We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of San Diego 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?
All law schools look to assemble a diverse student body. Given that fact, our best advice would be to do this one thing: be yourself. At the University of San Diego, we strive to bring in students with a range of academic interests from undergraduate institutions located across the country and around the world. You could be the exact person we are looking for to round out our incoming class.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
We wish we could interview each candidate, but with more than 5,000 applications a year, it's simply impossible. Treat the essay as an interview. This portion of the application gives you an opportunity to tell us something about yourself that we can't learn from reading your application. Put your best self forward and tell us what makes you exceptional.
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?
We view the LSAT, the GPA and the weighted index as good indicators of a student's potential law school performance. Each of these factors is balanced and then used to determine which students have a strong chance of succeeding in our programs. We pay more attention to work history when looking at applicants for our part-time program. A working professional's undergraduate GPA from eight or 10 years ago may not be the best indicator of what they can accomplish now.
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?
It depends. Students in our full-time program may come straight to us from their undergraduate institution or after taking a brief hiatus from school. Students in our part-time program tend to be working professionals looking to balance their careers with law school.
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?
Aside from the obvious—a beautiful campus in a vibrant city situated on an international border—our school offers students many outstanding centers that provide supplemental opportunities for them to participate actively in a particular field through research, conferences and advocacy. Popular centers at the University of San Diego School of Law include the Center for Intellectual Property and Markets, the Center for Corporate and Securities Law, the Center for Public Interest Law, the Center for Energy Policy and Initiatives, and the Center for Children's Advocacy. In addition to these programs, our school has another 15 supervised clinic and internship programs that give our students the opportunity to gain hands-on experience working with clients, public agencies, or judges.
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 expect that the recommender is either a faculty member or a supervisor who is very familiar with the applicant. We often look at these letters for specific information about the applicant's abilities and initiative. While it can be interesting to have a letter from a prominent public figure, it doesn't add anything to the application unless that person has known the applicant in a work or volunteer setting.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
We accept applications on a rolling basis beginning in September. Applications received before February 1 will receive priority consideration. We begin notifying applicants of their decisions as early as November and hope to make the majority of our decisions by April 1. But in a year like this, when we have a very high number of applications, the admissions process can extend into late April or early May.
8. Which firms/organizations recruit heavily from your school? Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Our alumni practice law in all 50 states and in at least 50 countries. The NALP (National Association for Law Placement) firms in our region recruit through our Career Services office, and as a result, the largest percentage our graduates work in the private sector, primarily for law firms.
However, USD law has a proud tradition of students committed to the public sector, working in government, public interest, or judicial clerkships. Because of the law school's programs in trial practice and oral advocacy, our graduates are sought after by District Attorneys, Public Defenders and the U.S. Attorney offices.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
Make sure to send all the requested materials to the right school. Often times when using the common application, the additional information that is required by different schools isn't received or goes to the wrong school. In addition, be sure to proofread your materials carefully. Since this is your chance to put your best foot forward, proofread your materials twice—then ask someone else to proofread it for you.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
The University of San Diego is looking for students with strong academic backgrounds who have a commitment to contribute to the legal profession and society. Our students demonstrate skills in leadership, either at work, school, or in volunteer positions. But we also think what sets our students apart is their positive attitude and spirit of collaboration. Our law students work well together, whether it is in class with faculty, among one another in study groups, or in a group partnering with organizations in the legal community. Although we know our school's welcoming and inclusive environment fosters this cooperative spirit, we want our students to bring with them that inclination.