Podcast: The Rules of Reddit

In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Mike talks about how online law school admissions discussion can affect (or not affect) your outcomes. Are adcoms on Reddit? Will they Google you? What sorts of online conduct can turn an admit into a waitlist or deny? Mike gives his thoughts on these questions and more from 15+ years following law school message boards.

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Full transcript:

Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, law school admissions, social media vis-à-vis law school admissions, a little bit of everything. If you're used to our intro, we're going to hit on the rules of Reddit and ostensibly other social media platforms.

Now let me be clear, by rules, I don't mean I think you should follow any of my rules. I don't have any for you. Obviously, every social media platform has their own set of protocols, procedures, rules that you should follow. But what I'm really talking about is things I've learned being on message boards in higher education and admissions, essentially since the very first message board. That was like lawschooldiscussion.org, I believe. And we're talking about 2006, maybe 2008, I don't know.

The first rule, which I think is the most important to bear in mind, concerns whether admissions officers are reading message boards. The answer is yes, they are. Probably more than you realize and just about every school from time to time, I mean some of them every day, are looking at what people post on Reddit and other platforms, particularly Reddit of course.

Now, there's good news and bad news here. I mean, the bad news is every year there's going to be some jerk who sounds off on a school and then the school will read that. They're not reading every post, far from it. What they're doing is they're Googling their school's name and they're trying to get valuable feedback but also to see if anyone is unhinged about their school. And if said unhinged person has made up lies about the school. This happens by the way. People make up lies about schools, about people. I mean it’s happened to me a number of times. And if you find that that person has outed themselves and the easiest people to find out who have outed themselves is schools because they have all the data in the profile, on the bio and the information, etc.

So let's say someone was admitted to a law school, we'll call it Princeton Law. But they noticed other people received scholarship information and they haven’t. And they make up some lie about Princeton Law or just say something nasty about the Dean of Admissions of Princeton Law. But they have enough posting history, and I have two podcasts on doxxing yourself, where they've said things that are aligned with things in their application. At minimum, you're going to see that person probably never get any scholarship money, right, if they're being horrible towards the Dean of Admissions, the admissions office, making up lies. And in case after case, year after year, you can see that person if they're lying, get their admission rescinded.

Rule number one would be just be wary of the fact that admissions people are reading. I clicked on this on the last podcast, so it’s another reason I think just being an upbeat person, right, we gravitate towards optimistic people, but it's really good for you because you could flip around everything I just said. And if you're upbeat, and you're champing a school and they figure out who you are, that might actually believe it or not, I'm not saying it will, but it could help you get off a waitlist, help you get more scholarship money. So that's rule number one.

Let me tie in with what law schools aren’t doing, because I get a lot of Reddit messages. There's about two out of every seven days a week I have time to respond to Reddit messages. So if you hit me on one of those two days, you probably get a response. If you hit me on one of the five days that I'm just slammed all day, you probably don't. But I do get a lot of messages, “this happened to me. The school's Googling me.” The answer is almost a categorical no. They're only Googling you if you give them a reason to Google you. No law school admissions officer I know of has time to Google every applicant, every admit. So you're in the clear if you're in the news for drinking at a cemetery with your friends and you got busted. To begin with, no school would care, they might care like 1% that you're drinking if you're 20. They're certainly not going to care that you were trespassing, okay. But number two, they're not Googling your name every day to find out. So that's rule number one.

Rule number two, and I think this is what made me think of this podcast is, we've noticed over time the message boards, Reddit, etc., start off with a sort of team-centric ethos, everyone's in it. But then over time it can evolve to where some people see it as a competition, insecurities, we all have insecurities. They exist on a spectrum and we have different triggers of those insecurities. But trust me when I say we all have them. But some people will get insecure if they see someone's name too much on Reddit, if they see some other people getting into a school they covet. And then the worst of some people come out, not everyone. I actually think it's pretty endearing that most people on Reddit are as supportive as they are to one another. I bring this up because the timing is right for this. You see maliciousness, hostility, made-up stories, things like that. You see it come out.

I would just say the best antidote for that is number one, obviously, don't be that person. The people that are doing that have long lives ahead of them. There are deeper underlying things going on if you're making up lies about a school, a person, a Redditor, a poster, etc. Or if you're just being vicious towards strangers. But number two, I just wouldn't get involved. I would just let the thread die. Threads go away very quickly and for good reasons they should. So I just wouldn't participate. So that would be, it's not a rule, but that would just be something we've seen, that we've noticed and advice to give.

