The GRE Exam for Law School?

Law School Images

Update: On August 7, 2017, Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law and Georgetown Law also announced that they will begin accepting the GRE or the LSAT for admissions. With this news, it seems all the more inevitable that the GRE will soon be universally accepted among top law schools. Read on…”

Harvard Law is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States. It is consistently ranked as one of the top law schools in the world, and is also the largest law school in the U.S., with about as many students as Yale, Stanford and Chicago combined. So when Harvard Law makes news other law schools are likely to follow.

And Harvard Law recently announced some big news: starting next fall the GRE exam will be accepted as an alternative to the LSAT exam. Surveys suggest that nearly half of all law schools were not opposed to accepting GRE exam scores even before Harvard made its announcement, so this is probably just the beginning of a trend.

The upshot of all of this is that beginning next fall those prospective law students applying to Harvard Law can submit a GRE score instead of, or in addition to, an LSAT score. The University of Arizona Law School has already begun accepting the GRE score from applicants, and if the results from those law schools are as positive as expected, then additional law schools will likely join them in the very near future.


I have taught the LSAT and currently teach the GRE and (as well as the GMAT), and have earned a perfect 170/170 on the GRE and a near-perfect 176 on the LSAT. Here are my thoughts on the LSAT versus the GRE:

The LSAT has long been the dreaded gatekeeper to law school admissions and the exam definitely rewards a certain type of test taker with a certain background. So, should you consider taking the GRE instead of the LSAT? Maybe you should!

First, who does not benefit from this development? Those who plan on applying exclusively to law school in the next couple of years should stick with the LSAT to have the most flexibility in the application process. As Harvard and Arizona are currently the only law schools that accept GRE scores from applicants, you’ll want to have a good LSAT score under your belt in case you decide to apply to any other JD programs.

Everyone else should at least consider the GRE. The Dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, listed a few of the groups of students who might benefit from being able to use the GRE instead of the LSAT: “international students, multidisciplinary scholars, and joint-degree students…” I would add to that list students who have strong math skills, who have different possible career paths, or who have less time to devote to the process of preparing for an exam.

Advantages of Taking the GRE

Flexibility: The GRE is accepted for admission to nearly all graduate and business schools in addition to Harvard Law School and Arizona Law School (and hopefully a growing list of law schools). For anyone considering a variety of career options, the GRE is the best exam to take as it gives the test-taker the most flexibility. Even a great GMAT score is not accepted by law schools or graduate schools, and a perfect LSAT score will not get you into business or grad school. The GRE is the universal key that can open many doors – this is the number one reason to make the GRE your first choice.

Time Commitment: For many students, the LSAT is the exam that requires the most hours of preparation. The sheer variety of critical reasoning questions and “logic games” requires a student to master a huge range of information. On the other hand, the GRE tests skills that a student is more likely to possess already or can learn more readily through a preparation course or self-study. This is not to say that the GRE is not a challenge, it just may be a more reasonable challenge than the LSAT.

Credit for Your Strengths: Maybe you are strong in Quantitative areas… This can give you an important head start on the GRE, as math is not tested on the LSAT.

Convenience: The GRE is offered in convenient locations around the world on a continuous basis, with times generally available in the morning, afternoon and evening, making it easy to fit the GRE into your schedule. By comparison, the LSAT exam is only offered 4 times per year, usually at 8:00am. With the LSAT, you have to arrange your life around the exam, which can be difficult for test-takers with busy schedules.

Reasonable Retakes: If for any reason you do not earn the LSAT score that you hoped for, then you have to wait anywhere from two to four months before you can retake the exam. On the other hand, you can retake the GRE after just 21 days and you can take the exam 5 times in a year.

Advantages of Taking the LSAT

No Math Required: The LSAT exclusively tests skills that fall on the “Verbal” side of the GRE, meaning that you won’t have to memorize the Pythagorean Theorem, practice working with algebra, or brush up on your multiplication tables before you take it.  If you’re a student who hasn’t studied math in a while, the LSAT allows you to engage your logical thinking (philosophy, political science, literature) brain without having to dig back into high school math skills.

Applicable to All Law School Applications: While what Harvard says typically filters down to nearly all schools eventually, right now the GRE is only accepted at a few law schools.  If you plan to take the GRE to apply to Harvard and a few other elite JD programs, you’ll end up having to take the LSAT for those other applications, anyway.

Availability of Official Practice Problems: The LSAT has been administering essentially the same exam for decades, and has to retire its questions after each administration. The result? It has thousands of official exam questions to sell you for practice.  By comparison the GRE underwent an overhaul in 2011 and has some official test questions for sale, but the LSAT provides several times as much authentic practice material.

Is the GRE Easier Than the LSAT?

It is not easy to get into Harvard or any of the other top law schools. The average LSAT score for the most recent class at Harvard Law is above the 99th percentile, so an applicant’s GRE score would need to be near-perfect to be competitive.

Please understand that if you do plan to take the GRE for admission to law school, business school, or a competitive graduate school program, you will need to earn the best score that you are capable of achieving. Taking the GRE is not a short cut or an “easy way” to get into a top law school (or business school). But it is another option and – for some people – a better option.

My advice is this: Unless you are committed to applying to law school in the next couple of years, consider taking the GRE. The GRE gives you the most options (graduate school, business school, law school) and its scores are reportable for 5 years. This means that if you take the GRE this year your scores will still be good for applications submitted in 2022.

Considering taking the GRE? Register to attend one of our upcoming free online GRE Strategy Sessions to jump start your GRE prep, or check out our variety of GRE Course and Private Tutoring options. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

David Newland has scored in the 99th percentile on both the LSAT and the GMAT, and holds a perfect 170/170 score on the GRE.  He taught the LSAT for nearly ten years for a leading firm, and has taught the GRE and GMAT for Veritas Prep since 2006.  In 2008 he was named Veritas Prep’s Worldwide Instructor of the Year, and he has been a senior contributor to the Veritas Prep GRE and GMAT lesson materials. David holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School and teaches live online classes from a film studio in northern Vermont.

More Universities Embrace Online Learning

The online education movement gathered more steam this week, as Caltech, Duke, Rice, Johns Hopkins, and other global universities announced that they will join Stanford and Princeton in offering free online courses through Coursera. Upping the ante even further, Caltech and the University of Pennsylvania will invest a combined $3.7 million in the online learning provider, which only launched last year and has already partnered with 16 universities.

While these moves aren’t strictly in the graduate education space (which we mostly cover), it’s important to note how quickly schools are adopting online learning as a legitimate alternative (or, in many cases, a complement) to traditional classroom-based teaching. Between Coursera and other initiatives such as MIT’s and Harvard’s EdX joint venture, it seems that there will be no shortage of innovation in this space in the coming decade.
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The Five Most Common Mistakes Grad School Applicants Make

As different as applicants are from one another, it’s amazing how often we see them make the same mistakes over and over. We recently asked our team of admissions consultants, “What mistakes do you see applicants make most often?” and we frequently heard the same themes: not highlighting extracurricular activities in the right way, using the same applications for multiple schools, and not answering honestly when asked for a personal weakness.

Admissions officers want to get to know applicants and gain an insight into their goals, motivations, values and other personal attributes — what makes them tick and how they might fit into the program. Unfortunately, many applicants lack the self-awareness to give admissions officers what they want.
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Admissions 101: The Less You Need Them, the More They Want You

When perusing the data and seeing the average starting salaries at the top-ranked MBA programs and law schools, it’s easy to get the impression that getting into a top graduate school can turn you from an 80-pound weakling into a money-making, world-beating dynamo. But don’t be fooled. Yes, these schools can significantly improve your earnings power, but to get in you have to demonstrate that you’re already a rockstar.

“Wait a minute,” you might be saying, “If I’m already a rockstar, then why do I need the school?” That’s a good question, but in your question already lies the answer.
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Five Things to Think About as You Consider Financing Your Degree

When it comes to getting into the world’s most competitive graduate schools, many applicants have a “I’ll worry about it later” mentality. If they’re fortunate enough to get into a school like Harvard, the thinking goes, then they’ll gladly deal with the question of how to pay for it. While this is somewhat understandable (Why worry about how you’ll pay for a yacht if you won’t ever set foot on one to begin with?), applicants owe it to themselves to consider the true cost and the true reward of the educational opportunity before them.

Many will tell you that borrowing money to pay for school is an investment and not debt, but try telling that to the loan services when they send out the monthly bill. Not only that, but the analysis is rarely about going back to school or not going, but rather about making the best possible choice. It may very well be the case that attending your dream school without the aid of scholarships or grants is the best decision, but it might also be true that a secondary opportunity starts to look a lot better when the calculator comes out.
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50 IAVA Member Veterans Receive Veritas Prep Scholarships!

We are excited to announce today, along with the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), that Veritas Prep has awarded American Heroes Scholarships to 50 IAVA Member Veterans. These test preparation and admissions consulting scholarships will allow U.S. Military Veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan to pursue a wide variety of interests including business, environmental science, history, law, medicine, museum studies, nutrition, psychology and public administration.

Of the 50 scholarships awarded, 31 IAVA Member Veterans will receive a free Veritas Prep GMAT prep course, either in-person or online, and Veritas Prep’s full suite of 15 GMAT course books and extensive resources; 19 will receive six hours of graduate school admissions consulting with a Veritas Prep admissions expert related to the graduate program of their choice. In addition to the scholarships announced today, Veritas Prep is extending discounts to all qualified IAVA Member Veterans; offering 50 percent off Veritas Prep GMAT courses and 25 percent off admissions consulting services.
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Six Predictions for 2012

What do you know… Another year has already gone by. We’re so full of opinion and points of view here at Veritas Prep that we thought we should commit ourselves to another round of prognosticating about what the coming year will bring in the worlds of standardized tests and grad school admissions. It will be fun to check in at the end of the year to see how we did.

