Should Law School Applicants Use Addenda Items?

It is high season for law school applicants as candidates scramble to get their applications submitted by Thanksgiving (one of those half unwritten rules / half myths about rolling admissions) and one of the most common situations we are dealing with is whether clients should use Addenda items in their applications.

The temptation is strong to use Addenda, because it offers one more space to express yourself and maybe even get out in front of a potential weakness in your application. Nearly every school allows candidates to submit an Addenda item to the application. But just because the school allows it, does that mean you should do it?

Our default position here at Veritas Prep is that you should avoid using Addenda unless you feel you absolutely have to submit something. The “have to” category would include disciplinary action, major gaps in your academic career or work experience, or a truly horrific semester or year in college. These are truly unique situations that could be aided by including detail and explanation as to why they happened and also what you learned from it.

What we find to be far more common is the idea of a strong applicant with no huge red flags feeling the pull to include Addenda items. The most common, as one might guess, is an explanation of a low LSAT score. It is not a good idea to address your LSAT score in an Addenda item. Why? Well, three reasons:

1. It only calls more attention to a weakness in your application. This is especially true if you are explaining one low score in a series of scores. There is a chance the reader is seeing only your best score and now you are keying that person into the fact that you performed worse during another sitting. It is all risk, no reward.

2. The reason there is no reward is that readers have heard every excuse under the sun. You don’t test well, you were stressed, you were sick, you had a family problem to deal with, the person next to you was tapping his pencil … it doesn’t really matter what contributed to the score, the reader is just not going to sympathize. The exception here would be if something truly incredible happened at your test site, such as an earthquake or you were robbed on your way in or something. Big events like this will usually be recorded and noted by LSAC, but it wouldn’t hurt to point out if you were a true victim of a bad situation. Otherwise, you just aren’t going to move the needle or win sympathy points trying to explain away a bad LSAT score.

3. The biggest reason you should not discuss the LSAT in the Addenda is that you have the personal statement for this. Now, that doesn’t mean you spend the whole personal statement writing the same mea culpas or even that you deal directly with the test and the score you received. What it means is that you understand what the LSAT score indicates (intellectual horsepower and ability to thrive in law school) and you spend your personal statement describing just how smart you are and just how well you are going to do in law school. It’s pretty simply, but most people fail to see that focusing on the overarching theme in the personal statement is the best way to offset a bad LSAT score … not apologizing for it or making excuses in an Addenda item.

The above list focuses on the LSAT, but the logic can be applied to any scenario. Your freshman year wasn’t so hot? Write a personal statement about the light bulb going on once you started your major, which will indicate maturity and will point the reader toward your transcripts where they will find a nice upward trend. Don’t write an Addenda item about it. The list goes on and on.

Before we let you go, it is worth repeating that there is real risk in including Addenda that focuses on these types of weaknesses. The worst case scenario is that the admissions officer will note your overall scores, decide they are “good enough” to warrant a thorough review, then look over the resume and start nodding, thinking “I like this person.” Then the personal statement wins this person over completely – you’ve got a fan. The recommendations all check out as solid second opinions and you officially have an advocate on the committee. Alas, the last thing this person sees is an Addenda item about your LSAT score or freshman year GPA and suddenly, there are red flags everywhere and your whole file is being reconsidered. Why risk it?

So to summarize: the rule of thumb is that unless it is something that absolutely must be disclosed/explained or it is truly bizarre experience that impacted your ability to succeed, skip the Addenda and instead focus on using the personal statement to effectively convey strengths in key thematic areas that may initially be perceived as weaknesses.

To find out how to create a perfect law school application, feel free to visit our law school admissions web site or call us at 310.456.8716. You can also check out part one and part two of our series on tackling the personal statement.