Podcast: Strong Applicant. No Admits. What’s Going On?

In this episode, Mike speaks with an applicant from Reddit who we'll call "Ryan Reynolds" (you know, just for fun). Ryan has a 178 LSAT and a 3.8 undergraduate GPA, and while he blanketed the top 20 law schools, he has received only waitlists and denials so far this cycle (as of February) despite having applied early on. Mike and Ryan discuss the factors that have likely contributed to this, both at the larger-scale level as far as the nature and pace of this 2021-2022 cycle, and more specifically as it pertains to his application and potential points for improvement.

After reading Ryan's applications, we are very confident that he will be receiving admits this cycle, and we will provide an update in a later episode when he does!

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Full Transcript:

Mike: Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school. Today, we entirely double click on law school admissions. I am fortunate to be joined with a 0L, Ryan—178, 3.8, and no admits so far, which is very much part and parcel of the dynamics of this historically slow cycle. So, we talk at the beginning about why this cycle is so slow. Maybe what's ahead for some people. Then we get really individualized about Ryan's application. I do want to point out that he was generous enough to share with me his full application, all his essays, his PDF.

It's not that so much of the advice I give him is going to be for everyone, because it's not. In some cases, you would want to do the exact opposite. But I think the takeaway is you're going to have an echo chamber. It might be Reddit, it might be your family, it might be your friends. But hardly any of the people who are your echo chamber are going to have admissions advice. So before you hit submit, also try to put yourself in the shoes of someone who's maybe read 30,000 or 60,000 or 100,000 applications in their career. And, you know, I'll let you figure it out through the podcast with Ryan. Like what are the dots that you need to connect in your individual application so that the person who's reading another 5,000 applications, you stand out to them.

I think it's a fun podcast. Ryan's a chill guy, so that chilled me out a little bit, and without further delay, here’s Ryan.

I am joined today with “Ryan Reynolds.” Ryan is a current applicant. He's a 0L. He's on Reddit. I'm not going to give his Reddit name; Ryan can, if he wants. I'm going to guess our listeners can figure out his real name is not Ryan Reynolds. Ryan, how's it going?

Ryan: I'm very good. How are you?

Mike: I'm good. Thank you for asking. Let's first talk a little bit about how you're feeling like vis-à-vis other people on Reddit. Someone posted—I think yesterday, someone posted, “You guys are all so dramatic this cycle.” Does it feel dramatic to you?

Ryan: Absolutely, yes. And I think just the weight in general is increasing that dramatization of our Reddit posting.

Mike: Yeah. And sometimes, you know—every cycle's different—sometimes Reddit handles drama or weight and anxiety with like an uptick in memes and like, just sort of like the silly fun posts. And sometimes there's more drama posts. You think there's more drama posts and less like fun meme stuff going on?

Ryan: Yeah, that's exactly what's happening. I don't see as many fun memes. I always hear last cycle too. I wasn't applying, but I was on Reddit following everybody's cycle, and it's very different.

Mike: So what are one or two sort of systemic things that are coming up, not just for you, but for all applicants this cycle? I can obviously guess one, but I'd rather hear it from you.

Ryan: I think that we're all just more irritable in general. So, I mean, for example, the poll fiasco, everyone was up in arms about all the polls and now they’re banned. And then I think a lot of people are more antsy and very worried about how slow the cycle is. And they're posting so many more chance me’s, and I don't remember the vitriol for the chance me’s last cycle, but we're certainly seeing it right now.

Mike: Yeah. The chance me’s are—they fascinate me. I just tweeted something about, I guess in Star Trek, the movie, there's like a trial where the Klingons tried the humans. So someone had tweeted about there must be a Klingon Law School, and I was just like, “Oh man, I can't wait to of the Klingon Law School chance me threads.” So speaking of “chance me,” you have a high of 178 and then a second score in the lower 170s, around a 3.8 GPA. I mean, you're a strong applicant by all means, you applied to—tell me again, I think from your words, top 20?