Without further ado, here are six things that we predict will happen in 2012:
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Our 2011 Predictions: How'd We Do?

Happy New Year! Hard to believe a whole year has already gone by again. At this time last year we laid out six predictions for 2011. We exhibited restraint by avoiding predictions about flying cars and holographic teachers, but we did stick out our collective neck on a few matters. Now it’s time to see how we did.

More Schools Will Adopt Video and Other Less Traditional “Essay” Questions
We were at least partly correct here. While at least one school actually backed away from utilizing video response (UCLA Anderson, we’re looking in your direction), other programs embraced Twitter and experimented with ultra-short essay responses. In other cases, schools made iPads an official part of the application review process, paving the way to allowing them to view multimedia responses in coming years. We expect this trend will only continue in the coming year.
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GMAT Prep and Admissions: The Best of 2011

It’s hard to believe that 2011 has already come and gone. Why do these years seem to keep going by faster and faster? As we at Veritas Prep wind down the year, we thought we’d share some of our most popular posts and most interesting topics from the past 12 months.

We hope that this blog has provided you with some useful insights as you’ve studied for the GMAT or slaved over your grad school applications. Sometimes we have a little fun, and sometimes we veer off topic to talk about what interests us, but everything written here comes from the same place: We want to help you be successful in your pursuit of grad school and in your career overall!
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Yale Moves to Make Its Three-Year JD/MBA Program Official

For the past two years Yale University has offered a three-year joint JD/MBA degree, offered between Yale Law School and the Yale School of Management. Now, after a nearly year-long review, the Yale Law School faculty has voted to make the joint degree a permanent offering. While the SOM faculty has yet to vote, it is expected that it will also vote in favor of making the program permanent.

Yale’s JD/MBA program is only six semesters long, with no summer component, making it one of the shortest such programs in the country. Students spend two academic years in the Law School and one year in the School of Management. While Yale’s accelerated JD/MBA is not the first such program in the nation — Northwestern, Duke, and Penn also offer similar programs — the fact that Yale Law School has finally embraced this model is big deal, and it could mean that more top universities will soon follow.
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2011 Law School Applicant Survey Results Revealed!

Veritas Prep has just released the results of its 2011 Law School Applicant Survey! Part of the work we do in monitoring admissions trends is staying current on what applicants are thinking. This survey, now in its second year, is part of that ongoing effort.

Our new white paper — titled “Inside the Minds of Law School Applicants” (PDF link) — contains some very interesting insights! Nearly 150 current and prospective law school applicants participated in this year’s survey, representing a combination of both college graduates and current undergraduates. A breakout of select findings is below:
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Complete Our Law School Applicant Survey for a Chance to Win an iPad 2!

Attention all law school applicants! Veritas Prep is conducting its second annual survey of applicants to the world’s most competitive law schools, in partnership with Law School Podcaster and the National Jurist’s PreLaw Magazine. We want to hear from YOU why you’re applying to law school, where you are in the process, and what matters most to you as an applicant.

And, best of all, by filling out either survey by August 26 you will enter for a chance to win an iPad 2! You can access the survey here. It will take you no more than two minutes to complete!
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U.S. News Law School Rankings for 2012

U.S. NewsReady for more rankings obsession? Today we dig into the latest law school rankings, which U.S. News & World Report released last week. We have a rule here at Veritas Prep headquarters to caution applicants against reading too much into rankings when making decisions on where to apply and attend, but there is no denying the fact that the material is interesting. Our society loves rankings. Put anything on a list — grad schools, rock albums, baseball players — and people will sit up and take note.

And, in research graduate schools, the rankings certainly are useful in terms of helping you get a feel for the lay of the land. Have a 170+ LSAT score and a sterling GPA? maybe you have a shot at a T14 law school after all. Having a hard time getting above 155 on the LSAT? Then maybe you need to look a little lower in the rankings. In this regard, it certainly makes sense to at least eyeball the rankings before going too far into the admissions process.
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Is a JD/MBA Right for You?

Mmm… the best of both worlds.

We get a lot of calls from applicants who are thinking about pursuing a JD/MBA. With potential paths into almost countless professional opportunities, such a degree seems the a can’t-miss, best-of-both-worlds prospect, right? Especially in an uncertain job market, why not invest a little extra in one’s education now and be in an even better position to succeed down the road?

We do like JD/MBA degree for a lot of reasons, and love some of the newer, more innovative joint-degree programs that some leading universities have rolled out in recent years — see our coverage of recent announcements at Columbia, Yale, and Penn — but we end up talking a majority of these JD/MBA candidates out of one degree or the other.

Why? Because these applicants rarely have thought through all of the implications of pursuing both degrees.
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Admissions 101: It’s Not You, It’s Me

MBA AdmissionsGetting rejected is hard stuff. What makes it even more painful is that few MBA programs (or law schools or medical schools) give rejected applicants specific feedback on why they didn’t get in. Applicants just want to know what they “did wrong” to not get in, but, even when schools do provide feedback, the applicants normally end up confused and still guessing about what to do next.

What’s the deal? Are admissions officers trying to obfuscate the process, keeping you in the dark so that you can’t “game” the system? Are they just cold hearted, not caring about you, especially once they’ve decided they don’t want you? No and no. The truth is that, when someone gets rejected, it’s often because the school just couldn’t find any great reason to admit them over thousands of other applicants.
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American Bar Association May Drop LSAT Requirement

Law School Admissions
"All in favor of killing the LSAT requirement say 'aye.'"
Last week Inside Higher Ed reported that the American Bar Association is considering ending a rule that law schools require the LSAT in order to receive ABA accreditation. Right now this is just an idea being kicked around by an ABA panel charged with reviewing the associations accreditation rules, but if the panel recommends the change (which many believe it will), ABA approval may not be far behind.

Why the proposed change? Many schools claim that the LSAT requirement takes away flexibility in the admissions process, because they have no choice but to report those scores to the magazines that that publish annual rankings (ahh, the rankings again). Since each school needs to keep up with the Joneses and keep their mean LSAT scores high (lest they risk dropping in those hated rankings), they end up turning away some students they really do want.
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Admissions 101: What Admissions Essays and Wedding Speeches Have in Common

Business School Admissions
Who's the lucky guy?
Next week yours truly will deliver a speech at a wedding. I have known the groom for nearly two decades, and I consider him to be one of my closest friends, even though distance unfortunately keeps us apart most of the time (I live in California and he lives in Beijing). While I don’t consider myself to be an expert toastmaster, I’m not too worried, since I know that what makes for a great admissions essay or personal statement also makes for a terrific wedding speech.

Think back for a minute and consider the last few weddings you’ve been to. If you’re lucky, you only have witnessed great wedding speeches and toasts, but odds are that you’ve sat through at least one or two bombs. What accounts for the difference?
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The ABA Urges People to Consider the ROI of a Law Degree (Sort Of)

Law School Admissions
The ABA put out a statement... Wait, not this ABA?
Last week news spread around the blogosphere and some major media sites that the American Bar Association (ABA) had put out an official statement urging students to carefully consider the return on investment when thinking about attending law school. Sounds like a smart, responsible thing for the ABA to do, given the number of recent JD grads still looking for work and some of the negative attention that law schools have received in recent years for not being upfront enough with prospective students about their post-graduation job prospects.

The only catch, as Above the Law pointed out last week, the ABA actually published that document back in November, 2009. Maybe it took a while for the message to sink in?
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Six Predictions for 2011

GMAT Prep Washington DCIt wouldn’t be right to start off the new year without some predictions about what will happen with the GMAT and in graduate school admissions in 2011. While last year’s predictions of 3D GMAT classes and a free solar-powered Kindle for every HBS student never quite materialized (we’ve still got our fingers crossed), we’re feeling bold enough to issues some new predictions for the coming year.

Without further ado, here are six things that we expect will happen in the GMAT and admissions spaces in the year ahead:
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GMAT Prep and Admissions: The Best of 2010

GMAT PrepWow, it feels like it was barely a few months ago when we welcomed 2010. How time flies. As the year winds down, we thought we’d share some of our most popular posts and most interesting topics from the past 12 months.

We hope that this blog has provided you with some useful insights as you’ve prepared for the GMAT and/or slaved over your grad school applications. Sometimes we have a little fun, and sometimes we veer off topic to talk about what interests us, but everything written here comes from the same place: We want to help you be successful!
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The Worrisome World of Essay-Writing Services

MBA Admissions Consulting
We think we once saw a guy selling essays in this alley.
Recently the Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece written by an anonymous “hired gun” who writes admissions essays, term papers, and even doctoral theses for paying students, who in turn pass these off as their own. Not long after that, Bloomberg Businessweek ran a similar article that profiled a couple of similar services that write essays for business school applicants. (Veritas Prep was actually mentioned as an ethical alternative to these services in the latter article.)

Two things really bother us about the existence of these services. Is one of them the fact that they’re unethical and shady? Well, yes, we do think that, but that’s so obvious that we won’t devote any more words to it here. (If you’re the type to consider buying your essays from someone, then maybe becoming a business leader or a lawyer or a doctor isn’t the best path for you.)
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Columbia Introduces New Three-Year JD/MBA Program

Columbia MBA Admissions GuideRecently Columbia Business School and Columbia Law School jointly announced a new three-year JD/MBA program, joining schools such as Northwestern and Yale that have seen these accelerated programs grow in popularity over the past few years. The new program will accept its first class in the fall of 2011.

