the initial filter of, we think they're competitive, we like them, if not for this character and fitness issue that is beyond the blessings that you have given us to process on our own.
Tajira: Now, Susan, sometimes I see, you know, reading on Reddit and things like that, I troll just to get a sense of how people are feeling in the cycle, there are times when people say, you know, like other people are receiving decisions and I just seem to be on hold. Why might an admissions team hold a particular application as opposed to issuing a decision right away?
Susan: Yeah. There are a couple of reasons. Earlier in the cycle, it might be because you're on the border of maybe some quants or, you know, the rest of your application, we're not quite sure if we're, if we're going to take you this cycle and we're just sort of waiting to figure out where those numbers are going to be. That was especially true when the Flex was introduced and some of our numbers were just completely thrown off.
It might also happen that we are not sure, we're not convinced that you're actually very interested in coming. And so you might get held for those reasons. And so, you know, maybe if you end up going to Harvard or Yale and you withdraw from Columbia, that might be a reason why we might hold you. So if you are held and you do have really strong quants, you might want to write the school, you know, and just write them a letter that you're interested in them.
Tajira: That's great. Can we talk a little bit about splitters? When it comes to high LSAT splitters versus high GPA splitters, which sometimes they call those reverse splitters, is there a preference? And when they are a splitter, does that make things more difficult in terms of making an offer? I'm going to start with you, Tracy.
Tracy: Yeah, it's challenging. It's challenging. I mean, here's the thing. Most candidates are splitters. If we're being really honest, most candidates are splitters. You do have some candidates who have a low LSAT score and a low GPA, and you have some that have a high LSAT score and a high GPA, but most people have one or the other.
And so, honestly, this goes back to what we were just talking about in terms of the goals of the institution, the metrics they're looking for, the idea that at any given point in time, you might say, you know, the school's focused on moving their median numbers because they've had some success with U.S. News, with hiring, bar pass rates, for example, in states that have really high, complicated, difficult bar exams. And so that may be the focus that year.
And so that means that maybe candidates that have what would be considered to be weaker LSAT scores, and again, this is all relative for each institution, because it doesn't mean that you're not going to be a good lawyer. It doesn't mean you're not going to be a good advocate. It's just for that particular school, we are focused on how competitive you are for that pool in that moment in time. And so I think the other part of this is kind of thinking through scholarships.
There are times when the scholarships may differ depending on the goals of the institution. And so for one candidate, so I'm looking at, you know, Susan, I'm saying, okay, her LSAT score, great, her GPA's okay, and right now we're so focused on GPA that I might not be able to offer her the same scholarship I would Jake, who is the reverse. He has the high GPA and the lower LSAT, and since we're focused on LSAT, we're going to take, you know, we're going to give Jake this. And so that's where it gets a little bit complicated.
I think the big thing to think about in context is that you have to kind of watch the numbers of the schools you're applying to, you know, in terms of the class that was admitted the year before, because that will give you some indication in terms of what they were focused on and what they prioritize. And I'll stop there for now, because there's, we could talk again about this for a long time, because there are a number of different factors.
Susan: No, it's great.
Tracy: Because I was going to say the thing about, like, letters of recommendation is the other piece of this. If your GPA's not strong, this is where you probably want to have academic letters versus employer professional letters. So I'll stop there. Go ahead, Taj, I'm sorry.
Tajira: No, that's great. That's great. Thank you, Tracy. Susan, I'm going to spin this a little bit for you. You know, how often does it happen where you really, really like an applicant, but maybe one or both of their credentials aren't where you need them to be? How often does it happen where you're really able to champion that candidate and take the risk on admitting them? And is it actually a risk or, you know, are there things that help you to feel really confident in those particular candidates?
Susan: Sure, that definitely happens. Sometimes you read somebody's personal statement, their diversity statement, and you're just like, wow, this is an amazing person, and I would love for them to be at this school, and I think they would offer so much to the class, but their quants aren't there. And it is tough, but let's say their GPA's not where it should be, but they had a rough, you know, first year of college, and you look at the trend and there's an upward trend in their GPA, or let's say they write an addendum and they had mono, or they had a death in the family or something like that, and that accounts for maybe their GPA being a little bit lower than you'd like, but you can tell that they would succeed at this school.
