Key Traits Top Law Schools Seek In Applicants
With acceptance rates at top-tier law schools growing even more selective, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for applicants to differentiate themselves from the pool. Yet, experts say that there are certain key traits that could give applicants an edge.
Ilana Kowarski, a reporter at U.S. News, recently spoke to several experts on what attributes applicants should highlight to differentiate themselves in their application.
Strong Academic Grades
This may seem like an obvious point, but without exceptional academic credentials it’s tough to get accepted by top law schools.
GPA carries a 10% weight in the U.S. News rankings. In a recent article, Tipping the Scales outlined the numbers students needed to get accepted at some of the top law schools. We also found some striking trends.
Several law programs reported higher GPA averages over the past five years including the University of Pennsylvania (3.55-3.94 to 3.57-3.95), Northwestern (3.38-3.94 to 3.56-3.85), Cornell (3.54-3.77 to 3.60-3.81), Georgetown (3.43 -3.82 to 3.52-3.86), Vanderbilt (3.43-3.85 to 3.56-3.85), and USC (3.51-3.80 to 3.56-3.85).
All six of these law schools experienced strong average GPAs with 12 of the top 20 law schools showing higher averages at the top 75th percentile over the past four years. In other words — GPA matters, a lot.
Thomas Simeone is an alumnus of Columbia Law School and a managing partner at the Simeone & Miller law firm in Washington, D.C. In an interview with U.S. News, Simeone says no matter how strong an applicant’s extracurricular activities are, having a low GPA will make things difficult.
“Having activities is helpful when applying to law school because they show a well-rounded approach to life,” Simeone tells U.S. News. “However, top law schools need to determine whether you can succeed while there and afterwards and good undergraduate grades are the best indicator of that. Schools have no way of knowing how challenging or beneficial your activities were, but good grades indicate that someone did what it took to succeed, despite the challenges of being a student.”
Strong Recommendation Letters
A strong recommendation letter can truly validate and highlight areas of your application.
Experts say that strong recommendation letters can often turn a good law school application into a great one.
Dave Killoran is CEO of PowerScore, a test preparation and admissions consulting firm. In an interview with U.S. News, Killoran says the more detailed the letter, the better.
“When I review a letter of recommendation, you’d think that a phrase such as ‘the applicant is an excellent student’ would be compelling,” Killoran tells U.S. News. “But it really isn’t. Why? Because it is so generalized it could apply to hundreds of students. What you want instead is specifics, such as, ‘The applicant is one of the finest students I have ever taught in my lengthy career and would rank among my five best students of all-time.’ Both statements tell you the applicant is a great student, but only one of those two has you scrambling to admit that applicant.”
Know Why You Want To Attend Law School
Having a clear and strong reason for why you want to attend law school can make for a compelling application, experts say.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you have to know what kind of lawyer you want to become, but it helps to know why you want to attend law school.
Ethan Rosenzweig is the dean of admission, financial aid and student life at Emory University School of Law. Rosenzweig tells U.S. News how one applicant explained his interest in board games with complex rules and how that led him to want to become a lawyer.
“That essay really stood out for us, because he didn’t tell us exactly what area of the law that he was looking for, but he knew enough about the skills that lawyers need – analytical thinking, arguing, being able to analyze arguments, listening to clients – that we knew that this was the right fit,” Rosenzweig tells U.S. News.
Sources: U.S. News, U.S. News, Tipping The Scales