While the program’s final details are still taking shape, this is what we know so far: Columbia JD/MBA students will spend their first and third years at the law school and their second year at the business school. Students must complete each school’s core curriculum requirements, and can enroll in electives cross-listed at both schools. JD/MBA students will also be able to choose from any electives listed solely at either school. These students will be considered full-fledged members of both Columbia Law School and Columbia Business School. As such, they will have access to all of the academic, networking, and career opportunities that all students can use in both schools.
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Writer’s Block? Try These Three Cures

MBA Essays
"What matters most to me? Why? WHY??"
If you’re applying to graduate school this year, there’s a good chance that right now you’re surfing the Internet while procrastinating on writing your admissions essays or personal statement. The Internet is the ultimate procrastination tool, after all, but hopefully finding this article will be the best thing that could have happened to your essays.

The term “writer’s block” means different things to different people, but here we’ll use it to describe any situation where you know what’s on paper (or on your computer screen) is far from being a finished product that you’ll be happy to submit as part of your finished application. Maybe you just can’t think about what to start writing about (this is what most people think of when they hear “writer’s block”), but an even tougher case can be when you’re staring at a nearly-finished essay and you just know that it’s not working. In either case, try these three things to clear your mind and start fresh
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Check Out Our Brand New Blog!

GMAT PrepToday we’re pleased to officially roll out a sweet new look to the Veritas Prep blog. For several years now we have brought you the best new and analysis in GMAT prep and grad school admissions, and now it’s all delivered in a much better looking wrapper!

Big kudos to Jeremy Dempster and the rest of the team here at Veritas Prep HQ for making our new blog a reality. Please, let us know what you think!
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Law School Applicants Willing to Brave Gloomy Job Market

This morning we released the results of a comprehensive survey of law school applicants that we recently conducted. Our first annual law school applicant survey — conducted in partnership with Law School Podcaster and PreLaw Magazine — uncovered some interesting insights behind what drives today’s law school applicants.

There’s been a lot of talk lately about how some law schools mislead potential applicants by overstating their post-graduation career prospects. Are law school hopefuls aware of the bleak job market, disappearing six-figure jobs, and the heavy student loan debt associated with leading law schools? More importantly, do they care? The answers may surprise you.

The short answer to the question of, “Would today’s law school applicants still apply even if they knew their job prospects would be bleak upon graduation?” is YES, most of them would in fact still apply. And, many of these seem just as concerned about their long-term career prospects as they are with the question of what job they’ll land right out of law school.

Here’s what we found in our survey of more than 100 law school applicants:

  • 81% of respondents said they would still apply to law school now even if a significant number of law school graduates were unable to find jobs in their desired fields, while 12% said they would postpone applying until placement rates improved. Only 4% said they would not apply to law school.
  • Respondents are equally concerned with finding an appealing long-term career path and maintaining a healthy work/life balance once they start working (79%). Other key concerns include finding a job that allows them to pay off their student loan debt (72%) and using their law degree to make a positive impact on their community (69%).
  • 44% of respondents indicated a reasonable desired base salary upon law school graduation to be $75,000-$100,000, while 29% expect $100,000-$145,000. 11% of respondents anticipate base salaries over $145,000.

So why are they applying to law school in the first place? The majority of respondents said they want to go to law school because they are interested in the law and the way it shapes society and business (75%). Some admitted to having more practical reasons: 35% of respondents believe they will always be able to find some kind of job if they have a JD.

We’ve written a lot about”helicopter parents,” and we know that a lot of these parents are behind their children’s push to get into law school. However, only 13% of respondents are going to law school because their parents want them to attend. (Some of us wonder if the real number is in fact higher, but no 21-year-old wants to admit it.)

Finally, we wondered how much affordability factored into these applicants’ decision-making. According to our survey results, it’s only important to 54% of respondents in the law school selection process. Student loans (38%) and grants/scholarships (21%) were the two most common financing strategies for law school, while 14% of respondents indicated parental support will help them finance the degree. So, despite all of the chatter these days about runaway student loan burdens, it seems that the majority of those who do apply just accept the high costs as a fact of life.

Getting ready to apply to a top-ranked law school this year? Call us at (800) 925-7737 and speak with a law school admissions expert today. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Law School, Hunger Strikes, and Transparency

The blogging world has been abuzz over the “Unemployed JD” scandal that broke out this week. In case you missed it, a blogger named Ethan Haines who runs a blog dedicated to crusading for better transparency on the part of law school when it comes to employment data, actually turned out to be Denver-based Zenovia Evans, an employed 28-year-old graduate of Cooley Law School in Michigan.

While everyone is more hung up on on the fact that Evans tried to rally people around a cause in a disingenuous way, we think that the assumptions behind her demands are somewhat misguided. When Evans (posing as Ethan Haines, an unemployed JD) contacted 10 law schools and told them about “his” crusade, he asked them to commit to new standards of transparency on their job placement statistics and to agree to letting Haines audit their career counseling programs.

Those standards came from another group, calling itself Law School Transparency, which maintains that by misrepresenting or under-reporting their job placement stats, law school essentially dupe students into enrolling under the false impression they will inevitably land lucrative jobs.

Even if Haines/Evans/whatever-we’re-calling-her-now got her way, we’re not sure that it would make much of a difference. We don’t want to give it all away yet, but in a recent survey of law school applicants that Veritas Prep conducted in partnership with Law School Podcaster and PreLaw Magazine, an overwhelming percentage (81%) of respondents said that they would still apply to law school now even if a significant number of law school graduates were unable to find jobs in their desired fields! Further, only 4% said they would not apply to law school at all if they knew job prospects that bad. (We will share the full results of the survey shortly!)

While we certainly will join the crusade against any school that deliberately misleads people and tricks them into applying (*cough*… for-profit online schools, we’re looking your way…), even if schools replaced their glossy web sites with black & white photos of somber, jobless grads, we actually think that many would-be applicants would still apply to law school.

Why? We answer that question with another one: Why not? The reality is that, for many young people, law school (and business school, to some extent) has become an inevitable weight station on the road to real life. Is the economy in shambles? Great! Even more reason to hide out in grad school for two or three years. While the obvious downside is that many of those students will graduate with a nearly insurmountable amount of debt, most of them don’t see it that way. Either Mom and Dad will pick up the tab, or the applicant assumes that the economy will inevitably be better in a couple of years, or they would just not rather think about it today. (Or, even better, maybe Uncle Sam will bail us all out one day! That would be a hoot.)

Don’t get us wrong… Transparency is always a good thing. We’re glad that publications such as U.S. News have recently taken a stand against law schools gaming the rankings by deliberately withholding their employment data. But, for better or worse, we predict young people will keep applying to law school in droves.

For more information on law school admissions, visit our law school admissions site or call us at (800) 925-7737 to speak with an admissions expert. And, as always, be sure to find us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!

Photo courtesy of LollyKnit, under a Creative Commons license. And no, that’s not a picture of Zenovia Evans.

How to Put the "I" in Application

Law School AdmissionsAn application tip for the graduate school candidate.

Most of our time writing on this blog is spent diving into the nuance and nitty gritty of GMAT prep and the MBA admissions process. Every once in a while, it helps to take a step back and look at things from a very fundamental, building-block level.

Today we are going to take a crack at some armchair psychology — thinking about why people have such a hard time writing about themselves in graduate school essays and personal statements. Not just the “what to say” part, but also how to say it. Put bluntly, most people produce fairly mediocre prose when it comes to writing about their own lives and goals.

Think back to the process of applying to college and try to recall the most difficult thing about the applications. No doubt it was writing the myriad essays required by each school. What made those so difficult? After all, surely your high school English classes demanded more of you as a writer. The answer is actually pretty simple: you had to write from the “I” perspective for the first time in many years.

From the time we enter elementary school, we are taught to avoid using the word “I” in our writing. Whether in fiction, research, opinion, or reporting, the use of the word “I” is frowned upon by English teachers and grammar purists everywhere. So it comes as no surprise that the task proves difficult when we are asked to do it after years of neglect.

A graduate school applicant has at least been through this once before, but the transition is still uncomfortable. The best thing an applicant can do is become fully aware of this internal struggle. Once you realize that the nagging doubt in your brain is actually the voice of your eighth grade journalism teacher, it becomes much easier to ignore –- nay, destroy – that voice and tackle the assignment at hand. So embrace your inner “I” and enjoy the rare chance to bombard your reader with the most glorious of all pronouns.

For personalized, effective MBA admissions, law school admissions, or medical school admissions help, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Defending Admissions Officers Everywhere

Law School AdmissionsLast week, Michael Kinsley, the editor-at-large for the Atlantic Wire, wrote an op-ed piece on the admissions process that highlighted some of the reasons why things have become so competitive and cutthroat over the years. The piece focused primarily on college admissions, but there are multiple mentions of graduate school and examples of HBS, so it seems fair to consider Kinsley’s words from the perspective of graduate school admissions.

And what were his words?

As they pertain to admissions officers, nothing much more than the usual screed about the arbitrary nature of selective college admissions. Make no mistake, there are some good thoughts in here: some interesting and basic (and probably more interesting because of how basic it is) math showcases the rise in competition over the years, and I certainly agree with the idea that in planning out our lives we “obsess about this college versus that only because that’s the only factor we can obsess about.” Well said and certainly true, as far as I’m concerned. Where Kinsley loses me is in his critique of the admissions process itself, and the accusation that “the decision is essentially random, the process was wildly inconsistent, and I might well have been turned down because the assistant dean didn’t care for his lunch that day.”

Here, Kinsley simply resorts to the party line of outsiders, media members, and higher ed critics, groaning on about how arbitrary it all is. I half expected to read the phrase “throwing darts at a dart board.” And make no mistake, there is an element of chance in the admissions process at an elite institution. There is luck. There is a human element that plays a large role. There are more than enough qualified candidates and it can seem harsh, unfair, and capricious when some get in and some do not. But to dismiss the entire process because of these factors is to fail to understand that process. Yes, there is luck — but the role that luck plays can be reduced through careful planning and presentation. Yes, there is a human element — but that human element can be a benefit when you take the time to consider the person on the other side of the desk. Yes, there are more than enough qualified applicants — does that mean you should just give up?