You know, you don't want to admit someone that is going to take out student loans and not be able to complete their law degree. So, but if you're convinced that they, you know, that they're going to be able to do a good job at the school and be there, then you can argue for them, and sometimes it does work. You know, it really is for people that have incredible stories and amazing personal statements where you can sort of overcome those quants. So it happens.
Tajira: That's great. Now, Jake, I'm going to spin it slightly different for you. I've heard of something called yield protection, and I might be really, really interested in the school, but my numbers are kind of vastly higher than their medians, and they won't admit me because they think I won't come. Like, is that really a thing? And if it is, how do I convince that school that I really want to be there?
Jacob: Sure. And it can be a thing. I think there, and you can see this, I think, on websites like Law School Data, or previously, students would usually use Law School Numbers. They are the students who are in that high LSAT/GPA range, who you see all these green dots, but then who are these yellow dots and who are these red dots? And Tracy also kind of hinted at this before too. They could be those students where there are character and fitness issues. There's weak writing. There's a red flag somewhere in there that makes you go, the stats are good, but I'm not sure the stats are real because of these other factors.
It could also be because there's just no way they're going to come here, and to speak for my experience, the way I usually put this to my staff was if we're going to feel disappointed when the student chooses another institution, a higher ranked institution, because they're such a great candidate, they'd be an awesome fit here. But, you know, hey, if Harvard comes calling or Yale comes calling, we understand. You know, we're going to be disappointed, as opposed to are we going to feel silly that we even bothered?
Because if we admit a student, we are getting faculty in touch with them, current students, alumni, we're going to really put on the charm offensive, and there's nothing quite like putting on the charm offensive to someone who's like, yeah, not so much. We don't want to waste the time of the alumni, the faculty, the students, et cetera, so we're going to feel silly because there really wasn't anything beyond the stats in here to make us think that they were going to come here, they were going to choose us.
And I don't think that really swayed us in a whole lot of cases, but occasionally you would read that file where you would say, and I think Notre Dame is a pretty specific institution, holy cow, they seem to not have any ties to the Midwest, they don't seem to be really interested, their whole personal statement was about how much they hate football and lake-effect snow. Do they know us? Have they seen anything about us? So there could be those discussions, but they were quite rare.
There are some schools that may be a little more concerned about that, and the reason is not just because of the charm offensive, not just because of the effort, but because yield is a small factor in U.S. News, and it's much smaller than the LSAT, it's a smaller factor than the GPA. It's much smaller than the judicial ranking, than the peer ranking, what other law schools think of your school. So some schools put a lot of weight on that because they want every last little bit to help them in U.S. News. I think most of us kind of view it as, how much time and effort do you want to put into this if you, if you don't really know?
So now back to the student perspective. If you're worried about that, about a school, applying to a school where you are way over their medians and they may just not even believe that you're going to go there, convince them, write that optional "why this school" statement. If they don't allow for that statement, include that information into your personal statement. Maybe take an opportunity to visit the school either in person or virtually, because most schools track that type of interaction. Make them feel the love, so that way, they understand you are applying with serious intention, as opposed to just applying as a pure safety with no intention of enrolling even if you were offered admission and a generous scholarship, et cetera.
Tajira: Mm-hmm, great. So, given the amount of time we have, I'm going to move us forward. We're going to move and switch gears a little bit and talk about scholarship offers and negotiations just for a time before we jump into application soft factors, which I think a lot of our listeners will really appreciate. Now, when it comes to scholarship offers, most of the time it's actually the admissions office making these offers, right? It's not financial aid. So students, like, when they're wondering where that decision's coming from, typically, it's from admissions, right, Tracy?
