For many, fall means cozy sweaters, hot apple cider, and watching the leaves turn brilliant hues. Unfortunately, for some fall can also signify the beginning of application season, which means anxiety and re-writing essays are more likely than pumpkin spice lattes. Here are some tips on how to survive the application cycle, specifically geared towards law school applicants:
1. Start early.
Just like cooking the perfect turkey, writing stellar applications takes time. Since law school admissions are primarily done on a rolling basis, getting your applications in sooner offers a competitive advantage. You don’t need to submit them the first day the applications open, but you should strive to have them in before Thanksgiving break. It’s especially beneficial to start your applications early in the school year if you’re still a student, because you will have less classwork in August than you do in October. I would also highly recommend taking your first LSAT prior to September the year you are applying. September can be a good back up date if you need to re-take, but if you take it for the first time in September and then need to re-take in December, you’ll lose the early submission advantage.
2. Don’t rush your recommendations.
Make sure to ask your recommenders for letters with plenty of advance notice (ideally four weeks). Giving a recommender plenty of time can make the difference between a generic letter and a glowing one. For law schools, at least two of your letters of recommendation should be academic in nature, preferably from professors that have had you in more than one class. Many law schools accept up to four letters of recommendation, leaving you two to play with after your academic recs. I recommend only using both of the remaining two if your writers can really highlight different angles of your personality and work and won’t end up being repetitive. Also, remember that recommenders are people and can forget deadlines too – make sure to follow up with them about a week before the due date if they haven’t yet submitted their letter.
3. Tell a story.
Your law school essays are not the time to repeat your resume. Instead, you should focus on tying together the key aspects of your work, extracurriculars, and general focuses from the past few years into a coherent narrative with a unified theme. The personal statement essay needs to tell the overarching story of what you’ve been striving towards and passionate about in recent years and how law school will help you continue down that path. Give yourself time to brainstorm and think creatively rather than immediately settling on a topic. Write out the key activities you do and challenge yourself to write down five different ways you could relate those activities to each other and to the goal of going to law school.
4. Family can only go so far.
Having family and friends read over your essays can be a helpful exercise. They can tell you if the essay sounds like ‘you’ and help catch spelling errors. But it’s also important to have someone who has experience with law school applications review your essays. Friends and family may not understand fully what law school admissions offers are looking for and they can also tend to be a bit subjective, not wanting to offer much constructive criticism for fear of hurting their relationship with you.
5. Watch for little mistakes.
You’re about to submit your applications. You know you should read them over one last time before submitting, but you’re exhausted and you must have read them and edited them at least twenty times by now. You skim them briefly and then hit submit. The next day, when you open up the application portal, you realize there’s a glaring spelling error – in the very first line of your personal statement. Don’t let this be you! You can avoid little mistakes by not rushing to submit your applications, getting a fresh person who has never before read your essays to read your final draft and check for spelling/grammatical errors, and by reading your essays out loud (which helps prevent skimming).
Follow these five tips to surviving law school application season and you’ll be playing in leaf piles and going apple picking in no time, confident that you’ve submitted the best possible application!
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