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The Basics of Submitting Your Law School Application

The Basics of Submitting Your Law School Application
When I was a kid, life was a lot tougher. We had to actually be in the room when a show aired if we wanted to watch it. Or learn how to program a ‘VCR’ and record onto a ‘video cassette’ (I hope you were picturing me making air quotes when I typed those words, which makes the typing of them even more impressive). A rumbling controller was a novelty, and our graphics scrolled in two dimensions. And we had to walk both ways to school, uphill, etc… etc…

So it wasn’t all that bad. But law schools applications used to involve a complicated process of filling out many forms, coordinating an orchestra of paperwork, and making calls to ensure everything got there on time.

Now, you have the Law School Data Assembly Service. Which, for all you potential law students, is the greatest thing since that toaster that toasts images of cartoon characters onto bread. It will quickly and easily let you get all of your documentation to the proper schools and let you check on the status of the application (insofar as whether the school’s received it or not).

Despite the ease with which you can apply, I get a ton of questions about the service. Here’s a basic FAQ on some of the bigger points.

1) Is ‘X’ a trick question? How do I answer it?

The law schools are, obviously, all involved in a huge conspiracy. Their target: you. Everything they do is meant to give them an excuse to throw you in the “Rejected” pile. A big, red stamp waiting to go at the slightest provocation. Much like cops at the end of the month, they have quotas to fill, and that box on the application where you couldn’t fit the entire name of the company that hired you for the summer is all the reason they need.

Or not.

You have to remember that law schools are, when all is said and done, businesses. You’re their consumer. They want you to pay them tuition. They need you to pay them tuition. Sure, they’re in high demand. But the application process is so that they can find a great class that fits well together, not so that they can exercise their ability to reject you at the drop of a hat.

The questions on the basic applications are straightforward and meant to elicit some basic information about yourself. There are no trick questions. There are no ‘gotcha!’ questions. Answer everything in a straightforward and honest manner. If something doesn’t fit in a box (a name too long), just fill in as much as you can and make sure that it’s on your resume. Many schools will let you attach a supplementary form with additional info if their application doesn’t have enough room (though you might want to just consider removing ‘Barrister at Starbucks’ from your resume at that point).

Don’t sweat the small stuff. As far as applications go, this is the small stuff.

2) How long should I give for my transcripts to get in? My Letters of Recommendation?

How long do you think it should take to get a transcript in? Add six weeks to that. Then, start the process two weeks before that.

Schools can be slow with filling transcript requests, especially if you wait until they’re fielding many of them a day later in the application season (remember, as hard as it is to believe, people are applying to grad schools other than law school). Give them plenty of time to get your transcripts in, and give LSAC plenty of time to convert that into their system. The earlier you start the process, the better off you’ll be. Wait until grades are released over the summer, and then send the request in.

Some people want to know if they should wait until they receive fall grades before sending in a transcript. I’ve found that it’s rarely worth it. A great semester during your senior year probably (and unfortunately, since you’ll be taking Gym 601 and auditing Advanced Pottery) won’t raise your GPA that much. Waiting will also delay your application. That .03 bump in GPA isn’t worth ending up in the thicket of law school applications. Also, if you do well that first semester, you’ll have something with which to update your application package when you get waitlisted.

As far as letters go, start the process now. Professors can (and will, invariably) take a lot longer to write the things than you think. You also want to give yourself a month to ask another professor after one of your first recommenders flakes out. So get a packet together now (resume, personal statement, best work for the professor, and a cover letter talking about the qualities you displayed in that class) and track down those professors. You’ll have more success if you get to them before everyone else does, anyway.

3) How long will it take for my essays to be uploaded to the site?

Seconds. Seriously. You click a few buttons, and you’re good to go.

Yes, it really is awesome. Not “I can watch Game of Thrones 15 times and pause it whenever I want” awesome, but pretty close.

4) Will my GPA significantly change when LSDAS calculates it?

Probably not. For most students, a small change might appear, but it’s not going to take you from a 3.7 to a 3.5.

For some students, it will change. LSAC calculates GPA differently than schools will. Retakes, JC classes, etc… will all affect your LSAC GPA while leaving your UG GPA alone. I’ll have a post on all of the intricacies next week, but if these situations don’t apply to you, don’t worry about it.

5) Should I write an essay about the upward trend in my GPA?

I get this all the time, and generally the answer is ‘No’. You need to have a significant upward trend for it to be worth the essay, and that initial low point must have an explanation outside of a discovered love of beer and cheap…tequila, let’s say, during your freshman year.

Going from a 3.1 to a 3.4 isn’t an upward trend; that’s finishing up your math requirements and focusing on humanities classes. An upward trend should reflect a transcript that looks like it’s from two completely different students. A semester at 2.8 followed by three consecutive 4.0s is an upward trend. Figure out why you had a 2.8, write that essay, and ask them to consider the 4.0s more indicative of your academic potential. Will they completely ignore the 2.8? No. But a 2.8 with an explanation is better than a 2.8 that’s just screaming out for one.