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Faye Deal's Advice on SLS Admissions
Faye Deal's Advice on SLS Admissions

A Day for Giving Thanks…

You may have noticed the silence on my end – my last entry was back in late August.  This autumn has been a tough one, personally, for me as I needed to head home to Hawaii very unexpectedly.  The fall recruiting season was cut short and I relied on the great friendship and professionalism of my three traveling companions – Rick Geiger from Cornell, Bill Hoye from Duke and Ken Kleinrock from NYU – to help carry the Stanford word as they finished our fall  tour without me.  More importantly, though, they carried me through some despairing days and I cannot find sufficient words to convey my appreciation for that.  I’ve said it before and I will say it again – they are the very best.

Let’s shift gears here, turn the page, get back in the saddle, get back on track…and talk admissions stuff.  It’s November 24 and you’ve either got your application submitted, you’re studying for the upcoming December LSAT or you’re trying to finalize the various pieces of your application.  If you’re one of those early birds and your materials are in and your file is complete, give up the controls for a bit because it’s our turn to do our work.  If patience is not your natural inclination, you will need to learn this skill as it is a necessity on your part.  Hang in there.  No need to run and check your mailbox, no need to check your missed calls.  I’ve been reading files, but I’ve not yet made any offers.  If you’re taking the LSAT in a couple of weeks, focus on your last-minute studying, but don’t overdo it and don’t let yourself be overwhelmed with stress.  Stop rolling your eyes.  I realize it’s easy for me to say that – I’m not taking the LSAT and I’m not trying to get in to law school and I already have my dream job.  But do try to remember to put the test in perspective – it’s one piece of the puzzle and a puzzle has many pieces.  If you’re still working on your application, chances are it’s the personal statement that has your attention.  Take a deep breath and ask yourself “What do I want SLS to know about me?”  A jumble of ideas will likely be the result of this self-analysis.  Sort through the ideas – a thread will surface – and try running with that thread to see where it will take you.

Today is Thanksgiving and people celebrate the day in different ways.  The key word here?  Celebrate.  You can rejoice, you can have fun, you can make merry, you can commemorate, you can observe, you can honor, you can remember.  You can also be idle for a moment and revel in the quietness and silence.  Take a break from this admissions stuff.  It really doesn’t matter if you take the day off from studying for the LSAT.  It really doesn’t matter if you postpone finding that personal statement thread for a day.  Really.  Instead, reflect on what matters most to you.  Surely, you will discover that honor doesn’t quite belong to the LSAT or the personal statement.  There’s time enough for the admissions stuff tomorrow.

The Class of 2013 arrives…

They’re here!

 Orientation officially kicked off last evening with a reception and dinner in the courtyard.  It was a sweltering evening – by our Palo Altan standards – as the temperature dropped from the daytime high of about 100 degrees to the mid-80s by early evening.  The heat did not stifle the conversations by any means and colleagues have already commented on the “personality” of this class.  Yes, each class has a distinct personality.  Ask anyone here at the school and you’ll get an interesting conversation going.  It is always an extraordinary experience to see all the students in one spot at the same time, to usher in a new class, to be there at the start.  It never gets old and I never ever get over the excitement of it.  Each person started out as an electronic file for me to read – one out of 4000+.  Files were read, sorted, reread, and resorted until the 180 members of the Class of 2013 finally took shape and came into existence.  And, here they are.

 But what about you?  What do you get out of this posting?  Well, every single person who was at dinner last night started out at the same point you find yourself in right now – about to begin the process.  You see that it does come to an end.  You see that you will find yourself in law school somewhere.  So, on one end you are about to start the application process and on the other end you know you’ll land somewhere.  What matters now is what lies between these bookends.  So, here’s my tip of the day for you to consider.  It is so important that you take the process seriously from the very beginning.  There are two things you need to think about.  First, make sure law school is right for you and that you’re not just filing that application as a default.  Remember this…seeking sanctuary in law school because you don’t know what else to do is not a good thing.  It’s hard work and you really should love the law and, if you don’t have the passion for this, maybe your gut is telling you to look elsewhere.  Second, make sure that you want this now.  We’ll be around for a long time, but will that other opportunity be there later?  I’m not convinced opportunity knocks only once, but think about where you are in your life at the moment and think about what feels right for now and what makes sense for you at this juncture.  Listen to that inner voice.  Trust your instincts.

I need a vacation…

Well, actually, we all need a vacation.  SLS will be closed beginning on Friday, July 2 at 5 pm and will reopen for business on Monday, July 12.  Everyone is taking a week-long holiday.  Yay!  Please know that phone calls will go unanswered, voicemail messages will go unheard and emails will go unread from the end of the day today until the morning of July 12.

Don’t worry, transfer applicants, as I will continue to read your materials during this shut-down if your file is complete.  Otherwise, we’ll get caught up immediately upon our return.  This shut-down has happened in the past and we’ve worked our transfer process around this.  Take a deep breath – we’re in good shape and things are on schedule.