I can tell you two things, as someone who was an admissions officer at a highly selective college (acceptance rate under 30%) and as someone who now works with applicants to highly selective graduate programs. The first is that admissions officers DO work hard, as they claim in their rejection letters (much to Kinsley’s chagrin). An admissions office typically has one “file reading” professional for every 1,000 applications and that personnel is responsible for both recruiting those applicants and then making decisions on their credentials. The process features multiple layers and gets several eyes on the same profile — decisions aren’t made based on what someone has for lunch. That’s reductive, throw-away language that people use when they don’t want to wrestle with reality.

The reality is that admissions officers work hard, they care about what they are doing, and they want to see applicants who work just as hard and care just as much. This is bad news for many who view the process as more of a sweepstakes and less of a rigorous match-making and interviewing experience, but it’s good news for people who want to roll up their sleeves and treat their applications with care.

The second thing I can tell you, given everything I just wrote above, is that I wouldn’t want someone who views the admissions process the way Michael Kinsley does to advise me on my own applications.

At Veritas Prep, we both support the work of admissions professionals and believe in our ability to help candidates confront this difficult process. We don’t throw up our hands and blame it all on the fates. And neither should you.

For personalized, effective MBA admissions, law school admissions, or medical school admissions help, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Fill Out a Short Survey for a Chance to Win an iPad!

MBA Applicant SurveyAttention all business school and law school applicants! Veritas Prep is conducting its first annual survey of applicants to the world’s most competitive MBA programs and law schools. We want to hear from YOU why you’re applying to grad school, where you are in the process, and what matters most to you as an applicant.

And, best of all, by filling out either survey by June 22 you will enter for a chance to win an iPad pre-loaded with Veritas Prep’s GMAT prep books and Annual Reports!

You can find the surveys here:

After we collect and analyze the data, we will share our findings with the entire applicant community. As we said above, these are our first annual applicant surveys, and we will conduct these every year to track trends in the graduate school admissions space.

Remember, you must complete either survey by June 22! One randomly selected participant will win a new iPad!

If you’re ready to start building your candidacy for a top MBA program or law school, call us at 1-800-925-7737 and speak with an admissions expert today! And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Building a Game Plan for Law School Personal Statements

The phrase “game plan” gets thrown around a lot in the hallowed offices of Veritas Prep. Our director of research, Scott Shrum, literally co-wrote the book on MBA admissions and named it Your MBA Game Plan. We offer a Personalized Game PlanTM as part of every admissions consulting package. There are a lot of people in our office that love college football and study the art of game planning for blitz packages. And so on.

So what’s the benefit of having a game plan when it comes to the graduate school admission process? There are a lot of answers to that question, but one that is often overlooked is the necessity of shifting perspective.

An applicant to a top law school or MBA program comes armed with both a set of skills and experiences as well as a cultivated perspective on those issues. The applicant is probably in good shape with regards to the former. The latter? Not so much.

The biggest problem I encounter when working with applicants – at any level – is that they fail to see themselves the way the admissions committee sees them. The skills and experiences that seem outstanding to a college senior may or may not appeal to an admissions officer at a law school. The reverse is also true – attributes that may seem run of the mill in one’s graduating class or circle of friends may be highly unique and appealing to someone evaluating an application.

I often think back to my own law school application experience and note the complete lack of perspective that I possessed at the time. As the associate director of admission at one of the nation’s top 50 universities and someone armed with a better-than-expected academic profile, I should have been able to destroy the law school application. Instead, I focused on all the wrong things. I incorrectly deemed my writing accomplishments to be singularly noteworthy when, in fact, almost every student who enrolled with me at the University of Chicago could boast of similar feats. On the other hand, I downplayed my extensive management experience, believing it to be appropriate only for B-Schools. Wrong. I found out later that it was my work – the title, the recommendations, the responsibility – that suggested an intellectual and emotional maturity. Luckily for me, the Director of Admissions at Chicago took a close enough look to find that information, since I basically hid it from her.

When students sign up for our consulting services and they ask me what “this game plan thing” is all about, I tell them it is about discovering a new perspective and avoiding making the same mistake I made. By working with an expert who has been through the process before, applicants are gaining insight into the way an objective, qualified outsider sees them as a candidate. No longer are you bound by your own limited perspective or suffering from a shortage of information. Now you know who you are in the eyes of the people who count. You’re armed with the best kind of knowledge.

And as they used to say in the old G.I. Joe’s Public Service Announcements: Knowing is half the battle.

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our law school admissions site or call our offices at (800) 925-7737. And, as always, be sure to subscribe to this blog and to follow Veritas Prep on Twitter so that you don’t miss a beat in the worlds of GMAT prep and MBA admissions!

Kagan to the Court: Examining the Downside

Law School AdmissionsIf you are an individual who remains connected to the news cycle (in whatever form that is now consumed), you know by now that Elena Kagan has been nominated for the open seat (formerly held by Justice Stevens) on the Supreme Court by President Obama and that her confirmation hearings before the Senate are set to begin on June 28. The process of putting a judge on the greatest bench in all the land is arduous and draining (check out Season One of The West Wing for a terrific inside look into the vetting process and tireless work required by White House senior staffers) and prone to surprises, but most believe that Kagan will ultimately be confirmed and take her place on the Court (described in terrific detail in this New York Magazine article). And as someone who has followed her career fairly closely, I believe she will make a great Supreme Court Justice and serve our country well in deciding the laws of the land.

That said, I can’t help but dwell on one nagging detail: what if Kagan’s value as a Justice is less than her value as an academic administrator?

Before moving forward, let me just state for the record that Elena Kagan should be able to pursue whatever career path she wishes and that no one can blame her for accepting what is arguably the most prestigious appointed position in the world (certainly in the judiciary). However, as someone who works with graduate school applicants for a living – and sees the exponential value of one great faculty member or one great administrator – I am troubled by the loss of one of the finest academic deans of my lifetime.

Understand also that this entire line of thought was relevant back in January of last year, when President Obama appointed Kagan to the position of Solicitor General – this was Kagan’s first foray back into government (between stints as a law school professor at the University of Chicago Law School and Harvard Law School, she served as Associate White House Counsel and policy adviser under President Clinton). Technically, the “we’ve lost Kagan from the academic ranks” hand-wringing could have been conducted back then. However, there’s a big difference between an administrative appointment and a Supreme Court appointment and those with even a passing knowledge of the Court know what that is: the latter is a lifetime appointment. Let’s be honest here, if/when Kagan flies through the confirmation process, this absolutely will be the last job she ever accepts.

For the lifelong member of the judiciary, this makes sense. We are elevating a skilled judge to the highest position in the land, which both serves as a culmination of that person’s career, but also undoubtedly the best social use of that individual’s abilities (we’ll save the whole “the most valuable judicial work is done in the lower courts” argument for another time and place). But someone like Kagan presents a different riddle. She is likely to be a terrific judge (again, my opinion, but obviously one shared by President Obama). But we already know that she’s a fantastic dean. We joined the party in heaping praise on her work at Harvard Law back in October of 2008, but it bears repeating that she seemingly single-handedly transformed Harvard from a grim, sterile “lawyer mill” into one of the most student-friendly, progressive, and vibrant law schools in the country. When I applied to law schools in 2002, I never even considered going to Harvard – it was viewed by many top applicants of the time as a great brand, but an awful experience. When I graduated from Chicago five years later (and four years after Kagan was named dean of the law school), HLS was already back on top, with a bullet.

Harvard Law didn’t reinvent itself overnight, but Kagan’s aggressive, insightful leadership made it seem that way. She pushed for new facilities, focused on improving the student experience, and created consensus among a famous and massive faculty that was previously known more for individual scholarship than cohesive teaching. And lest we think Kagan’s administrative skills were limited to day-to-day operations, she also exceeded expectations on the fundraising front – a “Setting the Standard” campaign (which she inherited) aimed for $400 million and finished in 2008 at $476 million. She also added powerhouse names to the faculty by going out and luring profs from Chicago and Stanford (folks like Cass Sunstein and Lawrence Lessig, who were thought to be untouchable) and even nabbing conservative powerhouses like Jack Goldsmith (Bush administration) to provide more balance. On top of all that, she showed a willingness to take important stances on social issues, famously restricting military recruiters from coming to campus due to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (perceived as being discriminatory against gays and lesbians).

In summary, we are looking at an individual who stepped into arguably the highest profile dean position in academia and crushed the assignment. She raised money, she improved the quality of the faculty on every front, radically transformed the student experience, and even stood tall on policy issues. To say that accomplishing all that requires unique skill and a deft touch is a massive understatement. You could do so far as to say that no other dean could have done it.

If that last statement is true – or even partially true – we have to assess the loss to the academic community that Kagan’s Supreme Court nom represents. To me, it seems like a big one. She would have had her pick of academic jobs, where she could have made a massive difference in the lives of thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of students. And that, to me, is the downside to Elena Kagan heading off to the Supreme Court.

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our law school admissions site or call our offices at 1.800.925.7737!

A New Wrinkle in the Law School Rankings Game

Law School AdmissionsEveryone who operates in the graduate school admissions space knows that rankings are both important and also to be taken with a grain of salt. Any summation of programs presented in list form purports to be an objective analysis, but is always filled with subjective factors, opinion, and incomplete data.

The most famous, of course, is the “peer assessment” score that plays such a huge role and completely stems from opinion — and often uninformed opinion at that. With numbers — average test scores and GPAs, acceptance rates, job placement, and so on — we assume a bit of gaming (using a huge waitlist to improve yield rate is a favorite), but for the most part, trust that we can believe the stats.

Well, as the old expression goes, there are “lies, damned lies, and statistics.” And in the case of the U.S. News Law School Rankings, there are some very interesting statistics indeed.

