Podcast: 8 Ways to MESS UP the Second Half of Your Law School Admissions Cycle

In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Anna Hicks-Jaco, Spivey Consulting's new President, discusses common mistakes that applicants make in the second part of their admissions cycle—after they've submitted their applications.

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Full Transcript:

Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, law school admissions, a little bit of everything. I'm Anna Hicks-Jaco, and I am Spivey Consulting Group’s new President. I've been working with Spivey Consulting and one-on-one with Mike directly for over a decade, and I've learned so much in that time about law school and law school admissions. I actually started with Spivey Consulting when I was a law school applicant myself. I've worked with over 25 law schools on consulting engagements centering on admissions. I ran the admissions office at Syracuse University College of Law for a cycle as their interim Assistant Dean of Enrollment Management. I've also worked with the University of Florida Law on Career Services.

And today I'm here to talk about ways to mess up the admissions process in the second half of the cycle. Obviously a lot of admissions content centers on putting together your applications, you know, your essays, your personal statement, your resume, all of those application materials. But a lot of people don't think about the strategy of the second half of your cycle.

So, let's talk about some of the most common mistakes that we see people making that can really have a substantive impact on your admissions cycle even after you've submitted your applications. If you haven't submitted your applications yet, please don't take this as a sign that you are way behind. Certainly, I do encourage you to get your applications in as soon as possible at this point in the cycle, but don't think that you are just so far behind the curve that you are not going to get admitted to places because of the timing of things. We've talked about this in plenty of episodes in the past. I've talked about this on our Spivey Consulting TikTok. This is really a slow cycle, and we have heard that from so many admissions officers across so many different schools. So without further delay, I'm going to get into the eight ways that you can mess up the admissions process in the second half of the law school applications cycle.

Number one is letting anxiety and negativity take over your process. I was just talking about the slowness of the cycle, and I will tell you that our best estimate is that probably only 20 to 25% of this cycle's admits were made in 2023. That means that 75% to 80% still have to be made in 2024. It's easy in this sort of middle part of the process, when you've submitted your applications, you've poured your heart out onto these pages and submitted them to law schools, and you just haven't heard back yet. It's easy to get down on yourself, especially if you're the type of person who tends to get down on yourself, I can certainly empathize with that. Negativity and pessimism have a way of infecting the way that you communicate and interact with people, which can actually have a deleterious effect on your cycle, especially with things like interviews, waitlists, letters of continued interest—anytime you communicate with a law school. Versus the inverse, people who are positive and upbeat about this process, tend to do really well because it comes through in the way that they communicate.

Every year we talk to people in January, February, March, April, May, who tell us they messed up their admission cycle and they want our help reapplying next cycle. They're already talking about, “I have to wait another year. I'm going to apply next cycle.” Every single year we have to tell these people who reach out to us wanting to work with us on their next cycle applications, “We don't want you to hire us yet, because you don't know what's going to happen in June, July, August.” And a pretty significant percentage of the time, these same people who come to us with this end up being admitted off the waitlist to a school they're really excited about, or they get a huge scholarship to a great school. It’s so easy and understandable to get really stressed out about this process, but remember that it's not a race. So if you find yourself in the next several months feeling like you have to start working on your reapplication for next cycle and you reach out to Spivey Consulting for our help, I have to tell you, we are going to tell you, just wait. Maybe we can offer you something like our decision analysis service if you've gotten a waitlist or a denial from a school and you want somebody to just look over your application and let you know what we think based on our many years of experience working in law school admissions offices and reading files. We can do something like that, but we are not going to get started on your next year's application for quite some time. There are tons of admits coming—as I said, the majority of admits are still coming—so hang in there and stay positive.

The second way that you can mess up your admissions process in the second half of the cycle is by dropping off the grid. This is something that we spoke with Dean Natalie Blazer about on our podcast a few episodes ago. She's the Dean of Admissions at UVA Law, and she talked to us about how she encourages applicants to reach out to a law school if they haven't heard back after about three months. Just to reiterate their interest—“Hey, UVA is still my top choice,” or whatever it might be. Especially once you are on a school's waitlist. That's the sort of thing that can make the difference between an admit and a waitlist, staying in touch.