Tracy: Yes, for a lot of schools, that is part of the process. It's part of the decision-making process. That's something that, you know, we're thinking about as we're making the offers, also tied to all the other things we've discussed this evening in terms of timing, and who's making those decisions at what point and what the goals are and things of that nature. I think it's important to pay attention to the fact that it is different from school to school, and so for some institutions, you're going to get an offer, and whatever you're eligible for at that point in time, you will get that in the letter, and if you don't get it in the letter, it's because you're not eligible.
When there are other institutions where you may receive a scholarship offer, merit-based type offer a little later in the process, and then that's completely separate from possibly getting, you know, your award letter with your actual financial aid package, which includes loans in addition to scholarships and other things of that nature.
Tajira: And can any of you talk to, would that be the same when it comes to need-based aid? Is that also through admissions or would that all be through financial aid?
Tracy: Depends on the institution, for sure. I mean, most institutions are waiting for a FAFSA of some sort, for candidates that can submit a FAFSA, and then for international students and DACA students, many of them will have a separate form that you can fill out if they have need-based aid. So I think the big caveat here is that not a lot of institutions have need-based aid. I know that's disappointing for folks, but that's really something that you all should be paying attention to, that that's not something that's widely available at the 196, 197 ABA law schools, and so that's just something to think about. But generally speaking, that is a separate process.
And then lastly, there are some institutions that will have separate funds that you can apply for that are basically donor-related sometimes. And so the donor could say, I want someone who loves Notre Dame football, and you demonstrate that by some photos and an essay. I mean, it could be something that's for a single parent or someone who speaks three languages and has a degree in econ. It really is school-specific and donor-specific, but those are other opportunities out there for you all.
Tajira: And for merit-based scholarships, I mean, is there a rubric? Is it like LSAT, GPA, they meet at this number, so I award this? Or how, who determines how to make those awards and what candidates should receive what amount? Jake?
Jacob: Sure. So we try to be equitable and fair for the most part, and also trying to keep in mind goals for enrollment, for budget, how much scholarship money do we have available this year, et cetera. But then the outside factors that we take into play. What are some of our peer schools doing? We get lots of data from LSAC regarding if a student applies to our school, here are the most common schools they also apply to. And if they're admitted to that other school, here's how many came to your school, here's how many go there. We have to keep track of that too.
How are our awards stacking up with a couple of those benchmark peer schools? What is everyone else doing? We would typically create a grid every year based on the applicant pool, based on the budget to try and figure out the balance of all those things. But then it could be adjusted over time too. So as Tracy mentioned, we may find as we go through the process, gosh, you know, here are our LSAT, our GPA targets, but you know, we're just, we're seeing more LSAT targets than what we were expecting, so perhaps we don't need to offer quite as much merit in that field.
On the other hand, you know, looking at the other end of the process, those last waitlist admits, do we have any scholarship budget left for those guys, even if where they would be normally on the grid would be at a rather high award? But if we don't have any money left, we don't have any money left, unfortunately. So that can vary a little bit too. But I think most schools use some sort of standardized method, and you can intuit that pretty easily on Reddit or on Law School Data by looking at a lot of those statistics, if you spend enough time to try and crack the code.
Tajira: And Susan, people talk about LSAT and GPA a lot when they talk about merit-based awards. Are there any other factors that are considered for merit-based awards?
Susan: Yes, and I do think it's institution-specific as Tracy and Jake have said. One thing I will say, at Columbia, the financial aid office was completely separate. So at Columbia, we admitted need-blind, so without any consideration whether you could afford to pay, and then if you were admitted, then you would go to financial aid and get a financial aid package. Our, the merit aid was all handled through the admissions office.
There was some merit aid that was more heavily aligned with quants, but it wasn't only quants. We would look at factors, you know, certainly LSAT and GPA, and by GPA, I mean, sort of in context, like looking at your whole academic record, but we would also look for other factors because for our sort of top scholarships, you would get a faculty mentor, and we want to make sure that it's somebody that the faculty are really going to enjoy being with over the next three years and having them, having the student be part of their research. So we would look at your resume and your personal statement very carefully.
