We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of California—Davis School of Law regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:
1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?
Because we are striving to put together a talented, diverse, and well-rounded student body to join the law school community, ours is a holistic evaluation. We look for strong academic credentials, such as high grades and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. But we also seek applicants who can demonstrate that they are dedicated, ethical, intellectually curious, and ready to learn. We like students who are leaders, who are involved in professional or extracurricular activities. We try to base our admissions decision on the whole package.
The best law students are those who took every opportunity to obtain a very well-rounded education before law school. Sometimes that means taking classes outside of your major in order to stretch yourself in other areas or hone skills that may not be used as often in your chosen field. You might go beyond what is normally required of your major department by writing a thesis or contributing to a journal of some type. All applicants will have to consider seriously who they are, where they have come from, and where they are headed.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
If you apply to UC Davis School of Law, you will be asked to write a personal statement. You are given four pages to convey any information you think would be of interest to the Admission Committee as it evaluates your application. We provide no prompt; we are interested to see what you choose to write about.
Take the personal statement very seriously. If necessary, utilize this opportunity to explain discrepancies in your academic history or LSAT performance. Fill in gaps in schooling or work history. Discuss the challenges you have confronted and how you have responded to them. Again, how you choose to use this opportunity to communicate with the Admission Committee tells us almost as much as what you actually write.
Remember that your statement is a sample of your writing, so your writing skills, including basics like grammar and punctuation, will be examined closely.
Generally, we want to know who you are, what has caused you to become the person you are, how well you know yourself, and why you want to study law.
3. How important is the applicant's LSAT score? How do you weight it against undergraduate GPA and work experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?
There are a number of primary items in every applicant's file. They are the application, the personal statement, the letters of recommendation, and the Credential Assembly Service report that includes transcripts and the LSAT score. Each of these items is important and helps to provide us with a total picture of your preparation for the study of law. Each of these items, including the LSAT, is viewed in the context of the entire application file. For one person, the LSAT might be very important but for another applicant, its importance might be lessened by information provided in the personal statement in combination with stellar grades.
It is not possible for us to make a blanket statement about the weight given to the LSAT, although it is important for applicants to understand that they should prepare for the exam and do their best to score as highly as possible. The LSAT is the only standardized piece of the application. It allows us to compare applicants throughout the country who have taken the same exam. It is important for applicants to provide enough information about themselves, including Grade Point Average (GPA) and work/internship experience to allow us to make an informed decision.
One item alone in the application will not determine whether you are (or are not) admitted.
4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?
First, recall what we said in response to the previous question and the overarching statement above about ours being a holistic review process. We attempt to put all of the pieces together in order to have a sense of the whole person. There is no work or internship requirement. But if you have worked or been involved in an internship, you should certainly include that information. It will be considered along with all of your other information. At the same time, applicants will not suffer disadvantage because they do not have work/internship experience. As with everything else, it is considered as a part of the whole.
5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?
There are a number of things that set us apart from other schools, but we should begin by saying that UC Davis School of Law is known for its humane and intellectual community that is deeply committed to academic excellence. Ask our alumni about the school, and they will invariably mention the people who comprise the law school, and the collaborative yet inquisitive spirit.
Because we are a relatively small law school, students get to know the faculty, staff, and each other quite well. When students walk into the financial aid office, for example, they will find a staff member who knows who they are, and they won't have to wait in line to speak with someone who can answer their questions. If students want to remain after class to speak with a professor or visit his or her office, they know that is encouraged. If a person is absent from class, other students will offer their notes. Every student is given a key to King Hall (the law school building named after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.), allowing access to the facilities around the clock— unheard of at any other law school in the United States. This sense of community is part of what makes UC Davis School of Law unique and enhances greatly the opportunity for students to take advantage of the excellent legal education available to them.
Another characteristic that sets our school apart is the outstanding faculty members who are nationally and internationally leading scholars in their fields. If you look at how often and where they publish their scholarship, and how often that scholarship is cited by others in the legal field, this scholarly leadership becomes apparent. But unlike many leading scholars at other top law schools, they also pride themselves on being outstanding teachers. They are approachable and realize that in addition to influencing the world with their ideas, their job is the training and nurturing of future lawyers and leaders. Indeed, for the UC Davis faculty, cutting-edge scholarship and the inculcation of skills and knowledge to students go hand in hand. We are extremely proud of our unusually accessible and dedicated faculty.