Continue to be patient, waitlisted candidates. The class is not yet completely firm.  I am hoping that things will shape up by the end of the month. When I fill a vacancy here at SLS, a vacancy is created elsewhere and round and round we go.  Believe me, I’d like to clear up all the uncertainty and have things settled.  Bear with us.

Applicants for next year, start putting together a calendar outlining your timeframe for applying.  Our applications will become available in late August/early September so start mapping out your application process.  When do you want to get the application in?  Mark that date down on your calendar and work backwards.  Mark down when you want to approach your recommenders to ask for their help.  Mark down when you hope to be done with your personal statement.  Mark down some time to review your materials prior to hitting that submit button.  Plan ahead.

I think I’ll write an essay titled “What I Did on My Summer Vacation” when I get back so stay tuned.  What summer is complete without this kind of writing exercise?  But, what will I do on my vacation? I have nothing extravagant planned at the moment – remember that I need to read those transfer applications.  I suspect my week will involve some amount of gardening as things are looking pretty sad around my house and I have to do something about bringing my bonsai plant back into shape.  I confess I paid it no attention this past winter and spring so it’s kind of pathetic at the moment. I’ve been watering it faithfully, recently, in hopes of bringing it back after months of neglect, but my husband keeps telling me it’s a lost cause.  I think I’ll just go find a similar bonsai pine – although a much healthier one – and transplant it into the old ceramic dish just to drive him crazy.  “Look,” I’ll say, “It worked.  I brought the plant back to life.  I do have a green thumb after all.”  He’ll be bewildered and stunned and that alone is worth the effort.  He’ll not know what happened – he doesn’t read this blog.  It’s our secret. 

 Back in touch in mid-July…

Reporting back from DC…

The worst question I heard at the forum?  A young woman comes to the Stanford table, introduces herself and launches into her story.  After a few minutes she just stops mid-sentence and a quizzical look comes over her face.  “Have I already spoken to you today?  I can’t remember which tables I’ve stopped at.”  The runner-up trophy goes to the young man who asked “Am I too old to go to law school?”  I could not just give him the quick “No” response.  I had to ask how old he was only because he looked so young – to me, that is.  26.  Yes, 26.  Imagine, those of us who are older than 26, thinking you may be too old to attempt something at this young age.  The world is just opening up for you, young man.

The best question?  This is a tough one as the DC crowd is pretty savvy and the questions are usually more precise and focused than at some of the other forums.  “If you were in my shoes and were thinking of applying for Fall 2011 entry, what steps would you be taking to make sure you’ve prepared properly for the application process?”  “How much attention should I pay to the rankings when looking at schools?”  These are the kinds of questions where you can get involved in an interesting discussion. 

For those of you thinking of attending other forums this year, keep in mind that this is your opportunity to talk to a real person.  You can explore our websites and you can memorize all the stats that we put out there in our publications, but that’s not the same as actually having a conversation with someone about our programs.  So, think of questions that you’d not really find the answers to in our publications.  Think of a particular aspect of the school or any of our programs that intrigues you and you want to learn more about.  Avoid the usual superficial questions.  Dig deeper.

A Celebration and a Parade…

Our graduation ceremony was held this past Saturday and it was quite the day for a celebration.  The ceremony was held on the lawn in front of the law school and the temperature was at least 90 degrees.  Imagine being in a black robe for almost two hours in the sweltering heat.  We Palo Altoans are not accustomed to such heat.  One parent from Texas laughed at my displeasure with the weather and said this was nothing compared to what was to be found back home.  It’s all about perspective, I know.  But, back to the important stuff.  The graduates were resplendent in their robes and other finery.  As I sat and listened to the speeches and watched the soon-to-be graduates gather their diplomas and well-wishes from the dean I thought about all the work that went into that moment in time for each of them.  At one point, they were just like you – thinking about law school, stressing out about the LSAT, wondering what subject to tackle in the personal statement, thinking about the best person to ask for a recommendation and the list goes on.  They applied. They were admitted.  They enrolled.  They spent three years learning, working, and fine-tuning their craft.  And, now we’ve pushed them out of the nest and they are on to other challenges.  Ah, what a feeling to watch each of them walk across the stage and accept the accolades from family, friends, faculty and staff – all well-deserved.  It is a moment of celebration, for certain.  For me, though, there is also an accompanying sense of poignancy.  Here are graduates I first came to know on paper.  Turning the pages of their applications brought them to life for me until I finally got the chance to put those pages together with the “real” person behind all those words and to form personal connections.  They’re moving on and another class will walk through our doors come August.  Time marches on.