Those are for like the full-tuition and half-tuition merit scholarships, but we also gave full-tuition merit scholarships for people that had a demonstrated interest in public service, so that was another set of scholarships. There was a new scholarship last year that was geared towards first-generation students that was full tuition.
And then there were other merit-based scholarships that were surrounded, you know, something like leadership qualities that were tied to, you know, maybe a specific donor. And so our scholarships, our merit scholarships at Columbia were, they were either rewarded with your admissions letter or you were nominated, and then there may or may not be an interview process. But there were no like separate applications that you made.
Tajira: Now, it's been noted all over that it seems like certain higher ranked schools kind of delay their scholarship process a little bit and maybe wait to start awarding scholarship around December or January, as opposed to with their admissions offers. Can any of you give me a sense of why that might be?
Jacob: I can take that one because that was our policy, certainly. So the reason for that was that we wanted to make sure that we could offer our most competitive scholarship just once. And so by December, we have received enough applications where we knew where the pool was and we could feel comfortable beginning offers of admission.
But really, come February, end of January, February, at that point we received about 75% of our applications for the year. We know what the applicant pool looks like. We know what merit is defined as this year, because we've seen all the shifts in the pool up to this point. And so we know that we can now issue that most competitive scholarship possible, as opposed to maybe still guessing a little bit in December and then finding we may have to bump things up in March or April in order to be competitive with a lot of our peer schools.
So it's just our effort to make sure that we could still be as competitive as possible. And other schools kind of take that same approach. For others, and maybe because they're waiting to process your FAFSA and if a need factors into the award, they just need a little bit of time to process those things.
Tajira: Mm-hmm. Susan, you look like you wanted to weigh in.
Susan: Yeah. So at Columbia, we didn't issue any admit decisions until January, and sort of in those first batches of admits is where we made some of our merit awards, most of the merit awards. So they were kind of on the earlier side of our admits, but our admit decisions were maybe on the late side compared to some of the other schools.
Tajira: That's great. I'm going to switch gears again so that we can get to soft factors. This part, I think, will be fun for us because, you know, this is all the juicy stuff. In talking about personal statements, what sorts of things might really strong candidates, let's say they're above both medians, might they include in their personal statement or other statements that might turn you off? What would be some personal statement or other statement don'ts?
Susan: I would say, I think Tracy actually mentioned this earlier, but you definitely want to proofread your personal statement and have it well written. Really, law school admissions officers rely on that as a writing sample more than any writing that you do on the LSAT. That's just something to keep in mind. And I know I read one application, you know, while I was at Columbia that said, so that's why I want to go to Cornell Law School. So, you know, we, you want to make sure that you've really dotted your i's and crossed your t's and proofread your application before you submit it.
I think other things that might be a turnoff is just regurgitating your resume. You know, as we've talked about throughout this webinar, admissions officers do read applications quickly and have a lot of applications to read. So you want to make sure that you're really getting the most bang for your buck in sort of what, you know, how admissions officers are spending time reading your application. So you don't want to repeat just your resume. So that would be one thing that I would say.
Tajira: So with proofreading, if there's a spelling error, is that an immediate no?
Susan: It's not, it's not, but, you know, it does raise eyebrows just because the law is a very exacting field and you should really be putting your best foot forward in your personal statement. And, you know, it's perfectly fine to ask someone else to proofread your statement for you before you submit it, and that would be very advisable. Don't just like be typing up until the deadline and then hit Send. I would say, you know, give yourself time to proofread and have someone who you trust to proofread the statement.
Tajira: Okay. Tracy, a don't?
Tracy: Oh my goodness. I would say don't ignore the instructions. I think that kind of along the same lines of kind of proofreading and being detail-oriented, one of the tests basically in this process is your ability to follow directions. And so I think candidates often focus on trying to stand out, and I would say that this is not where you want to stand out. You want to kind of fall in line and fall in pack and basically deliver a statement that basically demonstrates that you are a strong writer, that you follow directions, and that you basically can be concise in terms of addressing what you think conveys your best story.
And again, kind of echoing what Susan said, you know, without regurgitating your resume, transcript, CAS report, et cetera. That's my, I mean, and then there are 20,000 other ones like quote and stuff like that, so, I'll let Jake jump in now.
