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The Law School Application Timeline: Getting Started

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Ann Levine

Ann Levine


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Law School Admission Expert Ann Levine, author of "The Law School Admission Game: Play Like An Expert" will walk June and October 2010 LSAT takers through setting up an ideal timeline for each piece of the law school application process.


0:03 Ann Levine

Hi! This is Ann Levine and today we are going to be talking about The Law School Application Timeline: Getting Started. This is my 11th Law School Expert Blog Talk Radio show. We've had more than 11,000 listens to the previous 10 shows, and I love hearing from people, how helpful they find these shows. Today is the first one where I don't have any guests. You will just be listening to me give you some advice about setting up your law school admission timeline. I am answering questions, both on the Blog Talk Radio chat and my clients like to Facebook chat me while I am hosting this show, so I will check those and answer any questions that do come up as we go along. I am the author of The Law School Admission Game: Play like an Expert, a bestselling Amazon law school admissions guidebook, and I am the lawschoolexpert.com person and a blogger, for those of you who don't know me. Please feel free to chat questions throughout. This program is scheduled to be thirty minutes long. We are going to talk about what to do, in what order, how to give yourself structure through the law school application process so you don't get overwhelmed. So, let's get started!

1:15 Ann Levine

The goal of law school applications is to submit applications early. I'm a big believer in taking advantage of the rolling admissions process. The early bird does get the worm, but this only works if your entire file is complete early. You can't submit part of it and then wait and take the LSAT in December. That's the exact opposite of taking advantage of the rolling admissions process. That's a fine Plan B, but today's show is really geared to those people who will have taken the February, June, or October 2010 LSAT, who are applying for Fall of 2011 admission. Now, if you are listening to this, or in the future as an iTunes download, please know that the same time length, same information will work a year out. But I'm talking to people today who are trying to apply either early decision, early notification, or at least before Thanksgiving, which is what I call taking advantage of the rolling admission process, is an application submitted before Thanksgiving. So for those of you who are planning to apply later, then that would be a December score, or to submit applications in January, that's fine, but it's really ideal to operate on the first schedule. So that's where I'm really going to concentrate today's Blog Talk Radio program, especially since it is June and this is what most people are thinking about as you're waiting for your June LSAT scores.

2:41 Ann Levine

When you are setting up your timeline, you really are setting yourself up for success in the process because there is a lot of advantage to submitting an application a little bit earlier. There are three phases of the application planning process. The first is planning, second is preparing, and the third is applying. So I am talking to you, hopefully, right in the planning phase. Ideally, you are doing this January through June, but alternatively, for those of you who are taking the December LSAT, you could be doing this July through October as well. The second part that we will talk about is the preparing phase, which is ideally right now, June, July, August. And even if you are taking the October LSAT, going July, August, September is okay too, but certainly June is a great time to get started on the actual content of your application so you can pace yourself well. And then we talk about actually applying, the third phase. Ideally, you are doing this in September and October, but early to mid-November works too and even into December is okay, but again, we are aiming to try to do things before Thanksgiving. If that does not happen, its okay, but that's what we are talking about today as our goal.

3:54 Ann Levine

So, let's talk about the planning phase, January through May of the year that you are submitting applications. First, you've got the LSAT. This is when most people are studying for and taking the LSAT, whether it's June, October, even if you took it back in February. So part of this planning phase is including the LSAT preparation that you are doing. Also, you should get to know your friends at LSDAS very well. You should read through/bookmark lsac.org. It's going to be very important to you in the coming months and many of those questions that you are going to spin your wheels googling, or searching through my blog or discussion forums to find the answers to are actually right there in lsac.org, so get to know that website. It's going to explain to you LSDAS, The Law School Data Assembly Service, which if you don't understand it, just decide you are going to. It is really your friend through the process. So part of lsac.org is a service called LSDAS and they're the organization that takes your transcript, your letters of recommendation, your LSAT score and sends those things to each school you are applying to. And that's how you end up applying. You will use lsac.org to apply online to each individual school. You will fill out, later we will talk about this, but you will fill out your application there as well. So get to know the regulations about transcript. In most cases you have to send every transcript since graduating from high school or for some of you, if you took college courses before graduating from high school, everything needs to go to LSAC. The only exception is study abroad where your credits show up on your diploma and you were studying abroad for less than a certain amount of time, the standard amount of time qualifies, but if you have questions about these, then definitely check LSAC. But a problem that a lot of people run into, unfortunately, they submit their applications only to find out later that they didn't send all their transcripts and their applications are held up. So please be on top this. You're undergraduate transcripts will be transferred. If you attended summer school somewhere or studied abroad, start gathering everything. It is a great thing to do in the planning phase of the application process.

