Take 5 Essential Steps Before Applying to Law School

Customize your application package for each school on your list.

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Two students work together with a laptop.
Two students work together with a laptop.

Over the next several weeks, thousands of law school hopefuls will begin to submit their applications after months of studying for the LSAT and perfecting their essays.

The waiting period that follows can be incredibly stressful, so to ease your mind, you should be confident that you are submitting your best possible application. When my colleagues at Stratus Prep and I work with clients, we always take them through this final checklist to ensure that they are submitting their very best work:

1. Customize your essays: Each of your essays should be customized for the specific school to which you are applying. This does not mean simply copying and pasting an essay and switching out the names.

Instead, you need to speak to the unique qualities of each law school that make that school the right fit for you. You should explain how you will contribute to the law school's community in a meaningful way and how the school's programs, professors, and specialized centers will give you the best preparation for your future career.

[Find out how to use news to customize essays.]

2. Find a reader: Have at least one person who has never seen your essays before read through them to proofread and offer suggestions. Ideally, this should be someone who does not know you very well, so you can gain a better sense of how the admissions committees will view your essays.

Encourage your reader to check for spelling and grammar errors and, more importantly, ask if they understand all of the anecdotes and ideas you are conveying. At Stratus Prep, a number of law school experts read each essay before it is submitted, and I take on the role of an impartial reader and evaluator for every single client, doing a final "mock admissions evaluation" prior to submission.

3. Carefully select recommenders: Through the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), you can choose which recommendations you send to each school. While you will not be able to read the actual letters (because you waive your rights to review them), you should have a sense of the nature of each letter based on who wrote it.

Think strategically about what characteristics and experience each school is looking for and decide which recommendations will most effectively speak to those factors. Then, assign your letters through LSAC accordingly.

[Don't make these five mistakes when requesting recommendations.]

4. Revise your résumé: The résumé can easily be forgotten among more substantial elements of your application, like the LSAT and the essays, but it is still an important piece of your overall package. Remember that a law school résumé should be different from a résumé for a job or internship.

Your law school résumé should highlight the experiences most meaningful to law school admissions committees. (Be sure there are no discrepancies with regards to dates or other details throughout the application). Most importantly, your résumé should not be longer than one page.

5. Choose a range of schools: Think carefully about the schools to which you apply. You may have made a list earlier in the application cycle, but you should reevaluate the list if anything has changed in the meantime, such as a higher or lower LSAT score than anticipated.

[Explore the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings.]

Make sure your final list includes a wide range of stretch, target, and safety schools. Be realistic with your safety schools and optimistic with your stretch schools.

What do you still have to do before submitting your applications? Let me know in the comments, Tweet at me at @StratusPrep, or E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com.

Also, send me your admissions profiles and any general law admissions questions to be featured in next week's edition of Law Admissions Q&A.