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 College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law 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 can set themselves apart through meaningful service to and leadership in their communities, be it in school or in a larger setting. We invite applicants to highlight academic strengths, extracurricular activities, life and work experiences, dedication to service, passion for a cause, special skills, and thoughtful commitment to legal education and the legal profession.

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

The personal statement is your chance to attach a personality to your credentials. We are looking to enroll a dynamic class of people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives. Everyone has a story, and we want to hear yours. Find a way to tell us who you are and what you care about. Convince us that you have something to add to our community. There is no single "right" way of creating the personal statement. We leave you with an enormous amount of liberty to show us who you are (but do remember that you're applying to a professional school).

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?

Although GPA and LSAT scores are two important measures of your academic achievement and potential, we realize that they only tell part of the story. We review all aspects of an applicant's file, including, but not limited to, your personal statement, community involvement, work experience, leadership, recommendations, and course selection.

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?

All work experience is important; there is no expected or typical amount. We view any work experience as beneficial for building a work ethic and for learning about what you'd enjoy doing for the rest of your life. This knowledge often can help you make a more informed decision about applying to law school.

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?

Students choose William & Mary because they want a profoundly challenging and engaging legal education from a faculty that exemplifies the citizen-lawyer ethic. When these experts in criminal, constitutional, international, business, and other areas of law aren't teaching or advising students, they run innocence clinics, start book clubs with prisoners, and consult on foreign constitutions.

As initially articulated by Thomas Jefferson at the founding of the Law School, our commitment to developing excellent lawyers who are committed to serving the public good remains strong. Our faculty provides students with a strong theoretical foundation. Our innovative Legal Skills Program teaches practical lawyering skills in a law office setting in which students interview, negotiate, research, and advocate on behalf of simulated clients.

The Law School is dedicated to helping our graduates find jobs for which they have a passion. The Career Services staff uses our huge alumni network and connections with thousands of worldwide law firms and nonprofits to place students with the summer positions, clerkships, and first jobs that lead to meaningful, rewarding careers.

And to top it all off, you'll be living and learning in Williamsburg, a thriving college town and tourist destination with enough restaurants, movie theaters, outdoor activities, and shopping to keep you busy for six semesters of weekends.

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

You should obtain recommendations from professors, instructors, or supervisors well-acquainted with your character and abilities. If you are a student, or have recently graduated, at least one of your recommendations should come from someone who has observed and evaluated you in an academic setting.

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

We begin accepting applications on September 1 and our deadline is March 1. William & Mary has a modified rolling admission process. Admission decisions are mailed once the decision is finalized. All applications are reviewed when the files are complete and decision letters are mailed no later than April 1 for first-year applications complete by March 1.

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

The law firms, government agencies, courts, public interest organizations, and corporations that recruit William & Mary students are diverse in size, mission, practice area, and location. They mirror the diversity of our students' career interests. Most recent graduates work outside Virginia; the Classes of 2007, 2008, and 2009 obtained employment in 37 states, the District of Columbia, and three other countries. A majority of each graduating class accepts positions in private practice, ranging from large multinational law firms to small local firms. Federal and state courts account for 15 percent to 20 percent of recent graduates' jobs, and 10 percent to 15 percent of recent graduates serve federal, state, and local government agencies.

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

Do not use the application process to try and be someone you are not. Know yourself. Be yourself--your best self--throughout the process.

Everyone should read the character and fitness questions extremely carefully. While most schools have very similar questions, everyone crafts their own language and you might have to disclose an incident to one school and not another. If you're unsure, it is always best to err on the side of full disclosure and be as open and honest as possible.

Among the most common mistakes are grammatical and typographical errors in the essays and on the application. It is very important to proofread your application materials. You will be amazed at the number of mistakes that you will find, even if you have read your essays several times.

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

Our students are academically gifted and well rounded. They have demonstrated leadership in extracurricular activities while at school and work, if applicable. They have already built a track record of community service. They embrace the citizen lawyer philosophy of the Law School and are active members of both their law school community as well as the Williamsburg community.

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Getting into Law School: College of William and Mary Marshall-Wythe School of Law