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Tips for prospective law students from a former admissions committee member

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This is a fantastic thread. I'm wondering @redlead, what difference does a final transcript make to the application? Do schools look at it? I got a perfect 4.0 in my final year which I think will reflect well, since I only took upper year courses, but I wonder if it will be looked at since my school doesn't release them until Friday, meaning the schools won't get them until early next week probably 

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On 2017-05-16 at 6:15 AM, 3rdGenLawStudent said:

This is a fantastic thread. I'm wondering @redlead, what difference does a final transcript make to the application? Do schools look at it? I got a perfect 4.0 in my final year which I think will reflect well, since I only took upper year courses, but I wonder if it will be looked at since my school doesn't release them until Friday, meaning the schools won't get them until early next week probably 

Hi 3rdGenLawStudent, I'm not sure how the schools treat final transcripts. Because I was only a student member of the committee, I ended my term before final transcripts would have been released. By that time, at my school, we had finished extending almost all offers and were moving on to developing the waitlist. So I suppose it would depend on the school. If your final semester is really strong, and there's a particular school you are very interested in, you may wish to let the admissions team know that you're expecting a solid final transcript, if they have not already made a decision on your file. 

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On 05/03/2016 at 3:53 AM, redlead said:

B) If you're applying in a special category (e.g., access, mature, indigenous, etc.), make sure that at least some elements of your application indicate why you fit in that category. It's not enough just to check the box and then talk about why you would make a great law student generally. Those categories exist for several reasons, but two reasons stood out to me as particularly significant: (1) to increase the diversity of the student body and thus the legal profession; and (2) to give talented students who have faced challenges the opportunity to demonstrate that their "numbers" don't reflect their potential. Some students fit both of those descriptions, while others might only fit one. If you're applying in a special category, tell the admissions committee about (1) the benefits that your unique life experiences will bring to the school and the profession and/or (2) the reasons why the challenges you've dealt with in the past will not stop you from being successful in law school.

 

Should I still include this in my main personal statement if schools offer a separate section to explain why I would fit into the access  category?

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On 3/5/2016 at 3:53 AM, redlead said:

Hi all! I was a student member of an admissions committee during my third year of law school, and I thought I would share some insights from the experience that I thought would be helpful. They're mostly focused on your personal statement and references, because those are the parts of your application that are most easily improved, and where the path to "improvement" is least obvious (everyone knows what a better LSAT or GPA looks like).

 

A) First of all, consider what type of personal statement you are being asked for. Does the school want a generic statement, or do they ask you to answer specific questions? If they ask specific questions and you fail to answer them, or you try to force a generic personal statement to fit the questions asked, this will hurt your application.

 

B) If you're applying in a special category (e.g., access, mature, indigenous, etc.), make sure that at least some elements of your application indicate why you fit in that category. It's not enough just to check the box and then talk about why you would make a great law student generally. Those categories exist for several reasons, but two reasons stood out to me as particularly significant: (1) to increase the diversity of the student body and thus the legal profession; and (2) to give talented students who have faced challenges the opportunity to demonstrate that their "numbers" don't reflect their potential. Some students fit both of those descriptions, while others might only fit one. If you're applying in a special category, tell the admissions committee about (1) the benefits that your unique life experiences will bring to the school and the profession and/or (2) the reasons why the challenges you've dealt with in the past will not stop you from being successful in law school.

 

C) Most of the generic personal statements that I read addressed three things:

1. Why the applicant wants to go to law school/be a lawyer;

2. Why the applicant will make a great law student/lawyer; and

3. Why the applicant wants to go to this specific law school.

 

D) I would encourage students not to spend as much space on #3 as they currently do. Compliments about the law school don't usually get you very far, unless they are very specific to your interests, e.g., "As you can see from my degree in biochemistry, I am very interested in the natural sciences, so I am especially interested in X law school because it is the only school with a natural sciences law clinic." Complimenting the law school in general doesn't help the committee - they already think their school is great, and they want to know about you. Compliments that are overblown can actually hurt your application. If you say something about the school being "world-renowned for their legal clinics" when they are not that well-recognized, the committee will think you're blowing smoke, and it won't help your chances.

 

E) As for #1 and #2, the most important thing to do is to provide meaningful examples. The admissions committee is made up of faculty and upper year students. They want evidence or a foundation for your assertions. Bald statements that you are "responsible", "hard-working", "intelligent", or "interested in a career in social justice" will get you nowhere, because literally everyone is making those claims. Applicants that stand out have concrete support that buttress their most important points. E.g., "I have volunteered for the past five years for a victims services organization, and this has fostered my interest in one day becoming a Crown prosecutor." or "My experience working in a law firm gave me exposure to the area of practice I'm most interested in while also honing my attention to detail and my ability to handle a heavy workload."

