Many applicants wonder how they can stand out from the crowd and get noticed—in a good way—by an admission committee. Candidates often try to write creative personal statements, find extra special VIPs to write letters on their behalf, or obtain impressive-sounding internships. Law school admission committees have received videos, photo albums, portfolios, resumes on pretty paper, poems, thesis submissions, and more. People are very creative!
However, the basic application requirements do not really lend themselves to autographed modeling headshots, for example. It tends to be a bit cut and dry: LSAT (or possibly the GRE), transcripts, personal statement, letters of recommendation, etc. For applicants who want to show their strength beyond the numbers, there is a way to stand out and stay professional.
We assembled a few tips to help you put together a law school application that stands out.
Research pays off before you start applying for law school
Take the time to tell a school why you are applying to their JD program. No law school wants to be an applicant’s back-up plan. Make sure your schools know why you have chosen to submit an application. If the school is close to home and you plan to practice in that area, tell them. You should share why the school meets your needs and how you can be an asset to that program.
At Stetson University College of Law, for example, JD applicants often cite the advocacy, elder law, environmental law and social justice advocacy programs as reasons they applied. Whatever your reason, convey that to the committee in your personal statement, unless requested to do so elsewhere. Remember, law schools know that your interests may change or that you may have several different areas of interest. The point is to show the school that you are serious about going to law school (and their school in particular).
Details matter in your law school application
We talked about the need to pay attention to details and edit all submissions carefully in our blog, “5 Ways to Avoid Making Mistakes on Your Law School Application.” There is no way to underestimate the importance of paying attention to details and instructions when applying to law school. If you want to avoid standing out in a bad way, take your time and read all instructions closely. Law schools often have slightly different character and fitness questions, personal statement topics, or letter of recommendation requirements. You don’t want to be the applicant to write the wrong school’s name in your personal statement. It happens and never looks good.
Highlight your accomplishments
Applicants often believe they need to have legal experience prior to applying to law school. While nice to have, it is not necessary. For non-traditional applicants, professional experience is a given and is sometimes more important than grades from decades past. For traditional students, show that you do more than just study and get good grades. With exception, most people applying to law school right out of college have good or decent grades. Stand out with a strong resume: secure internships, get a part-time job, volunteer and get involved in activities on campus. Law schools want to enroll students who will bring vibrancy to campus life. They aren’t looking for college activity box checkers, but real engagement and leadership.
Some students worry that they won’t look impressive because they have work and family obligations and cannot participate in internships and campus activities. That is understandable. Take the opportunity to draft an addendum to your application and talk about your family commitments. At Stetson, we have reviewed statements from people caring for sick members of their families and those who work full-time, go to school full-time and take care of loved ones at home. Talk about impressive. The point is to show the committee who you are beyond your role as a student.
No matter your accomplishments—personal or professional—take the time to highlight them in your materials. Law schools want to craft a diverse class and that means looking at more than the LSAT and GPA.
The recommendations. Some schools require academic and professional references. Others leave it up to the applicant to choose. Pay attention to the instructions and look for references who know you well. Big names don’t always yield quality letters of recommendation. Sometimes they are written by a staff member or don’t show a personal knowledge of the student. Seek out someone who knows you and your abilities. Avoid using relatives at all costs!
If you don’t have a professional recommender and you are an active member of a religious organization or perhaps you volunteer frequently, seek out a pastor or supervisor. If you plan to ask faculty, remember they get bombarded with letter requests. Ask early and provide your resume. Better yet, remind them of what classes you had with them and what grades you earned.
Edit and edit again
This goes without saying, but applicants often overlook editing their actual application resulting in a file that has typos. Others rely simply on spell-check for their personal statements and end up with some critical errors. Remember, writing matters in law school and in the practice.
The secret formula to help you put together a law school application that stands out is simple: research your schools, pay attention to instructions, edit and submit error-free materials, highlight accomplishments and be yourself. Don’t try to create a person you think law schools want. Show them who you are and how you can add value to their program and the profession.