The Undergraduate Perspective: Lessons Learned the Summer Before I Applied to Law School

Adam Goodman is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he is majoring in History and Political Science. Adam is a guest blogger for Law School Podcaster, documenting his decision to go to law school and his progress through the law school admissions process. When Adam is not studying or writing, he can be found charming co-eds, playing intramural sports, and participating in various philanthropic events.

I have about a month and a half until I take the LSAT — in all its terrifying glory. These last few weeks are flying by.  While I try to fight the temptation to give in to the lazy days of summer, I am working hard to try to get my application materials for law school in order. My reasoning for doing so is simple.  The sooner all my law school applications are done, the better. With rolling admissions at most law schools, the sooner my  LSAT, and application materials are done, the better chance I have of getting into my top choice school.

In truth I am finding the application process on the LSAC website much less horrifying than the undergraduate application process. Everything is digital, compact, and in one place. Everything being in one place with a standard application is great. In terms of personal statements, I recommend that you get them done early so you have time to look them over. Get them reviewed by family, friends, the writing center at your school etc. Get some reviews in! Then modify as you see fit. Sell yourself in your application and make sure everything is spelled correctly!

Possibly the most frustrating aspect of the applications process for me has been the letters of  recommendation. With recommendations in the hands of those you ask to be your recommenders,  the time tables for getting those recommendations in to LSAC is  often beyond your control.  I found it helpful to ask recommenders for recommendations early in the process. If you can give your recommenders a deadline, it’s a good idea so they can hopefully work on getting yours done before everyone else starts to get theirs in or start asking for them. Professors are often balancing multiple requests for recommendations so it’s helpful to be “first in line.”  Without becoming a “stalker,”  follow up and confirm your recommendations have been  sent to LSAC or to the schools you are applying to..

The application process is not the only thing that keeps me busy these days. The LSAT  itself is a marathon that you must train for, day in, day out. You can always improve. In many ways, LSAT prep has helped me keep busy over the summer. I try to do several pages of LSAT problems a day to keep myself fresh, to work on my timing, and frankly, just to get better. The top law schools are looking for LSAT scores in the 170s. A range of impossibility? For many yes, but it’s always good to target your best, whatever that is. And who knows, with enough practice, prayer, and the planets aligning on test day, I just may land an impossible 180. Or so I tell myself anyway.  Go to work on those practice problems, get comfortable with them, and get comfortable with the test in general by taking as many practice tests as you can. When taking a practice test, replicate the conditions that you know you will find yourself in come test day. Is your test at 8:30 in morning? Take those practice tests at 8:30. By replicating test conditions, from the time allowed for breaks to filling out the basic information on the scantron, the more comfortable you get with the test, the more prepared and less stressed you’ll be on test day.

At this point in the admissions process, school selection is important,  and you should have an idea of where you want to apply.  If you are unsure, remember that everyone has a certain list of criteria that they look for when applying that will lead you to a certain school. Despite the rankings, Harvard Law might not be the school for everyone. Having an idea of what kind of law you would like to practice can help in your decision making. Since I have an interest in practicing international law, the first thing I began to look at when starting the application process was to look for schools with good international law programs. Schools in Washington D.C fit the bill, with many offering excellent internships for international law.

Offering a certain program should not be the only criteria when applying to a school. What is the student to faculty ratio? What internships can you apply for during the semester? How important is geography to you and do you know where you want to begin your career after law school?  (A local law school often provides a great foundation for networking and your job search). Does the campus you are considering meet your needs in terms of resources? Is student life there a good fit for you?   Of course,  money will also be an issue. If you get into a law school that costs $50,000 a year, how will you pay for it?  How  do you decide between a law school that might offer more scholarship money and one that is potentially more prestigious or closer to your top choice. Don’t forget to factor in the cost of books and housing  These are the questions you should ask yourself when deciding whether or not to apply to a certain school. If some schools are out of your price range, why bother paying the application fee if you know your enrollment at a certain school is not financially viable? These are the issues you will face during the application process.

The best things you can do to answer these questions is to go to the schools you are looking to apply to, take a tour, go to  the information session and ask a lot of questions along the way. If you do not know what you want just yet, asking questions when you visit schools can give you a better idea of what you want in a law school and in a degree, from financial aid to internship opportunities.