 

F) Always remember that the people reading your application will know nothing about you other than what is on the papers in front of them. They'll have your transcript, LSAT, personal statement, letters of reference, and the other documents (if any) that you were required to submit. From that they will form their entire impression of you. It might be worthwhile to ask a trustworthy acquaintance (perhaps a friend of a friend) who does not know you well to read your package and see how they would describe you based on that alone. Their answers may surprise you.

 

G) There is no need to write poetically in your personal statement, and if prose is not your strength, you should avoid it entirely. It adds very little to your statement and can end up being a distraction. I also never saw a hook that worked, e.g., "it was a dark and stormy night..." Save those for your applications to American schools. Remember paragraph F above if you plan to use your personal statement to tell one story or are intending to build the entire thing around one anecdote. That will end up being all that the committee knows about you. Ask yourself seriously whether it will be enough.

 

H) Use your letters of reference (if they are requested, don't submit them if they are not) to provide further support for the narrative you've built in your personal statement and other documents. The strongest letters of reference don't seem to come out of left field. The feeling that the committee should get while reading your letter is reassurance that their instincts about you were accurate; the letter of reference provides independent confirmation that you really are as great as you seem. It should go without saying (but sadly it doesn't) that your letters of reference should be from the type of referees the school has asked for, and should never ever be from a family member or close friend. Anyone who has known you since childhood is likely a bad choice. Those letters rarely read as objective accounts of an adult student's attributes. If you really can't get a good reference from the type of referee requested, explain why you were unable to do so.

 

I) If there is an obvious and marked area of weakness in your application, e.g., an academic year where you did particularly badly, or a poor LSAT score, you should quickly address why that incident doesn't reflect your true potential and then move on. The committee will almost certainly notice a significant area of weakness and will wonder what caused you to falter. Don't make excuses, and don't take up your whole application explaining yourself. If there isn't good explanation, you'll just have to bite the bullet and focus on your strengths in the rest of the application. Keep in mind, though, that it's human nature for members of the committee to speculate to themselves about what caused your slip if you don't provide an explanation.

 

That's all I can think of for now. I hope this is helpful and doesn't come across as a silly diatribe. Best of luck to everyone who is or will be applying!

Hi, thank you so much for your advice! I will certainly keep this in mind while applying. I am applying to law schools right now. I will be graduating in June 2018. I currently have an approx cGpa of 3.38/4.00 (as per OLSAS Calculation) and an L2 (60 credits) of 3.66/4.00 (as per OLSAS calculations). I have two very strong LORs - one academic and one non-academic. I will graduate with honours in Bcom,  specialization in Finance. I have a very strong volunteer background. I will be writing my LSAT in December for the first time - I know!!!! I would like to think that my PS is average to good. I was just wondering if you guys can think of any schools in Canada (ideally in Ontario) where I might have a chance at admissions!! Would love to get your feedback. 

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Hello, I will keep this brief. I was at u of t for 3 years. I got into trouble, broke the law and was arrested. I missed my exam due to the arrest, went to woodsworth college to sort it out and told them what happened. I did not finish the last year instead I was in the Toronto south detention center for 2 years. After I got out I applied to Ryerson (wanted a change in scenery), got accepted and then I got an e-mail from the Ryerson campus security. They said I had something on my file so I had to come and talk to them. I did and they asked about my charges. I disclosed everything and told them what I was convicted for. My charges can be seen when I apply to universities, i find this unfair especially since nothing happened on campus and no one from my school was involved. I cannot get it removed, they say that it has to stay on my record for 7 years. I am doing so well, great grades, turned my life around completely. I am now worried that this will be held against me when I apply to law school. How should I proceed? Disclose it in my personal statement? Or will it not affect me since it is not an infraction like plagiarism? 

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On 10/3/2017 at 9:37 AM, goals101 said:

Hi, thank you so much for your advice! I will certainly keep this in mind while applying. I am applying to law schools right now. I will be graduating in June 2018. I currently have an approx cGpa of 3.38/4.00 (as per OLSAS Calculation) and an L2 (60 credits) of 3.66/4.00 (as per OLSAS calculations). I have two very strong LORs - one academic and one non-academic. I will graduate with honours in Bcom,  specialization in Finance. I have a very strong volunteer background. I will be writing my LSAT in December for the first time - I know!!!! I would like to think that my PS is average to good. I was just wondering if you guys can think of any schools in Canada (ideally in Ontario) where I might have a chance at admissions!! Would love to get your feedback. 

Everyone is going to tell you the same thing: write your LSAT and then ask the question. This isn't just the members of this forum trying to put you off, it's just that unless your grades are either extraordinary or poor, with a 120, you wouldn't have a chance anywhere, and with a 180, you would probably have a chance at any school.

