Thirty or so bright- eyed students attentively paid attention to Danielle Saveedra, the Associate Dean of Recruitment for Texas Tech University’s School of Law. She was presenting information on the next stage these aspiring attorneys-to-be were contemplating: applying to law school. Crucial questions such as where to start when considering law school, the application process, and what to look for in a law school, were all discussed during the presentation and absorbed by the students.
Ms. Saveedra had come to SHSU to guide us through the process of preparing for law school. In a nutshell, she walked us through:
A timeline for law-school preparation
Taking the LSAT
Deciding which law schools to send applications
Applying to Law School, including
sending in transcripts, reference letters, the resume, and the personal statement
This may sound quite simple, however it is in fact considerably challenging. A law school’s environment whether cut-throat or nurturing, emphasis on certain types of law, and cost of living, Ms. Saavedra told us, will influence where a student may decide to go. Decisions on what law schools to apply to (each application has a fee), or choosing between a good law school that costs less versus a more prestigious at a higher cost can pose challenges even to a well-prepped student.
However, all of these decisions were weighed and measured during the law school informational. Ms. Saveedra covered every single possible piece of information needed to be successful in law school and gave constructive tips. Every prospective attorney left reeling with information, but departed knowing they were now better prepared for the challenging journey ahead. Law school will now be less intimidating, allowing students to further their education in the legal field.
Rejuvenated from sleep, we woke ready for our day, which would consist of touring the University of Arkansas Law School, hiking and catching a movie to wind down.
University of Arkansas School of Law
When we arrived at the University of Arkansas School of Law, we met with Ms. Kalesha McGraw, the Assistant Director of Admissions, and she welcomed us to the school before taking us to the student lounge for a quick overview of the law school. We learned about the admissions process, the class schedules and sizes, and the student life in Fayetteville. We also learned about notable (former) faculty such as Bill and Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton becomes elected, University of Arkansas -Fayetteville will be the first law school to have more than one faculty member become President of the United States. The rest of the Q&A section with Ms. McGraw consisted of questions that ranged from the cost and the admissions process to the actual courses and the structure of the classes.
After our informative Q&A session, we walked upstairs to observe Professor Day’s Professional Responsibility class. This is a required course and helps students prepare for the Multi-State Professional Responsibility Exam (MPRE). This exam is a prerequisite for taking the Bar Exam and tests law students’ knowledge on ethics. During the summer fewer students are on campus, but classes are still in session. The topic of discussion for class today was on conflicts an attorney may face during their practice. Throughout the class, the Professor explained conflicts using cases where ethical issues arose. To explain a complicated scenario, the Professor and students even role played a scene which presented the situation in an interesting and clear way. We enjoyed the class and our Professor’s informative teaching methods!
Following class, we took a quick tour around the building visiting places like the courtroom and the library. The law school was even nice enough to provide lunch for us! Satisfied, we stopped to admire the Jesus Moroles sculptures in the courtyard…
…and the front of the school on our way out.
Many thanks to Ms. McGraw and the University of Arkansas- Fayetteville Law School for their hospitality!
After a morning filled with learning and a long trip, some of us decided to take a mental and physical break. Others, however, soldiered on, readying ourselves for a brief bit of shopping and a hike in Devil’s Den State Park.
Before driving down highway 170 into Devil’s Den State Park, we stopped to peak into some shops in town. Once everyone was satisfied with what they had purchased, we began our journey to Devil’s Den. As our second hike of the trip, the first being the climb up Pinnacle Mt. near Little Rock, we felt prepared and pumped up for the rugged expedition that we were about to take part of. With the sun falling on the horizon, the weather was a prime condition to explore inside the woods.
This 2,500 acre state park offers myriad outdoor activities, from rafting to camping to hiking. We chose the latter, embarking on the Devil’s Den Self-Guided trail, which is 1.5 miles round-trip.
As we began on our trail we descended down masonry steps. Such modifications to the trails and other man made structures within the state park were once Civilian Conservation Corps projects from the Great Depression. The engineering talent of these laborers is clear when taking these steps and observing how strong they still are, even after almost a century of its construction! The traces of useful man made structures became fewer as we went deeper into the woods.
Ahead of us stood trails traced through the rocky cliffs with trees filtering the sun and casting a serene shadow over the whole scene. Then, the trail neared a river, waters sonorously rushing through and echoing through the woods. This sound at times kept us focused, as we knew that as long as we kept the river at our left shoulders we were going the right way. Along the trail, at times encountering uneven, slippery and rocky ground, we found caves in which the temperature inside would lower presumably by ten-twenty degrees.
The trail also goes by the more descriptive name of “Double Falls” Hike, so named because of two falls that appear about halfway through the trail. For us, though, the trail could have been named “Triple Falls,” because, hearing water of the main trail, we made tracks over a hill to find a small waterfall.
To get there, we had to cross a log bridge…
…but this only added to the excitement of our discovery.
