We posed questions to admissions officials at the Boston University 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?
They can pursue their most authentic interests. Applicants are most likely to blend in with other applicants when they are all doing the same things that they think the law schools want to see. As an applicant, the way to set yourself apart is simple, though not necessarily easy. You pursue the projects that you genuinely care about, whatever they might be—novel or traditional, large or small in scale—and you pursue them with constant energy and fierce commitment. The applicant who has the courage to do that will, without much additional effort, be set apart from all others.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
A strong essay finds a way to convey the hopes and passions that are inspiring its author to go to law school. Individuals have their own vision of what they may want to do with a law degree. The vision may be precise or still somewhat blurry; it may be unusual or it may reflect goals that are also widely held by lots of other people; it may involve a lucrative career or perhaps one that has nothing to do with wealth. But the details of the dream that starts someone down this path are almost always unique. An essay that captures that individual vision will always be a pleasure to read and will usually reflect well on the applicant.
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?
It is impossible to answer that question in a general way. It depends on the applicant. We read each application in its entirety and holistically. Grades from college do matter, because they say something about the applicant's work habits and aptitude for a demanding academic program—but we have had many law students whose academic performance here vastly exceeded anything they had done before in school, because law was a better fit for them than whatever they had previously studied. Likewise, the LSAT is relevant because it helps to predict how well a student will do on first-year law school exams. But sometimes it doesn't predict that performance well after all; and in any event, there are lots of ways to be a successful law student besides getting high grades. So strengths in other areas can and do make up for shortfalls on those conventional metrics. Every year we admit a significant number of students with numbers well below what you might expect, and deny some applicants who have numbers higher than our medians.
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?
More than two-thirds of our entering students do have post-collegiate work or graduate school experience. Of course, we admit many students who come directly from their undergraduate institution, but we consider it essential that a large proportion of our admitted students bring some measure of additional experience to our entering class. We have no specific expectation of an applicant's work experience, and our entering students typically range from new college graduates to highly experienced professionals. We view both graduate degrees and work experience positively. Post-collegiate experiences demonstrate types of accomplishment and/or relevant sorts of intellectual development that contribute substantially to the education of every member of a law school class.
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?
First, our students usually say that the faculty here is unlike any they have encountered earlier in their educational careers. Our professors are frequently decorated with teaching awards because they are intensely dedicated to the classroom and to giving every student a great law school experience. Second, we have an amazing range of opportunities for students with varying interests: first-rate clinics, externships, a semester in practice program, and also one of the largest sets of study-abroad programs of any law school in the country. Third, we highly value public interest work; this school was recently recognized by a national magazine as one of the four top schools in the country for public service. Last, our location—within walking distance of downtown Boston—is outstanding. Boston has all the advantages of huge cities as a legal market and from a cultural standpoint, but it also is a city that you can manage on foot. It is the best place in the world to be a student.
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 recommender is someone who can speak both to an applicant's academic talents—analytical abilities and a capacity to write well—and to personal character. Often, such a person is a professor with whom the applicant has worked fairly closely. Professors understand the importance of strong letters and often spend significant time building a case for admission of the applicant. They do this by reference to specifics (papers written for the class, quality of class participation, intellectual growth observed, etc.). It is more important to get a letter that will be positive, relevant and detailed than to get a letter from someone of high status who cannot write anything but a general endorsement of the application. Letters from relatives and family friends are also generally not helpful.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
We have a rolling admissions process, which means that we begin to review applications and make admissions decisions beginning in late fall and continuing throughout the spring. We review each application in its entirety and do not use numbers to form any sort of composite rating. So while we try to provide decisions as soon as we can, the time required for each application varies. Being unspecific in this way can be frustrating for applicants, but it enables us to build the strongest possible class every year and to give every application the attention it deserves.
8. Which firms/organizations recruit heavily from your school? Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
The leading professional services firms in the nation, a multitude of government agencies and prestigious public interest organizations recruit Boston University School of Law students. Approximately 70 percent of our graduates are employed in the private sector upon graduation, the majority of whom are working in large law firms. National law firms such as Ropes & Gray LLP, Skadden Arps LLP, and Weil Gotshal LLP—and all of the Big Four accounting firms—recruit our students as do federal, state, and local government agencies across the country. Our students are also selected for federal government honors programs and the Presidential Management Fellowship program. Many of our graduates join the ranks of U.S. Attorney, District Attorney and Public Defender offices nationwide. Still others serve in the federal and state judiciaries.
BU Law has strong ties with international, national, and regional public interest organizations for summer and academic year internships, pro bono placements, and permanent positions. These groups include legal services organizations, civil rights and civil liberties organizations, and international nongovernmental organizations. Finally, a number of graduates also utilize their law degrees in a wide variety of business pursuits as well as in academia as faculty, administrators and researchers.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
In answering this question there is no need to belabor the obvious, such as careless writing of essays or concluding sentences that announce the applicant's fervent desire to attend school X—where school X is some other law school! (Once in a while this actually happens.) Suffice it to say that an application is the first step toward a career in which careful attention to detail is an important element of professional success. The application should be drafted with a corresponding professionalism. It might as well be mentioned, too, that applying late in the season, especially right at the deadline, can hurt an applicant's chances simply because there will be fewer seats available in the class at that point.
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
There is no archetype. We deliberately avoid it. This law school has been open to all comers on the basis of ability since the day it opened its doors. If we were to speak in broad general terms, we could say that our students have high energy and spirit, they value community, they work hard, they are self-starters, and they have an interest in taking advantage of all the things that BU Law has to offer. They come from across the nation and around the world. Students are encouraged to be themselves at BU Law, and the result is an intelligent, dynamic, and eclectic community.