by Kim Clark

What can you do to set yourself apart in your law school application? Admissions officials have the answers

We posed questions to admissions officials at the Baylor Law School regarding the application process, what they look for in applicants, and what sets their school apart. These are their responses:

1. What can applicants do to set themselves apart from their peers?

Applicants should focus on putting together a well-crafted application package that showcases their strengths and what they can contribute to the academic environment and legal profession. Some applicants make the mistake of developing answers and/or essays that are contrived or unauthentic. The key element applicants should remember is to be sincere, honest, and precise when preparing an application package.

2. What do you look for in the applications essays? What do the essays tell you about a candidate?

Written communication is vital in the legal profession. We consider the personal statement a strong measure of the applicant's ability to write clearly and concisely, as well as an important window into an applicant's personality and story. Through the personal statement, the Admissions Committee tries to get a sense of the applicant as a person. An applicant can choose to write about his/her motivation to study law; evidence of academic achievement, leadership, responsibility, or community involvement; educational, social, or economic background; and any special, such as bilingual language skills or advocacy skills. We are particularly interested in any aspect of the applicant's background that would allow him or her to distinctively enrich the law school environment. Once again, the key element to an effective personal statement is to be honest.

3. How important is the applicant's LSAT score? How do you weigh it against undergraduate GPA and work/internship experience? Which of these carry the most weight? The least?

The LSAT and undergraduate GPA are weighted more heavily than other factors by the Admissions Committee because of the established predictive qualities of the LSAT and the undergraduate GPA. That said, this does not mean that these two criteria are perfect predictors. This is why we take a holistic approach to reviewing all application files. We also consider such wide ranging factors as work experience, demonstrated leadership potential, co-curricular and extracurricular activities, academic performance trends, undergraduate major, caliber of undergraduate school, circumstances of particular disadvantage, and any other relevant information submitted to us by an applicant.

4. How much does prior work/internship experience weigh into your decision making? What's the typical or expected amount of work experience from an applicant?

Work experience oftentimes weighs favorably in the admissions process, but the lack of work experience does not necessarily put an applicant at a significant disadvantage. Our student body is comprised of both students who arrive directly from their undergraduate career with little work experience and those who have been in the workforce or who have extensive internship experience. We strive to select applicants who demonstrate a high level of maturity, a good work ethic, and leadership skills. Work experiences, as well as some extra-curricular activities, develop the necessary framework that enables students to manage the multiple demands that are placed on them during their law school career.

5. What sets you apart from other schools? What can students gain from your school that they might not be able to find anywhere else?

Baylor Law School combines theory with practice and nurtures a commitment to service and responsibility. Recognizing the importance of practical training, Baylor continues with its long-standing tradition of integrating practical skills and professionalism across the curriculum. Our rigorous, required third-year courses in trial practice and procedure have received praise from both educators and practitioners. Baylor students have countless opportunities to learn by doing while working one on one with professors. Professors draw upon their experience in practice to create exercises and projects similar to the scenarios students will face in their future careers. It is no accident that our graduates routinely achieve one of the highest bar passage rates in the country.

Baylor Law School operates on a true quarter system and enrolls entering students in three of its four quarters: spring, summer, and fall. This calendar allows students to take time off from class to pursue clerkships, externships, or other programs through the year. It also allows students to graduate in 27 months. Regardless of when a student starts, the program of study is exactly the same.

6. What do you look for in recommendation letters? How important is it that the letter's writer has worked regular with the candidate in an office or school setting?

Baylor Law School requires one letter of recommendation. We prefer this letter be from someone who can attest to the applicant's ability to enter a competitive professional program. We recommend that applicants strategically select someone who is familiar with them in either an academic or a work environment to write a letter for them.

7. Can you give a brief description of the life cycle of an application? What's the timeline applicants should expect?

Baylor Law School has three entering classes -- spring, summer and fall. The application deadlines dates are November 1, February 1, and March 1, respectively. We recommend that applicants submit their application as early as possible. Applications are reviewed in their entirety as soon as they are completed. Most decisions can be made within two to three weeks from the time the application file is complete; some decisions can take several months. Admission decisions are communicated by both E-mail and regular mail.

8. What firms/organizations recruit heavily from your school. Which ones hire the highest percentage of your graduates?

A wide variety of legal employers, representing every area of practice, recruit Baylor law students. The employers include small, medium, and large law firms; corporations and other private business entities; federal, state, and local government agencies; nonprofit groups; and public interest organizations. A significant number of our students also obtain judicial clerkships following graduation. In 2009, the highest percentage of our graduates were employed by private law firms. No particular law firm employer predominates in recruiting. In 2009, the next highest number of our graduates were employed in government positions, including criminal prosecution.

9. What are some of the most common mistakes that applicants make that hurt their chances of being accepted?

The most common mistakes applicants make are failing to proofread their personal statement for grammatical and typographical errors, referencing the wrong law school in the personal statement, hastily preparing a personal statement, and preparing a personal statement that is contrived and unauthentic. The personal statement is one component of the admissions process that is completely under the applicant's control, and every effort should be made to ensure that the personal statement is professional. Other common mistakes that applicants make are omitting answers to questions asked on the application form, and failing to follow the instructions. Suffice it to say the application is oftentimes that first opportunity applicants have to make a positive impression with the Admissions Committee. Applicants need to ensure that they present themselves in a professional manner when they submit applications.

10. Can you describe the archetypal student for your school?

The archetypal Baylor Law student thrives on being challenged, is not afraid of hard work, has strong academic credentials and leadership skills and, oftentimes, elects to take the more difficult path rather than the easiest one. That being said, Baylor Law attracts students from throughout the United States and who come from a variety of backgrounds, have an array of life experiences, and have different religious and political leanings.

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Getting into Law School: Baylor Law School