Ryan: Yeah. 1 through 20 from Yale to Boston. I had an LSAC fee waiver, so I was able to do it on a budget. I wouldn't have applied to that many otherwise.

Mike: Our last interview was, she's a Stanford 1L—

Ryan: LightningMcBoops, right?

Mike: Yeah, yeah.

Ryan: Yeah.

Mike: She talked about how like, in retrospect she doesn't know how she filled out all those, like, you know, when you're in it, you're just doing it. But like in retrospect, she's like, “I don't think I could ever do that again.” How was it filling out 20 applications?

Ryan: I tried to do two or three at a time, and I would just do them in batches, and I'd be in class filling them out too. And it wasn't fun. I was very upset that you can't just do it once and then, you know, have your address and, you know, all that information added for all of the schools you wanted to apply to, sort of like a Common App.

Mike: That's how it is undergrad. It auto-populates, right.

Ryan: And sometimes it'll auto-populate, but then sometimes it'll not populate correctly, and you'll realize you're putting in your phone number instead of your social security number.

Mike: I'll give you even, like, one of my problems. For your phone number, it doesn't put in the dashes. As a former admissions officer it makes it like ever so slightly harder to call someone. There's only like little things that are different from the undergrad. So how many schools have you heard from so far, as far as like decisions?

Ryan: Yeah, so, five waitlists, three rejections, and one hold. So nine.

Mike: Okay. And what's your understanding of the difference between a hold and a waitlist?

Ryan: You know, I think some people describe it as a soft waitlist. I don't know the total number of people that get off the hold at—it's NYU. So I don't know if it's any different than their total acceptance rate. A hold might actually be a positive thing, and I'm not sure in terms of statistics, but I'm not worried about the hold right now.

Mike: Yeah. You're probably less worried than the typical applicant who doesn't have an admit yet. You have admits coming. So here's good news for you and a lot of other people listening. Slowest cycle in the history, in my history of admissions which is 22 years of doing this. And like you and I were talking about before we started recording, I can't imagine like 40 years ago things being slower, because there were so fewer applicants applying. So this could possibly be the slowest cycle ever.

Now, you can look at that in two directions. You can look at that as, it's going to increase the irritability online, it's torturous for applicants—but you can also say, “Well, I mean schools have to fill classes.” And I keep maintaining this because I've been on budget committees at law schools. So when I was an Assistant Dean at two different law schools, I was also on the budget committee. Undergrad schools are often endowment driven, but law schools are almost all tuition driven. So, without filling classes, they don't pay their faculty and turn on the lights. So admits are coming, and admits are coming for you, and admits are coming for a lot more people. It might not feel like it for a lot of the listeners, but they're coming. I promise you.

Ryan: Yeah. I think one of the big concerns, and you know, everybody knows they're going to need their tuition, but I think a lot of people on Reddit specifically are concerned about deferrals. So I'm not sure what you're seeing with that, but that's a big concern.

Mike: Yeah. And by deferrals, you mean from last year, so classes that are going to be 200 are already starting off with 45 people. I did a podcast this summer where I talked a good deal about that. I think that's a rightful concern for Reddit, but to begin with not every school had that luxury, even though last year was crazy. Not every school had that luxury. And some schools don't do deferrals strategically. So if you grant someone a deferral September 1, they may just say, “Heck, I've already deposited, found an apartment at Emory Law School. I'm going to Emory. So, thanks for the deferral, but no, thanks.” That is a factor.

There’s waves of admits coming. Probably just a little bit of background in the last cycle—you seem to know a good deal about it, but last cycle, a couple of things happened. The LSAT-Flex turned a five-section, historically five-section test in-person—with a lot out of neurotic other people right around you, you know, talking before and after the test—into a three-section at home test where your best friend could be giving you a massage or a pep talk two minutes before the test, like you know, like rubbing your shoulder saying like, “You got this champ.” I just think of like the Rocky movie when I think that. And I think it was, you could sense that it was scored like the five-section test in the sense that it wasn't scored the way it was historically scored, or put more accurately, the results last cycle, the bell curve shifted two points to the right. And the fat part was extended toward the upper ranges, 170 to 180. Now, that's a problem, but that's not a huge problem for a law school.

