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J.Y.: Hello, and welcome to the 7Sage podcast. I'm J.Y. Ping, and on today's episode, Admissions Consultant Tajira McCoy hosts consultant Tracy Simmons, who is the Assistant Dean of Admissions, Financial Aid, and Diversity Initiatives at the University of San Diego School of Law. The two of them discuss the application process and programs of USD Law, including Q&A from the listeners. So without further ado, please enjoy.

Tajira: Welcome, everyone. My name is Taj McCoy. I'm one of the 7Sage admissions consultants, as you probably already know. Today I am joined by Tracy Simmons. She is the Assistant Dean of Admissions, Financial Aid, and Diversity Initiatives at USD School of Law. Prior to joining USD, Dean Simmons worked for the University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law, Chapman University, Golden Gate University.

She has also served as a consultant for the Council on Legal Education Opportunity, CLEO, Achieving Success in the Application Process Program for over 13 years. She's a member of the Association of American Law Schools, AALS, serving as the chair of the Pre-Legal Education and Admission to Law School section twice and as the chair for the Part-Time section. She also served on the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, NASFAA, Consumer Information and Law School Law Student Information Task Force.

Dean Simmons has also been involved with the Law School Admission Council in a variety of roles, including serving on the board of trustees and as chair for the annual meeting of law school professionals in 2021. In our field, Dean Simmons is what we call a veteran. Dean Simmons, thank you so much for joining us today, and welcome.

Tracy: Thanks for having me. Super excited to be here.

Tajira: I'm so glad you're here. Yes, yes. We get to talk all things University of San Diego School of Law, and so perhaps we can start with you sharing a bit about the school with us.

Tracy: Yes, so I've actually had the pleasure of being at the University of San Diego School of Law for a whopping almost four months . So I'm still pretty new and I'm actually learning quite a bit about the institution, and I will say kind of the proverbial standard things that most people want to know right off the bat.

We offer a full-time program. We offer a part-time evening program. We are located on the University of San Diego actual campus, and so the business school and the Peace and Justice Center and things of that nature are right down the way. So we have the benefit of being on a big university campus. We are in what is called Linda Vista, so not too far from the airport, not too far from downtown. Amazing views of of San Diego from different points on the campus.

And we have everything from legal clinics, 11 of which are client facing. We also have several centers, institutes, everything from consumer protection to child advocacy. We also offer some concurrent degree programs. One, obviously, that is traditional for most law students, a JD/MBA, but we also offer one with international relations and we offer one in peace and justice studies, and so that's kind of unique and special and we're super excited about that as well. And I could go on and on, but I'll let you kind of ask questions and steer the conversation a little bit.

Tajira: Certainly. Well, being in San Diego, of course, the first thing that I think of is the beach and the weather there. How much would you say location plays into how people view the school?

Tracy: I think it's a big part of it. I mean, I think that at different points it's been named one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. San Diego is often one of those cities that people often refer to as the place that they, everyone wants to go. I will note that when I posted on LinkedIn that I was transitioning from McGeorge to USD, the number of people that offered to visit, very, very interested, interesting compared to people wanting to come to Sacramento, so, which is the capital of California.

But I think, for a number of people, I had a young man yesterday, we had a military mixer for our incoming students with some of our faculty who run the Veterans Clinic and alumni and current students, and he stated that he was all set to go to law school in New York, and he just happened to see something about University of San Diego and he decided to take a chance and visit, and now he and his dog are here, ready to start law school in a few weeks. And so super excited about that. But yes, I think the weather and the skyline and the idea of actually sitting on a lawn and studying con law or contracts is attractive to a lot of people, so.

Tajira: Kind of wish I had had that scene when I was in law school.

Tracy: Me too.

Tajira: Yeah, we like to get a sense of the other side of the desk, as you know from a previous conversation that we've had. What parts of the cycle are you in right now? Are you reading files or considering waitlists, or is all of that done for you for the summer?

Tracy: Ay, ay, ay. So, no, unfortunately, we are definitely in the throes of where we still have people on the waitlist. The deadline at University of San Diego for this year and for many years prior was actually July 31st, so it had a really, really late deadline. That is good and bad in some ways, right? Like I think for candidates who often come to this late in the process because they finally realize that life has come together in a way that they actually could go to law school this year, it works for them, right? To have this really late deadline.

The challenge, though, is that by the time an application is complete at this point in time in the cycle, most of the seats are gone, most of the scholarships are gone, and so unless you're a really, really competitive applicant, the likelihood of being admitted this late is not strong. So we're pretty settled in terms of the class. I think we've had a couple of mixers and events and, you know, billing will start soon, and we sent over the sectioning information to the registrar's office so our incoming students will know what classes they're going to have soon and things of that nature.

But we are blessed to have had over 3,600 applications this year. Generally, for an incoming class of about 260, 265, associate dean would love it to be closer to 250, 255, but that's kind of where we live right now. So that's kind of where we are in the cycle.

Tajira: Okay, and closer to 250, 255, would that mean that maybe moving forward, that might be a goal that school is looking at, perhaps?

Tracy: You know, I think it's one of those things, you've done this for a long time along with me, and I think that, you know, we all start off with one goal that we're told kind of September, October, November, and then things may change or happen come January, February when the board kind of decides on tuition rates or other things of that nature.