Now that does bring me to number three. Another way that you can mess up your admissions process is by overly staying in touch. It's a fine line to walk. Don't do it every week. Don't reach out to the admissions office and say, “Hey, do you have any updates on my application?” They're probably just going to tell you, “We will let you know as soon as we have an update on your application.” Schools are not just holding onto decisions without telling you if they're certain about their decision. Our general rule of thumb is that, if you honestly assess your motivations, and you would be reaching out to a law school mostly to assuage your own anxiety, it's probably not a good time to reach out. You can contact them if you have substantive updates, updates to even your contact information (your email address, your address), updates to your employment status, if you got a new job, if you started volunteering. And as Dean Blazer said, you can also reach out to earnestly reiterate your interest in the school. She advises applicants to do that every three months or after three months of waiting, which I do think that, if you are just reiterating your interest, you don't need to be doing that very often. If you reach out every three weeks just to say, “Hey, I'm still really interested,” that's going to come across as a little bit overly persistent. But find reasons to reach out. Find substantive updates, give them your fall semester grades, your spring semester grades, let them know. You can get another letter of recommendation; that's another reason that it sometimes makes sense to reach out to a law school. We typically say that, especially when you're on the waitlist, when you're in that sort of later section of the cycle, that every four to six weeks is a good interval to reach out to a law school. But again, you want to be finding reasons to do that, not just, “Hey, I'm still interested. Do you have any updates?” You want to be professionally persistent.

Number four, another way to mess up the admissions process in the second half of the cycle, is by overly extrapolating micro data on a macro basis. Here's what I mean by that. Admit waves are coming; we've talked about it before. Law schools have to fill classes; there are going to be waves of admits coming out. And if you're online, you're keeping in touch with other applicants, and a bunch of them hear back and you don't hear back during that same wave—you see every year, talking about how they missed a big wave, or they missed two, or they missed three, and other people who applied at the same time or even later than them heard back and they're positive that they're doomed, they are definitely getting a waitlist or they're definitely getting a deny. And then a little later on in the cycle, you see that exact same person celebrating that they got into the school, and maybe they got a big scholarship to the school. When you're in these online spaces, applicants talking about and logging their admits/their decisions online are a small fraction of the applicant pool, and you really shouldn't start making conclusions about your own cycle based on what's happening timing-wise with those other applicants.

And moreover, anecdotally, the people who are admitted really late in the cycle, you know, those people who are admitted off of the waitlist in late June, July, even August, those students actually tend to do really well in law school. They've got the motivation, they've got the tenacity, they hung in there that long, and they made it. One of Mike Spivey’s favorite admission stories from when he was working at Vanderbilt Law School is about Justin Ishbia, who we've actually interviewed for this podcast. Justin was the last person admitted off of the waitlist one of the years that Mike was working in the admissions office at Vanderbilt. He had one of the lowest LSAT scores of the incoming class. And he ended up doing incredibly. He knocked his grades out of the park, he's had an incredible career, and he's currently a billionaire. So trust me when we say, from experience, that being admitted off of the waitlist, or being admitted late, or being admitted with a lower LSAT score than your peers does not mean that you aren't going to end up at the top of your class or killing it in your career or all of the above. I feel like this is the second item on this list that basically amounts to, "Try to chill, try not to get too stressed out," but it really is an important point.

So let's move onto number five. Don't let timing prevent you from retaking the LSAT if you think you have a better score in you. I certainly understand there's a point where people just are done with the LSAT. They just don't want to, don't have the capacity to study for and take it again. And I am not saying to force yourself to take the test if that is the case for you, even if it sounds like the most miserable thing on the planet. I get that. But I am saying that, if you chose not to retake the LSAT as a function of timing, you know, you didn't take it in November because you were okay with your score and you wanted to apply in October, but you think ultimately you could do better—go ahead and take it again. I know I'm saying this in January, but a higher LSAT score even in the spring can help you get off of waitlists or can get you significantly more scholarship money. Even if you're taking the April LSAT or maybe even the June in some cases for those late waitlists or if scholarship money frees up at that late point in the cycle. But in terms of the April LSAT, I would absolutely encourage you to sign up for it and take that test if you're up for it and if you think you can get a higher score. Even one or two points can be the difference between getting admitted off of the waitlist and being denied, or between a $25,000/year scholarship and a $40,000/year scholarship. Don't leave that money on the table if you think you can do better.

