Each part of the application presents a powerful opportunity to present your best self; each is precious real estate that must be developed and utilized to its fullest potential. I hope to use this column, this precious real estate, to provide information and strategies for law school applicants.
Before we can get into the nitty-gritty of personal statements, optional essays, résumés, addenda, letters of rec, school selection, LSAT preparation, etc...we need to talk about timing. Since it's the beginning of August, and we're on the cusp of the Fall 2011 admission cycle, the first thing to address is when you should be taking care of each of these items. That's today's topic—the application timeline. Then, when you check back each Monday, I'll provide detailed advice about each of the items on this checklist.
If you took the June LSAT (or prior) and you are NOT retaking the LSAT, aim to submit your applications in September/October. If you are taking the October LSAT, aim to submit all applications before Thanksgiving. You should still have time to apply by Nov. 1 and Nov. 15 early notification/early decision deadlines.
First, Register for the Law School Data Assembly Service and send all of your transcripts to LSDAS. The Law School Admission Council will create an Academic Summary Report and you will need to be aware what LSAC states as your cumulative GPA.
Next, organize your résumé. This is a great way to objectively state how you've spent your time since graduating from high school. It helps you see what you're lacking, and where your strengths lie.
If you have a weakness to explain, draft your addendum. Get this out of the way before you attack your personal statement. It will help you avoid repetition in the personal statement and will also put the part that scares you most behind you.
[Get more tips from law school admissions officials.]
AUGUST 15-SEPTEMBER 1:
Decide who should write your Letters of Recommendation and request them. Don't take this lightly—it's no small task to ask the right people, ask them the right way, and get them the materials they need to create an exceptional letter.
Start brainstorming for your personal statement. (For June LSAT takers only; October LSAT takers should be studying for the LSAT.) Because many schools change their personal statement requirements and optional essay requirements from year to year, you can't count on last year's question as your definitive guide. But you can write what I call a "working draft" of a personal statement that can be easily tailored to almost any law school's prompt.
Give yourself a lot of time on the brainstorming so you can really sort through your ideas. This is your interview equivalent—it must be impressive or you're wasting a fantastic opportunity.
Find a LSAC Law School Forum or graduate school fair near you. Talk to representatives from the schools on your list, learn about schools you may not have previously considered, and continue to hone your schools list.
Draft a personal statement (For June LSAT takers only; October LSAT takers should do this while waiting for their LSAT scores). Write four pages, then cut it to three so you know you're using only the most essential words and phrases. (And yes, that's double-spaced.) You'll probably need a 500 word and/or two page version for some schools. And you'll probably find that, once you trim it, the shortest version is the most powerful.
Select your schools. (June LSAT takers only; October LSAT takers will do this at the end of October and beginning of November.) Narrow down by location first, then by where you might be a good fit based on your credentials. What schools regularly accept people with numbers that mirror your own? What schools almost never do? What is important to you in an educational setting?
Start filling out applications as they become available. (June LSAT takers only; October LSAT takers will do this upon receipt of their scores.) I'll include lots of tips on "do's and don'ts" in future posts.
Submit applications. (June LSAT takers only; October LSAT takers will do this during the first two weeks of November). Very carefully. One at a time. With the correct essay(s) attached to them and following the directions to a "T."
In my weekly columns, I will address each of these components according to this timeline. As we progress through the application cycle, I'll address pressing issues including how to choose a law school, the role of law school rankings, job prospects, taking on debt, scholarships, and waiting lists. As your partner though the daunting law school admission process, I hope to make things as transparent as possible.