I think the sweet spot for the University of San Diego School of Law to keep their student faculty ratio around 8:1 is kind of between 250, 260. I think that's the ideal size in terms of making sure the writing courses are small, making sure the tracks are not too big, to make sure that the students have enough one-on-one attention. I think it works for academic success, bar success and the student affairs office as well.

Tajira: Now, you mentioned that we're getting to the close of this cycle. We're about four weeks away from applications opening once again. And so for our prospective applicant listeners, people are always talking about how it's best to apply early. Is that true? And what's considered early for USD?

Tracy: It's such a good question and it's such a hard one to answer for every candidate. I mean, I think of my colleagues or our colleagues who will say things like, "It's great to apply early as long as that means your application is competitive," and that is going to differ for each candidate because it depends on when you're taking the LSAT and when you get your letters of rec and things like that.

Our application will generally be available after Labor Day. We hope to start reading files in early November. Obviously, that's all contingent upon the dean confirming with the faculty what our goals are going to be, and goals generally, for most of us, are tied directly to the metrics, meaning LSAT goal, GPA goal, class size goal, things of that nature.

So for us, generally speaking, we hope to see a good number of candidates apply before the end of the calendar year, which is end of December. I just tell people that that's a good time to apply because that's when LSAC, it's kind of before they get this big kind of influx of applications because you have schools that have early decision or early binding programs who have deadlines in mid-November or December 1st or so.

And so a lot of people, if whether they're applying to those schools or not, will spend that kind of quiet period at the end of December, whether it's kind of because they're on holiday, because they're out of school, because their jobs are closed down, kids are out of school, whatever their life circumstances may be, a lot of candidates will spend that time actually working on their applications.

And so what that means for LSAC is that they get this huge influx of transcripts that they have to do the grade summarization for and things of that nature. So if you can get in before that, your application is much less likely to be delayed versus like January, a lot of us see this huge influx of applications, and so if you can get it in before the end of the year, that's always better in my opinion.

But again, don't rush it, like until you feel like you put your best foot forward, until you feel like you've explained all the different nuances of who you are, and why your grades are what they are, and why your LSAT score is what it is, or GRE for those that choose to take the GRE, we do accept the GRE, until your letters of recommendation are top-notch and things of that nature, don't hit submit.

I mean, again, don't put yourself in a situation where you've not done your absolute best to submit a thorough application, and in the time working with folks like you at 7Sage, I mean, I think the amount of time and energy spent on really cultivating a very, very thoughtful application, it takes a while. And so to do that well and to be in that kind of what we consider early part of the pool, that means for the 2023 applicants, they're doing that now, they're starting now.

Tajira: Mm-hmm. In thinking through your application requirements, does USD have any optional statements or special requirements outside of personal statement, diversity statement, resume, or potential addenda? And then what does the application review process look like for you?

Tracy: So we allow for the optional or additional essays. So if someone wants to explain why they had two semesters where there were a number of withdrawals, or they want to explain why their grade trend went down and then back up, or why they started off kind of on a rocky road in undergrad, typical, "Mom and Dad said they would only pay if I was pre-med." We see that a lot, right? So we give you the option and the opportunity to kind of explain those things. If you have some adversity that you've overcome or you think you bring a specific level of diversity to the campus and to the law school, you're allowed to explain those things.

Our process is pretty typical in comparison to many of our peer schools and schools around the country, the 197 or so ABA law schools out there. So we require an application, we require a personal statement, two to three pages. We are actually going to encourage applicants to submit two letters of recommendation, preferably from a professor, unless you've been out of school for five years or more. We'll take up to three. We require a resume. And so some of these things are going to be a little different on the website because we're changing some things for 2023, so we'll get that information up there soon.

And then lastly, the big, big thing is getting those transcripts in, and I think, for a lot of candidates, they don't understand that if you have like an unacknowledged transcript, like you have a hold from a community college or a college you attended early on, like that can delay you quite a bit. But traditionally speaking, if you go to the Law School Admission Council website, if you go to the 7Sage website and you look at the actual elements of an application, those are the things that you would need for the University of San Diego to apply.

And then in terms of the review process, we actually have faculty reviewers. There are three of us on my team that read files, and then we have [_unintelligible_] readers. These are ones who did well, who can basically kind of like either they're waiting bar results and/or they are in jobs where they can kind of pick up extra tasks and responsibilities. And so we've had a couple readers with us who are thriving in their new jobs as new, young attorneys, but they had some extra time to earn some extra money, and so they're actually reading files too.

And I will say they are the most helpful readers in a lot of ways because they're super thorough and they really are often championing the applicant in a way that sometimes admissions folks or faculty don't, because sometimes we're just, we do this so often and we're just kind of formulaic in how we go through it, but they have a different focus. And so I think that's great for the candidates, actually.

Tajira: I love that. So you touched on one thing that I know I get so many questions about as a consultant, it's that five years are more rule when it comes to academic letters for letters of recommendation, and there are often students, for whatever reason, sometimes because of the pandemic, who weren't really able to build strong relationships with faculty members during the course of their education, and so are concerned about trying to reach out to get those academic letters, even though it has been less than five years. What would your advice be there?

Tracy: That's a tough one. I just was emailing the candidate about this literally last night, and it's a really tough situation because, for us, I would try to give folks some grace, particularly if they've made the effort to explain why they don't have academic letters, because that's always a confusing thing. If you've been out of school and it's 2022, you're applying for 2023, and you have no academic letters and you don't say anything about it, and your grades are kind of what would consider to be so-so, that's a really tough one because it's hard for me to convey to my faculty, who are looking to get the opinions of other faculty or teaching assistants about you, why you may have avoided that, not done that, right?

