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6 questions with law school admissions expert Ann Levine

cover_smallI recently interviewed Ann Levine, a law school admissions consultant, via email.  Her book is The Law School Admissions Game (link to amazon). You can read more of Ann at her blog, The Law School Expert.

1. With the 2010-2011 admissions cycle about to begin, when do you recommend students take the LSAT?

June is ideal because it gives you another chance to take it just in case (in October) and still apply early in the cycle. However, since it’s already April, it’s really not enough time for you to take the June LSAT and reach your aptitude on the exam unless that’s all you will be doing for the next two months.  If your schedule is crazy then I definitely recommend studying over the summer and taking the October LSAT.

2. Law school applications are way up in the wake of the recession. What should students do to stand out from the crowd in the admissions process?

Submit quality application materials and choose schools wisely. I’m always amazed at the number of students who set themselves up for failure. This generally happens when people are hurrying and applying at the last minute. I urge people to apply early and to put thought into each piece of the application –  think of everything you submit as your opportunity to demonstrate your strengths. Don’t blow anything off.

Questions 3-6 after the jump.

3. Students have a plethora of LSAT prep options open to them. What methods have your students used to have the best success? In particular, I know that your students have worked with one-on-one tutors; when is tutoring a better option than a class or self-study?

Traditional lecture style big-name prep courses are generally only useful to those who naturally do well on standardized tests and just need someone to tell them to put their butt in a chair a certain number of hours – they are for people who can’t allocate their time and discipline themselves but who do well on tests when they apply themselves.

For those who struggle with standardized testing, have a schedule that precludes sitting in lecture style classes, or who are already doing well on practice exams and just need help bumping up a few points or with a certain section or question type, personal tutoring can be incredibly effective if you pick the right tutor for your learning style. It can also be cost effective and help you use your time more wisely because you are spending your time and money on the parts you really need to work on to improve. It’s often the way to get the biggest bang for your buck, especially if you’re looking for more than an overview of each question type on the test.

4. You’ve written a good deal about choosing between a high-ranking school and a lower-ranked school that offers significant financial aid. How do you suggest students balance those options?

First, I suggest applicants create schools lists that include both as possibilities so that they have these kind of choices to make and can make informed decisions. Usually applicants fail to think about the financial ramifications until they are getting ready to send in deposits. They panic at this point and often wish they’d worried less about ranking and more about the financial ramifications. I rarely see people panic the other way around (about having too many scholarship schools to choose from).

When facing a decision between a significant scholarship and a higher ranked school, I tell my clients to talk to employers in the region and/or field they hope to practice in. Talk to people who actually hire and see what they say is important. Talk to the Career Services office at each school and find out where students are working. Think about where (geographically and in terms of type of practice) you see yourself spending your career. Do you research and try not to fall into the hype on blogs where disgruntled lawyers vent about their low salaries and long hours. I’d wager a bet that those are the same folks who failed to do their research.

5. Many times students will receive a somewhat lower LSAT score than they had expected given their practice tests. Do you have a rule of thumb guiding when students should retake (in the absence of illness of extenuating circumstances)

Here is my rule of thumb: Did you score within three or four points of your consistent practice exam scores?

For example, if you scored a 158 and you were hitting practice scores in the low 160s, then the 158 is probably the right score for you unless something strange happened to you during the exam.

Another reason to re-take would be that you know you didn’t prepare as diligently as you should have or if you never did hit a plateau with practice exams.

If either of these apply to you, then definitely consider re-taking it if you have the time to prepare adequately for the next test administration. This is especially true for the June LSAT because there is no significant set back in the rolling admissions process because the October test is still available to you.

6. Many students that are a few years out of college are choosing to apply to schools.  What distinct challenges are faced by older students? How does work experience factor into admissions decisions?

Challenges faced by older applicants include:

  • A low GPA that does not reflect what they are currently capable of achieving in the classroom.
  • Unfamiliarity with standardized tests.
  • Limited time (due to family and professional commitments) to prepare adequately for the LSAT, and/or failure to understand the importance of taking a prep course or working with an LSAT tutor.
  • A long career that is unrelated to law and having to demonstrate why law is the right second career for them and that they’ve carefully considered their options.
  • That applying to law school is not just the result of recent (or anticipated) unemployment in a recession.

Also, older applicants are often more limited geographically because of family, mortgages, etc.

That being said, older applicants have a lot going for them: life experience, business experience, maturity, an understanding of how the world works, a comprehension of financial realities, and diversity. My nontraditional clients include a police officer in his 40s who will be going to a Top 5 law school, a woman in her 40s who will be attending a Top 20, a long term IT career professional in his late 30s who wants to study IP law and is going to attend a school renowned in that field, and business owners in their 30s and 40s who built financially successful companies and now seek a new challenge by attending the law schools in their established communities. It’s all about how you package your experiences and make them relevant to a law school admission committee.

Next Step Test Preparation provides complete courses of one-on-one tutoring with an LSAT expert for less than the price of a commercial prep course. Email us or call 888-530-NEXT (6398) for a complimentary consultation.