We posed questions to admissions officials at Penn State 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?
The admissions process identifies a pool of qualified and diverse students and invites the most qualified to become Penn State Law students. Students are selected for admission based on an assessment of their potential to succeed in the rigorous and competitive J.D. program and to excel in the profession of law. Well-developed analytical ability and strong written and oral communication skills are critical. Successful applicants demonstrate exceptional academic achievement together with work experience, volunteer service activities, and other personal accomplishments that show self-discipline, integrity, leadership ability, and a sense of purpose.
2. What do you look for in the application essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?
The personal statement is an important part of the application review process. The statement invites the applicant to speak realistically and directly about his or her potential for success in law school and the profession. It also serves as a sample of the applicant's ability to write a compelling, organized, succinct, and grammatical essay. Essays illuminate innumerable traits of an 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?
The LSAT score is the most accurate standardized indicator of success in the first year of law school. Therefore, an applicant's LSAT score is weighted heavily in the evaluation process. Applicants' undergraduate academic records are also significant. Penn State Law draws applicants from a wide array of undergraduate schools. Evaluation of an applicant's relative accomplishment as undergraduates takes into account the selectivity and rigor of the undergraduate school and the applicant's field of study within that school. A comparatively weak undergraduate record raises questions about the applicant's maturity and personal discipline necessary for success in a rigorous law program. Among similarly credentialed students, the individual applicant's' personal statement and record of experience, service, leadership, and non-academic achievement play an important role.
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?
Work experience can be important as an indicator of success in law school, particularly experience that indicates a comparatively high level of professional achievement, leadership, or responsibility. We approach each applicant as an individual and try to evaluate his or her potential for success in legal study based on the experiences he or she brings to the table, whether that means coming directly from undergraduate school or taking years to develop expertise in the professional world.
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 a unit of Penn State University, one of the top-rated research universities in the United States. Since 2004, more than 30 outstanding scholars have joined the law faculty; the university has invested more than $130 million in signature law school facilities; and the academic credentials and diversity of the student body have risen dramatically.
Because the law school curriculum and community are an integral part of Penn State University, students enjoy easy access to interdisciplinary study opportunities, graduate school courses, and joint degree programs. The law school benefits from a close relationship with the School of International Affairs and offers an integrated international law curriculum, international study opportunities, and shared access to the faculty of former ambassadors, former officials of the United Nations, national security specialists, trade specialists, leading scholars of the role of science policy in international affairs, and others.
Our law school is known for excellence in a wide range of substantive law areas and clinical opportunities. We enjoy especially distinguished faculty depth in public international law, comparative law, evidence, corporate law, mergers and acquisitions, arbitration and alternative dispute resolution, trial advocacy, human rights, and intellectual property.
Additionally, our state-of-the-art facilities are second to none. We just completed a $130 million investment in new buildings complete with cutting-edge technology that gives our students an advantage over other schools. For example, our students are regularly connected via live, seamless audio visual technology with counterparts throughout the world for classes on comparative law.
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?
Letters of recommendation provide information on the intelligence, character and potential of an applicant from people who have had the opportunity to observe and evaluate the applicant in the classroom, at work, or as mentors. Letters from public figures or other persons who have had only limited knowledge of the applicant are not nearly as important as letters from those have some real world perspective on the applicant's academic potential.
7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?
We generally review files in the order they become complete. Of course, some applications are easier to make a decision about than others. An applicant could have a decision from us in two weeks or three months, depending on the appropriate path for that person's file. Our application becomes available in early October. We don't promise a decision for our applicants until mid-March. An application is reviewed for completion and assigned to a member of the admission staff. At that point, a decision can be made, or the file can be recommended for further review by the Dean for Admissions or a faculty admissions committee. Decisions are generally communicated as soon as they are made.
8. Which firms/organizations recruit heavily from your school? Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?
Our employer pool is incredibly diverse. While the majority of our graduates go to work for law firms, no one employer dominates this sector of employment. We have relationships with large, small, and mid-sized law firms. Approximately 20 percent of our graduates take positions with government agencies, and nearly 15 percent of our graduates go into business and industry. The diversity of our students' employment interests is matched by the interest in them from employers in all sectors, including those in public interest. Additionally, the geographic interests of our students are widespread. Our graduates are in nearly every state, and many are hired outside of the U.S. We plan to keep our employer pool as diverse as possible. It has been a key factor in helping to insulate our students from the worst of the economic downturn.
9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?
- Taking the LSAT without being fully prepared;
- Exhibiting lack of attention in completing their application or personal statement
-Failing to explain obvious weaknesses in their applications
10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?
Penn State Law seeks students who are serious about obtaining a first-rate legal education in the company of diverse and capable peers. Law is not easy. We seek students who are not satisfied with easy answers or the safe path. Rather, we look for students who will have the confidence, patience, and courage to wrestle with complicated problems and use reason, logic, and language to find solutions.