We posed questions to admissions officials at the University of Houston Law Center regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants and what sets their school apart. These are their direct responses:
1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?
The personal statement tends to be overlooked by many applicants, but a well-written statement can instantly set applicants apart from their peers. The objective should be to focus on the applicant as a person, and outline their motivations, background, interests, etc. Ideally, the personal statement should emphasize how a candidate would contribute to his or her class of fellow law students.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
Our admissions committee takes the personal statement very seriously. Applicants should approach the personal statement not as a writing assignment, but as an "interview" with the admissions committee. What can you tell us about yourself that you want us to consider when making our decision? Applicants may write about special skills, advanced degrees, work experiences, a description of what they intend or hope to do professionally, or personal challenges they have overcome.
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 no set weights for any of the criteria considered, and admissions decisions are based on the overall strength of the application materials. LSAT scores are an important factor, but they are considered only within the context of a candidate's overall record of achievement.
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?
The admissions committee values work experience, but it is just one of many factors considered. There isn't a typical or expected amount of work experience. We have admitted candidates with very little work or internship experience, and we have admitted candidates with decades of work experience. Rather than simply reviewing work experience as an "item" on a candidate's résumé, our committee looks for experience that has contributed to a candidate's desire to pursue a career in law.
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?
We are among a handful of top schools with multiple specialty programs that are widely respected for quality. Our Health Law program and Intellectual Property programs hold worldwide reputations, and our employers place a true value on the practical experience that our students gain in the six clinics operated at the Law Center. Our surveys of students also speak to the "collaborative" nature of our campus—which stands in contrast to the ultracompetitive environments reported at other top law schools.
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?
It is more important for applicants to get a letter of recommendation from someone who knows them well. Recommenders should be able to speak to the candidate's intellect, work ethic, and character. We would rather hear from the applicant's professors, clients, or employers than from an attorney, judge, or political officeholder who does not know the applicant well and is essentially writing a "form letter."
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
Once an application is received, we request the LSDAS report. Once the file becomes complete, it goes into the queue for review—and our admissions committee reviews files in the order that they were completed. As soon as the committee makes a decision on the application, a decision is communicated to the candidate via our online status check system and by mail.
8. Which firms/organizations recruit heavily from your school? Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
University of Houston Law Center has a campus recruiting program hosting well more than 100 employers annually. Large, predominantly Am Law 200 firms attend our on-campus interviews in the fall to recruit our top students for summer positions. In the spring, we host public interest employers, smaller firms, and corporations for networking and interviewing events.
While we have graduates employed in all segments of the legal marketplace, the highest percentages in private practice are split evenly between firms with more than 500 attorneys and smaller firms of less than 10 attorneys. We also have a significant number of students who employ their J.D. in business positions with accounting and energy corporations.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
The worst offenders are the applicants who do not read and follow the application instructions! Just by following the rules, these applicants could avoid the simple mistakes that can impede their chances of admission. Applicants should plan to complete the process in a timely manner and should not wait until the deadlines to apply. Also, candidates should carefully proofread everything before submitting their materials. Candidates regularly send in materials with spelling errors, or submit materials that were obviously intended for another law or graduate school.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
There really isn't a typical student. We endeavor to have students from a wide range of backgrounds with a variety of viewpoints. The admissions committee is looking for applicants with a history of academic excellence, service to the community, and leadership skills. We are recognized as one of the most diverse law campuses in the nation, and we believe that the diversity of our students is one of our true strengths as a law school.