Yesterday, on his popular blog TaxProf Blog, Paul Caron wrote a spicy piece that wondered aloud whether 16 law schools committed some form of malpractice last year by reporting employment numbers that were lower than the “plug-in” stat that U.S. News uses when there are no numbers at all. It’s kind of a strong word to attach to the actions of these schools, but Caron’s idea is that these programs harmed their various constituents (students, faculty, alumni, and so on) by reporting numbers that unnecessarily weakened their overall ranking.

Why was this reporting unnecessary? Well, the simple answer is that U.S. News has a default number it uses when schools do not report their “employed at graduation” numbers in time for the new set of rankings. Last year, according to Caron, 74 schools did not supply this information, and so each of them got the default stat (created by taking the “employed after nine month” number and subtracting 30 percentage points). The prevailing opinion is that all 74 schools had actual placement numbers that were lower than the x-30% stat, creating an incentive to accept the default number rather than present the real version.

Caron goes on to discuss the 16 schools that did report numbers below x-30%. The accusation of malpractice is a little strong and probably unique to this setting (hard to imagine a blog focusing on MBA rankings going there), but the premise is logical: these schools gave more info than they had to and would have done a better service to their constituents by falling back on the default stat.

But what does that do to the intended audience (prospective students, employers, and so on)? Picking and choosing between actual stats and default formulas does nothing but obfuscate the actual state of the program. It can’t possibly be a good thing when schools are strategically withholding data, or when truth-telling programs are ridiculed for sharing information with the public. Can it?

I don’t blame U.S. News for its formula (after all, it can’t very well just exclude that column of data, or — worse — exclude all the schools that miss a reporting statistic), but it definitely serves as a reminder that we have to keep the machinery in mind when we look a the tidy list of schools, ranked in numerical order. We have long encouraged our clients to take the rankings with a grain of salt, but when you see stories like this, it makes you want to recommend taking the rankings with a whole barrel of the stuff.

If you’re getting ready to apply to law school, our law school admissions consultants can help you get in. Call us at (800) 925-7737 to speak with an expert about your candidacy today. And, as always, remember to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter

Three Hints for Maximizing Campus Visits

Last week, we talked about using the month of May to jump start your fall applications to MBA programs, and one of the best ways to do that is to take advantage of the opportunity to visit campuses while school is still in session. Waiting to tour a business school (or any grad school) during the summer months is almost a complete waste of time, because there are no classes in session and all you are seeing is a bunch of empty buildings.

That leaves either the end of the school year (now), or the fall. And the problem with waiting until the fall is that you run the risk of missing out altogether, as many schools have round one deadlines that occur before campus visitations fully open back up (for example, Stanford GSB’s round one deadline last year was October 7, while most opportunities to engage with students and faculty kicked off in mid-October), or your are simply too busy cranking on your applications to find the time.

All of which makes May a critical month for visiting campus. With that in mind, here are three suggestions for maximizing your campus visit:

1. Be the buyer, not the seller.
Too many people think of a campus visit as a chance to show off and impress the school. This is a poor use of your energy, for a couple of reasons. First, a campus visit is all about acquiring information – info that will help you choose your list of schools, info that will help you ultimately pick which school you will attend, and info that will help you gain admission in the first place. You are on an investigative mission, not an audition. Second, MBA programs simply will not know whether you were amazing or an abomination. Not to diminish the people who work in admissions (hey, I was one of them), but there is no way that a business school has the resources to closely monitor and record the actions of a random visitor who comes to campus four months before the next application deadline.

Right now, admissions officers are finalizing enrollment for the incoming class of 2010, they are planning upcoming recruiting trips, and taking vacations to recover from another busy year. To think they are filing away notes about you is crazy. Knowing this, free yourself from the burdens and pressures of “performing.” Don’t do something stupid that gets you kicked off campus or turns you into a cautionary tale, but at the same time, don’t worry about winning over the student or professor standing in front of you. Ask them real questions. Get some dirt. Engage in the world around you.

A big advantage to visiting campus in late spring is that everyone lets their hair down. So let yours down as well and really come away from the trip with an understanding of that program’s DNA. If you visit a campus in May and come away feeling like it was an artificial experience, it either means that your approach was wrong or the school is as fake as a million-dollar bill.

2. Work on your sales pitch.
In last week’s blog, we talked about honing your sales pitch and there is no better place to trot it out than at an actual business school. If your reasons for pursuing an MBA seem odd, if your timing is all wrong, if your career goals are overly ambitious, there is no better way to find that out than by talking to a current MBA student who is dealing with a live marketplace.

You want to come out of a campus visit feeling like your personal pitch – your reasons for applying, your goals, your passions – has either been validated or improved. If you find yourself confused after visiting campus, it might be time to seek consultation with an expert.

3. Start composing your application.
We don’t mean literally, of course, but you should absolutely check out last year’s essay questions and do some thinking about what the MBA program in question really cares about. Knowing that Wharton has an ongoing focus on student community and globalism helps you when you go to the Penn campus. Now you can ask questions, visit classes, take tours, and explore programs with those key themes in mind. You will leave your visit with a better idea of how you fit with that school and also with some specific conversations and interests that you will want to mention in your essays.

Context is everything when applying to grad school, and being able to place yourself and your life/career arc into the context of what makes a school tick is critical in writing impactful essays and properly expressing program fit. Your very best chance to marry “you” the candidate with the MBA program in question is when you are physically there. So while you are researching as a consumer, don’t forget that you are also an applicant who has to connect all the dots. Give yourself the opportunity to collect data, make connections, and lock in a fit with the place while you are there visiting.

These are three simple suggestions, but they will make a big difference on your campus visit. If you stay relaxed about your own need to “perform,” it will allow you to stress test your goals and start building a powerful application story, even as you are checking things off your own wish list.

To start planning your own business school candidacy, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with an MBA admissions expert today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

U.S. News Law School Rankings for 2011

Law School Rankings Ready to geek out on the newest U.S. News law school rankings? Good, because we are going to break down the 2011 edition, which has been officially posted on the website and available for public consumption (and obsession). While we make it a policy here at Veritas Prep to caution applicants against reading too much into rankings when making decisions on where to apply and attend, there is no denying the fact that the material is interesting.

Our society loves rankings, law schools (and grad schools in general) are part of a fairly hierarchical world, and rankings have a way of making that world go round. Click through to get our take on some of the changes and trends that can be found within this year’s list.

First, for those who hate navigating links, we’ll go ahead and list out the 2011 top 20. We’ll even provide the service of including comparative numbers (something U.S. News doesn’t do):

Law School Rankings for 2011
Current rank [Previous rank] School Name (Rating) [Previous Rating]
1 [1] Yale (100) [100]
2 [2] Harvard (97) [95]
3 [3] Stanford (93) [93]
4 [4] Columbia (91) [88]
5 [6] Chicago (88) [87]
6 [5] NYU (87) [87]
7 [6] Berkeley (85) [84]
7 [7] Penn (85) [82]
9 [9] Michigan (84) [81]
10 [10] Virginia (83) [80]
11 [10] Duke (82) [80]
11 [10] Northwestern (82) [80]
13 [13] Cornell (78) [78]
14 [14] Georgetown (77) [75]
15 [15] UCLA (76) [74]
15 [15] Texas (76) [74]
17 [17] Vanderbilt (75) [73]
18 [18] USC (72) [71]
19 [19] Washington U. (70) [69]
20 [28] George Washington (69) [63]

Now, for some commentary:

The “T14” remains unchanged
Sure, there was some movement within the top 14 law schools, but for the umpteenth year, the schools making up that top tier remained unchanged. Here at the Veritas Prep compound, we joked that this list will never change in our lifetimes. (And yes, we felt very much like the TMZ guys as we hung around the office this morning, riffing about academic rankings. Oddly, we are not remotely embarrassed by this.)

15-19 remains identical, big news at #20
Usually there is some movement among schools 15-through-19, but not this year. Each school saw its raw score go up a bit (more on this below), but the ranking order remained exactly the same. But prized spot #20 features some excitement. You may recall the controversy surrounding George Washington’s awful drop from 20 to 28 last year (okay, maybe you don’t, but luckily the second bullet of this post will refresh your memory), which allowed Boston, Emory, and Minnesota to come crashing into the top 20. This year, those schools are out and GW is back in. Whether it was the placement numbers or the inclusion of part-time data that did George Washington in last year, everything seems to have course-corrected a year later. Cut to: GW law grads taking their fingers off the panic button.

Harvard continues to hold off Stanford for #2
One of the rankings races we watch most closely is the joust for #2 between Harvard and Stanford. Not only did HLS hold off Stanford yet again, they widened the gap and saw their score go up again (from 91 to 95 last year and from 95 to 97 this year). Clearly the momentum of former dean Elena Kagan (the current Solicitor General and a leading contender for appointment to the Supreme Court) is still alive and well in Cambridge. Yale is and probably always will be king, but one could argue that HLS is the hottest property on the law school market.

The U Chicago comeback continues
Two years ago, I wrote a plea to my alma mater Chicago to turn up the heat on their rankings efforts. Whether it is sheer coincidence or the school really has changed its view of the rankings games, the U of C Law School continues to turn things around. After a steady drop through the middle and end of the last decade, Chicago has moved back up in each of the past two years and has now passed NYU and sits at #5 in the current rankings. Again, there’s no need to obsess over this type of stuff (Chicago and NYU are very different schools and whether one is #5 or #6 is no reason to choose one school over the other), but in the case of Chicago it is interesting, because it represents a continued reversal from years of sliding down this list. Chicago grads everywhere (including your author) can breathe a sigh of relief.