6:02 Ann Levine

It is also a great time to decide who will write your letters of recommendation and there's a form you need fill out for each writer on LSDAS, so be sure to do that. And ask people to write letters and ask them to submit them to LSAC in the next month or two so that you'll have plenty of time before you are applying and you know which letters have been received, you know who you are going to have to harass later, so its very important to get on top of that and no reason to wait on that. The third thing to keep in mind during the planning phase is to look at the schedule on LSAC of law school forums and recruiting events that LSAC puts on. It's a great way. They do this in big cities across the country every summer and fall and at 200 universities across the country they have graduate school fairs or law school fairs. So try to go to one that is local to you and start mapping that out on your calendar to go to one or two of those because it is a great way for you to meet face-to-face with people who you otherwise would have to travel across the country to talk to. I see we have a number of guests in our chat room today. I am totally welcome to questions, so please do feel free to chat me questions, comments, things I haven't mentioned. Go right ahead. I think it's better for everyone because other people probably have the exact same questions that you do.

7:28 Ann Levine

Let's talk about the LSAT and timing that in your application process. You have to decide when to take the LSAT and you have to register early to get the most desirable testing centers, so do keep that in mind. Some of you may have already taken the LSAT and you are waiting for your June LSAT scores. But if you haven't yet, or if you are wondering whether you're really prepared enough for the June LSAT, keep in mind that it really should take three to four months of solid preparation. You should do it once, you should do it right. And as I said earlier, February, June or October are the best times to take it in order to take advantage of rolling admissions. June is really ideal, then you have a possible second try in October. It works out really well for people. And as I said earlier, please don't...I don't like to be the person inducing paranoia, I like to help calm people down from other people who do that...so just keep in mind, December is not the end of the world. It's not ideal, but it is not the end of the world and every year, I have clients who take the December LSAT and do just fine and get into great schools, but then there is a lot depending on how you do on that test because February is the LSAT of last resort, as I talked about in the book.

8:38 Ann Levine

So LSAT preparation, what does that entail? Is that part of your planning phase? You're going to pick an LSAT prep company, hopefully, or tutor. You can pick a big company with a big class. There are wonderful and affordable online options that I write about quite often on the blog, private tutors, as I said before, or self-study. The key is to know how you learn best. If you are not a good standardized test taker, if you don't understand these things, or if you've never taken one before, which is the case with many people especially those who started out in the community college system or who went to school abroad, please know that this is a very different kind of test and if you don't do well on standardized tests, you're not going to be able teach yourself the LSAT. And that's when you really should invest in a tutor or class that works for you and is geared toward your learning style. So let's talk about LSDAS. You are going to...as I said, recap, register for LSDAS. Send all of your transcripts, look at the forum recruiting schedule, attend and capitalize those, so that's just a recap of the planning phase.