And so the concern, one, is that, did you not make any connections? Because law school, there's such a significant portion of law school that is tied to how you connect with people. I mean, most of us are graduates. They get their jobs because they've networked and because they've kept in touch with their faculty and their faculty are looking out for them. And so there's that weird part of that.

But you are right in that COVID made this so much more challenging. So one example would be, normally you see a number of students who will have transferred from community colleges and junior colleges to four-year programs, particularly on the West Coast. That's very typical. That's what we're used to. And normally you would see them have maybe one letter from the community college and maybe one from their four-year program. And I noticed that quite a few were only having them from the community college, but that's because they weren't remote when they were taking their community college or A-level work, and so it was easier to make that connection for them.

And so I think that for the candidates, if I'm working with you, working with clients, my advice would be to reach out to the school and ask them specifically what they need, what they, what they're looking for, because you don't want to just ignore it, particularly for the law schools that actually require academic letters no matter what. You definitely want to be in that space where you're asking the question. For USD, we'll try to give you a little grace and leeway, but I still would say there's nothing wrong with including a paragraph about why you don't have academic letters or why your letters are from your freshman year and it's four years later and you weren't able to make other connections to get newer letters.

But I think it's about communication and about transparency and also about being authentic and genuine and just really, I mean, it's weird for me in this space because I'm talking about USD, but I'm trying to be broad because I want the people listening to kind of do what's best for them as they submit their other applications too.

And I just think that it just never hurts to ask the law school exactly what they want. Because trust me, we will tell you what we want. We won't lead you astray. And so it's in your best interest to just reach out to the school and kind of say like, "Hey, this is my situation. What do you think I should do? How can I ensure that I'm not viewed less favorably in this process if the majority of my colleagues, peers, other applicants are going to have academic letters and I can't get one?"

The last point I'll make, Miss Tajira, is that for students who maybe were international, I had another candidate, we were at a Lavender Law, the LGBTQ+ event this weekend, and LSAC co-sponsored a panel for the Southern California law schools. And so we got on this conversation and so this young woman followed up and she went to school in France and she's having a really hard time getting her transcripts.

That's another example of like, just reach out to the school and ask, because you'd be surprised in terms of the flexibility some schools may give you, if they can see that you've made an earnest effort to meet the requirements.

Tajira: Right, right. Well, so now I'm going to throw you a curve ball. Numbers being identical, right? What is it that makes an applicant stand out to you? If you have two candidates and one has like great work experience, but the other is this great writer and tells you a super strong story, who do you pick or do you have to pick?

Tracy: Well, in December, February, March, I probably don't have to pick. I can probably take both of them and be just as happy. In May, June, July, I might have to pick. And at that point, it's really going to depend on, like, things like what stands out the most, what from this particular application versus A versus B, what do I see in terms of the application that means this candidate will thrive at my institution? Do we have programs that align with what he or she is saying they want? Are they already focused on a particular clinic or particular faculty member?

It's really hard. I mean, the challenge is that, this is also going back to your original question about why apply early, and it's because we have so much more leeway. Right now as I'm looking at files, I'm literally, the dean is in my ear, whether he's physically there or not, like, okay, this has helped the numbers, this has hurt the numbers. Who's more likely to come?

I mean, I think since we're having this real talk, I mean that's the other part of this that I think candidates need to understand is that there are so many factors that go into why a candidate, like I was waitlisting people two weeks ago that a month ago I would've probably admitted with scholarship, but right now I have no room for them, and so I can't offer them a seat because there's, we have no room. And so I think it is a curve ball because it's a hard one to answer, and I think it's really kind of instinct and timing. And sometimes it's like, I read this one first, that's who I'm making the offer to, and this other person has to be waitlisted. It's tough.

Tajira: That's helpful. Should candidates try to stand out or is that a misnomer?

Tracy: That is a huge misnomer. I mean, I feel like, we spent a lot of time on this. We were doing CLEO with the University of Chicago this weekend, and that question came up multiple times, and we felt like we had covered it, and then we realized like, okay, so they're not really hearing us, so let's speak on behalf of, like, there are maybe four or five law schools represented on this panel at that point, and we were like, okay, we're going to all say it in different ways so that you all can hear us.

Like, this is not a process where you want to stand out because, besides trial lawyers, you need to fall in line. Like, you have to kind of follow the rules, you have to follow the script, you have to follow the instructions. And so I think the way that you often can stand out in this process is actually by following directions. I mean, and I say that and people are always like, oh yeah, and I'm like, you have no idea how many people don't follow directions in this process.

Like, I get excited when I open a file and my staff did not have to follow up two or three times to get you to do the basic things that you need to do. But our outline on our website, outline on the LSAC information for the application, and I know are traditional things that most ABA law schools are looking for. And it's sad, but it's true. Like, I'm super happy because I'm like, oh my gosh. So now my dean of students won't be mad at me if I admit this person because they already know how to follow the rules. That is literally what we're thinking.

And so the idea of standing out is, I think, something that societally we've taken to a level that often doesn't translate into all difference, particularly in the professional school space. Like, you don't want to be known as the gunner, right, in class. You don't want to be known as the person that is the jerk in the class. You don't want to be the person who's calling the law school and harassing people, right? And so I think, in this space, following the rules is super important.