Number six, don't let go of being meticulous and detail-oriented once you get your admit. I think it can be tempting to sort of let go a little bit once you start to get admits and to finally relax and let go and not worry about this stuff anymore until you have to start your 1L year. But there are going to be logistical matters that the admissions office is going to ask you for, and some of those can make a real impact on the second half of your cycle. We see it every year when someone misses a seat deposit deadline and loses their spot in the class, or fails to fill out required paperwork in time for full scholarship consideration if it's a school that has a process like that. Even if it's just a law school seeing that you haven't been completing the forms they're asking you to complete by the deadlines and then taking that into account when they're considering your request for a scholarship increase, it's really important to stay on top of emails from law schools. Read them carefully and follow every single instruction they give once you've been admitted. You'd be surprised how many problems law schools have with this, admitted students just not following their instructions. It doesn't reflect well on you. Be sure to stay on top of it.

Number seven, and this is another one that starts to come into play once you start getting decisions, especially once you get your first admit, you know you're going to law school—don't try to get a leg up by studying substantive law. I have heard so many law professors say exactly this thing. If people try to study property law and contract law on their own before they've ever stepped foot in a law school classroom or been taught by a law professor, they often study it just all wrong and in a way that is not actually helpful for them when they get into their 1L doctrinal classes. Law school is taught in a very specific way. What matters most in a given course for your grade often depends on your professor and their sort of individual focuses and idiosyncrasies. If you do want to prepare yourself for 1L and set yourself up for success, what we recommend, and what pretty much everyone else in this space recommends, is studying the techniques and strategies of law school. So instead of trying to teach yourself torts, teach yourself how to brief a case, teach yourself how to make an outline, teach yourself how an issue-spotter exam works and how you score points and how you do well. We actually have a whole program for this, it's called Pre-L, and that type of preparation can be really helpful so you don't have to sort of learn those techniques while you are also trying to learn the substantive law. You can just figure it out beforehand and then really focus on what your professor is looking for, learning the subject matter, engaging with your peers, engaging in extracurricular activities, all that good stuff.

Number eight, the last way that you can mess up the admissions process in the second half of your cycle, is by getting married to one specific idea of your future, especially one specific law school. Study after study shows that if we give ourselves these specific future expectations and then we fail to meet them, that's when we feel worst. But when we minimize our expectations and then exceed them, that's when we're happiest. If you're listening to this podcast, I almost guarantee you that you're going to get into law school. It shows a level of investment in your future in researching and making informed, reasoned decisions. I strongly believe that if you are listening to this, you are going to get in somewhere.

But that said, most people don't get into their number one dream school. But what we've found over many, many years of experience working in admissions offices and then working with applicants one-on-one as consultants across our firm is that, even if you don't end up at that dream school, the school you do attend is probably going to exceed your expectations. We see it so often when people decide to go to a school that they weren't initially that excited about, and they go in thinking, you know, I'm going to do great my first year and then I'm going to transfer out. And then they end up falling in love with their law school. And they're so grateful that they went there, and they don't want to transfer out, and they do amazing things, and they get a great job.

One part of this process is luck, is chance. And whether you get admitted to one given school or a few given schools does not reflect the human that you are. It can't. It couldn't possibly. What do law schools have? Eight, ten, fifteen pages of information about you? Once you get all your decisions back, once you get an admit—which again, if you're listening to this, I truly think you are going to get at least one admit—get excited! Start exploring the possibilities. Go visit that law school. Speak with current students. Speak with professors. Talk with alumni. Your future may not end up looking precisely like you imagined and hoped, very few people's do. But it's probably going to be a beautiful and successful future nonetheless—that goes for everyone listening to this.

Best of luck in the second half of your application cycle. And don't mess it up! This was Anna Hicks-Jaco from Spivey Consulting Group.