The second problem is they weren't told any of this. They were kind of told the opposite by the powers that be. They were told, “Oh, everything's regular, everything's coming down. Everything's going to be normal.” So a lot of law schools last year got burned by making way too many admits of sort of data that they probably didn't have a full handle of in the early months. And that impacted their class negatively, you know, over-enrollment or numbers that could have been better in the later months. That's why this cycle is so slow. That's why you don't have an admit—yet, because your admits are coming—but so many schools are saying, you know, we need to hold off and look at the data ourselves versus being told what the data's going to look like. Does that make sense?

Ryan: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, you keep saying those words, the admits are coming, but I'm not believing you 100%, yeah.

Mike: Yeah. You and I will talk again. We'll talk like in three months, and it's going to be a happy conversation. By the way, you just got married! Congratulations.

Ryan: Oh yeah. Thank you so much. That was the same day that I got two waitlists and a hold, but still a good day.

Mike: Well, that’s probably one of the best days of your life. And when we talk in three months, I think you're going to have some happy results. Let's talk a little bit, if you're willing to, about your application. So when you hit submit on these buttons, how did your mind process your application?

Ryan: I was very confident going into it. And then as soon as you hit submit, everything kind of changes, and you start scrutinizing yourself in ways you weren’t before. And especially the fact that I applied to 20 schools, I don't think that I took the time to review every single piece as much as I should have. And I did take the LSAT a full cycle early. So I had a lot of time to work on some components, but then, you know, I had a big checklist of everything I was doing, and come August school started, and I didn't really have as much time to fill out that checklist in the way that I should have for all 20 schools.

Mike: You just hit something that's really important to me that I try to message is, people get obsessed with timing of applications. You know, I got to get it in by September, and they come up with arbitrary dates. In fact, I think an LSAT prep firm said if you don't submit by September, don't submit at all. Which is like, basically just like malpractice, like damning advice. You'd always want to take an extra week to dot all your is and cross all your ts.

You did generously share with me one of your PDFs. You know, there are some typos in it. There's some inconsistencies, minor, very minor. And just to put you at ease and every listener at ease, almost every application has some errors in it. Let me give you an example of one of yours. It's incredibly common. All periods or exclamation points or comas go inside quotes always, not outside. And that's a very common thing. Just so you know, no admissions officer is ever going to admit or deny someone based on that. But if you take an extra week and show it a couple extra friends, another trick tactic is to read the application out loud and read the ‘period.’ Reading all that stuff out loud, that's always helpful.

I don't think you're going to need this advice, because again, I think admits are coming for you. So you're not going to be reapplying next cycle. That's just for maybe people listening who are applying next cycle. Tell us about sort of like, what your thinking was strategically as far as, how am I going to do my personal statement? How am I going to do my essays?

Ryan: You know, I read a lot of examples, particularly I think you have a list of five, six, or seven on your website, and my favorite on that one was the ranch, the bow. And I sort of tried to replicate a little bit of the feeling with that. And I don't know if I had a very cohesive strategy. Everyone always says, you know retrospectively, to have a good, strong narrative. And that's why they think they did so well, and I definitely struggled with the narratives. So in terms of strategy, that was definitely my weakest point.

Mike: So, at a micro level, you nailed it. Your writing is beautiful throughout. I mean, I've read all your essays. You have very elegant writing. You're exceptionally strong writer. I have two books, dude, if you want to help me. One's on admission and the other’s on decision making. You're a good writer. I might hire you to ghost write one of my two books. And that's important. Like you can't submit poor writing, because you're going to be writing for the rest of your life. So, I would give you an A or an A+ in your writing.

I think you're right—your strategy didn't really connect the dots. So, this is the struggle for applicants. How can you possibly know what an admissions officer wants, because you've never been an admissions officer? And so I think the issue there is, while your writing was great, when I put on my Dean of Admission hat and I read it, I say, “I'm still not sure why this guy is applying to law school.”