But the other part of this is that I hope people will take to heart that your individual story is unique in and of itself. You know, Tajira McCoy's story, Tracy Simmons' story, on our own, they're unique because we've lived different lives and we come to the table with different things. And so I think you don't have to worry so much about standing out as you just do actually submitting the best application that is a good reflection of who you are today, what you've overcome, what you've learned, what you bring to the table, and what you're willing to learn, I think are way, way more important than trying to use weird fonts and adding a photo to your resume and doing a haiku, or trying to submit a [_unintelligible_]. We don't want to see all that. That's just, you don't have to do that. Like, that's not, that's not what you need to do in this process.

Tajira: When it comes to the personal statement, I've been hearing that there are some admissions officers saying, "You don't have to talk about law at all." And then there are others that are like, "Yeah, absolutely do." And then some people are like, "Well, it depends." What is your stance?

Tracy: So, oh man, I think, oh gosh, this is a tough one. So I was talking to a 7Sage person the other day on a Zoom, and I actually went to the websites for two schools in LA because I wanted to show, kind of illustrate more or less what you're talking about and how different, although these schools have a lot in common. I wanted to show how different the language is on both of the websites about the personal statement.

And so this is where, again, we're going to use that proverbial "it depends." And for USD, I would say it depends on what your strategy is as it relates to your overall application. For some people, they're going to want to write why they want to be in San Diego and why our programs, our centers, our institutes, our clinics make the most sense for them.

But for somebody else, they're going to want to talk specifically about why law, why now, and that's okay. But I'm also fine with someone literally talking about the fact that they had a con law class when they were in seventh grade and but they thought about nothing since, and so they're ready for law school and this is why they're coming. That's fine.

So I think that part of the challenge is that each law school is so different in terms of what they're looking for. I would say that there's still a number of schools who specifically want to know why their school, and I think that is not necessarily, doesn't always necessarily fit with your why law, right? Like, it's really about that institution and kind of the culture of the institution and the faculty and what you like about the student body and the alumni and things like that.

And so what you're also trying to demonstrate, I think, in the way that you address the personal statement is kind of what homework you've done and what research you've done about the institution. And so I think, for me, I'm definitely in that space that when I'm reading a file, and again, all things being equal, stats are fine, resume, they got a little work experience, they have a little leadership experience, they speak multiple language, they volunteered with old people or puppies.

All those things being equal, I'm looking to see, do you write a good statement? Like, are you a strong writer? Are you coming with the basics that will allow the writing professors to kind of bring you up to that level that we need you to be in terms of legal writing? And so sometimes I think candidates get really stuck on the what and they forget about form and substance.

And I think for those of you that haven't purchased a package with 7Sage, I'm going to encourage you to do so because I think the writers and the supervisors and the [_unintelligible_] in the space do a really amazing job of having you kind of ferret out, like pull out what is the heart of your message, like what's your goal? And I think to kind of get more back to your general question about like law, not law, it doesn't matter.

I think, honestly, if you do brainstorming exercises and you really just start writing and thinking out loud and just jotting things down, this will come together better for you because you'll have a more cohesive, thoughtful statement, because then you can look and say, okay, this is what I was trying to communicate to the University of San Diego, and this actually sounds like it's actually more for California Western, because this seems more in line with what their goals are, or I really wrote this for New York Law School, but it's really sounding like this is for Quinnipiac. I need to change this up, right? You know what I mean?

So if you go back to your original question about, like, what you should focus on, whether you should talk about law or not, I really do think that it's very, very school specific. And if it's left open, like if they're saying write about whatever, that's a good way to do a little bit of law, a little bit about why your school and why I'm ready. But beyond that, follow the instructions to a T. It will really help you out in the application process.

Tajira: Does USD have a preference between a tailored personal statement and a why USD statement?

Tracy: No. Which I know people hate sometimes, but...

Tajira: Right. Truly. Are there any points given to candidates who visit the school or attend events? Like, do you track that information?

Tracy: We do. I mean, I think this is my fourth law school and we track that information for all of them. I will tell you this: I do think that when you are waitlisted, it makes the biggest difference. I also think that it makes a difference when there's time, like honest to goodness, this happens to me all the time. This is, again, my fourth law school I've worked for, and you'll have a development person or someone's like, "Hey, guess what? We just found this pot of money." Okay, I know it sounds crazy, but it does happen.

Tajira: It does.

Tracy: So when that happens, what we're really looking for, like the people who've been super engaged. Oftentimes, like, I may not remember everyone, but my team will, and it's like, hey, that Tajira McCoy, she just, she was at the last three events and she seems super excited and she's already talking about moving here. She's someone that would probably benefit from that type of scholarship. And so that's where it does kind of matter, I think. I think that level of engagement can really make a difference and an impact.

I often encourage prospective students to just show up and attend the events, because, one, you're going to learn more about the school, and that might actually help you with the application process, particularly the personal statement and things like that, because you'll get a sense of like who they are and what they're looking for and the types of programs that they focus on and things of that nature.

So I do think that a lot of schools actually track that information, and you'll notice that for many of us, we do follow-up emails and sometimes we're going to share contact information from alumni, prospective students that you met that you want to keep in touch with, because honestly, I've had a couple candidates who, they were just in my queue, and I just had not got, they weren't even waitlisted yet. And from an event, a student followed up with an alumnus or faculty member, and that person emailed and said, "Hey, Tracy, I really want to advocate for Tajira. She was phenomenal. We've been in touch since the event. I think she'd be a great fit for the program, xyz."

