Seek Extracurricular Activities Before Applying to Law School

Your extracurriculars can help increase your law school admissions chances.

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Many applicants believe that law school admissions are based solely on LSAT scores and GPAs. While these are the two single most significant factors in the admissions process, other factors, including extracurricular involvement, application essays, and recommendations, can also be very important.

We're finding that admissions departments are increasingly looking beyond the numbers and are showing a heightened interest in reviewing each candidate's full profile. For instance, I recently helped three applicants with LSATs in the low 160s gain entry to Harvard Law School. How can you achieve these same results?

[Learn more about preparing for the LSAT.]

Highlighting substantial extracurricular involvement is one way to increase your chance of gaining admission to top schools. Whether you are in school or you have already graduated, involvement in your community outside of classes and/or work is crucial. Now is a great time to evaluate your extracurricular experiences and seek leadership positions.

As you consider your extracurricular opportunities, remember these four guidelines:

1. Quality not quantity: The depth of your involvement is much more important than the number of activities in which you are involved. You should first explore all of the options available to you such as affinity clubs, intramural sports, and community service organizations. Then, after sampling some of them, commit to the two or three that resonate most with you.

The applications often ask you to specify how many hours you spent on each activity per week; so if the admissions committees see that you were spread too thin, they might believe you could not have really impacted any of these groups. By picking a few activities about which you are truly passionate and dedicating yourself fully, your contribution to the community will be readily apparent.

[See how your extracurriculars can help pay for college.]

2. Not all activities are created equal: Look to join larger, more established organizations. For example, many prestigious nonprofits, like UNICEF and Habitat for Humanity, have college chapters on campuses all over the country.

In addition to community service, law schools particularly value involvement in student government and school publications, such as newspapers or journals; holding leadership positions in the organizations of which you are a part is imperative.

You can also form your own club to fill a gap in your community and grow it into an influential organization. Most importantly, whether you join a group or start your own, you must have made a demonstrable impact.

[Learn more about finding the right extracurricular activities.]

3. Start early and be selective: You may have seen this same advice in my previous posts, and it really is universally relevant to all aspects of your law school application. I consistently see that the students who start their law school admissions and LSAT preparation early have the upper hand. Especially in regard to extracurricular activities, you ideally want to get involved years before you apply.

Admissions committees will want to know how long you have been involved in each activity, and if you just joined a club your senior year of college, it does not demonstrate significant dedication. Figuring out which activities you are passionate about early on will give you plenty of time to grow within those organizations and make tangible contributions.

[See five reasons to get involved in college.]

4. Law-related activities are not essential: As you are choosing which clubs to join, do not feel pressure to participate in law-related activities. While organizations like undergraduate prelaw societies can present great opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals and network with law professionals, your involvement in these groups is not especially impressive to law school admissions deans, since prelaw groups tend not to be the largest or most influential campus organizations.

Law schools prefer that, through your extracurricular involvement, you provide them examples of significant leadership rather than simply attempt to reinforce your passion for the law, which can be more convincingly demonstrated through other aspects of your application (course selection, internships, etc.).

Most importantly, be sure you share your enthusiasm for the activities of which you are a part and clearly show how your involvement has made a difference.

As you're mapping out your activities, which clubs or groups do you plan on joining this year? Let me know in the comments below, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @shawnpoconnor. Check back next Monday for tips on how to maximize your visits to law schools this spring.