Raw scores still going up
Whether law schools really are getting better and better (entirely possible, given the new emphasis on clinical opportunities, seminar instruction, and interdisciplinary learning) or we are just seeing the rankings version of “grade inflation,” the trend of improved scores across the board that we we saw last year continues for the 2011 edition. For instance, Columbia improved three points (from 88 to 91) but stayed at #4, while Michigan and Virginia also went up three points (81 to 84 for UM and 80 to 83 for UVA) but couldn’t make up any ground from a rankings standpoint (#9 and #10, respectively). NYU held steady at 87, but dropped a spot, Berkeley went up a point (84 to 85) but still dropped from #6 to #7, and Duke and Northwestern both went up two full points but dropped from a tie for #10 to a tie for #11.

Has Penn officially arrived?
Quietly, PennLaw keeps giving rise to the idea that it’s a truly elite program, on par with Columbia, Chicago, NYU, and Berkeley. For many, Penn has been viewed for years as the “start of the next tier,” and while that may remain the case for some, it is hard to argue that with a straight face anymore. The U.S. News raw score trend bears that out, as Penn has gone from 80 to 82 to 85 over the past three years and has improved in all of the key “profile” elements (acceptance rate, LSAT, GPA). This has largely gone unnoticed even by rankings junkies because Penn has gone from 7th to 8th back to 7th over the past three years, which obscures just how rapidly the school has closed the raw score gap on the competition.

Northwestern doesn’t climb, despite placement success
There was a lot of attention paid to a recent National Law Journal ranking that listed Northwestern as the top law school for placement of grads within the NALP top 250 firms. We threw some cold water on that excitement and if the U.S. News rankings are to be trusted, it looks like we might have been right. There are just too many factors excluded from a BigLaw placement ranking to establish any larger trends connected to a law school.

Please stop by to check out our website for more on Veritas Prep’s law school admissions consulting services. And, as always, remember to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter

How Much Does the Prestige of Your Grad School Matter?

We make a living helping applicants get into the world’s most competitive business schools, law schools, and medical schools. As a result, it is fair to say that applicants’ desire to get into the world’s top graduate schools is what puts food on our plates at night. (And those plates carry all sorts of food; the Veritas Prep team includes devout vegans, die-hard carnivores, and everyone in between.) But today, we’re going to offer what at first glance may appear to be a stance that goes against our students’ ambitions, but it is definitely one that some applicants need to hear this week after getting getting rejected or waitlisted by the grad school of their dreams: the path your entire career and life will take is NOT determined by what grad school you attend!

Read it again, and make sure you take it to heart: the path your entire career and life will take are NOT determined by what grad school you attend!

Whoa, did I actually just write that? As I continue typing this, I can see the traffic to dropping as I finish this very sentence. Previously-loyal fans are deserting our Facebook page by the dozens, furious applicants are leaving one-star reviews on various review pages, and our Twitter feed is turning into a veritable social media ghost town. I think I just saw an ASCII-rendered tumbleweed roll by, and I’m pretty sure the ghost of an old-timey prospector is giving me the evil eye. Regardless of the hit the Veritas Prep reputation just took, it is absolutely something that needs to be said: while a top-tier MBA, JD, or MD from the program you have your heart set on can significantly improve your career prospects, it is not the only path to accomplishing your goals in life. How successful you will be in life still depends on you, the decisions you make, and the effort you put in, more than anything else that plays a role.

Where’s all this coming from? It was prompted by an excellent pair of questions from a very thoughtful applicant. He went into the test prep and application process with a very specific, realistic goal in mind for what he wants to do after business school, and he’s currently making plans to help achieve that goal (including applying to business school this coming year). He wants to go into investment banking and is carefully considering which schools will give him the most realistic shot at landing at a blue-chip firm such as Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. He basically had two questions for me: “How hard will it be to get a blue-chip banking job at a ‘top-twenty-ish’ MBA program?” and “will a not-so-prestigious MBA hurt me my career prospects after my first post-MBA job?” While those were his specific questions, many grad school applicants find themselves thinking about very similar quandaries: “does the prestige of my grad school matter?”; “will the grad school I choose hurt my career down the road?”; and “does it really matter where I go to grad school?”

The first question is actually one that some applicants don’t ask as often as they should. Sadly, every year some students enter business school or law school under the assumption that there will always be plenty of job opportunities with a certain firm or within a specific industry, only to find out that recruiters from that company/industry don’t actually recruit much (or at all) from their school. So, the fact that he asked this question before he committed to a graduate school certainly shows an impressive level of forethought. In this applicant’s specific case, he’s considering a very good but lower-ranked school. The key factor for him is that this school is one that actually does send some grads to Wall Street every year. Despite slightly lower graduate school prestige, this business school is more likely to help him attain his goals.

The difference between the lower-ranked school he’s considering and a top-ten school is usually more in the number of jobs that those firms hand out on campus. For instance, Goldman Sachs may make dozens of offers at HBS, but that figure will be more like half a dozen at this particular school (which happens to be a much smaller program with many fewer enrolled students, too, so the ratio of jobs-per-student is better than it might appear at first glance). In his situation, he may have to hustle to get one of those few available jobs, but he seems so strong a candidate that we bet he will be able to pull it off if he opts to enroll there.

Now, for the second part of his question: assuming you go to a less prestigious graduate school and get your foot in the door at a high-caliber firm, then the rest is really up to you. That’s what many grad school applicants fail to consider: how you’ll do in your career over the long-term depends far more on how you perform and who you make connections with, rather than on what school name is on your resume. Of course, a “better” school gives you access to a “better” alumni network, which may always help in the future, but even that matters less than what experiences you gain and what accomplishments you can start to rack up in the first several years out of business school. The prestige of your graduate school may help open a door after graduation, but from there it’s up to you to choose the path your career will take – regardless of graduate school prestige.

In this way, the working world and the admissions world are not radically different: What undergraduate school you went to and what company you work for now certainly matter, but what’s even more important is what impact you’ve had on the company and the community around you. That’s a far better predictor of success in your career (and in life, for that matter!).
Before making your grad school enrollment decision based solely on how prestigious the schools to which you were admitted are, you may want to spend some time considering the answers to other questions that will affect your career after your degree:

Where do I want to this degree to take me?
Instead of focusing on the prestige of the school as a whole, consider what you’re hoping to do with your shiny new graduate degree. If you’re using grad school as a way to boost your career prospects at your current company, then the prestige of the school you attend matters less than if you wish to switch industries entirely.

Does my desired program have more prestige than the entire school?
Depending on what concentration you’re hoping to study in grad school, the prestige of the individual program may outrank the prestige of the school as a whole (for proof, compare MBA program overall rankings with specialty rankings; it’s certainly not a perfect correlation). If you have your heart set on studying and working in marketing, for instance, then targeting Northwestern may make more sense than targeting Harvard, even if the entirety of HBS is widely considered more prestigious than the entirety of Kellogg is.

How much does prestige matter in my chosen field, anyway?
If you’re applying to business, law, or medical school, then prestige is certainly a factor (though not the only one, as I hope I’ve made clear!). On the other hand, if you’re looking to attend grad school in a more academically-oriented field, such as many of the social and physical sciences, then prestige may be much less of an issue. For instance, if you’re really interested in cephalopods (and let’s be fair, octopuses are definitely cool), then targeting a school with a marine biology program that does research in that area makes more sense, even if the school as a whole is not your most prestigious option.

Does the program in question have ties to the company/industry I’d like to work for/in?
Going back to the previous applicant’s example, he found a less-prestigious program that still gave him inroads into his desired field. Do some research into career placement at the schools you’re considering; you may be surprised which ones have connections you didn’t expect.

Can I thrive at this graduate school, or am I just hoping to keep up?
Another important consideration is that just “getting in” to the prestigious school doesn’t mean that you’ll thrive there. While GPA in business or other graduate programs is much less important than it was in undergrad, you do need to keep up with the courseload, find opportunities to be a leader in organizations and on projects, stand out among applicants for jobs recruited on campus, etc. If you’re just scraping by at a truly elite school, that may not be as powerful for your job opportunities as having been a campus leader at a slightly less prestigious school might have been. Does grad school prestige matter? Yes, but your own “prestige” – level of involvement and leadership – often matters just as much or more, and sometimes that personal prestige can be harder to accomplish if you’re the smallest fish in the big pond of a prestigious school.

As you can see, there are many factors in considering which graduate schools to apply to and which one to attend. While prestige is certainly a factor for most applicants, it is not and should not be the factor. You have many important elements to consider, and you should take plenty of time to do so during the application and admissions process. If you do, you will be much more likely to make the smartest choice for your needs and goals, and in the long run, that will give you the greatest chance of achieving success during and long after grad school.

For more MBA admissions tips and resources, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with one of our admissions experts today. And, be sure to subscribe to this blog and follow us on Twitter!

Eight Fantastic Professors at The University of Chicago Law School

Chicago Law School AdmissionsOne of the main reasons students cite for choosing a law school is the quality of the faculty, and there is perhaps no law school known more for its faculty than the University of Chicago. With the exceptions of Yale, Stanford, and Harvard (which is amassing a veritable army of academic elites), Chicago arguably stands alone as the staging ground for teaching excellence. In fact, while the school often ranks anywhere from 4th to 7th overall in rankings such as U.S. News, it is always near the top of the Faculty Rankings list generated by Brian Leiter (Chicago appears set to come in third in the upcoming 2010 version.) This, despite the fact that other top law schools have raided the U of C faculty over the past several years, enticing several elite professors to move to other programs. The exodus has included world-renowned legal scholars Richard Epstein (part-time to NYU, and then to retirement) and Cass Sunstein (to Harvard, and then to the Obama Administration), criminal law expert Tracy Meares (to Yale), beloved constitutional and legislative scholar Adrian Vermeule (Harvard), and law and econ guru Alan Sykes (Stanford).