9:40 Ann Levine

For letters of recommendation, at this time of year, it's a great time, as I said, to ask for letters. You should always make efforts with people. If it's a professor, you want to go meet with the professor if you can. Don't just send them an email. If you are still in school, for example summer school, and you are hoping a summer school professor will be writing you a letter of recommendation, then please get to know that professor and go to their office, at least once or twice, before you ask them for the letter. It's common courtesy to give someone three to five weeks or so to write their letters and you may want to give them bullet points, etc. You do not need to have your personal statement ready to ask people to write letters of recommendation. And let me emphasize that. Because many times, people who don't understand the point of a letter of recommendation will say to you, "Well, give me a copy of your personal statement." And then the whole process freezes and people jump into personal statements, but you don't need to be doing that quite yet. Just make sure you give the person bullet points of things you hope they will address to remind them of papers you wrote, presentations you made, ways that you stood out, ways you helped your classmates in a work context, you know. Have a view about specific projects you've done, accomplishments, ways that you excel, and give the person that kind of bullet point feedback as opposed to giving them a personal statement because you don't want the letters of recommendation to overlap with the rest of your application. You want a nice segue. You want a nice symmetry between them, I should say, but you don't want them to repeat what the law schools already know about you. So that's the planning phase.

12:38 Ann Levine

The next thing to work on is your personal statement. I would allot two to four weeks from start to finish. This isn't something you want to do overnight. You want to be able to exercise good judgement, you want to review it, you want to come back to it, you don't want to go with, necessarily, the first idea that comes to mind and just be done with it. You really want to take your time. The personal statement matters. So, it is a great thing to be working on as a distraction tool while you are waiting for your LSAT score.

13:05 Ann Levine

Some people say to me, "Well, Ann, how can I write my personal statement if I don't know my LSAT score?" Okay. That person who is asking that question needs to do their research. You never ever want to write about an LSAT score in a personal statement. If there is something you're going to be explaining about the LSAT, you can do that later, once you have your score, in an addendum, but there is no reason to do that in a personal statement. So this is a great time to be working on your personal statement and again lots of pointers on personal statements in the book. Very specific examples of how to choose what to write about, how to choose how to present yourself but give yourself two to four weeks from start to finish. This does not include tailoring your personal statement to each school. We will talk about that when we talk about actually submitting applications. You'll also have optional essays but you won't know really what they are, or whether you'll be doing them, until you know your LSAT score. There are some schools off the top of my head, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania, New York Law School, California Western School of Law. Those are just some examples of schools that have optional essays or secondary essays that they ask for in the application process. So if you pretty much know where you are applying you can look at what schools have used in the past for these essays and start brainstorming topics. But schools do not release their applications usually until September or October, so you do not want to go ahead and write the essays they used last year. They could be completely different this year. Penn is a great example of that. They completely change what they ask you to write about. So it might be something you can start working on during this time but it might not be, but it is something to start thinking about it if you have more than one idea for your personal statement. For example, you can put one on the back burner if you do some researching into optional essays. The other thing you can do in June, July, and August is make sure all your transcripts have been received at LSAC. Check your academic summary report that LSAC puts together for you and make sure it is complete and correct. Follow up with letter of recommendation writers. Check LSAC. If the letters haven't been submitted and you were expecting them to be, follow up. LSAC loses letters, professors lie about whether they faxed them, they get lost. Not that any professor would intentionally lie, but I think you know what I am doing with that, where I am going with that. So definitely follow up with that. It's a great thing you can be doing during the preparing phase. So, still I have a very great chat room going on here, lots of people participating and no one asking me questions. That puts a lot of pressure on me. So, feel free to ask some questions or if there is anything you'd just like to know more about or would like me to touch upon than I am not. Please, I'm happy to take suggestions.