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8 hours ago, Aspiringlawstudent86 said:

Hello, I will keep this brief. I was at u of t for 3 years. I got into trouble, broke the law and was arrested. I missed my exam due to the arrest, went to woodsworth college to sort it out and told them what happened. I did not finish the last year instead I was in the Toronto south detention center for 2 years. After I got out I applied to Ryerson (wanted a change in scenery), got accepted and then I got an e-mail from the Ryerson campus security. They said I had something on my file so I had to come and talk to them. I did and they asked about my charges. I disclosed everything and told them what I was convicted for. My charges can be seen when I apply to universities, i find this unfair especially since nothing happened on campus and no one from my school was involved. I cannot get it removed, they say that it has to stay on my record for 7 years. I am doing so well, great grades, turned my life around completely. I am now worried that this will be held against me when I apply to law school. How should I proceed? Disclose it in my personal statement? Or will it not affect me since it is not an infraction like plagiarism? 

You're asking what you should do about this. That might cross over into legal advice. We're not going to give you that: 

 

What do you mean by "my charges can be seen when I apply to universities." Is it a notation on your transcript (i.e., something imposed as part of the university discipline process)? Or is it some weird condition on your sentence? If it's the former, then it might be an issue to address within the university. If it's the latter, it's probably something that would be dealt with within the criminal justice system. Again, I'm not giving advice; I'm not saying you can or should do anything. I'm just curious and trying to understand your problem. 

Edited by realpseudonym
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7 hours ago, Aspiringlawstudent86 said:

Hello, I will keep this brief. I was at u of t for 3 years. I got into trouble, broke the law and was arrested. I missed my exam due to the arrest, went to woodsworth college to sort it out and told them what happened. I did not finish the last year instead I was in the Toronto south detention center for 2 years. After I got out I applied to Ryerson (wanted a change in scenery), got accepted and then I got an e-mail from the Ryerson campus security. They said I had something on my file so I had to come and talk to them. I did and they asked about my charges. I disclosed everything and told them what I was convicted for. My charges can be seen when I apply to universities, i find this unfair especially since nothing happened on campus and no one from my school was involved. I cannot get it removed, they say that it has to stay on my record for 7 years. I am doing so well, great grades, turned my life around completely. I am now worried that this will be held against me when I apply to law school. How should I proceed? Disclose it in my personal statement? Or will it not affect me since it is not an infraction like plagiarism? 

Interesting question, and admittedly something I did not come across during my brief stint as an admissions committee member. I see a couple of issues for you here. First, how is it that universities can see your charges when you apply? Is it on your transcript? If so, then yes, a law school admissions committee will see it and will be curious. All things being equal, I think it's fair to say that most law schools would be more likely to admit a candidate without such a notation on their transcript than an equally competitive candidate with such a notation on their transcript.

One of the concerns that I would have had as an admissions committee member (floating around in the back of my mind), would be whether or not you would ultimately be admitted to the practice of law. You didn't say whether or not you were convicted, or what your offence was, and you needn't explain here. However, it could have an impact on your ability to be admitted to a law society, and thus to be able to become a lawyer.

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On 9/26/2017 at 6:11 PM, david2234 said:

Should I still include this in my main personal statement if schools offer a separate section to explain why I would fit into the access  category?

It depends. If you have a separate section to explain why you fit into the access category, and you are also able to use that section to expand on points (1) and/or (2) (e.g., how you can contribute to the law school and/or why your numbers don't reflect your potential), then don't repeat yourself in the main personal statement. However, if the section is limited to the question of why you qualify for the access category, and is solely restricted to a statement such as "I am a person with X disability", then you will want to address points (1) and/or (2) in your main personal statement.

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Hello! Thanks so much for posting your advice. I'm applying this cycle and I'm still working on my personal statements so this is very helpful.

I was wondering if you could give any insight as to how adcoms treat graduate school grades? I'm currently in a masters program so I'll have to send my first semester transcripts in January. I'm taking a course that is particularly challenging and I really don't know what I can expect my graduate GPA to be. In your experience, are poor marks in grad school something that pushes adcoms to reject students even if they are an otherwise competitive applicant or are they more of an afterthought since undergraduate GPA is the focus of admissions? I know some schools will use grad school marks to calculate GPA but none of the Ontario schools I'm applying to do.

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14 hours ago, rondelle said:

Hello! Thanks so much for posting your advice. I'm applying this cycle and I'm still working on my personal statements so this is very helpful.

I was wondering if you could give any insight as to how adcoms treat graduate school grades? I'm currently in a masters program so I'll have to send my first semester transcripts in January. I'm taking a course that is particularly challenging and I really don't know what I can expect my graduate GPA to be. In your experience, are poor marks in grad school something that pushes adcoms to reject students even if they are an otherwise competitive applicant or are they more of an afterthought since undergraduate GPA is the focus of admissions? I know some schools will use grad school marks to calculate GPA but none of the Ontario schools I'm applying to do.