And, now, for the amusing part.  I love watching the Parade of Shoes.  Okay, so I’ve taken the liberty of naming this parade myself even though it’s not my parade or even a real parade.  But, remember this is my blog and I get to name parades here.  I think you’ll like this.  Everyone is in a black gown.  It doesn’t matter what smart outfit you have on underneath the gown as you walk across the stage because the gown hides everything.  Of course, you still want to dress fabulously because of the photo ops after the ceremony.  But what do you do if you want to make a fashion statement?  Ladies, you know the obvious answer.  Shoes! My apologies to the guys – your shoes were fine but it’s a difficult task for a guy to stand out in the crowd because of his shoe choice.  Sorry, guys, that’s just the way it is.  I saw the most amazing shoes go across that stage – all kinds of colors, all kinds of shapes, all kinds of straps, all kinds of heel heights (though mostly incredibly high).  Pointed toes, rounded toes, open toes.  Slingbacks, wedges, pumps, mules.  It was, simply, a parade of shoes.  Of course, I paid appropriate attention to the inspiring speeches, the celebratory mood and the walks across the stage, but the parade was definitely a highlight.  Can this year’s parade be topped?  Check back next year – same time, same place.  Perhaps by then the Parade of Shoes will gain a larger following and will become quite the photo op itself.

I feel I need to end on a serious note so let me leave you with some wise words.  In his speech to the class as the winner of the Award for Excellence in Teaching, Professor Dan Ho states “The degree you are about to receive is a trust.  We trust you to exercise good judgment. To wield discretion with compassion. To employ law in advance of justice. To question the question marks.”  Dean Kramer states “Law is a powerful tool.  It can be used for good or for ill, or it can be used indifferently.  It can be used instrumentally, as nothing more than a means to an end, or it can be used with a sense of respect and appreciation for its internal art and architecture and history.  What we hope is that we have helped you see the differences between these uses and have helped you to use law thoughtfully – with appreciation for what you are doing and with a sense of balance and responsibility.”  Let these words linger with you as you contemplate your application to Stanford.  And ask yourself a question.  Are you ready to shape the future?

Heading east…

Just a quick note.  For those of you in the DC area, I will be at the LSAC DC Forum on Saturday, June 19.  The event is being held at the Marriott Wardman Park from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.

Stop by the Stanford table and bring only your most interesting questions.  Do not ask me if you can commute to SLS – we’re located in Stanford, CA and not Stamford, CT.  Do not ask me if a 180 LSAT guarantees you admission.  I will have to throw something at you if you ask either of these questions.  I’ll try to remember to jot down the best question and the worst question I encounter during the event and will post the results here.

See you on Saturday.

Got Questions?

In our spare time (Hah!), a handful of us at a variety of law schools scattered throughout the wide expanse of the country decided we wanted to tackle a series of questions posed to us by a certain publication in a different format than what was asked for.  Sure, we could each answer the list of questions posed to us.  But where’s the fun in that?  The idea hit us that en masse we could probably do something just as informative, but much more efficient time-wise and with a very likely increase in entertainment value since we could obviously be a tad more informal in our blogs as opposed to an official response.  So, dear reader, this one’s for you.

I’ve thought of this exercise as being like speed dating.  Just for the record, this is a guess on my part because I’ve not been a participant in any speed dating experience – I found my husband the old fashioned way.  [When I told him about this comment in the blog, he asked what the “the old fashioned way” meant.]  But, back to speed dating…We each took a turn at being the lead person on a question and then sent that response and the original question on to the next person on the list and so on and so on until each of us had answered a series of nine questions.  Now, keep in mind that this was going on as we were all still reading files, hosting Admit Weekends and putting together waitlists.  Deadlines were imposed and I, on occasion, took full advantage of the fact that something due at the end of the business day occurred three hours later in Palo Alto than it did in New York.  I imagine the question “When will this be over?” went through our minds more than once.  Now that we’re done with it, I have to admit it was a good experience and I hope the end result is something you will find of value as you think about applying to law school.  You’ll see only a portion of the questions here on the Stanford site.  By visiting the Columbia blog, the Michigan blog and the Yale blog you will have the entire exercise at your fingertips.

Schools participating in this speed dating extravaganza are Stanford, Chicago, Columbia, Michigan, NYU and Yale.  You may notice that I’ve listed everyone in alphabetical order except for Stanford.  I list SLS first because, well, just because this is my blog.  Now, let me introduce you to my fellow speed daters in alpha order by school – Ann Perry, Nkonye Iwerebon, Sarah Zearfoss, Ken Kleinrock and Asha Rangappa.  I think they’re pretty darn good speed daters, but I can’t be absolutely certain because, you know, I’ve never actually speed dated.

Enjoy the readings and let me know what you think.

Which component carries the most weight: LSAT, GPA, work experience, or recommendations?  Which carries the least weight?