Ryan: Yeah. And I definitely see that. And even before I applied, I kind of, I really wanted to answer that question, but I don't think I really knew how. And I thought that maybe with my background in Political Science and my two minors, that it would sort of answer itself. But I guess not.

Mike: This is like, so tricky. I read last night in a book I'm reading, “Writing about yourself is like trying to make your bed while you’re lying in it.” So to begin with, you have that going on, it's by an author who I really respect and she's a wonderful writer. So, I was like, yeah, she's kind of right. So, you know, you're lying in your bed and you're trying to make it, in other words, you've never done it before. You've never really written about yourself before.

And then you're also like, “Okay, well all these people are saying, you know, I got to be different and differentiated.” But you also have to sort of, like, strategically show them that you have a sense for where you are in life.

You went to college at 19.

Ryan: Well, I started when I was 18, and then I actually withdrew when I was 19. Yeah.

Mike: Right. And you withdrew for a couple reasons. But one of the reasons you said is you weren't prepared. So, when you fire that synapse at the person reading your application, when you say, “I wasn't prepared, so I withdrew,” that stays with them. And if you don't undo it with—and you kind of did with the very last sentence of your personal statement about triumphing physically, but also sort of mentally—when you don't like undo that synapse, their takeaway may be, this guy's still not prepared.

Ryan: Yeah. And, you know, I was also sort of expecting to passively do that with undergrad transcripts and, you know, solid GPA of two years of 4.0.

Mike: That's a very fair statement. I think that your transcripts, which I haven't seen, probably come across as exceptionally strong, and your GPA come across as exceptionally strong. So I'm probably being a little bit unfair about the preparedness. I guess, this is more ready for law school. Like I'm excited to hit law school running. We talked about LightningMcBoops, who I just put up the podcast for. Like her application was like—it's hard to explain, but it was so, like, energetically excited about law school. And you have to do that in a differentiating way, if that makes sense.

Ryan: Yeah. That does make sense.

Mike: Again, you have a strong application, because your writing is really strong. It's just—the writing's strong, but this is probably not a strategic A+.

You had two C&Fs; they don't hurt you at all. You can bring them up if you want. I don't feel the need to, because the only reason to bring them up would be for the listeners to put everyone's mind at ease. The C&Fs are not what's slowing down your application.

Ryan: Yeah. I will say—you know, just for clarity so everybody knows—that some people were telling me that this is major. But it was marijuana possession six years ago that was expunged. So I mean, if you wanted to let everybody know that marijuana possession is not major, I think that might quell some fears.

Mike: So, I live in Colorado. There's two law schools in the state of Colorado. It might be a plus out here. It’s from six years ago, expunged, one marijuana possession is like the furthest thing from major. When you say, “Some people were telling you,” do you mean like just other Redditors or—?

Ryan: Oh yeah, yeah, just Redditors. Yeah. And I told them off and told them they're wrong.

Mike: Okay. Great. Making friends on Reddit.

Ryan: Yup.

Mike: So, the C&Fs were minor. You did like a core strengths essay. I wish you could have done that for every school, because that strategically did bring in some of why you wanted to go to law school.

Ryan: Right. And you know, that was, I guess, a failure on my part in terms of strategy that I only wrote four or five Why X essays. And I did sort of bring that same intro from the core strength essay into it. But I didn't do it for every school that offered it, and not every school wants a Why X essay. So I fell short there.

Mike: I think, without naming all 196 whatever ABA approved law schools and whether they want one, you generally would rather—if you're going to err, err on the side of submitting one versus not submitting one, because it does show interest in the school. The funny thing is Ryan, particularly if you're above both medians, that's when you most want to err on that side. I think some of the schools you applied to are actually wary to admit you because they're assuming you're getting into T6, T10 schools.

Ryan: That's what I tell myself when I'm trying to fall asleep.