Rule number three, a Redditor hit this the other day, and I love that they hit this is, just because an admissions office says something doesn't mean it's absolutely true or universalizable to any other admissions office. So many years ago, schools averaged LSAT scores. And then the ABA started only asking for the high, so U.S. News only got the high. So then they see your scores, but they really only took in a major consideration of the high score. The other scores were almost irrelevant.

And I remember NYU had old verbiage on their website about averaging scores. It’s just they hadn’t updated their website and we’re explaining to the people the change and you know, how it had been for two years. Schools are looking at the highest score, and we knew this in our heart of hearts, this is how we read applications. There's over 220 years or something of law school admissions experience at my firm. So we knew that the high score mattered. But I just remember some applicant going ballistic about, “no, you liars! NYU says…” Well, okay, if I'm buying a car, and the car salesperson says to me, “you know, this car blah, blah, blah,” there's a part of me that's going to say, “well, again, this person wants to sell their car.” Admissions officers are hired to sell their school. So I'm not saying anyone out there is outright lying, I'm saying you need to always triangulate anything including what I say.

So if an admissions office says, you know, “we prefer people applying earlier rather than later.” Well, maybe, but they don't care if you apply in September or October, November. But law school admissions officers, pre-law advisors, LSAT prep companies, other admissions consulting companies, certainly people on Reddit that said, “I know I got admitted for this reason.” Well, no, you probably don't know why you got admitted. It may have been your personal statement on Dungeons & Dragons, but it very well may have been your 180 LSAT that you're not telling the world about. Triangulate as much information as possible before you universally believe any one thing.

And this also happens to law schools. Someone will say something about a law school and everyone will like demand that that law school apologize. But sometimes behind the scenes, we know that it's actually not the case. Sometimes, not always, it’s a lie, it's a fabrication, it's made up or there's two sides to the story. And I think some threads get out of hand. It's believe one side, believe one side, believe one side, attack the accused, attack the accused without ever thinking, maybe there's actually two sides to the story, or maybe someone just completely absolutely made it up. That would go into another rule.

It seems like every year someone pretends to be an adcomm and they're not. And we could see that as a firm almost immediately. When you've been doing admissions your entire life, you can tell when someone's faking being an admissions officer. And these things get sad to me because they get 120 comments in before the person deletes their account or fesses up that it was just a prank.

So again, the way I would word it, and you're going to be graded on this as lawyers, because I've learned this from lawyers - my mentors are all lawyers - is no absolutes. Don't take any advice as an absolute. It might be applicable to you. It might not. It might be real. It might not. I always try to triangulate what I read.

Rule number whatever, because I'm not really counting, is there's going to be periods of slowness no matter what cycle. This is obviously a very slow cycle. But every cycle, it seems after having been on message boards for many years, it seems slow because again, right now, if we're at 60% applications submitted, we're not even at 50% admits going out. So even though you see a bunch of As and you say to yourself, “wow, this is really slow to me relative to other people.” It's actually really slow to the majority of people still. The majority of people who have submitted have not received all their admits yet or close to all their admits yet.

So this is why I can never say when waves are coming in the, you know, wave prediction threads. Of course, I would do them too if I was applying to law school, I get a chuckle out of the, well, last cycle this time, these were the admits that went out. Because every cycle’s applicant pool is different, every cycle is different. This cycle is particularly different because no one knows the weights of the U.S. News & World Report metrics. So that would be another one.

There's probably many more. I just was thinking about this podcast this morning. And these, I think are the big ones to me. I just really worry more than anything for the vast majority of people on these message boards cheering each other on, trying to get solid information. I worry that the information becomes more warped and more hostile towards the end of the cycle. And the institutional memory on Reddit law school admissions is one year old. Everyone runs off. But then the new crop comes in and it always follows this predictable pattern of optimism early, and then defeatism and catastrophizing later.

So the point of this podcast is, it's February 2nd or 3rd or whatever. It's super early relative to how many admits have to go out. So I just don't want people to feel defeated or catastrophized based on what other people say on Reddit. This was Mike Spivey, of the Spivey Consulting Group.