Stanford:  You’ll love the vagueness of my simple answer.  It depends.  Let me explain.  As an applicant you need to take stock of where you are at the start of the process.  What is your profile as you come to the application process?  A senior applying directly from college?  An investment banker applying after a fair amount of time in the workforce?   A Ph.D. in English who wants to make a career transition?  Determine your profile (and I’m not talking numerical profile here).  Then, approach the application as though it were a puzzle.  You have certain puzzle pieces and as an admissions officer I have to see how these pieces fit together.  If you’re a senior coming directly from college, your puzzle pieces are your academic record, (notice I did not say your GPA as I am more concerned with how you created your academic record), your LSAT score, your letters of recommendation and your personal statement.  If you are returning to school after some time spent in the workplace, then you have an additional puzzle piece – work experience.  Coming straight from college, you have fewer puzzle pieces so are able to move the pieces around and try to make them “fit” if some pieces are weak is somewhat constrained.  If your LSAT is your weak piece, then every other aspect in your file must be strong in order for us to say that the LSAT should lessen in importance.  If your LSAT is strong but your personal statement is poorly written and there is no evidence that you’ve taken any courses where serious writing was required, your file may not get very far.  What if your academic record is stellar, but you’ve done nothing outside of the classroom?  A puzzle piece is missing here so you might find yourself being held and compared to a larger group.  If you’re an electrical engineering major I may be more concerned about your writing as evidenced in your personal statement than if you were an English major.  I’d also pay closer attention to your letters of recommendation to see if your recommender comments on your writing skills.  If your grades aren’t strong and you are a senior, then I would hope that we’d see academic letters written on your behalf that would allay concerns we might have about how you would handle the work in law school.  What happens if you are the candidate who has been out of college for a number of years and now wants to take that experience and expand on it by going to law school?  Imagine that you’ve spent the last six years as a labor union organizer.  Imagine further that your undergraduate record is not one to jump up and down about.  Do you just get a cursory review?  Of course not. The question I’d ask myself is whether those six years of real-life experience are enough to compensate for an academic record that is not stellar.  In this specific example, the academic record recedes in importance and the work experience takes on greater importance.   Remember, then, that the puzzle pieces have to fit and how this is accomplished is based on your particular profile. 

 NYU:  Dean Deal’s thoughtful analysis is excellent.   The bottom line?   There is no magic formula that highly selective law schools use to reach our decisions. If there was, our work would be much easier.  Decision making is hard work – a process that requires us to consider a variety of factors and to view each applicant individually.   

Columbia:  I agree with much of Dean Deal’s thoughtful response and Dean Kleinrock’s “bottom line.”  The truth is that there is no easy answer, which is why the evaluation of files is necessarily holistic. 

Michigan:  I love Dean Deal’s example of the union organizer with a less-than-stellar academic record, because I vividly remember a candidate exactly like that six years ago; I thought she was fantastic, but asked our faculty committee chair to take a look too, to get his read on whether I wasn’t attaching enough significance to the college grades.  He sort of rolled his eyes at me and said, “She’s amazing!  I’m not going to nitpick her college record at this point in her career.”  Done.  She’s long since graduated and gone on to be an alum of whom we’re very proud.

Chicago:  My colleagues have done an excellent job of explaining in a couple of ways that there is no magic formula in the application process.  We have a holistic review of all applications.  If it was strictly a formulaic approach, then I would have hired someone many years ago to write me a computer program (since I was a political science major, I have no idea of how to write such a program) what would tell me who to admit and who to deny.  However, that is not the case nor would it be the best way to put together a law school class.  We need to review every part of the application before a decision is made since our mission is to bring an interesting group of students together every year. 

Yale:  Ditto on all the above.  I’ll add that applicants really overestimate the importance of the LSAT.  In my opinion, your LSAT is informed by the rest of your application, not the other way around.  So a great LSAT cannot make up for an otherwise mediocre application, and a low LSAT won’t break an otherwise compelling one.  So stop freaking out about it.   I’d also say that if any single part of your application is weak, you need to BRING IT in the rest of your application.  Remember that every piece of your application provides us with information.  So, to use the LSAT, that is a predictor of your first-year grades in law school.  If you score low, then you have to make a case that your LSAT score is underpredictive in your case.  You do this by 1) having an amazing undergradate record with very challenging courses; 2) having superlative academic references attesting to your academic promise and intellectual potential; and 3) “sealing the deal” with a thoughtful, thorough, and error-free personal statement.  I will say that a poor undergraduate record is very difficult to overcome, even with a lot of experience.  However, I do not define a “poor record” by your cumulative GPA – you might have a low overall GPA, because you had a hard time adjusting at first but have a significant upward grade trend, or because you got low grades in hard science classes while getting straight A’s in writing-intensive, liberal arts courses.  Things like this are taken into account and won’t be held against you.  At the same time, a 4.0 with a very easy course load, or with courses that don’t really demonstrate a potential to succeed in the kind of work you’ll do in law school (like fine arts, or all science/engineering courses) may not help your application.  So, we’re back to that terrible word applicants hate to hear: “holistic.”

What are the strengths and weaknesses of your school?  Who would be happy?  Who wouldn’t be happy?