Mike: It brings up an interesting thing that I haven't really thought about yet. Like let's say another month goes by and you don't have an admit from a top 10 school. Do you go to schools 11 to 20 and say, “You know, I haven't been admitted to a top 10 school.”  Because if you didn't say it like that, but you would somehow want to signal that, and then they would be excited. This is why I'm a huge fan of visiting. Now, obviously we're on the downslide, but we're still in an Omicron surge. Some schools you can’t visit, some schools you can, but for people who can visit in person or just talk to an admissions person on the phone, it’s amazing how things organically can come up in conversation. I used to ask this when I was in admissions. What other schools have you been admitted at? What are you looking at? I was gathering information to be quite frank. So if an admissions officer were to ask you that, you could say, “Well, right now, I haven't received an admission yet.” But this is what you would want to follow with, Ryan. “There's a reason why I'm visiting Georgetown right now, it’s because this is at the very top of my list,” something like that.

As a former decision maker on files, I would always remember the people who I would talk to on the phone or talk to in person versus the random person that sent an email. Always. You tell me Ryan, but I think generationally, it's probably a different era where it just feels so much more normal to send an email, right?

Ryan: Yeah. I think a lot of people just have phone call anxiety. We don't really want to pick up the phone very often, especially with all the scammers and we're getting all these missed calls every day. I think we're all turned away from that.

Mike: You probably get what, like 20 calls a day from just fake numbers?

Ryan: Yeah. And a lot of them will share the area code of a law school. So that just added to it.

Mike: Oh my god! So you have to answer it because it might be Kristi Jobson from Harvard.

By the way, so you've been an Assistant Manager at McDonald's. Is that right?

Ryan: Yeah. That's right. Yeah. Assistant General Manager, yeah.

Mike: That's really good for your application. That's a big plus. Because anyone who has to deal with customer service is going to probably make for a pretty pleasant law school student. You're not going to be pushing back to faculty and professors, and you're probably going to make for a pretty good lawyer. I mean, what so many applicants don't realize is, the first and foremost priority of lawyers is business, bringing in clients, networking, being likeable, being professional, all that stuff. It's not just the application of the law. If you don't bring in clients, your firm dies. Have you thought about that before?

Ryan: I have, yeah. And, you know, someone told me once that being a lawyer is very much customer service, and that's why fast food or service jobs are generally looked upon pleasantly by admissions. So, I have heard that before. Yeah.

Mike: Yeah. We have a podcast with a mentor of mine named Jeff Chapman, who's the Global M&A Chair for Gibson Dunn. If people just listen to that podcast, you never get to ask him about himself, because he's always asking you about yourself and, you know, why does he bring in multi-billion-dollar mergers? Because he's really good at networking.

What other questions do you have for me, Ryan?

Ryan: I should have prepared some, I guess.

Mike: If you have interviews coming up, yeah, make sure you have a question.

Ryan: Oh yeah. I always do for interviews. I definitely try to have some, to show some interest. Yeah. For you, I don't think I have any at the moment.

Mike: How about this? We'll promise to stay in touch. You have my email. You could email me. Was this podcast experiment helpful?

Ryan: Yeah, it's a lot of fun. I appreciate the feedback you guys gave me, especially before. I think a lot of the issues with your application is having your friends and family read it or even professors who are a little scared to maybe offend you or say the wrong thing, but you guys don't have that fear. But, you know, you pick up on things and say things that I think other people are maybe less likely to share openly.

Mike: It was my privilege to be highly offensive before. (laughter) No one says, “Hey, here's my application. Tell me the top 10 things about it.” Actually, people do say that from time to time—but generally it's, you know, “Here's my application, and where is it flawed?” Every application has some flaws. You have admits coming your way, text me or email me when you get your first one, okay?

Ryan: Okay. I'll quote you on that if I don't get any though.

Mike: Yeah. I'm pretty confident you're going to get some. Thanks Ryan, I'll see you either on Reddit or with the happy news.

Ryan: All right. Great. Thank you so much.