And it's like, well, everything looks good. Okay. I mean, I know it seems, I know it seems simplistic, but sometimes the things help move the needle a little bit. And so, and again, they're not aggressive, they're not whatever. It's just like someone else advocating for you can never hurt you. And so being in the space and being present doesn't hurt you.

Tajira: Now, if a candidate submits their application and then realizes that there's a typo in like the personal statement or something like that, should they send a corrected version or does that bring more attention to the error?

Tracy: Personally, I would send the corrected version. I would just say, "Oh, I made a mistake in my editing process and I attached the wrong one. Can I please update this new version?" I think it shows a level of responsibility and I think it shows a level of honesty that most of us would appreciate. And honestly, I mean, you have writing professors sometimes on these, on the faculty review committees, and they are not going to be happy if they see a typo. And so why not do yourself a favor and just get out in front of it and catch it beforehand.

I think it looks good for candidates. And I know, again, it's hard because when schools are getting 7, 10,000 applications, it's a lot, so you need to contact the school and ask them what's the best way to do that. But for most of us, we will be happy to receive an updated personal statement with a note stating, "I'm so sorry I attached the wrong one. Can this please be added to my file?"

Tajira: You can't take out the previous one, though, right? Okay.

Tracy: So it's there, but at least the note that you, that you caught it before we did, I think, is a positive. So, yeah.

Tajira: I would agree with that. So how much does legal work experience matter to you and the USD, like, admissions committee? Are there concerns when there's been no prior exposure to law?

Tracy: No. I mean, I can tell you from experience that most professors love it when you come in with no experience because they want to teach you the law the way they want to teach you anyway, and so they're super happy. I mean, we get this, we kind of get this feedback a lot. We have a paralegal program too, and so we get a lot of folks who are like, "Oh, I'm going to join this paralegal program and then I'm going to apply to law school."

And it's like, well, don't do that because you're applying to law school. Do that because you want to do it and because you want to have that experience. You want to earn money as a paralegal while you're in law school, something like that. But don't do it for the sake of going to law school, because most professors, they want you to come in blank slate. They want you to come in and just be super open-minded and just ready to kind of take it all in.

I think, and one of our colleagues and I had a little, a conversation with a candidate who was very adamant about the fact that her paralegal experience was going to somehow really propel her to the front of the pack for the application process. And we were like, well, it's not going to hurt you, but it's definitely not something that's going to put you over the edge. If I had one seat left, I'm not necessarily going to pick you over another candidate just because you have paralegal experience, right?

So, similarly, like if I had two seats left and someone had done an internship in a firm and someone else had done an internship at, I don't know, for the San Diego Padres, all things being equal, I'm still, I'm looking at writing experience, I'm looking at what your professors and and supervisors have said about you, I'm looking at your grade trend, I'm looking at your LSAT score or GRE score and things of that nature.

So it's not necessary when, I think if you feel like right after undergrad you're ready and that you've, you know, you have the mental capacity and the mental acuity and you have the physical stamina to just go straight through, do it. I mean, our age range is very broad, 20 to 50-something, and so there's room for all of you here, so.

Tajira: That's great. I happen to have a client that's in the room and so I know that she would ask this question. Does USD have a fee waiver program for applicants?

Tracy: Application fee is free.

Tajira: Oh, for everybody?

Tracy: Right now? Yep.

Tajira: Wow. You guys should jump on that because that was not something around when I was applying.

Tracy: Me either.

Tajira: So being new to USD yourself, what would you say is one thing you've learned about the offerings or programs that you think is particularly notable and worth highlighting?

Tracy: I, so, can I say more than one? Like, can I...?

Tajira: Sure, of course.

Tracy: So, one, I was super, super surprised, as someone who's only worked at California law schools, I was stunned at the clinical offerings, I have to say. I went and met with a couple of the faculty, and they have this wall in the clinical building, and it's a wall of where alumni that were students in the clinic, where they work now. And the depth of the work, I just, I wasn't prepared, I think, for, yeah, yeah, yeah. Like, I really thought, yeah, I mean, ever since clinics and centers, and I mean, like, okay, no big deal.

But then when I actually saw, like, these people were doing amazing work, and so everything from the Consumer Protection Clinic to the Child Advocacy Clinic where they're actually focused in Sacramento and in DC doing policy work, I mean, we have this DC externship program. And so for folks who want to kind of continue that policy-level work, like, that's available to them, and I think that's a really cool opportunity. I also was pleasantly surprised in terms of the Veterans Clinic and the amount of work that they do to support veterans.

Obviously, San Diego is near, I mean, obviously we have a ton of military folks here. We do, I feel like they do a good job of kind of ensuring that the students can maximize their Yellow Ribbon benefits in a way that, fortunately, all the schools I've worked for had Yellow Ribbon, but I think having a budget dean who used her husband's benefits really benefits our students because she really understands the nuances of it.

And then the last thing would be, I think, it's easy to underestimate geography in terms of kind of the proximity to things. And so I think I was happy to see how close many of the courts and the small firms, big firms, public service government agencies and entities are for our students in terms of their internships and externships and the investment in, whether it be kind of that corporate-level work versus that public service-level work, like it seems to be there equally for our students, which I think is really, really cool because I think that's a big concern for a lot of people that go to law school, is kind of like, is anybody going to help me with, like, I can't afford to just work for free. Like I want to do public service, I want to do public interest, but I can't work for free.