 Chicago:  This is a tough question to answer because when deciding which law school to attend, students need to really do their own research to find the right fit.  At Chicago, students are happy who are ready to take an active role in their legal education.  The Socratic Method is used so there is a continual exchange between professors and students inside the classroom.  There is also learning that takes place outside of the classroom, during lunchtime lectures and alumni presentations (and of course lunch is usually provided!).  At Chicago we offer a lot of classes in a lot of different legal topics.  Happy students are those who take advantage of the many ways to interact with faculty.  Hard to say what a weakness would be but I guess some people will complain about the weather.  Yes, in Chicago we do get all four seasons.  But I would hope students wouldn’t use this as a reason to forgo a wonderful legal education!

Yale:  Our strengths are our size, our location, and our flexibility.  Our weaknesses are our size, our location, and our flexibility.  It really depends on what a student is looking for.  Students who thrive at Yale are those who like to be in an intimate setting, where they can have small classes and get to know almost all of their classmates and work closely with faculty.  These students are able to enjoy what New Haven has to offer, which is a great social scene including fabulous restaurants and theaters, and where they can contribute directly to the underserved populations through the Immigration Clinic or the Landlord-Tenant Clinic, among others.  Yale also offers a lot of academic freedom, in terms of choosing courses in and out of the Law School, taking clinics, or pursuing independent research, so it’s great for students who want to tailor their legal education to a specific interest or explore a lot of different options.  Of course, there are students who prefer a larger school environment and who like a little more anonymity – Yale may not be the best place for them.  Yale may also not be the right place for people who don’t like an urban setting or prefer very large cities, where they can “disappear” into a different social scene at the end of the day.  Finally, Yale might be overwhelming for students who like a more programmatic approach to areas of the law, rather than one where you choose your own adventure, so to speak.  I agree with Dean Perry that prospective students should take the time to visit and speak with lots of current students to see whether the school would be a good fit for them.

Stanford:  We’re small – with one faculty member for every eight students.  You’ll find a close-knit community where students, faculty and staff know each other very well and one in which we all look out for each other.  There’s something to be said about being on the west coast where, as our dean has said, “tradition and the way things have always been done weigh less heavily” on us.  We’re in the country’s largest, most diverse and most dynamic state and located in the heart of Silicon Valley.  In other words, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and kicking so when you do your research on SLS it should not surprise you to discover students creating new and innovative programs – designing a curriculum for Afghanistan law schools or working on law and development issues in Bhutan.  You’ll also find a distinct interdisciplinary approach here that you’ll not find anywhere else. Want to create a joint degree unique to your area of interest?  It’s doable and in many cases in the same amount of time that you’ll take to finish the JD and at no extra cost.  Weaknesses?  Some will say our size is our weakness.  We work hard, though, to overcome this perceived weakness by drawing on the strengths of the rest of the University.  When you consider an offer from SLS, you really should also be thinking about how Stanford University fits into the picture because you will most definitely draw on the resources of the greater University as you make your way through three years here. 

Ah, the happiness index.  Here’s the secret about finding a place where you’ll be happy…it’s all about fit.  Dean Perry and Dean Rangappa are absolutely right – visit the schools.  Talk to current students.  Talk to alums.  Talk to faculty.  Talk to administrators.  See how you think you’d fit in.  Do you envision yourself at a particular school?  Do you envision yourself as part of the law school community?  And, most importantly, do you envision yourself thriving?  You’ll discover that you have a gut feeling about a particular place.  Listen …and trust your instincts.

NYU:   As my colleagues suggest, strengths and weaknesses of a particular law school are really in the eye of the beholder.  We consider our size an asset.  Students who are happy here are those who thrive on having a wide range of choice – be it courses, clinics, student organizations and groups.   A larger student body and more course offerings means that students can explore a very wide area of study – everything from corporate/business law to international legal studies to philosophy to public interest law.   Someone who finds this kind of array daunting might not be at home at NYU.  Those who feel at home are people who enjoy living, working and studying in an energized environment – where the law school calendar is loaded with speakers, workshops, conferences and events for students to become engaged in cutting- edge legal issues. We are fortunate to have a fantastic location in a beautiful historic neighborhood that offers opportunities to enjoy all of the cultural pleasures of New York City.  Students who are happiest here are open to new experiences, challenges and being part of a student body that is not homogenous.  Thanks to our robust graduate program for foreign lawyers, our JD students work and live with other students from over fifty foreign countries.    And yet, we are a law school that values the importance of community.  Most of our faculty members live nearby, and many of our students live in Law School owned and operated residence halls.  Students here are willing and able to seek out opportunities to work with faculty members on their research or in one of the Law School’s more than 25 research centers.  There is abundant opportunity to build close working relationships with faculty because of the 9:1 student to faculty ratio.    I think that students who prefer a quieter, more bucolic setting, those who are accustomed to a slower pace of life, or prefer a high degree of anonymity might find NYU and New York City quite an adjustment. 