Most institutions would be crippled beyond repair by such a loss of talent, yet Chicago has managed to retain its lofty perch at the top of any reputable ranking of educational quality. This is partly due to the fact that Chicago still retains its fair share of legal titans such as Seventh Circuit Judges Frank Easterbrook (Chief Judge), Diane Wood, and Richard Posner. However, the high ranking is also a byproduct of the fact that the school has made the hiring and grooming of young academics its highest priority. Between the “think tank” atmosphere, the many workshop and seminar teaching formats, and the Law School’s reputation for producing legal scholars, Chicago stands as one of the world’s premier learning and teaching centers.

For that reason, the U of C remains a place populated by dynamic professors and the list of “must take” classes grows every year. The following are some student favorites and particularly noteworthy instructors among the 53 full-time faculty members at the U of C – the names and faces that make Chicago one of the truly elite places to study law:

  • David Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law. Professor Strauss is an absolute must-take at the U of C and, in fact, half the incoming class will be assured of having him for a course as he serves as one of the two star professors who teach Chicago’s unique Elements of the Law class. “Elements” is an esoteric course focusing largely on the theoretical and historical underpinnings of today’s legal framework in America. Elements of the Law is a very popular required 1L course and Professor Strauss is the master in this setting. Even if students miss out on him during 1L year, however, there is ample opportunity to take a Strauss course going forward, as he teaches several constitutional law classes, including Con Law III, which focuses on due process and equal protection. One of Chicago’s most soft-spoken and thoughtful professors, Professor Strauss can still be very intimidating when he starts tapping his trademark highlighter against the back of his hand and wondering aloud about the answer to a particular tricky legal question. A true scholar’s scholar, Professor Strauss was recently rumored to be on the move in order to join his good friend and former Chicago colleague Barack Obama in Washington, but fortunately for U of C students present and future, he remains an anchor on the Law School’s faculty.
  • Geoffrey Stone, Edward H. Levi Distinguished Service Professor of Law. A member of the U of C faculty since 1973, Professor Stone is not only a favorite of Chicago students (primarily for his ability to make Evidence an interesting course), but also serves as a prominent voice of the Law School, having authored several award-winning books (most notably 2004’s Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, which won both the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for history) and appearing on many major media outlets. As one of the most liberal professors on a historically conservative (or, perhaps more accurately, libertarian) faculty, Stone’s special presentations and speaker series events on campus are often the most well-attended and tend to spark a great deal of discussion in the Law Quadrangle. Additionally, Professor Stone teaches one of the most innovative and challenging courses in the Law School, Constitutional Decision Making, which puts students in the roles of judges who must author opinions (including majority, concurring, and dissenting opinions) on difficult equal protection or First Amendment issues.
  • Douglas Baird, Harry A. Bigelow Distinguished Service Professor of Law. Each year, the Chicago Law Foundation (CLF) hosts a celebrated auction at the law school, in which items and activities are put up for bid. It is both the biggest fundraiser for CLF and also the biggest social event of the year for law students, who often pool a great deal of money (especially 2L and 3L students coming off lucrative summer associate stints) to bid on outings with favorite professors. No event generates more charitable dollars than the annual brandy scotch tasting night with Professor Baird. Beloved by U of C students -– many of whom take his contracts class as a 1L –- Baird is a Chicago institution. He was the Law School’s dean from 1984 to 1999, taking it to its loftiest heights and creating the academic culture that exists today. Professor Baird also lives near campus, making him highly visible, from the grocery co-op in Hyde Park to the gym at the university’s Ratner Center. Blessed with a wit as sharp as his legal mind, Professor Baird makes full use of the crazy cases that exist throughout contract law, turning the 1L requirement into one of the highest-rated courses at the law school. It is fortunate that most incoming students are not yet aware of how great he is, lest the half that gets left out protest its inability to take his contracts class.
  • Lior Strahilevitz, Professor of Law and Walter Mander Teaching Scholar. One of the fastest professors to receive full tenure in the history of the Law School, Professor Strahilevitz is one of the funniest people (faculty member, staff, or student) at the Law School at any given moment, using his quick wit and vast knowledge of pop culture to keep terrified 1Ls relaxed and laughing. A testament to his popularity is the fact that an Intellectual Property class for 2L and 3L students required a move from a traditional classroom to the much larger auditorium … even after he had wireless Internet access turned off (prior to the school removing Internet connections in all classrooms). A savant when it comes to property (whether real or intellectual) law, Professor Strahilevitz is known for weaving current events into long-standing property law structures, such as his focus on the Kelo case in 2005 and 2006, as that legal battle shaped the law of eminent domain. Professor Strahilevitz also brings Chicago’s law and econ focus to the forefront in all of his classes as he lets the students chose which method by which the seating chart will be created. He takes a vote and lets the class choose whether to use an auction, a first-come-first-served model, or simply default to alphabetical order. Extremely available after hours, Professor Strahilevitz is often the first choice for academic-minded students seeking a 1L summer research job or for 2L and 3L students who wish to perform a publishable independent study.
  • Emily Buss, Mark and Barbara Fried Professor of Law and Kanter Director of Chicago Policy Initiatives. Professor Buss is one of Chicago’s most active and influential professors in the areas of family law and children’s advocacy, overseeing many policy initiatives and opportunities for clinical work. In an environment that can often be extremely theoretical, Professor Buss can be a breath of fresh air with her commitment to actionable change and her preference for dealing with hot button issues and current events. Her primary areas of interest are often very specific and are best served in seminar settings with just 15 to 20 upper level students. Therefore, in keeping with the Chicago tradition, Professor Buss is annually tapped as one of the star 1L professors to teach the required courses. Her specialty in this area is Civil Procedure and hers is often the very first class that an incoming student will experience at the Law School. One of the sweetest and kindest people a student will ever meet, Professor Buss is still as tough as nails when it comes to the Socratic Method. She rarely lets a struggling student off the hook, unless a fellow classmate is the one rushing to the rescue. She is also one of the only professors in the Law School who will use role playing and mock trial type exercises to work through tricky areas of federal civil procedure – utilizing such creative teaching methods even in 90-person classes.
  • M. Todd Henderson, Assistant Professor of Law. Professor Henderson is one of the reasons that Chicago can lose vaunted professors and keep on clocking in at the top of any educational quality rankings. A former associate in the elite appellate litigation practice group at Kirkland & Ellis in D.C. and then a star consultant at McKinsey & Company, Professor Henderson has brought his brash, quirky style to the Law School, where he teaches many of the key corporations and securities cases that are vital to any future corporate lawyer. Widely considered one of the toughest graders at the U of C, Professor Henderson actually tends to be a little easier than most with regard to the Socratic Method, as he relies mainly on volunteers to keep the dialogue going. Professor Henderson can be intimidating, given his height (at least 6’6”), incisive wit, booming voice, and slightly unconventional methods – to say nothing of the dense, complicated subject matter – but any student who goes through three years of legal education at Chicago and does not take a Henderson class is missing out. The Law School certainly seems aware of that fact, as almost all of his classes are held in the auditorium – an honor reserved for only the most popular 2L and 3L classes.
  • Adam Cox, Assistant Professor of Law. Professor Cox is part of the new guard of Chicago professors: strongly against Internet usage in the classroom, incredibly smart, and a staunch, sometimes brutal administrator of the Socratic Method. Professor Cox is one of the few Chicago professors who will note when someone is absent from a class and then immediately pound that person with difficult questions the next time he or she dares to show up for class. That said, for all the stress that students endure in one of Professor Cox’s classes – often Civil Procedure II or an elective course dealing with elections, voting rights, or immigration – his fresh ideas and enthusiasm make the class well worth it. Not only that, but students can be sure that his demanding style comes from a good place, as he himself was a law student not so long ago (Michigan Law School, ’99). Professor Cox also taught at Chicago as a Bigelow Fellow in 2004 before joining the full-time faculty, and his ease around students is evident. Whether it is a debate about music (he’s a fan of indie bands), fashion, or the best coffee shops in Chicago, Professor Cox will drop everything to engage in conversation with members of the U of C community.
  • Randal Picker, Paul H. and Theo Leffmann Professor of Commercial Law. Professor Picker has long been a favorite professor at U of C, dating back to the early 1990s, when he served as the school’s associate dean. However, his star – perhaps more than any other Chicago professor – has been on the rise in recent years due to the explosion of the Internet as it relates to legal policy. A specialist in the areas of intellectual property and antitrust, Professor Picker has become the go-to person for all things IP in Hyde Park. From students seeking his guidance and involvement in the Intellectual Property Law Society, to an influx of people taking his classes, to national media interviews, Professor Picker’s opinion is shaping the law on what seems like a daily basis. Additionally, Professor Picker is one of the most prolific and well-read contributors to the Law School’s Faculty Blog, which features posts from various faculty members on the key legal events of the day. His theories and ideas regarding digital rights management (DRM) are some of the most salient in the field. As a classroom presence, few compare to Professor Picker, whose natural enthusiasm is evident to all in attendance. From his highly detailed PowerPoint slides for every class, to his increasingly fast and high-pitched voice, to the removal of his sweater when he really gets going (a Picker class tradition), there is no doubt that he is totally and completely invested in every class.

Law School Applicants: You Can Learn From Rappers

Law School Admissions
If you have been reading our excellent GMAT Tip of the Week series (penned by Veritas Prep’s GMAT guru, lesson booklets co-author, and Director of Academic Research Brian Galvin), then you know one thing: it is “Hip Hop Month” here at Veritas Prep. The esteemed Mr. Galvin has been coming up with interesting and nostalgic ways to use rap music examples in order to better understand complex GMAT problems and solutions.

Today, it is our prospective JD readers who get to experience the joyful fusion of hip hop and graduate school admissions. This only makes sense, considering we once ran a blog post breaking down the legal implications of the Jay-Z song “99 Problems.”

