We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Kentucky College 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?
First, don't approach this process by trying too hard to "stand out": candidates who do usually stand out in a bad way! You are applying to professional school, so act professionally. Research the schools and be honest with yourself about where you are competitive numerically. Present a complete application with no errors of any kind. Make sure you name the school correctly: Even if you don't call us the "University of Louisville" we don't like applications to the "University of Kentucky School of Law" instead of the "University of Kentucky College of Law." Lawyers must pay attention to detail so you need to as well.
Please, no snitty emails, even to lower level staff; they always share them. Don't call or E-mail with questions easily answered on our websites. If you do contact us, make it a professional communication. If you have a real reason for your interest in my law school, be sure to state it somewhere in your app. If you don't, no need to reach for one by quoting the website or viewbook;
Apply at the early end of the cycle but restrain yourself from E-mailing repeatedly to ask when your file will be reviewed.
Write a thoughtful personal statement that truly focuses on who you are and is not on a topic suggested to you by a book or website. If you read it on the web, thousands of other applicants did as well and will be sending us essentially the same statement.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
We're looking first and foremost for a well-written piece that tells me something more about the applicant that what is in their résumé. Tell me a story with a beginning, middle and end that is not on one of the standard topics so that we want to read all the way to the end to know what happens! Grammar, as well as punctuation and spelling, are important. A few bad mistakes: "less" when it should be "fewer," "it's" when it should be "its," "graduated high school" instead of "graduated from high school." Standard topics to be avoided: Your summer/semester abroad, a profile of the disadvantaged person you met in community service, a recitation of your résumé, a bio of your grandmother/grandfather's colorful life or deprived background that you did not experience yourself, your success in argumentation since the age of 3, a retread of your college essay that focuses on who you were as a senior in high school with little to say about who you are now, or an essay written in response to a "prompt" such as a quote. Also avoid the cutesy, "trying to stand out" essay that is flip and cool; most admissions officers/law school faculty unfortunately are neither, and you can come across as overly impressed with your own coolness and not that serious about law school. You can be funny, if that is your personality—just don't force it. Finally, we all hate to hear that you applied to law school because of a TV show! Don't tack on a "why I want to go to X law school" at the end unless it is really something important to you, and be careful when you tell us this law school is your first choice that you have the correct school listed! Be very careful about tone: You want to come across as someone who will take the work of law school seriously but is not overly impressed with their own accomplishments.
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?
The LSAT is our only consistent standard, so it is important. Two polysci majors with the same GPA from the same college can have very different transcripts, so the LSAT helps us evaluate what you have learned and what skills you have that should translate into success in law school. There are generally fewer candidates with low GPAs and high LSATs than with high GPAs and low LSATs (low and high meaning relative to a given school's published medians), so at least at UK Law we tend to admit a higher percentage of the former but a higher number of the latter.
Work experience is most important if you have significant post-college work experience, and that can trump a mediocre college performance from years past. Generally it does not matter that much whether a candidate coming right out of college has summer legal work experience, unless they have followed a very directed path (several criminal law related internships for someone interested in criminal law, for example). Overall,interesting or relevant work experience can help a candidate in the mid range be one of those admitted, but will not "pull up" a candidate whose grades and scores are outside the usual admit parameters.
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?
See the answer to No. 3 above. No typical or expected amount of work experience as there often is for business school, etc.
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?
Our faculty places as high a value on good teaching as on publication, research etc. Evidence of that: of the 11 faculty across the entire University selected for one of UK's "Great Teacher" awards in the past two years, three were from the College of Law. Many other UK Law faculty members have received the "Great Teacher" award in years past. Our students are joining a community and can expect to be treated as important members of that community whose opinions are valued. For example, at UK all our faculty committees including admissions and the faculty hiring committee have at least one student member.
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?
We do take recommendation letters very seriously, particularly those from faculty who have taught the candidate in class and can give us a detailed picture of the candidate'slevel of intellectually curiosity, likelihood to participate in class, writing skills, etc. The closer the faculty relationship (thesis advisor, etc.), the better. Letters from prominent public figures for whom the candidate has not worked (or does not otherwise have a professional relationship with) are not only not helpful but in fact can be a negative if they give the impression (as they often do) that the candidate expects to gain admission on the basis of who they know instead of what they know.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
At UK Law, as soon as an application is received we request their information from LSAC and typically the file is reviewed the week after the paper LSAC report is received, so long as there are at least two letters of recommendation. The application is reviewed in full for any incomplete information, missing answers to important questions, etc. We are not paperless and in our process two letters of recommendation are required and every file is discussed and voted on in a meeting of the admissions committee, so it can take three to four weeks from the date the application is submitted for a final decision—longer if there is missing information or the two letters of recommendation are not yet in hand.
8. Which firms/organizations recruit heavily from your school? Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Most of our grads (55 percent to 60 percent) go to work for law firms, with the most common locations being Lexington, Louisville, Cincinnati, Nashville, Atlanta and D.C. Also, in a typical year, about 20 percent of the class will be selected for state and federal judicial clerkships.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Submitting an application with errors, poor writing in the personal statement, negative factors that are unexplained (if your GPA for a particular semester is unusually low, for example, we will always see it and you are far better off giving an explanation than not), applying at the end of a rolling process, assuming that a clever personal statement, letter of recommendation from a famous person, etc., will be enough to gain your admission at a law school where your numbers just are not in the admitted candidate range, not doing your research before deciding where to apply, omitting answers to questions unique to a particular school, not being professional in your contacts with the admissions office before your file is considered, or waiting too late to ask for letters of recommendation so that your file is not complete until the end of the process.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
There really isn't one. We do see our law school as a community and are looking for candidates who are likely to be good citizens of that community.