Columbia:  I would concur with what has been said about strengths and weaknesses being primarily about the fit between an institution and a prospective student’s preferences.  That being said, we think our size strikes the right balance between providing intense interactions between faculty and students, fostering durable relationships amongst students, and having the critical mass necessary to animate an extraordinary range of courses and extracurricular opportunities.  We feel strongly that our clinical programs, externships, journals, international programs, student organizations and centers for research and study, must enjoy strong, consistent participation to be the impactful experiences we want them to be, and that our size makes that possible.  We also place a high value on our presence in the Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York, which is both calm and urban, while providing proximity to not only some of the leading cultural institutions in the nation, but also to one of the most sophisticated legal communities and judiciaries in the world, as well as business, public interest and international organizations.  New York is also just a fun place to live for our students and a fantastic backdrop for their friends and families to visit.  Other strengths include the diversity and international nature of our student body and faculty, a group of professors that are really focused on the importance of teaching, and our access to the full range of resources of a world-class University.  As for weaknesses, I suppose I would echo what colleagues have said about some people perhaps finding the pace and activity of a place like New York a little overwhelming at first.  Of course my response to those people is that they should visit and see for themselves. 

Michigan:  Well, this is the worst question for going last! Saying “I agree with my colleagues” just doesn’t fly, does it?  Beyond the strengths common to any top law school—a brilliant faculty who will get you to think in ways you never have before, and a brilliant cohort of fellow students who will expand you even further – I would identify our two principal strengths as career options and community.   Geographically, our graduates spread out among the major US metropolitan areas and beyond, typically going to about 35 states—not to mention the significant number who start their careers overseas.  That spread creates a lot of flexibility, particularly when you’re looking for a job in a tight market.  And the jobs they get are highly sought after—placing well in clerkships, in academia, in the largest law firms, and in the most prestigious government and public interest organizations. But before you look for a job, you have to get through law school; for people who want to immerse themselves in the law school experience, Michigan is a great choice.  There is a strong sense of connection among students, and between students and faculty, and that can be very rewarding.  But that can be a drawback, too, depending on what you’re seeking: if you’re hoping to treat law school as a job, you may feel out of sync at Michigan.  

Can you describe the archetypical student for your school?

 NYU:  New York University School of Law is a large, dynamic community located in the heart of New York City and enrolls an entering class of about 450 students.  We attract an extraordinarily diverse student body representing the widest possible range of students based on background, interests, experience and perspectives.    While I could take this opportunity to turn on the usual viewbook noise, let me try to be more helpful and candid.  NYU is an incredibly busy place.  Thanks to our location in New York City with our 28 centers and 65 student groups the calendar is chock a block with events every week.  Students who come here embrace the energy and dynamism and are able to balance many competing interests.

Columbia:  Apart from being intellectually and academically prepared to succeed in what is a very challenging JD program, and having a record of engagement and dynamism, we actually prefer that our students have little else in common. The reason is simple:  the strength of student body lies within its differences.  Our students nevertheless value the sense of community derived from being among people with such varied backgrounds, experiences, and interests, while simultaneously sharing common goals of engaging in superior scholarship and training, as well as collaborating with and learning from one another.  They also embrace the advantages of being part of a truly great University and an even larger campus—New York City.  The end result of this emphasis on variation has consistently been a cohesive and vibrant learning community, and the prevention of anything resembling an “average Columbia Law Student.”   

Michigan:  So true!  I have a sort of stock answer when people ask me to describe the typical, or the ideal, Michigan Law student—there’s no such thing.  It is absolutely the case that it is precisely all the differences among our students that make the student experience here so rich and engaging. That said, to really thrive and be happy here, a student should be engaged both in intellectual life and in community life.  This isn’t a great place to come if your ideal law school experience is attending class and then quickly departing to conduct the rest of your life; a huge part of the benefit of Michigan Law is active interaction with everyone else around here—the law students and faculty, and the greater University community.   And one myth I have to bust:  although we’re a public institution, only about 20% of our class is from the state of Michigan—the number of people relocating from the coasts outnumber the Michiganders themselves by a ratio of two to one, and even outnumber the people from the Midwest as a whole.  

Chicago: I think our student body is one of the top reasons for coming to the University of Chicago Law School.  We have a very diverse student body and I define diversity very broadly.  We have ethnic and geographic diversity as we have students from all over the country and even world.  They bring with them their history and experiences.  We have many different ideologies present and active in the community include liberal, conservative and libertarian.  Many voices get heard in the classroom which enriches that educational experience for each student.  Chicago is a place where students take an active role in learning through the discussions inspired both in and outside the classroom.   Students come from a variety of backgrounds and experiences which furthers the goals of the legal education.   Students hear many sides of a given argument while voicing their own perspective which is great preparation for the practice of law in a very diverse world. 

