Advice for Re-Applicants

So, you’re re-applying to law school. Don’t worry. You are certainly not alone. Every year, we receive a number of emails from inquisitive re-applicants asking to know how they might sharpen their applications/improve their chances of admission, and this year is certainly no exception. Consequently, I thought I might provide a few thoughts for those of you re-applying to W&L Law (and other law schools) to consider as you plan and prepare for this year’s admissions cycle.

Apply Earlier

Often when talking with re-applicants who were dissatisfied with the outcome of their previous admissions cycle, I am struck by one common fact: Most of these applicants applied too late. As I previously detailed, it matters when you apply. It matters a lot. As I mentioned in my earlier post, last year, we made 82.5% of our total offers of admission prior to February 1 and 94.2% of our offers prior to March 1. Between February 1 and May 1, we extended only 13.4% of our total offers (roughly 129 offers). After May 1, we extended only 3.1% of our total offers (roughly 40 offers), and all of these offers went to candidates initially placed on our waiting list.

As these numbers indicate, if you wait until February to submit your application, your chances of being admitted are significantly less than if you apply in November. As one of my colleagues at another law school used to say, think of admissions as a funnel – wider at the beginning and narrower towards the end, and (obviously) you want to apply when the funnel is at its widest. In other words, sooner is better than later, and, if you need a target date, try to submit your application by no later than December 31.

Be Objective…

You need to honestly review your application (not to mention application process). What do you think it was that resulted in your receiving a less than favorable decision from whatever school you really wanted to attend? For some applicants it can be one thing or many things, but either way, you absolutely must evaluate the constituent parts of your file before beginning the application process.

As a general policy, we will not discuss your file with you, but, in my experience, I’ve found most applicants have a reasonable idea as to why their admissions cycle played out in a particular way. Did you apply too late? Is your LSAT score not quite as competitive as it could be? Was your personal statement truly your best example of your writing ability? Were your recommenders people who actually knew you well?

Once again, imagine you are an admissions officer. What are the strengths of your file? What are its weaknesses? How might you overcome any such deficiencies? Sometimes such issues are easily resolved. Other times they require more work. Either way, this is the sort of unflinching and objective assessment you must perform before you apply. While admissions cycles do vary from year to year, they can also be remarkably similar. Sure, last year was extremely competitive (we received 32.8 applications for every seat in our incoming class). However, each and every one of our matriculants would have been a viable candidate in any year they applied. Doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of, well, let’s just say a less than rewarding admissions cycle.

And, as you assemble your application, be sure to check out our blog posts on the personal statement, letters of recommendation and our optional essay. These will give you a sense of what we think makes for a compelling application.

Is Your Application Still You?

Admittedly, this is a bit of a strange question. It’s not every day I get to pose such an existential, application-inspired query. Of course, your application is still all about you. However, if you were to submit the exact same application this year as last year, would it truly reflect who you are or rather who you were?

First and foremost, we will know you are a re-applicant. And this is not a bad thing. Every now and then, an applicant will ask me if we view an applicant’s decision to re-apply to our law school negatively, particularly if that applicant was denied previously (or sometimes, even if that applicant was admitted previously)? As far as admissions questions go, this one is easy – No. We feel fortunate to have applicants who remain interested in our law school across admissions cycles.

Applicants also often ask if they should write a new personal statement, find new recommenders, pen a new optional essay, in other words, re-do their entire application, simply because they are re-applying to our law school. Let me begin by saying, this is entirely up to you. Some re-applicants choose to submit the exact same documentation from one year to the next, and that is fine (after all, is your choice). However, is that the best choice? Only you can really answer this question.

We do assume a certain amount of growth over the course of an admissions cycle or a few years, and submitting old letters of recommendation, an aged personal statement or (perhaps even stranger) a dated resume, sometimes belies this assumption. However, this does not mean you absolutely have to find two new recommenders, draft a new personal statement or dramatically recast your law school application simply because you are re-applying to our law school. It does mean you should review your application materials to make sure they fully capture just who you are at this particular juncture in your life. If any part of your application fails to achieve this end, it should be revised.

However, if you really like the personal statement you used last year or you feel your letters of recommendation still speak to who you are (even if they are a year old), don’t simply discard these materials  because you’re re-applying. Take a hard look at all of the materials you submitted during your prior admissions cycle. If after this evaluation, you still feel these materials are current and put you in the most competitive position possible for admission, then it may very well make sense to use them again.

However, let me also say in such matters there is often a big difference between one year and two or three years. A letter of recommendation that is a year old? Probably still usable. Two years old? You may want to find a new recommender. The same holds true for a personal statement. For a personal statement to be truly personal it needs to be recent, and while we are certainly interested in who you were, we are much more interested in who you are.

As much as I enjoy discussing the application process, I know applying to law school is not exactly fun. However, I encourage you to ignore the temptations of the path of least resistance and really take a hard look at your application. While it is always dangerous to generalize in admissions matters, nevertheless, every year, we accept re-applicants who were previously waitlisted or denied. What accounts for this difference in outcomes? These applicants performed the very sort of rigorous analysis I am recommending here and set about improving those aspects of their file in need of work. I’m certain they would say it wasn’t easy or convenient, but I feel almost equally confident they would also say it was (eventually) extremely rewarding.

Keep in Touch…

Don’t be a stranger. We enjoy getting to know our applicants, and if you remain extremely interested in attending W&L Law, please let us know. We may not necessarily be able to do anything with this information, but we are always trying to identify those people (even very early in the admissions process) for whom our law school is truly and sincerely their number one choice. Once you’ve applied, send our office an email (lawadm@wlu.edu).  Come to campus. Get to know us. These sorts of personal connections (within reason – restraint is often the better part of valor when conducting such outreach) can sometimes help. They may not always prove transformative, but they are certainly more helpful than complete anonymity.

And lastly, remember: Your application is our one opportunity to get to know you. Make each and every part of it count.

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