15:44 Ann Levine

So, now we are moving on to the third phase which is the applying phase and that is generally in September and October. Are law schools reading application in September? No, they are not. They are out at all those law school forums and recruiting events that I mentioned earlier. You should really take three to six weeks filling out all your application, so you don't want to rush. You do want to prioritize so you have some decisions made. First, once you have your LSAT score you can come up with the schools list and once you come up with the schools list you can see, is there any way I would like to apply binding early decision. If you would absolutely go to school no matter what, whether there are scholarships or not, there is no other scenario that you would be as happy accepting, then by all means apply somewhere binding early decision but please understand this is not really a way to get into a huge reach school. This is really a way to commit yourself to the law school you most hope to attend. Not all law schools offer this but some do offer great scholarship programs along with it. But don't do this as strategy, only do this if you're really sure where you want to go. I had one client this year who I really felt could have gotten into Harvard that he absolutely insisted he would rather go to Columbia than Harvard. So he did do early decision binding at Columbia and he did get in. He was very happy with that and felt no remorse whatsoever withdrawing his application from Harvard before he knew whether he got in or not, but that is the kind of situation you may be placed in. So be prepared for that. If you are not okay with that, don't apply binding early decisions. Early notification is sort of a nicer, more open minded way of applying to a school early. Usually the benefit is you apply early, you sometimes give a decision early. The reason I say sometimes is that you may be given a decision that is really your application is on hold or you are wait listed, you have been deferred to the regular admission cycle but sometimes you get back a fast rejection which I guess is helpful in some way that you know how to refocus your efforts or add another application or two into other schools but if you are interested in making those deadlines they are usually November 1 or November 15. So keep that in mind as you are doing your timeline.

17:58 Ann Levine

You will have to decide whether to apply part time or full time. If you will be working, you obviously have to apply to part-time program. A lot of times people ask, well there is a better chance of getting into a school if I say I want to go part time. The answer can be yes, but it is not a way to get into a school where your LSAT score is 10.2 over 25th percentile. You are not going to be suddenly admitted because you are applying part time. You really have to think about whether you would be happy as a part-time applicant at that school or not as you're making that decision. You are going to have to look at each school on your list whether they have the optional essays, which one or ones that you would like to answer and you have to figure out if you are going to fee waivers from these schools. You can often ask for fee waivers especially with strong numbers to back it up. You can call over the phone and say, "Look, I have this LSAT, this GPA. Would it be possible for me to get an application fee waiver?" So all of this is part of the applying phase in September and October. And of course, the main thing is filling out applications. Details are really important. You will use LSAC to apply. You should fill out the common information form. It's really your name, address, schools attended, the very basic information. And then the schools do not actually see that form. Rather, that form is used to autofill each individual school's application. So it is a great tool. I mean, I wish we had this back when I was applying to the law school 15 years ago. It is really convenient but you need to make sure you do not make mistakes. You need to follow the directions, you need to check everything twice and you can start submitting some applications in September, some schools don't make them available until October 1 but certainly submitting applications in October if you already know your LSAT score and if you are taking the October LSAT you will have your score around October 28 to October 29 usually it is the 3rd Friday after the test via e-mail. You can start submitting applications after that time.

19:58 Ann Levine

I do have a question. At one point in the timeline is it best to visit schools? Seeing as people are applying to more and more schools, how should one decide which school to visit? Fantastic question. Thank you. Okay. If you know your LSAT score and you know you are a middle or reach candidate for a school and the school is easy for you to visit, you do not have to fly cross country to do it, then you should do it. The only time I think it's absolutely vital to visit a school, almost vital 90% of the time, is when you're waitlisted at a school and that you really should visit. The people are applying to, you know 12, 15, 20 schools. It's not feasible to get on a plane and visit all of those schools. So, that is why the online forums, by forums I mean LSAC forums, are still helpful because you can go meet face to face with people from across the country, build relationships for those individuals, get a business card, have someone to follow up with them with thank you notes whenever you have questions. Make that personal connection so that you have someone there you can call up and say, "Oh my gosh why isn't my file complete?" or you know, "I've been waiting four months, I'm really excited to attend. I just want you to know that." You know, not that you can annoy, but someone who remembers you so that you are more than just a piece of paper can absolutely be worthwhile. You know, some schools are not so friendly to visitors. They do not have tours. They don't let you sit-in in classes, things like that. So you know, that is one decision if you're deciding which schools you might want to attend. Just check on the policy for each school. But if you are located in a city where you are applying to law school, you have no excuse. If you live in San Diego and you have not gone to visit University of San Diego, if I were Director of Admissions there I would not admit you. It's just laziness. You need to make effort and treat this like you would a job interview. You know, handle it professionally. It is important. This is one way you can stand out. But on the other hand you do not want to annoy anyone, you want to be professional about it. You don't want to bring your parents with you. You don't want to wear club wear or gym wear. You know, treat this like it is serious to you and advocate for yourself. Great, great question. But I wouldn't do it...there is not a lot of advantage to visiting schools at the point of the application cycle we are talking about, which is the actual filling in application. There can be advantages to introducing yourself at a recruiting event where the school is and there can be advantages to mentioning meeting someone or mentioning a visit in your personal statement but if you are not able to do that by the time you apply you can just do that later on. You can send a follow up e-mail or a follow-up letter saying that you recently met someone from the school, got you even more excited about attending. So there is no reason you have to rush during the application process.