Yale:  I didn’t know Michigander was a word.  Anyway, I think all of us agree that we can’t describe a “typical” student, because we each admit individuals, not characteristics.  However, I will say that Yale is probably less structured than most law schools, with only one term of required courses.  We offer a “choose your own adventure” approach to law school, meaning that people with similar interests will often take very different paths to get to the same goal, and that is encouraged.  We don’t offer students a checklist of how to do x,y, or z, but we advise them on options.  So I would say that a common feature of Yale students is that they are very entrepreneurial – a good number of our clinics, social impact projects, and even academic workshops are student-created.

Stanford:  Let me echo what my colleagues have all mentioned – there is no such thing as a typical student.  Students will choose us over another school for a variety of reasons – whether it’s because we’re on the west coast or because of our interdisciplinary focus or because of our size and the absolute ease with which you are able to build relationships with classmates and faculty that run deep and last a lifetime or because of the strength of the intellectual experience you will experience.  Not surprisingly, you may find yourself admitted to all the schools – NYU, Columbia, Michigan, Chicago, Yale and Stanford.   The overlap in admissions decisions is not all that unusual. The decision as to where you will end up is entirely yours.  Maybe you’re accustomed to the urban life and Palo Alto is a bit quiet for you.  Maybe you’re from a small town and want the big city experience.  Maybe you want to be in an environment where you know each of your classmates.  Maybe you want an experience vastly different from your small liberal arts undergraduate experience.  All the offers are coming in and each school has some similar aspects and some different aspects.  But, the real issue is this: What is it that YOU are looking for in the school where you will spend the next three years of your life?  What is it about our school that resonates with YOU?

Waitlist Update

For those of you sitting on the SLS waitlist, just a bit of an update…

We’re not quite at the point of reviewing files.  We’ve utilized the waitlist each year for awhile now so if history is any kind of guide, we should do so again this year.  However, we have a small group of admits with a May 10 deadline so we’ll need to let the dust settle over the next few days before we know exactly where we stand. 

What can you do now?  Here are some tips:

  1.  Update your file – spring grades, promotion at work, new job, honors at graduation, etc. 
  2. Think about submitting an additional letter of recommendation. When we start reviewing waitlisted candidates, we start fresh.  An additional thoughtful and detailed letter can be very helpful.
  3. If you need financial aid, make sure you list SLS as destination points for both the FAFSA and the Need Access surveys.  You want to get an aid offer from me as soon as possible after I offer you a seat in the entering class.  If you’ve not even done the Need Access piece, that alone will take days and you may not have days.  Get started now.
  4. Some applicants create their own timeline.  They can stay on the waitlist until late July when they need to sign a housing lease for a school back east or the moving van is due to pack up their belongings on August 1.  I appreciate knowing about these deadlines.  Really.
  5. Be flexible and be able to put up with some amount of uncertainty.  If I call you in late July, you will have to accept an offer without knowing whether you will be able to obtain on-campus housing.  The first housing lottery is in May and the second is in early July.  Walk-in assignments take place in mid-to-late August.  Are you willing to accept an offer without knowing for certain if you’ll be able to live on campus?  Think about it now in anticipation of it becoming an issue.
  6. Send in a letter of continued interest.  Think carefully about this one.  Sometimes applicants remain on the waitlist just for the heck of it.  Why?  They want to see if they’ll eventually get in – I guess it’s some sort of badge of honor.  But, what if SLS is your first choice and you really want the opportunity?  Let me hear from you and – this is important – remember that sincerity matters.  Stay in touch with me.  Don’t email me daily.  Don’t call me daily.  Don’t clutter up my in-box or my voicemail box.  But, do let me know you remain interested as the summer progresses.
  7. Do your research on SLS ahead of time.  If I call you in June, you’ll probably have about a week to make a decision, but as the summer progresses my generosity will lessen.  You may find yourself with 2-3 days to contemplate the offer if I call you in July and if I make a call in mid-August you may find yourself with 24 hours to reach a decision.  So, you shouldn’t tell me that you need extra time because you need to schedule a trip out to Palo Alto and that you can’t book a flight for another week.  You’ll find me just a tad unsympathetic and antsy to get on to the next person on the list.  Do your research now.
  8. Be positive, be patient and be realistic.  Have another option in place and ready to go if this doesn’t work out as anticipated.

Questions?  Comments?  You know where to reach me.

Almost Done…

It’s Sunday evening and I’m sitting here at my desk looking at the work ahead of me for the upcoming week.  We are almost done.  All first round decisions should be finalized this week.  I know many of you have been waiting… and waiting… and waiting for a decision.  As I have mentioned to some of you in recent phone calls, I know that the process can be agonizingly slow.  At the end of each season I take stock and try to find ways to make things move more quickly.  This year -if we manage to finish up this week as anticipated – we’ll be about two weeks ahead of schedule, but there is still room for improvement.  Granted, speeding up the process is not the primary concern – the thorough and detailed review of each file takes precedence, of course, but if there is a way to become more efficient I am willing to explore it.  Now, you and I both know there is a very quick way to reach a decision – look only at the numbers and skim everything else – but that is so antithetical to our philosophy here at SLS and that idea will never take hold.  It is not a numbers game to us.  Of great importance to us as we make our decisions is how each member of the class will contribute to his or her classmates’ experience.  What will you learn from your fellow students?   And what will they learn from you?  How do you create a class with this in mind if you pay homage to the numbers only?  You don’t – it would be impossible.  So, we march on with our process, refining it as necessary, and continue to do the best we can in creating a class that enters SLS brimming with all kinds of experiences and talents.

