The Paper, or All You Need to Compose, Sign and Submit as an Applicant
This post will be full of some excrutiating pain, as I am getting closer to talking about THE PAPERWORK.
Six months prior to my first deadline I became certain of my selection of law schools, and started writing down their requirements for an application. It helped to make a table of those, because many schools tend to require same things (personal statement, LSAC evaluation, TOEFL scores - you can make tables and mark them off as you get done with them. I found this practice to be very convenient).
An application, an essay, and open-ended question, a scholarship essay - all these needed to be crafted, and fast. No difference how good of a writer are you - you will write and rewrite your essay as much as it will be needed, until it becomes a well-(g)rounded piece of applicative art. So here come the peculiarities of paperwork.
a. Essay/ Personal Statement.
Should I even begin the explanation? I had several books about "good admissions essays" and "100 best essays", but they only made me scared. I read so many different essays and personal statements, that every time I wrote a sentence I immediately feared plagiarism. I kept looking through those books in order to find a piece that my essay corresponded to, and when I couldn't, I started fearing misplaced commas… As an applicant I was someone, who kept freaking out all the time, and this process was simply unstoppable :)
My Art teacher in high school used to say "Be productive". So every time I failed to be creative, I was productive. Eventually, it helped - I had several variants of application essay, that I could combine them into one good well-rounded piece that would suit the admission committees. They aren’t kidding when they say that your essay is the most important part of your application – it truly is. Conveying your point may not be simple under restricted word count and other style limitations. Therefore – always start early ad rewrite your essay as many times as possible. Another good technique is to read it outloud for general mistakes and misstatements.
NB: [It goes without saying that your essays should be tailored to the particular law school you are applying to. Mention it's name, what you like about that particular place, you know the drill. This is one thing that can show that you did your homework and will allow you to stand out above other applicants. But when I say this, also note, that you shouldn't be telling "I want to attend XYZ law school because of it's amazing library." They know they are amazing. What you need to show, is how all that amaziness is specifically tailored to you.]
Here's a tip: No one is EVER satisfied with their essay. You simply won’t be, and that’s something you’ll have to learn to deal with. When I filed my applications, I realized, that I could have added this and that... But what’s done is done, applications can’t be recalled, so just stop overthinking it right there.
- Scholarship essay.
"Tell us why you are a qualified candidate for our highly selective grant (scholarship, loan, etc.)". The trick is usually the size. Sizes vary - often it should be no more then one-page essay, though my personal favourite was the one with a 150 words limit. Do you know how to put your life in 150 words? No? Better start practicing!
Have you ever tried to channel your inner Puss in Boots from Shrek when he does his eye thing? This is how one looks when asking for a letter recommendation :) And while a professor will find no problem with those (they usually have them templated and stacked up for every upcoming school year), people who worked with you may have other stuff to attend to. On howtogetintoharvardlaw.com I found a post from a girl, who was telling how to write recommendations for yourself. I bet Admissions office can tell the difference, but if it’s something you have to resort to – it appears to be quite a common practice.
- TOEFL scores.
You need to take the test at least 2 months before applying, because you need time to redo it in case you fail to get the desired (required) points. I didn't take any prep classes, just studied for 3 weeks using PrincetonReview, and that did the trick for me.
- Transcript Evaluations.
Law schools require international transcripts to get evaluated by Law Student Admissions Council (LSAC). My experience with them wasn't the best one, and I surely would have avoided using their services if I possibly could.
In my particular case I submitted my documents to them in full in mid-September. They sent me back a confirmation receipt, and said that my case will proceed to evaluation. I contacted them a few times via email in October and November, and every time I was told “your case is being evaluated.” However, 45 days past the evaluation still wasn’t complete. When I called them again (mind you, 70 minutes on hold to get through), and pressured to give me a specific date when the report will be ready, I was told that they will not issue my report because they’ve lost my files, and they have nothing to work with! And the reason they never mentioned it to me before was “because we have high work volumes.” After a lot of talking, I finally had to send them another set of documents and pay expedited fees, then they completed the evaluation 24 hours before my first deadline.
Unfortunately, there is no way to get out of using LSAC. So when working with them, make sure you send your documents via courier services (for instance, I used FedEx), and do call them seventyfivetrilliontimes(!!) to make sure they got them and that your documents will get evaluated by the time of your application deadlines. Do all this in well advance of your deadlines, at least three months prior.
*A little note here: a friends' experience with WES Evaluating Services was awful too – for all same reasons (documents lost and no notification). I am sure that negative situations are not that common with those firms, but do learn how to calm your nerves down fast when you begin your evaluation proves with any of those firms.
Finally, Her Majesty itself. Applications aren't hard as long as you keep reading the questions attentively. Check it seven times before submitting - no kidding here! - poor grammar is nothing to be proud of, and failing to read the exact question on the file may result in a wrongful answer on your app. Seriously, don't be lazy, check and re-check - it won't save your life, but will save your admission. Also, failure to spell your name correctly as it is in your passport (if your country uses an alphabet other than Latin) = a lot of trouble in the future.
On the other hand, do not check the contents of your application AFTER submission. I learned the hard way - I read my apps after deadlines, and some of them had stuff I would present differently at that point. That was terrible, because my application did not seem good enough to me anymore, and that's a depressing thought. Avoid it by any means.
While writing this post, all this seemed so straightforward to me, so simple and understandable. But back some year ago all these apps accounted for a lot of sleepless nights. Whoever said that application process is when you run on coffee and pure initiative is damn right!
Stay tuned, and PM me with any questions you may have!
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