When I was on the admissions committee (at a Western Canadian school), graduate grades were an important consideration. Performance in graduate school, whether it was poor or excellent, was a big factor in moving a borderline candidate up into "admit" territory or down into the waitlist or rejection. That being said, it is my understanding that most Ontario schools are much more focused on undergraduate grades than graduate grades. If your undergraduate numbers and LSAT are great, then you should have no problem, so long as you don't completely tank in grad school.

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12 hours ago, redlead said:

When I was on the admissions committee (at a Western Canadian school), graduate grades were an important consideration. Performance in graduate school, whether it was poor or excellent, was a big factor in moving a borderline candidate up into "admit" territory or down into the waitlist or rejection. That being said, it is my understanding that most Ontario schools are much more focused on undergraduate grades than graduate grades. If your undergraduate numbers and LSAT are great, then you should have no problem, so long as you don't completely tank in grad school.

I see. I think I'm just nervous because the grading criteria is much more narrow in grad school - less than 70% is a fail. Nothing I can do but my best I guess. 

Thanks for the help. 

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On 12/10/2017 at 10:38 AM, redlead said:

Interesting question, and admittedly something I did not come across during my brief stint as an admissions committee member. I see a couple of issues for you here. First, how is it that universities can see your charges when you apply? Is it on your transcript? If so, then yes, a law school admissions committee will see it and will be curious. All things being equal, I think it's fair to say that most law schools would be more likely to admit a candidate without such a notation on their transcript than an equally competitive candidate with such a notation on their transcript.

One of the concerns that I would have had as an admissions committee member (floating around in the back of my mind), would be whether or not you would ultimately be admitted to the practice of law. You didn't say whether or not you were convicted, or what your offence was, and you needn't explain here. However, it could have an impact on your ability to be admitted to a law society, and thus to be able to become a lawyer.

While the offences didn't happen on campus they are visible when I apply. As i said earlier they found out because i missed an exam due to the arrest and had to provide documentation so that i didnt lose 30% of my grade. Since this is the case I would assume it's on my transcript and not a seperate document. I was convicted of 3 assaults (just a regular assault in case people start thinking sexual). I doubt these convictions would lead the law society in the applicable province to determine that I am not suitable for practice, or that 3 assaults at the age of 23 (I am now 27) would lead them to believe that at the time of the application to the bar I am not of good moral character. I think this is especially true when by the time I would be applying for the bar I would be around 32-33. 

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On 12/10/2017 at 10:38 AM, redlead said:

Interesting question, and admittedly something I did not come across during my brief stint as an admissions committee member. I see a couple of issues for you here. First, how is it that universities can see your charges when you apply? Is it on your transcript? If so, then yes, a law school admissions committee will see it and will be curious. All things being equal, I think it's fair to say that most law schools would be more likely to admit a candidate without such a notation on their transcript than an equally competitive candidate with such a notation on their transcript.

One of the concerns that I would have had as an admissions committee member (floating around in the back of my mind), would be whether or not you would ultimately be admitted to the practice of law. You didn't say whether or not you were convicted, or what your offence was, and you needn't explain here. However, it could have an impact on your ability to be admitted to a law society, and thus to be able to become a lawyer.

I would also like to ask if I should mention in my personal statement that not accepting me on any rationale involving my criminal record would be a human rights violation? This is true regardless of the record, no matter how heinous. I could have a record for murder, or 100 rapes and still using my record against me in a law school application would be a human rights violation. I certainly understand why people would think about using it against me or think about picking an equally qualified candidate without one. I understand It, however it is still technically illegal. 

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7 hours ago, Aspiringlawstudent86 said:

I would also like to ask if I should mention in my personal statement that not accepting me on any rationale involving my criminal record would be a human rights violation? This is true regardless of the record, no matter how heinous. I could have a record for murder, or 100 rapes and still using my record against me in a law school application would be a human rights violation. I certainly understand why people would think about using it against me or think about picking an equally qualified candidate without one. I understand It, however it is still technically illegal. 

It seems unwise to threaten the law school in your personal statement. If you're talking about making a human rights complaint, you're making an implicit threat. It makes you sound like a liability. It's not something people like. It's not the purpose of your personal statement. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses or their actions. 

Also, these people probably have law degrees. You don't. I wouldn't try to explain the law in your personal statement. If you make a mistake, it'll serve to discredit whatever else you're saying. 

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Good luck proving a human rights complaint there too. “No, we didn’t reject him because of his criminal record, we rejected him because he made vague threats to file human rights complaints in his personal statement. We prefer students who don’t threaten the school with legal action if they don’t get in.” 

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