My job is, at times, a most unenviable one.  Letting candidates know that the good news will not be forthcoming is not a task I relish.  Signing those letters is tough – no doubt about it.  As the end of the season nears, I have to let some candidates go whose files I’ve been holding on to just trying to see if I can fit them in.  You may not realize it, but many of you get multiple reviews by me and I get to know you quite well.  This is a one-sided relationship, I know, and it is common knowledge that one-sided relationships are not healthy, but it works in the admissions world.  I also realize that applicants sometimes hold me responsible for forcing their life plan to veer off path and I am not surprised when someone reacts in an unusual way upon hearing unpleasant news from me.  So, let me tell you a story from a few years ago. One unhappy candidate sent me a little package in the mail with a not-so-nice note about my karma being completely negative.  How could it be otherwise if I am the bearer of such bad news to so many people over so many years?  His answer to get my karma back on track?  Glow-in-the dark karma string.  Who knew such a thing existed?  I’ve never seen them anywhere.  Glow-in-the dark stars, glow-in-the-dark dinosaurs, of course, but karma string?  In the package I found yards of it with instructions to hang the string around my office.  I got a good laugh out of it as did my colleagues when I told them all about it.  Bad karma?  I’m not convinced.  I know I am the bearer of bad news for some people, but I remain convinced that other opportunities will turn up.  What is that oft-repeated saying?  When one door closes, another one opens.  SLS is not the only law school in the country and I know many of you will take up your law studies at another fine school.  Or not.  Maybe you’ll try a different path.  Maybe you’ll take advantage of a job that’s just come your way.  Maybe you’ll take the trip you’ve been thinking about for years.  Maybe you’ll work for a few years and discover something else you are passionate about.  Maybe you’ll reapply when the time is right again for you.  Maybe you’ll explore other areas of interest.  Maybe you’ll open one of those other doors.

Please don’t send any glow-in-the-dark karma string…

My time back east…

Once a year in the middle of February I make the long trek to Annapolis, Maryland to help the Truman Foundation read through its applications for the coming year’s class of Truman Scholars.  I leave my SLS applications behind (well, not completely behind because as long as I have my laptop you are always with me) and hop on that non-stop flight from SFO to BWI and then enter a very different world for a few days.  I sit among a few other admissions colleagues, I sit among former Truman Scholars who are now dedicated public servants, I sit among scientists, I sit among doctors, I sit among former deans, and I sit among policy makers.  And we read, and we discuss, and we make decisions. [As a funny aside, I fondly remember a dinner from a few years back where a small group of us grabbed dinner at a local Annapolis restaurant.  Conversation at one point focused on running for political office because it became clear that a number of those sitting around the dinner table had that common experience.  I had one of those OMG moments where I just cringed from thinking I did not belong at this table.  They’re going to ask me about public office and I have nothing to offer up.  Well, being the egalitarian group that they were, the question did finally reach me.  But, hey, I rose to the occasion because I remembered that I had indeed run for office.  Never mind that it was way back in middle school – yes, 8th grade to be exact – but, I had in the fact run for student body vice-president!  What a relief.  Of course, most important was the fact that I succeeded in bringing comic relief to the table as things were getting way too serious.  What happened to talking about good books we’ve just read?  What offices we’ve run for?  Come on.]

 In reality, leaving cozy Palo Alto in February to head back to the storm-ridden east coast for four days spending time reading another organization’s applications may not seem to make a whole lot of sense. It’s not as though I’m caught up with my work here as there are still many files yet to be read.  It’s not as though the phone has stopped ringing and the emails have slowed down.  Then why do I make this journey?  Beyond the obvious reason of being involved with a great organization, it all has to do with what I take away with me after reading the Truman applications.  I walk away amazed at what college students committed to public service are capable of doing and I walk away amazed with their sense of purpose.  I walk away reassured with the knowledge that I have seen an engaged and committed group of young people who will be shaping policies, creating organizations, and building bridges in the years to come.  I walk away knowing we are in good hands. 

 I’ve not forgotten you, though, SLS applicants.  I took that non-stop back to SFO from BWI and landed by 9:30 am.  How did I spend my Sunday? Watching the Angels and Demons DVD I’ve had on loan from Netflix for the last 8 weeks?  No.  Reading the latest issue of Saveur which highlights Los Angeles cuisine?  No.  Watching a recently taped episode of Criminal Minds (you know I’m a fan)?  No.  I logged on to the computer and pulled up files, hunkered down and spent the day reading.  My focus is back on you.  Another round of offers went out this week and the work continues.