23:04 Ann Levine

And is the LSDAS relevant to Canadian applicants as well? That is an excellent question. If you are a Canadian applicant who is applying in the US, the answer is yes. I believe you still have to send transcripts. If you are a Canadian citizen applying in Canada I believe you do have to send transcript to LSDAS but I'm not sure that letters of recommendation work the same way but I'm pretty sure they do. I really am concentrating on working with applicants. Even though I work with applicants from Canada and everywhere else, I work with people on their applications to US ABA law schools. So I'm not as familiar with exactly how it is handled in Canada but I'm sure that there are lots of instructions about that on lsac.org. Sorry, I wasn't prepared for that one right then. Let's go on, but I'm happy. Keep asking questions guys. I'm glad to see the chat box going a little bit. So, I just want to recap in the last...we have six minutes remaining. So I'd like to recap the timeline we have discussed and then I would like to answer more questions. So, lets go back to the three phases. Planning, which is ideally January through June but alternatively can be July through October. Preparing, ideally June, July, August, but July, August, September is fine too. And applying, ideally end of September, October, early November but mid to late November and even early December is fine, too, to take advantage of rolling admissions. And for those of you who cannot fit this timeline based on work, or travel or LSAT dates, please do understand, this is not the only way of doing something. This is just the ideal way of doing something that I am trying to motivate people out there to follow at the right time of year. We are doing this June 17, 2010. I am trying to talk to people right now, get some moving right now but I'm sure that I can do this again later in the year geared towards people who take the October LSAT for the first time and haven't done anything yet. There is a reason October is my busiest month every year. It's probably the most common time for people to wake up and do things but it does not make it the ideal time.

25:14 Ann Levine

So, I'm happy to take a few more questions and while I wait for those to come up in the chat room, I just want to tell you that I urge you to go ahead and look through the previous 10 Blog Talk Radio shows and to explore my blog at lawschoolexpert.com/blog. I've been blogging there for four years on law school admission related topics and I do answer questions there on topics related to my post. So please visit it, subscribe to it. I update it regularly and you don't want to miss it because sometimes the first news comes out there just when you need that inspiration to go forward. I give some great inspirational stories like I did just this week on someone who got into her dream school off the wait list. So keep the blog on your favourites. I also offer personal coaching to the law school application process which you can read more about at lawschoolexpert.com. And last chance for questions. Any other questions about the timeline? I want to wish everyone good luck who is waiting for the June LSAT scores. You will be probably have them as I said the 3rd Friday after the test via e-mail so it is not too far off guys and I know you'll all be very excited to get your scores. The important thing then is you have to decide, "Is this the score that is a good accurate representation of what I can do on the test?" If the answer is yes, you are all set to start working on letters of recommendations, personal statements, resumes, transcripts, addenda, etc. And start thinking about what schools to apply to and if you decide that it's not the right school for you, then immediately register for the October LSAT. And in the meantime, if you feel you didn't prepare enough for June, start getting back into preparing or find a different or better way to prepare. You have plenty of time for the October LSAT to do that and then you can move forward from there. I want to thank all of my listeners. It is really amazing, the e-mails and comments again in the blog from people who find these programs helpful. This is the first one I've done without another guest and just me talking, so let me know what you think of that. If you have ideas for future shows, topics, guests, please feel free to contact me at lawschoolexpert@gmail.com. Thank you so much.