Having safely traversed the fallen-tree bridge, we frolicked in the waterfalls…
…okay, frolicked may be too strong of a word. But we did have fun.
We found additional falls further along our hike.
Only a few feet beyond these falls was another waterfall, equally as delightful.
From our trek we had worked our selves into perspiration and slight exhaustion. The refreshing, cool water of these natural showers, however, were just the perfect manna we needed to continue on our journey through Devil’s Den.
From the falls, the hike wends it way downhill, which offers another striking view of the falls.
And this perspective provided additional photo ops.
We even found another log bridge on which to climb.
As we completed the 1 1/2 mile hike, ducking our heads to evade pesky spider webs threaded from tree to tree…
…we contemplated our accomplishments. We had finished another hike on our trip! With tiring limbs and sweaty backs, we climbed the van with a sense of victory and ready to relax and catch a movie.
But, first, we made two more stops. We picked up food from Hammontree’s, an excellent grilled cheese specialty restaurant in Fayetteville. We also made our way to Mt. Sequoyah, the highest spot in Fayetteville, where we watched the sunset.
It was, we thought, a fitting end to a wonderful trip.
Movies and Winding Down
Once we had freshened up at the hotel, we climbed back into the van and drove to a near by movie theater to watch the remake of Ivan Reitman’s hit movie, Ghostbusters. Even though the original film is about 30 years old, most of us had previously watched it and waited in anticipation through the previews to see how similar this remake would be to our beloved original.
We found many differences between the new film and the original Ghost Busters film, an obvious one being that women instead of men were playing the lead roles. Most of us focused more attention to the fact that Paul Feig’s film also includes multiple nods to Reitman’s original and Sigourney Weaver, Dan Akroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts and even Bill Murray make appearances. After an hour and forty-seven minutes filled with laughs that echoed in the theater (mostly Megan’s), we were ready to turn in for the night to prepare for our long journey home tomorrow morning.
For the past five years or so, the LEAP Center/Junior Fellows have teamed with Kaplan Testing to offer a Mock LSAT every semester. It is part of a larger set of offerings–and informational resources–that SHSU provides to help students fulfill their law-school goals.
Taking the Mock LSAT serves at least two functions: (1) It prepares them for a testing environment, making them more comfortable when they take the real thing, and (2) gives them a better idea of where they stand on the test and, therefore, how much more studying they need to do.
With those objectives in mind, 34 students showed up for the Mock LSAT on Saturday, October 17, 2015. Ricky Kaplan, an instructor from Kaplan Testing, joined them, providing the test and, afterward, a few pointers.
The actual test is approximately four hours long. There are five sections of the test, and each is 35 minutes long, with a short break in between. One of the five section is “experimental,” meaning that only four of the sections count, but the takers do not know which one is real and which is experimental. At the end, there is a 35 minute writing section. The writing section doesn’t count toward the LSAT score (120-180 scale), but it is sent to the law schools.
The Mock LSAT doesn’t have the experimental section or the writing section, but it is the closest thing that students are likely to get to the real test. Often, students take the test at home under less-than-realistic conditions (untimed or generously timed sections, frequent breaks) and then score much lower on the real test.
The LSAT is offered four times a year: in February, in June, in late September (or early October), and in December. Planning ahead is a key factor for students. The December test, for example, occurs the Saturday before finals. The February test occurs after some law schools’ application deadlines. Planning your college career such that you will be able to prepare for the LSAT, take it during a fortuitous time, and still get all applications in is part of the law-school success story.
Not surprisingly, according to national data, students with better GPAs and LSAT tend to apply earlier in the application process, with lower scorers and lower GPA-students applying well into the spring. To elaborate, about half of the students apply before January 15 of the year they want to be admitted. Of the students who apply by January 15, the mean LSAT/GPA is about 157/3.28. Of those who apply in March/April, the mean LSAT/GPA is less than 150/3.1. In short, students who have prepared more fully throughout their college careers tend not to procrastinate, have less need to retake the LSAT, and can more easily get letters of recommendation and other materials together.
One other set of facts that might be interesting. What majors are most likely to get into law school? The information below provides students’ majors, the percentage of students with that major accepted to law school, and the total number of students with that major accepted to law school. Political Science again leads the way, with about three times as many POLS students admitted to law school as any other major.
As expected, the results tend to track with the breakdown of LSAT scores by major. At the top of the rung, you have majors such as Philosophy (157.4 mean LSAT), English, and POLS. The bottom four, all coming in below the national average, include Sociology, Communications, Business Administration, and Criminal Justice.
The results aren’t surprising. Majors with the most reading involved (Philosophy, Classics, History, POLS, English) have acceptance rates above 80%. Bright, intellectually curious students tend to be attracted to these majors, and the majors tend to encourage (require!) lots of reading and critical thinking.