And so kind of utilizing work study funds to really fund a large number of students this summer I think was a pleasant surprise to me. I didn't know how engaged and invested the law school was in that. I was pleasantly surprised by that, because the volume was significant and I think will be life-changing for these students because they'll have had real experiences where they didn't have to worry about going to get, I mean, you remember. I mean, for our summers we were trying to take a class, trying to get an internship, and trying to work the money somewhere, and these students, and I think that's life-altering, so.

Tajira: Absolutely. That's great. Thank you for that. I'm going to switch gears now. We do have a couple of questions in the Q&A section. For folks that are still here with us, if you have questions that you would like to ask, please go ahead and start raising your hand, and I will get to you right after we answer these two Q&A questions, okay? So you can utilize, it's right along the bottom here. There's a thing that you can click that says "raise hand," and then I'll be able to call on you, bring you up. I'll have folks come up one at a time, and let's limit to one question each until we make sure we can at least get to everybody that has a question.

The first question is, I had a professor write me a recommendation letter almost five years ago when I initially applied to law school beforehand. Unfortunately, I had to set this plan aside for a few years. My question is, can I still use that academic letter of recommendation for this current cycle? Should I ask for an updated one from the same professor?

Tracy: I think it's a good question for the law schools, I mean, for our school, I would probably just want a little explanation about why it is the age that it is and just kind of state, this was an important one for me to have. I had a good relationship with this professor and I thought that she could write the best letter for me, and so that's why it's stated there. And then have one or two that are newer. I think that's fine. I do think for some of my colleagues around the country, I do think that some of them might say they prefer newer letters, but not all of them. Most of us try to be pretty reasonable in the process, and so I would just literally ask the question, like, what's too old for your application process for the 2023 year?

Tajira: Great. The next question is, do the majority of USD law students stay in San Diego after graduation?

Tracy: So, no. I mean, we do get a good number. I mean, we laugh because, like many law schools, we recruit around the country and what we do is we want y'all to go home so we can kind of claim you as ours in your home state. But San Diego is one of those places. California is one of those states where we get people from all over and they end up wanting to stay. But we do have alumni in all 50 states and 55 countries internationally. And so there are a good number that stay here, but they don't all stay here, and we're happy about that.

I have met with, so far, I've met with alumni in the DC area, I have met with alumni in Arizona and other places like that, and so we literally, the alumni development team are working to kind of ensure these different chapters around the country are active for students who may want to go elsewhere.

The Office of Career and Professional Development also will work with you to kind of ensure that you get internships or externships in the places that you want to be. I think this is particularly important for those of you that are thinking of coming out of state to go to law school. You can always do an internship back at home in the summer, or you can always visit at another school and get an internship that way as well, so.

Tajira: I love it. Nobody wants to raise their hand. They're all putting their questions in the Q&A. So the next one is, overcoming substance abuse, good or bad, or leave out? Can it be put in a positive light?

Tracy: I absolutely, so, so here's the thing. So I think that anything that you overcome, you need to find a way to positively talk about why that makes you who you are today, why that's going to make you a better policy maker, rule maker, advocate, attorney, judge, et cetera. I think that, one, you'd be surprised at how many of your peers and classmates will have been through the same thing, but two, I think, what lessons did you learn from that experience? What did you learn about yourself? What makes you a stronger human today because of what you went through?

And so it's all about how you frame it and phrase it. I do think that in this situation, there could be the tendency to just kind of state, like, "Oh, and I was addicted to X, and it really messed me up, and it was hard on my family, and I did these bad things," and then period, and it's like, okay, so that's not helpful.

You need to go, okay, period. And so from there, here are the things I've learned. Here's how I made these things up to my community, my society, my family. Here are the things that I've done since then. This is how many days, years, weeks that I have been clean. Here is how I deal with stress now, because one concern that often comes up in the law school space is that if you have had to overcome substance abuse, alcoholism, et cetera, that can be triggered by stress, law school will be stressful.

And so what we're looking for is like, so what do you do when you cope with stress now? Now that you've overcome this, what tools do you have in place now that will ensure that you don't have a relapse when you're in school, and if you get close, what do we need to know about so that we can support you? That kind of thing. So really, I think there's a huge opportunity there for you to kind of share your story, but it's about being thoughtful and it's about showing what you've overcome. I think that is most helpful in that space and will serve you best in the application process.

Tajira: That's great. The next question is, what are the key differences in applying for full-time versus part-time? Any specific suggestions for applications for the part-time program?

Tracy: I mean, there are no key differences. The applications are actually exactly the same. You're just checking a box, full-time versus part-time. And I think what's really a function of what your, what your needs are, I mean, I think for some people they choose part-time because they have a family member that they need to care for and they can switch off with someone else and go to school in the evening, and that works for their family. For other folks it's because of childcare and because they don't have, they don't want to leave their kids with just random people, and so they'd rather do part-time evenings so that their child can be with someone in the middle of the day, that they be with them in the middle of the day and then be with family while they're in class in the evening.

I mean, I really, there's no big difference. The thing for you to note is that the qualifications are the same, but you have to be just as competitive and that you still have to have 88 units to graduate, and the requirements are the same. It's just the way that you do law school is different because you're going to take fewer units.

