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 University of Iowa College 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?

Write a good Personal Statement that is sincere and transparent. The LSAT and undergraduate GPA are requirements, and will, by definition, be as high as the applicant can achieve. However, the Personal Statement is the area in which the applicant can tell us what he or she really wants us to know about them. Also, it is seen by many Admissions Committee members as the first law school writing assignment, so it needs to be transparent and well written.

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

The Personal Statement is the only place in the application where the applicant can tell us what the applicant really wants us to know about him or her. By contrast, the LSAT is a reflection of the applicant based on a standardized test; the undergraduate GPA is a reflection of the applicant based on 30 to 35 different professors that a student has by the time a student graduates; Letters of Recommendation are reflections of the applicant based on a person who really does not know the applicant's life in its full view. The Personal Statement is the only tool that an applicant can use to tell us what the applicant really wants us to know about him or her. The Personal Statement should tell us one to three things that we really need to know about the applicant. Tell us why we need to know these things, give us some examples of what the applicant has learned from experiencing these things, and finally, tell us how this information is going to make the applicant a better law school student, lawyer, and citizen.

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?

In our process, the LSAT is worth approximately 35 percent of the individual decision, the GPA is worth approximately 25 percent of the decision, and non-academic factors are worth approximately 40 percent of the decision. This weighing will vary from school to school, and it is important that the applicant contact the individual schools to gain a sense of how that particular school weighs the admissions factors.

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 does play a role in our admissions process. Work experience probably helps to shape the reasons why the applicant wants to attend law school. Full-time post undergraduate work experience carries a little more weight than internships attained during the undergraduate experience. Also, we are interested more in what the applicant has learned from the work experience, rather than an impressive job title or potential for a famous name of the supervisor. We are concerned about what the applicant has learned from the experience, and how it is going to help the applicant become a better law school student, lawyer, or citizen. Work experience is given equal weight to the other factors we consider on the non-academic side. Most of the people who apply to our law school have one or two years of work experience; but we have offered admission to individuals as young as 20 years old and no full-time work experience, and as old as 46 years old with 25 years of work experience. We have no set number of years of work experience that are either required or more impressive than another amount of years.

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?

When we ask alumni, the responding theme is consistent: 1. The ease by which students can develop positive student-faculty interactions 2. Strong and positive national reputation 3. Nice location; people enjoy going to law school in Iowa City 4. Relatively low cost and lower-than-national-average debt load for our graduates upon graduation 5. Small class sizes (one of the smallest entering classes in terms of enrollment number, in the country) make interaction with fellow students and faculty and staff easier and more prevalent 6. A healthy respect for civility during interactions with other people. We look for people who know how to disagree without being disagreeable.

The best thing a prospective law school student can do is to visit their law schools of interest personally, and gain a sense of their own feelings about the place.

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?

We are looking for notations of a law school applicant's probability of success in law school, graduate school, or in a professional setting, with an emphasis on the probability of potential leadership within the profession. It is very important that the author of the recommendation be in a position to have evaluated the applicant in a professional setting (work supervisor) or an academic setting (professor). The best letter writers are people who have been in a position to hire the applicant, fire the applicant, or flunk the applicant. Letters from professors are given a bit more weight than letters from work supervisors.

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

From the time an applicant submits a complete (important) application to the time the applicant has an admission decision from our office is about a month. If information is missing, or the decision is a difficult one, or there is a large application increase in our office, then the process will be slowed down and the admission decision to the applicant might go to six weeks. Most of the time, however, the 'complete application' to 'decision' time frame is approximately one month.

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

Large firms and midsize firms from across the country recruit at our law school, with a slight majority from the Midwest. Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Kansas City, Omaha, and Des Moines are examples of cities to which we place a lot of students. Law firms with strengths in Corporate Law, Health Care Law, International Law, Human Rights Law, Public Interest Law, Public Policy and Not-for-Profit Organizations frequent our Career Services Office on a regular basis.

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

Believing that there are few or no consequences to earning a low LSAT or a low GPA, and so they do not address these issues thoroughly in their applications2. Writing a poor Personal Statement 3. Possessing a criminal record or having a record of poor behavior at the undergraduate level or within a professional setting, and not addressing these issues thoroughly in their applications for admission4. Lack of focus; the reasons for attending law school come across as vague, or totally non-existent.

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

The best students are bright, intelligent, analytical and inquisitive: Asking 'why' and 'what if' is not foreign to them. They are fundamentally sound, academically. 2. Highly motivated: Our best students know how to solve problems and keep moving forward. They are motivated to get a law degree, and have a vision of how the Iowa Law degree will help them solve problems, in whatever setting the student defines that problem-solving environment. They do not feel entitled to succeed; they know that they will need to work for it, and sometimes grind that success out over a three-year period. 3. They are good human beings. They are fundamentally decent people, and don't forget how to treat others in a positive way. This has nothing to do with "Midwestern nice." This has everything to do with treating others, and expecting to be treated by others, with class, dignity, and a fair amount of transparency. (What you see is what you get.)

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Getting into Law School: University of Iowa College of Law