By now, you HAVE to be wondering: what can you, the law school applicant, possibly learn from a rapper?

It’s pretty simple, actually: what you can learn is how to tell a story. Rappers – the good ones at least – are ultimately storytellers. The hip hop album generally considered to be the best ever recorded – Nas’ Illmatic – is basically a spoken word version of his life’s journal. The late great Tupac Shakur transitioned easily from “gangsta rap” to books of poetry and back again. These guys gave us tales of their life, made the words rhyme, and put it all over produced beats and sounds. That was their way of telling a story within the confines of a particular form.

Law school applicants also have the challenge of telling their unique story within the confines of a form … the personal statement. We’ve written about the personal statement several times in the past (mistakes to avoid, how to write a great personal statement), but there is one critical mistake that applicants keep making … they want to write about all the good stuff and ignore the bad.

If you click on the above links and read my previous offerings on the subject, you know that the personal statement is all about answering the admissions officer’s biggest question. It’s all about positioning. It’s all about mitigating weaknesses. In other word, the best personal statements feature raw, honest, uncompromising storytelling. And now is where hip hop re-enters our discussion: the best rap songs are often not the brag and boast variety, rather, they are the tales told from the heart. Sure, there have been a few party anthems that have resonated over time and maybe this is me, but the hip hop tunes that have stayed with me over the years are tracks like 2Pac’s “Dear Mama,” “Keep Ya Head Up,” and “So Many Tears,” Common’s love letter to rap itself (“I Used to Love H.E.R.”), Jay-Z’s “Lucky Me,” and Biggie’s “Juicy.” Introspection, emotion, and brutal honesty is what elevated rap from shallow party music to something akin to literature. It made listeners sit up and take notice and to feel invested in the lives of the artists. There’s a reason that so many people were devastated when 2Pac died and it wasn’t because he penned “California Love.”

Law school applicants would be wise to take a page out of the same book (of rhymes). Sure, you can brag about an accomplishment with artistry and make an initial impression – you may even have an admissions officer nodding her head for the rest of the day. But when admissions committee rolls around and precious few spots are up for grabs, your odds are better if your words have staying power – if you tell a story that resonates and makes the reader sit up and take notice. You want the reader to feel invested in your life as an applicant. Make them care about you and your story.

In short, when you write your personal statement, set out to write “Where I’m From” instead of “H to the Izzo.”

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our law school admissions site or call our offices at 1.800.925.7737! And, remember to follow us on Twitter!

A Bold Law School Recruiting Proposal

Law School AdmissionsFor the last year and a half, there has been a steady stream of articles, blog posts, and opinion pieces about the law school recruiting process. Some have explored new apprenticeship models employed by law firms, others have focused on what law schools are doing to protect students, still others have put a renewed focus on public interest fellowships and job opportunities. Most, however, have merely predicted more doom and gloom. It’s perfectly fine to report what is going on out there, but how many more profile articles and pithy blog posts do we need about stranded 3Ls with no prospects?

That’s why it comes as such a relief to come across an opinion piece about the legal recruiting pipeline that actually suggests bold and decisive action. Not only that, but the author of the article, Aric Press, actually goes so far as to call law firms out and challenge them to push the envelope. Thank you, Aric Press!

In the piece, Press lays out the situation clearly. The old way of recruiting – where NALP puts rules in place that allow firms to go do the meat market on campus interviewing circuit, follow it up with four months of “call backs,” and then submit offers – isn’t working and neither NALP or the individual law firms are doing anything to react to new realities. This part of the article is all well and good, but nothing we don’t already know. What was so interesting to me is where Press took it from there, as he laid out a plan for firms to go outside the NALP system in their recruiting efforts. This plan includes a call for transparency, honest interviewing approaches, and probing to see if the applicant has practical skills that will match the firm’s needs. Press even calls for a two-step interview process with the second session serving as a mock client interaction, to truly test out whether the firm and the law student are a good match for each other.

Having worked in a law firm where everything is hidden behind the magic curtain until it’s “too late,” I am all for increased transparency and more rigorous interviewing processes that truly flesh out proper fits. Press has put forward a fairly bold initiative that would vastly improve the quality of law firm hires and give law students a much better view into life at individual firms. And all at a time when the recruiting process badly needs a facelift. Sounds like a win all the way around.

Now we wait to see if anyone paid attention.

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our law school admissions site or call our offices at 1.800.925.7737!

Northwestern Law is Ranked #1, but Does it Matter?

Law School Admissions
By at least one measure, Northwestern University’s School of Law is the best law school in America. But what is that measure? And what does it mean? Should would-be Harvard, Columbia, and Chicago students suddenly reverse course?

You may have already heard the “Northwestern ranked as best law school” sound bite in the last week and scratched your head. “Really?” Well, yes and no. Yes, in the sense that the National Law Journal is a highly respected publication that put out a legitimate ranking that had Northwestern had the top of the heap. No, in the sense that this ranking measures one thing — and one thing only — and has nothing to do with academic excellence, peer reputation, class profile, or any other metric that we’re used to analyzing. And no in the sense that the one thing it does measure might be a pretty misleading statistic.

The NLJ survey focuses purely on the number of graduates from each school that land jobs at “NLJ top 250” law firms. That’s it. The school with the highest percentage wins and for Northwestern, that percentage (55.9%) is enough to edge out the likes of Columbia (54.4%), Stanford (54.1%), and Chicago (53.1%). Since the NLJ is very good at determining what the top firms are, this is surely a pretty credible finding, right?

Again, yes and no.

Northwestern has rightly taken advantage of this ranking and used the news as a way to advertise the practical, hands-on training provided by their law school model. I’ve visited Northwestern Law, studied there, interacted with students there, worked at a large firm with graduates from the program and I can say that this is absolutely true. Northwestern does indeed do a great job of turning the esoteric study of law into something more practical. It’s a progressive, innovative, interesting law school and all the things they say in their own student newspaper are completely true.

So what’s the problem? The problem is that the data is skewed by certain realities. Such as: if every graduate from U. of Chicago chose to work at a top law firm rather than a prestigious clerkship, then that school would probably beat Northwestern like a drum in this kind of ranking. Such as: If Berkeley students stopped caring about public interest and went “all in” on top 250 firms, they would soar right past Northwestern. If Yale students no longer pursued academia first and foremost, not only would the legal heavyweight get back into the top 10 of this list, it would probably go right to the top. If Harvard Law went back to being the “law firm mill” it was before Elena Kagan became the dean and it students stopped pursuing all of the above (clerkships, public interest, and academia), surely Northwestern would have to take a back seat.

In other words, Northwestern may be placing such a robust percentage of students into top 250 firms in large part because its graduates don’t have the same alternative elite options as some of its more prestigious brethren. If you revised this survey to include graduates who go into: “NLJ top 250 firms, federal clerkships, and academic fellowship programs” (i.e., the three most prestigious paths, probably in reverse order), I promise you the list would look much different.

This isn’t to knock Northwestern. Again, they are doing a fine job of training good lawyers and firms recognize that fact. But this ranking is just as much about the jobs that Northwestern students aren’t getting as the ones they are. And, more importantly for potential law school students, it’s one more reminder that rankings — particularly those that measure just one thing — are never the be-all, end-all scorecard for the quality of a school.

(And yes, I went to U of C, so feel free to start lobbing tomatoes at me in the comments section!)

If you need help with your law school applications, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and speak with an admissions expert today.

What is an LLM Degree?

Law School Admissions
One common question we get from law school applicants is “What is an LLM degree?” Most top law schools offer programs in this area, many international students enroll each year seeking this degree, and it is a commonly heard but rarely understood component of a law school curriculum. Therefore, as both a way to educate any loyal readers of this blog and also to have as a handy FAQ response (self-serving blog posts are the best kind), we decided to outline exactly what an LLM is and how it works.

The easiest way to break it down is to go through a series of commonly asked questions:

What is an LLM? The LLM stands for the Master of Laws and it is basically a masters degree geared toward subject matter expertise, not unlike an MBA or a masters in public policy. It does not carry with it the training necessary to qualify someone for the practice of law, as future lawyers must almost always have a JD in the U.S. or an equivalent degree (an LLB in the UK, for instance) and then pass the bar or equivalent exam in order to practice. Rather, it is an added piece that might make an individual more qualified to practice a certain type of law (one of the most common subjects is tax).

How long is the program? An LLM is almost always a one-year program.

What is the coursework like? The LLM can vary greatly depending on the school. Some programs heavily integrate LLM students into the general curriculum while others focus more on a specific track, which is often followed by a thesis requirement.

Is it just for international students? One of the most common misconceptions that people make about the LLM is that it is a degree specifically for international students. This is not true, as any student who seeks additional specialization in an area of the law can pursue an LLM (again, tax is the most common area where a U.S. student might spend the extra year). That said, the use of the degree in the U.S. is most commonly associated with training international students on some of the key elements of American law – coursework that helps those students go back to their home countries and former firms with an advanced understanding of U.S. legal frameworks.

Can an LLM qualify an international student to take the bar exam in the U.S.? This one actually requires some research, as some states allow international students to sit for the bar examination with an LLM (in conjunction with a JD equivalent from another country), while other states require a JD. International students should always double and triple-check the state bar requirements before pursuing an LLM with the hopes of transitioning into an American legal practice.

Who should get an LLM? Again, the degree is often a great fit for international students seeking an understanding of U.S. law to compliment their existing training, and – as detailed above – can often provide a springboard for practicing law in certain U.S. states. It is also an interesting option for American law students who seek either advanced exposure to individual subjects (especially at law schools that gear the LLM around a thesis) on the road to academia or for students who wish to practice a multinational brand of law.

For more questions about LLM degrees or anything pertaining to law school admissions, give us a call at (800) 925-7737 and get a free consultation with a Veritas Prep admissions expert!