But I would lastly say that please remember that for most ABA law schools, part-time programs are really more like three-quarter-time programs, and so I think sometimes people make the mistake of thinking like, "Oh, I'll go part-time. It'll be so much easier." It's not generally that much easier because you're literally, it's more like a three-quarter-time program than it is full-time and it's still hard.

And the only thing I think that really helps a lot is that the part-time cohorts tend to be smaller, and so they tend to be way more connected and way more supportive of one another because they know each other well, because they're pretty much all they have. And so you often will find that they, as a small group, their families are closer because they end up relying on each other a lot more because it's like, "Hey, I can't make it. My boss, I have to finish this project." And both students will have notes from their classmates before they can even finish saying, "I'll be there tomorrow" kind of thing. And so I think that's the beauty of those programs is that the cohorts are smaller and they're really connected. But the application process, it's the same.

Tajira: Yeah. And as someone who's done a part-time program for law school, I can just add it's a hundred percent definitely hard and it's, you don't feel like you're taking it at all slower because you're still there every day. And on top of everything, you still have whatever your day job is to contend with. So what I would say especially is the nice thing about part-time programs are you're among a bunch of other people who are often working professionals and who know how to manage their time. Being in a part-time program, especially when you have, whether it's family obligations or a job or whatever it is, being able to manage your time is the most important factor to success when you're in a part-time program.

The next question, Dean Simmons, is, how is diversity on campus, and what sorts of affinity groups do you have for diverse students?

Tracy: So I think diversity is fine. I think it's, oh, I would say, okay. I think it's something that, when I interviewed here in January and when I started, I think the dean, the diversity kind of connection through student affairs, my director, all have expressed a desire to kind of continue diversifying law school. I will say that my second week on the job, I went to a Board of Visitors meeting, and again, as you can imagine, most Board of Visitors are mostly older white men, and they were all very, very much focused on the diversity numbers. They had very specific and pointed questions, talked very openly about their desire to kind of switch some of their scholarships to help with diversity-type scholarships and things of that nature.

I think we're very typical in that when we have these big percentages in California, unfortunately, those numbers often mean that we have many more Asian American students than we do Latino, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, African American black students, Native students, and so that's an area that we're just definitely trying to focus on.

Some of the things that we've done this season since I've been here, we partnered with a firm, a pretty well-known firm here, Snell and Wilmer, and had a diversity reception, for example, and so we brought in some of our admitted students who are first-generation immigrants, diversity candidates, and they basically sat with a panel of lawyers to talk about like what it's like to get through law school as a woman, as a person of color, as a first-generation student, as a person with learning disabilities, et cetera.

And then we opened it up and brought the current students there to mix and mingle with the partners and attorneys and brought our career development staff and alumni staff. And so those are the kind of things that we're trying to do. We just had, tomorrow we're having our LGBTQ+ alumni and allies, calling it a shindig at a place in Hillcrest to kind of welcome those students on campus, but to let them know who their allies are.

We've hosted some first-gen-type webinars and sessions to kind of make sure students kind of understand all the opportunities that are going to be there for them. We did a summer seminar with academic support faculty to kind of get them to start learning about how you seek out support. And so those are some of the things we do. In terms of the affinity organizations, all the traditional ones you can think of. We have Pride Law, we have the Black Law Students Association, we have our Asian Pacific Islander student organization. We have our Latinx group.

There was one, I forgot the name of this one that I thought was super cool and I meant to remember it for today because I had a feeling this question was going to come up, and of course I can't remember, but it's, there are about 35, 40 different organizations, and, I mean, it's everything from, we also have the Christian Legal Society, for example, and Federalist Society for those who are kind of interested in that route. But we also then have things like Law Students for Cross-Cultural Understanding. That's something that's different.

We have your traditional public interest, Public Interest Law Foundation group, which most of us call PILF, but we even have things like animal groups and women law caucus and things like that. So a pretty wide variety, which we're proud of, and it's pretty easy to start if you find something that you are interested in that we don't have. But there are groups, folks that love animals as well as the groups for those that love constitutional law and the Constitution. And so more liberal, more conservative, more moderate, religious, ethnically based, gender based, etc. So pretty broad variety there.

Tajira: That's great. The next question is, is the USD application available through the LSAC website or is it open separately on the USD website?

Tracy: For 2023, it will be available on the LSAC website, but not until after Labor Day of 2022.

Tajira: Okay. And the next question is, how does your program feel about splitter candidates? Is there ever a point where the acceptance, the admissions committee would overlook GPA due to high LSAT score?

Tracy: Yeah, I mean, I think most candidates are splitters, so the reality is that this is kind of where the, I know everyone thinks they're unique, but like the reality is that most candidates are splitters to law school these days. And so that's obviously, if you're looking at the 25th percentile, the 75th percentile, in the median, the middle, most people kind of are in those, one of those weird ranges, like they have a super high GPA, but their LSAT score is eh, or vice versa. Like GPA is like, eh, but their LSAT scored is competitive.

And so what we're looking for though are how strong are your writing skills? What type of courses do you take in writing, particularly for those that have the higher LSAT scores, because historically, in many institutions, students with really high LSAT scores but weak GPAs or lower GPAs sometimes struggle because of study habits and things of that nature. So what we're looking for, for a splitter that has the high LSAT, lower GPA, what are your professors and teaching assistants or supervisors saying about your time management skills, your problem-solving skills, your writing skills?