Jacob: Yeah, I'll go even more basic. So, to make sure I'm not double-negativing this, I'll go with be professional, so don't be unprofessional, but be professional. When you asked this question, the thing that came to mind was the student who, in all the files I've ever read, took the greatest blowtorch to his application and just burned it down. So academics were good, great undergraduate background, solid resume. I made the joke earlier about what's the tie here to the Midwest? Maybe he was from Chicago, et cetera.
But then on his "why Notre Dame" statement, he effectively wrote, this is a stupid question. Why does anyone ever write, ask this question? I think all you ever want to hear is stuff that's going to boost your ego, and I'm not here to boost your ego. I'm here to keep it real. And he kept it real for two pages, and it was to the point where I actually, like, I had to step away from my computer and take a couple deep breaths.
I called my boss just to say, hey, I'm just making sure I'm not too upset about this, right? What do you think as someone who used to be a partner at a law firm and work for the government and all that stuff, what do you think? And he read it and said, yeah, no. That's not showing the type of temperament and restraint and good judgment that we want at our law school. So he was one of those green dots that year who was a red dot instead, you know? So be professional, be polite, follow instructions, proofread. I mean, it all seems pretty basic, and yet we can all assure you that some people fall short of those benchmarks. Remember they're entering what should be a serious profession.
Tajira: Right. Switching gears a little bit, is there any difference on how international applicants are evaluated? Susan?
Susan: Yeah, I'll say just looking at the quants. The LSAT maybe carries a little bit more weight than the grades. We don't get a GPA exactly. We do, LSAC does do a pretty good job of kind of explaining what their grades mean, but it doesn't factor in to U.S. News & World Report or anything like that. So the LSAT does, you know, sort of matter more beyond that. I think English language skills matter if you went to an undergrad institution that's not English speaking. So just being able to demonstrate those skills somewhere in your resume is helpful, and in your writing.
Tajira: Tracy, how often did you read or do you read LSAT Writing samples?
Tracy: Yeah. I literally saw that in the chat and cringed a little bit because it's somewhat to the example that Jake just gave, and I think that anything that a law school asks for, you should take seriously. You don't know who will read it and how often they read it and what they will use it for. I think it's pretty important for candidates particularly who are kind of like on the margins, around the medians, under the medians. It becomes a little more important.
I have worked with a lot of other law schools who've said specifically for those specific candidates who don't have majors in which there was a lot of writing involved. That is another reason that the writing sample becomes really important. But I also think it says something again about like what Jake said about professionalism and temperament. So remember that the writing sample is your only real raw analysis that you kind of provide us. I mean, this is a big part of law school, and so it's the one chance we get to see how you've got to work on the fly.
And so I think that's really, really important. And I think, you know, drawing on the writing sample, saying no one's going to read this, these are real life examples that we've seen, is just really immature and unprofessional. And so, again, because you don't know how many schools are using it very seriously, looking at it very closely, and/or using it to compare your actual writing, to make sure that you didn't buy an essay on the internet, you should pay very close attention to it and do a good job and be as thorough as possible in the time that you're given.
Tajira: That's great. And Jake, now that diversity statements have such a broad and inclusive approach, should everyone write one? And is there a ding against a diverse candidate if they choose not to?
Jacob: I'll handle that second one first, because I do think that sometimes there are candidates who worry that they're kind of like mining their pain to justify their admission and to take a step back for a moment. Yeah, I don't want anyone to feel uncomfortable applying to my law school or any law school. What I hope to learn out of an application is who you are, where do you come from? And I hope to be able to contextualize your background or your academic performance and your professional experience based on where you come from, because some people have had some significant hurdles to overcome based on parent education background, based on socioeconomic status, being in a rural area or an urban area, et cetera.
