We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Pennsylvania Law School 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?
Stellar academic credentials and experience are great attributes for any application, but what sets the best applications apart is that they paint a picture of who the applicant is and how he or she will contribute to the Penn Law community. The specific characteristics that an applicant should highlight vary widely from person to person—and applicants really need to do some deep searching to figure that out for themselves. What are your strengths? What is it about your experiences that set you apart? What are your goals and objectives? In other words, why you?
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
The essay is the place for applicants to tell us their story. We want to know your dreams, your challenges, your accomplishments, your unique life experiences. What did you learn, how were you affected, how will you teach or affect others as a result... or what do you hope to learn or hope to teach? We want to know what you are going to add to our dynamic mix of students. Your résumé, transcript, and references will tell us a lot about your course work and academic abilities, your work experience, and your extracurricular and community activities; don't rehash or repeat what we will learn from those materials. Tell us something more.
3. How important is the applicant's LSAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work/internship experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?
The LSAT score is, of course, a significant component of each application. But we do not apply any formula or numeric cutoffs for the LSAT or any other component of the application. Rather, the Admissions Committee takes the time to read every application holistically because every individual is different. Since we look at the LSAT, GPA, work or internship experience, and other data in the context of the particular application, the importance of each component varies according to the nature of each application.
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?
Prior work or internship experience can enhance an application, but the weight it plays in our decision making varies from application to application, depending on the particular experience and on the applicant's other strengths and characteristics. Most, but not all of our students do take some time between college and law school. In our recent entering class, 29 percent of students came directly from college, while the remainder worked, interned, or pursued another opportunity between college and law school.
The bottom line is that work or internship experience can definitely be valuable; but so can being actively engaged in one's undergraduate institution or in other pursuits. In general, we look to see what the applicant has accomplished and what facets of the applicant's background could contribute to the Penn Law community.
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?
The hallmarks of the Penn Law experience are a vibrant collegial community and an extraordinary cross-disciplinary legal education.
We have a well-deserved reputation as a community where collegiality trumps competitiveness, and we have been very deliberate about making Penn Law a collegial place. The Law School limits each year's class size to just 250 students, so professors know their students and students know each other; we do not class-rank students; we assign interview slots during on-campus recruiting by lottery, not grades; all faculty, students and staff are located in four buildings whose intersections form an interior courtyard. Equally important, our collegiality is sustained by our students, who are as driven as law students anywhere, but who also self-select to study law where the support they receive is as great as the challenges they will confront.