We're looking at transcripts to see how many writing-type courses you take. We're looking to see, did your grades go up or is your GPA lower because you were in a really tough major? Were you a philosophy major at a really competitive school? Were you a civil engineering major? Were you a communications major in a really competitive program? Those kind of things. And so we're really looking to kind of find ways to support you and get you in, but we're also kind of taking into consideration a number of other factors.

So I'll say it one more time. Most candidates are actual splitters, and so your job as a candidate is to be thoughtful about who you get to write your letter of recommendation, how well you pull together your personal statement, and what else you highlight on your resume in terms of opportunities that will kind of demonstrate, like, learning new concepts, learning to speak multiple languages, things of that nature.

And so again, your job as a candidate is to kind of explain anything that you think an admissions committee might have a question about, and if you're looking at our academic profile and you see like, okay, their median is a 161 and their median GPA is a 3.7, and I'm a 165 with a 2.7, then you might want to call us, you might want to hop in on our virtual office hours. We have them, the three lead admissions people, we have office hours every week, virtual office hours.

You can just pop in and say like, "Hey, this is my situation. What kind of things would you like to see me focus on to kind of demonstrate to the committee that my GPA is not the best reflection of who I am today, and that's kind of who I was years ago, and I've matured since then, and I've done these things since then to improve on my study habits or writing skills or what have you."

Tajira: So if someone was a high LSAT splitter and they submitted only professional letters of recommendation, how would you look at that?

Tracy: It would depend on how long they'd been out of school, and it would depend on what those recommenders said. Like if they got, if they were smart and wise and used good judgment and told those recommenders to focus on the same attributes that an academic letter would focus on, that will probably work in their favor.

But if they don't, and it's kind of like that generic, like, "Oh, Tommy is a great employee and he shows up to work on time, and I'm excited that he wants to go to law school even though I hate losing him, and I think he'll do fine." Like, that doesn't tell me anything. Like, that doesn't help at all, versus the one that says, "Tommy let me know that there might be some concerns about his undergraduate GPA, and I can tell you that he's a really hard worker and that every time we've given him new projects, he picks up on the materials quickly. He's also someone that is able to communicate effectively in the written form, and I've watched him take on new projects with ease." Very, very different letter, and it tells me a lot more about who he is substantively.

Tajira: Alright. Next question. You have a spring start program, is that correct?

Tracy: Just for junior, just for transfers and visitors. Fall only.

Tajira: Okay.

Tracy: No one else.

Tajira: So fall only for this particular question. Someone asked about getting waitlisted for a spring start program, but that's only for transfers and visitors. So, next question is, how do you view candidates with a double major? Is that considered more competitive or is that kind of a normal occurrence?

Tracy: It's not as normal as I think people would think. Like, I feel like the majority of candidates still only have one major and a minor. I tend to get excited when I see a double major because I'm generally interested in the juxtaposition, like, of kind of like how people have chosen some, because sometimes they're very extreme and very different, and I think how lucky they were to be able to kind of find their way and obtain both.

I'm also looking to see how they did substantively, though, right? Like were they able to kind of manage that and do well while still playing a sport on campus or being, doing community work with their synagogue or their mosque, or were they super active with Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts, or were they active in their sorority or fraternity or things like that?

So I'm looking to see how they balanced things and if they, and you tend to do well in things that you love, and so the idea for me generally is that they must be passionate about both things that they selected, and so then I'm just looking to see how they perform. But it's not as common as people think, and again, how many applications have we read in our careers at this point? Like, and I still would say, I feel like every, I don't know, I feel like I could easily go 20, 30 files sometimes and not see a double major.

Tajira: Oh yeah. Absolutely.

Tracy: Does that, I mean, I feel like that's, yeah, I still feel like it's not as common as people think, so if you're choosing to go that route because it's something you're really passionate about, do it. If you're doing it because you think it looks good and you're not going to perform well, don't do it. Focus on the one and get the best grades you can because that will serve you on the end.

Tajira: Right. Okay. And I think this is going to be our last question. Where can we access the USD admissions office hours?

Tracy: So if you send an email to JD info, we will, you can just email me directly and we'll send you the [_unintelligible_] in the chat, and you can actually, oh, can I send it? Can I send that to them?

Tajira: I think so. Let me see.

Tracy: But it's just tracysimmons@sandiego.edu and someone on my team can actually send you the actual link. And we generally speak in there, generally Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, usually in the middle of the day, we usually have an hour. I try to, sometimes I'll try to do two hours, but we just have you pop in and I will do, I like to just have people come in individually, so I'll just like, like Ms. McCoy was doing earlier in kind of sending a message to the waiting room, and I'll just say like, oh, there are two people ahead of you.

And I try to kind of, if there are a couple people in the room, I'll just kind of have them wait, but, so people can kind of ask their questions one on one so it's kind of private in that way. But yeah, it's an easy way to kind of get questions answered and get to know the admissions folks and stuff like that, so.

Tajira: Perfect. Well, Dean Simmons, thank you so, so much for your time this evening. I know that our guests really appreciate all the answers to their questions, and I think this is going to be really illuminating for those that are listening to our podcast. So thank you again for your time. I really appreciate it.

J.Y.: Hi, it's J.Y. again. Thank you for listening. As always, if you are studying for the LSAT, applying to law school, studying for your law school exams, or studying for the bar, come visit us at 7Sage.com. We can help.

That's it for this episode. Take care of yourself, and see you next time.


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