The importance of being yourself

law school admissions strategy

One of the biggest challenges of law school admissions is how reductionist it can feel. Law school applications are incredibly limited: an LSAT score, a GPA, a short resume, and a series of essays and/or personal statements totaling maybe 5 double-spaced pages, if not less. Perhaps a short interview. That’s it. That’s all the space we get to showcase our passions, our accomplishments, our character, our hopes and dreams…everything we’ve worked so hard for, all whittled down to two numbers and a few pages. 

So how do you make yourself stand out with such little space? My best advice is to focus on being your authentic self. Don’t craft your application around what you think law schools want to hear – they’ve heard that a million times. Give them what they actually want to hear about: you! Talk about what really motivates and inspires you. What you really care about. The events and experiences that really shaped you. When you focus on what you’re truly passionate about, that’ll shine through on your applications. Conversely, if your application doesn’t reflect your true self – if you’re trying to be someone you’re not – admissions will see that a mile away.  

Law school admissions aren’t an assessment of what opportunities you have or haven’t had in life – they’re about what you’ve made of the opportunities you did have. It’s okay if you didn’t go to an Ivy league undergrad (I didn’t!) if you build up a high GPA and strong extracurriculars or accolades at the school you did attend. Nor do you have to have a dozen campus leadership positions on your resume if you spent your time working to support yourself or taking care of a loved one instead; law schools will find those life experiences just as impressive. Applicants who put their effort into making their application look “normal,” at the expense of authentic, risk covering up their most interesting attributes! 

Nor should you strive to portray yourself as a flawless candidate who can do no wrong. Nobody’s perfect – admissions committees know this – and stories about mistakes and failures are opportunities to show how you overcome challenges. While I was a very successful and decorated high school math teacher before law school, my application didn’t focus only on my awards or my students’ high pass rates on standardized tests. It did discuss those things, but it also opened up about times I fell short – like the time I had to drop out of student teaching because I was struggling, or how my first year teaching an AP course saw only two students pass the AP exam. In doing so, I was able to not only show law schools that I could succeed, but that I know how to surmount substantial obstacles. Law school is a challenging new environment for everyone, and law schools look for applicants who have overcome challenges before.  

Brian studied History and Political Science at Villanova University, where he graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa. After joining Teach for America and working as a teacher for eight years, he decided to pursue his JD at Harvard Law School.

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