Finally, we should mention the fact that we are located on the campus of a major research university located in an extremely livable college town. The opportunities to enhance one's legal education by taking classes in other departments of the university, pursuing a joint degree, participating in various campus activities or simply utilizing the facilities of the campus are all very important to obtaining a well-rounded education. The city of Davis is a wonderful place to live. World-class speakers and entertainment are available on campus on a regular basis, allowing a sometimes much-needed respite from academia. The campus is beautiful, tranquil and conducive to immersing oneself in and focusing on the law. We are very close to the natural beauty of Lake Tahoe and the cultural and economic offerings of San Francisco, and the vibrant political atmosphere of the state capital of Sacramento is next door.
6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regularly with the candidate in an office or school setting? Do you put much weight on letters from prominent public figures who may not know the applicant well?
The best letters of recommendation come from people who really know the candidate well and can provide insight about his or her best intellectual and personal qualities. Applicants should not choose a recommender based on title alone! Letters from high-ranking officials whom the applicant has never (or rarely) met, for example, are not very compelling.
Because we are looking at applicants as prospective law students, our preference is to receive recommendations from professors or others who have been in a position to observe performance in an academic setting. Professors can tell us about an applicant's writing skills, and an applicant's level of intellectual maturity and critical thinking skills. Professors can also compare applicants to other students whom they have taught, and put applicants in that context for us. In large universities where applicants may not get to know their professors, recommendations from the TA or Graduate Instructor are other possibilities.
If an applicant has been out of school for a while, a work-related recommendation that touches on the areas that would indicate preparation for law study would be acceptable.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Applications are evaluated first by Admission staff and then by the Admission Committee. Files undergo a thorough evaluation. Reading begins in late November and continues through April. The first decisions become available in December and are mailed on a rolling basis from that point on. All decisions should be made by early April. Applicants may use our Status Check website to monitor the status of their applications.
8. Which firms/organizations recruit heavily from your school? Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Our approximately 6000 alumni practice in every area of law, business, politics, government and the non-profit sector. Congressman George Miller and California State Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg are two of our alumni. Employers ranging from the largest national and international private law firms to national and local public interest organizations and law firms, to federal, state and local government agencies regularly recruit at UC Davis School of Law. Our school and alumni enjoy an outstanding reputation in the legal community.
Our robust On-Campus Interview (OCI) program brings employers whose practices vary widely, including corporate, litigation, intellectual property, criminal, environmental, international, labor and entertainment law. Generally each year, slightly over half of our graduates enter private practice, with approximately half of those employed by firms of more than 100 attorneys. Government and public interest agencies employ another quarter of most years' graduates. Some graduates are chosen as judicial clerks by state and federal courts at every level. Generally, almost every one of our graduates (97 percent in 2008) is employed within nine months of graduation. In 2009, 90 percent of our graduates passed the bar examination on the first try, among the highest pass rates in California.
Geographically, our graduates are employed in every state of the union, with sizeable numbers in New York, Washington, D.C., Oregon, Nevada, Washington, Arizona, and Texas, just to name a few. We also have alumni who work in Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. A large number of our graduates choose to stay in California. We have significant representation in San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento.
All of the counselors in our Career Services Office are former practicing attorneys, with experience in private practice, government and public interest organizations. This wealth of experience allows them to provide students a strong start on their chosen career paths.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Most applicants do a very good job of putting their "best foot forward." A few do not take the time and care to look over their applications to make sure that they have not made typos or other careless errors that can be corrected easily. When it appears that an applicant has not taken the time to present himself or herself in the best possible manner, the Committee questions the applicant's readiness for law school.
Applicants do not always use the personal statement to best advantage. They might talk about an obscure travel adventure when our concern might be with their academic performance. The personal statement is the only "interview" they will have with the Admission Committee.
Applicants who have survived a disadvantaged background sometimes spend a lot of time explaining the challenges and disadvantages but forget to show how they have overcome the disadvantage and, more importantly, explain how they are now at a point where they are fully prepared for the formidable challenges of law school.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
UC Davis prides itself on enrolling a diverse student body. As such, we don't think there is an archetype for the "ideal" student. We admit many different kinds of students. Some want to pursue public interest law, while others know they will practice at a large firm and still others pursue a joint J.D./M.B.A. in preparation for working in corporate America. Some come from a family of lawyers, while many are the first in their family to go to college.
Of course the academic preparation and overall skill set must be solid, but beyond that, we want to enroll students who are intellectually curious, motivated, and interesting. Students should learn from each other, and our admission process considers carefully all facets of the individual to ensure that the makeup of each class contributes to and enhances the overall learning experience. We are trying to put together a well-rounded student body comprised of bright, talented, interesting, and collegial folks.