Getting In: An Interview With UT’s Law School Admissions Dean
Monica Ingram, the assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the University of Texas School of Law, has gone to almost every graduation in her 12 years at the school. A graduate herself, she says it’s always hard to watch students leave–after all, she is essentially the person who lets them in–but she feels a sense of pride when she thinks about all the opportunities that still lay ahead of them.
Last year, Ingram’s admissions team received 4,188 applications, accepted 30.3%, or 1,287 candidates and ultimately enrolled 319 students. The median LSAT score for enrolled students was 166, with 163 to 168, representing the 25th and 75th percentiles of scores. The median undergraduate grade point average for the latest incoming class was 3.68, with 3.43 and 3.82 reflecting the 25th and 75th percentile.
The law school students at UT are known for their diversity. The law school, with a total enrollment of 1,046, educates more women than any other top public law school, and minority candidates make up about a third of the students. JD candidates get plenty of hands-on legal experience through more than 15 clinics.
In higher education, late spring and early summer are always times for reflection. With that in mind, I spoke with her about what makes UT Austin unique, and what students can do to stand out to its admissions committee.
WHY ATTEND THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS SCHOOL OF LAW?
It’s a top public school: UT Law is one of four public schools in U.S. News’ top 15 law schools. The most obvious benefit of a public school is the cost. UT Law’s relatively low cost combined with its prestige has led U.S. News to rank it second in a list of law schools where salaries most outweigh debt. The annual cost for a full-time, in-state JD student is $33,162, while out-of-state students pay $49,244.
Ingram says she can’t make any assumptions about what makes the other schools in UT Law’s cohort special beyond their rankings and prestige. What she can say is that UT Law has managed to maintain high admissions standards in the face of an unprecedented national decline in law school applicants. In 2006, before the term “law school crisis” really meant anything to anyone, UT Law decided to reduce its class size for the sake of delivering a better education. That smaller class size has the added benefit of allowing admissions officials to remain selective, even as fewer people decide to attend law school.
The admissions team wants what’s good for you: When Ingram started her job 12 years ago, she spoke with many potential students who wanted to go into politics, the foreign service, and other areas that aren’t strictly law-related. At the time, she didn’t think much of encouraging these potential students to attend law school, because she thought it would provide them with a great foundational education regardless of where they wound up working.
These days, she still thinks anyone could use a legal education, but–and this is important–she knows that just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean you should. She says that because the cost of law school has risen so dramatically, she’s much more adamant about making potential students truly examine their options. Could a diplomat use a JD? Yes, but does a diplomat need a JD? She acknowledges that that’s not the case. Like most law school admissions deans, Ingram is also wary of admitting people who apply to law school because they’re not sure where else to go.
There’s commitment to community: UT Law might not be the smallest school, but one specific selling point Ingram mentioned is The Society Program. Launched in 2004, the program’s purpose is to give students more access to faculty members and foster a sense of community within UT Law. Entering students get placed in one of eight societies, each of which consists of about 50 1Ls (and about 150 students overall–students stay connected with their societies throughout law school). Each society is led by a faculty advisor, a coordinator, and two upper-class student mentors, and each is also associated with a community fellow, i.e. someone successful in the legal profession.
The societies’ activities range from professional to social to service-oriented. A few example activities: helping low-income individuals prepare their income tax returns; building houses with Habitat for Humanity; intramural flag football tournaments; and an annual crawfish boil (it’s Texas!).
HOW DO YOU GET IN?
Major in what you love: One way or another, the law touches just about any discipline you can think of. It’s fitting, then, that students at UT Law have degrees in everything from political science to advertising to aerospace engineering.
Former liberal arts majors still make up the biggest chunk, but Ingram says it doesn’t make sense to reverse-engineer the admissions process and choose a major that you think will appeal to the admissions committee. It’s much more important to choose an area you’re genuinely interested in and demonstrate excellence there. She realizes that not every undergraduate institution offers every major, so when assessing whether applicants are prepared for law school, she makes sure to look at the actual classes they’ve taken.
Be self-centered in your personal statement–but not too self-centered: Ingram notes happily that the quality of personal statements has improved over the past year. Still, there are a few mistakes applicants tend to make.
First, Ingram doesn’t want to see yet another John Grisham quote unless it’s presented really, really well; for whatever reason, those seem to be popular. Second, she emphasizes that personal statements are supposed to be–well, personal. It’s important to show your real self instead of tightly following a stale formula. For example, your personal statement doesn’t have to be about overcoming something tragic. Most of the student body hasn’t confronted catastrophe, and that’s okay. You just have to write in a way that shows the admissions committee who you are and what you’re about, a way that makes it easier for them to see beyond your statistics. You get to be a little self-centered. Just don’t forget to show that you care about people other than yourself.
Offer up something beyond your grades: Recently, there have been allegations that UT Law admits unqualified applicants simply because of their political connections. Watchdog.org “found a pattern of overlapping political influence and underwhelming performance on the bar exam” among UT Law graduates. When asked to comment, Ingram emphasized the fact that the admissions committee makes a point of extending opportunities to students who aren’t 100% perfect on paper; that’s why UT Law doesn’t set an LSAT score requirement. Since Texas has a large military presence, she gives the example of applicants who finished their undergraduate degrees while serving. She challenges the people who’ve made these allegations to speak with the graduates who presumably didn’t deserve to get in. Whether or not the allegations have real meat to them–the article notes that while the trend is there, “any single one of the cases we describe could have an alternate explanation”–Ingram’s response demonstrates her belief in a more holistic approach to law school admissions.