And it's really useful to know that, and to use a real, real basic example I think most students don't think of, those of you who had to work during undergrad for 20 hours a week, 30, 40 hours a week to pay the bills, it's great to know that. You may not think that that's a diverse experience and it's worth mentioning in a diversity statement, but it is. That type of blue-collar experience, the type of nose-to-the-grindstone experience, we want to know about that, not only to know about you and to know about your background, but also to then look at your transcript and say, wow, he got a 3.8 GPA while working 40 hours a week, or commuting an hour each way. That's really impressive.
So don't feel as if you need to, don't feel as if it's required. We try to write the topics broadly, though, so that students from a lot of different backgrounds can feel like they can offer that voice to us, but only do so if there are things that you want to tell us about yourself. If you want to hold some things back, we respect that. But it also is a little weird when we read about something on a letter of recommendation where we go, wow, working 40 hours a week, first in our family to go to college, I wish I had heard a little bit more about that from the applicant herself instead of from a professor.
Tajira: Fantastic. Well, we are in the last two and like a fraction of a minute left, and so what I would love to do is receive a final piece of advice from each of you for those that are planning to apply this fall that are listening right now. And so, Susan, I'll start with you.
Susan: Sure. One thing that people don't necessarily think about is reaching out to student groups. Law schools can be very helpful, so if you are ex-military or in the military, reaching out to the military, student groups can be helpful or any, you know, identity groups that you might want to be a part of that can, they can maybe help you navigate this process. I'm going to say proofread, proofread, proofread, and apply early if you can. And then also don't worry about the things that you can't control.
Tajira: That's great. Tracy.
Tracy: I agree with everything Susan shared. I think a big one is using your own kind of research skills and your own spreadsheets and things of that nature. I'm seeing a lot of responses in the chat by people who are also in the application process who are trying to be helpful, but they're not giving kind of the caveats and the nuances. And so they're saying yes or no, and that's not really how admissions works from the admissions professional's perspective.
And so I would say that, you know, whether a GPA is high or low, whether a diversity statement is more an adversity statement, all those things really go back to our lawyerly answer: it depends. And so I think it's really, really important that you do your own homework. I think that you have to remember that the admissions professionals and consultants are all people who have done this work for some time and their objective is to get you into law school, not to keep you out.
And so the best advice you're going to get is from the consultants and from the law schools themselves, not from the blogs, not from each other. Even though you have good intentions, you don't actually know what we do and how we do it. And so sometimes you kind of put your, you put yourself in a box or you kind of shut your own opportunities down without really giving yourself the full opportunity to kind of get out there and see what's available to you. And so just don't block your own blessing. Basically, be open-minded and do the work. It will really work out in your favor if you do the work yourself.
Tajira: And Jake, bring it home.
Jacob: Man, I had a whole list, and then Susan and Tracy knocked them all out. But no, to reiterate, though, find your zen, control what you can control, don't worry about other people, okay? So worry about your application. Do not be afraid to ask questions. And to build off Susan, student groups are so wonderful to reach out to. Use your LinkedIn network, use your buddies who are in law school, but then, really, what Tracy said to you. Don't be afraid to contact admissions offices.
They are here to help you out and they're here to ask, or to address those questions. They're not here to mislead you by any stretch of the imagination. So just ask questions. Think of yourself as a lawyer already. Lawyers don't sit back really timidly, waiting for something to happen. They're asking questions or doing research, they're building into contingency plans and all that stuff. So start to think about that a little bit. Don't be afraid to ask those questions. Don't be afraid to be in touch with people.
Tajira: Fantastic. Well, thank you, panelists. You have been phenomenal. This has been a wonderful talk. So appreciative to each of you. I sent a message to David, one of our partners at 7Sage, and told him, you know, at one point we hit 600 attendees in the room. That's a fantastic showing for tonight. Thank you to everyone who joined us. We really appreciate you all. If you do have remaining questions, you can ask them in the discussion forum for the event. We'd be happy to jump on those as you ask them, but certainly stay tuned because there will be other events coming up next month, and we'd love to see you there. So in the meantime, thank you again to my panelists, and we'll see you all soon.
Susan: Thank you. Good luck, everyone.
Tracy: Thanks for having us.
J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you are studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.
That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself, and see you next time.