More hands-on oriented majors such as Criminal Justice and Business tend to perform less well on the LSAT and, by extension, tend not to get into law school at the same rates. The same is true for the “soft” social sciences, such as Sociology and Social work.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that switching your major will help you get into law school. The best strategy is to follow the field you love, and you’ll likely study more and make better grades. But if that field doesn’t require a lot of reading (or a lot of rigorous reading) or much in the way of critical thinking and writing, then you may wish to add an academically rigorous minor and/or to supplement your formal curriculum with much leisure reading and some organizational work that will require genuine critical thinking (e.g., Moot Court).
Over the past ten years, law school applications have generally declined. The number of applicants ten years ago, for example, was 37% higher than this past year across the nation. But that has not been true at SHSU. In fact, law school applications from SHSU have gone in the opposite direction. In 2005, 67 people applied to law school. Since then, applications have increased 50%, and the number of SHSU students accepted to law school has tripled.
As a result, no doubt in part because of the Mock LSAT and other preparatory offerings at SHSU, the University is now one of the “Top 240 Feeder Schools” as measured by the law school admissions council. After moving onto the list in 2009, SHSU now ranks 156 in the country, in the top six percent nationally.
Twenty-five SHSU students just moved closer to enrolling in law school, thanks to an appearance by Ricky Kaplan at the LEAP Center’s first-ever “law-school workshop.” Kaplan, a consultant and instructor for Kaplan Testing, also served as Legislative Counsel for the state of Oregon, Assistant Attorney General for the state of Illinois, and Assistant Attorney General for the state of Texas. He also has a BA from U of Minnesota, a Masters from Northwestern, and a law degree from U of Minnesota. He knows about law.
And he shared it with SHSU students last week, kicking off the workshop with the major factors that law schools look at when deciding whether to admit a student. The factors are:
Letters of Recommendation
He purposefully led with LSAT because, whatever its flaws, “it is the only measure the law schools have that is consistent across every student in the US, and it does a pretty good job of predicting first-year law school success.”
The LSAT and GPA guide students in which law schools to apply. If a law school, say Texas Tech, has a mean LSAT of 155 and a mean GPA of 3.4, then a student with a 156 and 3.5 is probably going to get in. A student with a 149 and a 2.9 probably won’t.
While the numbers for schools vary from year to year, the following numbers generally reflect the law-school “means” of Texas law schools:
While these two measures (LSAT and GPA) are the most important factors in getting into law school, the personal statements, letters of recommendation, and the resume can also make a difference in a close case. His advice for the personal statement was to be genuine, to emphasize narratives, and to emphasize the positives about yourself. When stuck with writer’s block, he encourages students to forget they are writing a personal statement and write four-five stories about their life. These often reveal something meaningful about the person and can subsequently form the basis of a compelling personal statement.
For personal statements, go with people who know you and your work. Professors are probably best, but for people out of college for several years, employers can write the letters. Avoid “friends of the family” or folks you think are important but aren’t directly familiar with your critical thinking, writing, and communication.
After arming us with advice, Kaplan took a break and then worked with individual students on their personal statements, answering questions about addenda to the applications, and how best to prepare for the LSAT.
Such advice may not get students into the University of Minnesota or Northwestern, but it will maximize the chances they have of getting into the best law school available to them.
For the pre-law students at SHSU, there are some tough questions to ask as they prepare for law school. What should I include in the personal statement? Who should I ask for letters of recommendation? What should those letters say? What schools should I apply to, given my GPA and LSAT score? When should I take the LSAT?
Those questions were answered last week at the LEAP Center’s “Law-School Information Session,” featuring a visit by Katherine Sims, of Texas A&M University School of Law. Ms. Sims is the Admissions Coordinator at TAMU Law, and she put her knowledge on full display, to the benefit of the students.
Speaking to 25 motivated students, she went through the process, offering the following advice:
Take the LSAT the year prior to your enrollment in law school. The LSAT is offered in February, June, October, and December. For students interested in going to law school in the Fall of 2016, for example, students should probably shoot for a June, October, or December LSAT. In a pinch, a February LSAT might work, but that’s typically after law schools begin making enrollment decisions.
The best people to ask for a letter are people who know you and your skills, particularly in the areas of writing, critical thinking, and communication. Typically, these are professors, but a letter from an employer or intern supervisor can also work.
For the personal statement, students should try to be themselves while, of course, putting their best foot forward. Ms. Sims resisted describing a “typical successful” essay, because the essays should be appropriate for the individual applicant—and the applicants all have different experiences, strengths, and reasons for wanting to go to law school. Of course, apart from the content of the statement, the applicant’s writing skills are closely scrutinized.
To know which schools to apply to, students should research where their LSAT and GPA fit into the rankings, and then to examine specific aspects of the schools and their cultures to find a good fit. For TAMU, the median LSAT is 154, and the median GPA is 3.21, but Ms. Sims emphasized that all applications were examined, and encouraged all the students to apply (no application fee is charged!)
The LEAP Center Advisory Board students would like to thank Ms. Sims for her information presentation, and the 25 pre-law students who attended to learn more about law school—and their future!