In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Mike interviews Natalie Blazer, who currently serves as the Assistant Dean for Admissions and Chief Admissions Officer at the University of Virginia School of Law. Dean Blazer talks about her path to law school and admissions, the differences and similarities between the admissions operations at the various law schools where she has worked (including Columbia and Georgetown), her thoughts and insights into the application process at UVA (including the new application question they added this year, on resilience), and both her biggest frustrations and her favorite parts of working as a Dean of Admissions.
Dean Blazer's new podcast, Admissible, launched earlier this month—you can listen here!
Mike: Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, law school admissions, a little bit of everything. If you're here for law school admissions, you're in luck. This is with Dean Natalie Blazer, the Chief Admissions Officer at UVA Law, and we get into it about law school admissions. I mean everything from frustrations, things that excite us, nuances, what works, what doesn't work. I think you'll all enjoy it. So without further delay, here's me and Natalie.
Natalie—I feel like I can call you Natalie, because I tried very hard to recruit you to join our firm a few years ago, and it breaks my heart, but you decided to go to UVA and be their Chief Admissions Officer and Assistant Dean for Admissions. What was up with that?
Natalie: Just getting right down to it, I love it! It was a tough decision, honestly. You know, UVA is my alma mater, as you know, and I had to get out of DC; it seemed like the right time to make that move. So it was difficult. I promise, you and your team were so great to me, but for now I'm happy that I'm here—but even happier that we have still kept in touch and that we get to do fun things like this!
Mike: I'm happy to, I'd like to think that we brought our A game recruiting you, but I think you made a good decision. We'll stay in touch, and maybe we'll do some more podcasts! You have one coming out, Admissible, right?
Natalie: Yes, so I'm so excited. I’ve wanted to do this for a long time. You might know this, Mike, but I have learned podcasting is sort of second full-time job, it takes a lot of time, but I have been having so much fun with it. I think it's going to be really helpful to applicants who want to learn more about the whole process and about UVA Law in particular. So I'm very excited.
Mike: I find them incredibly enjoyable, and it's been a blessing for us and just great fortune that we've had some world-famous guests on and some Deans of Admission like you who are at the front and center. So speaking of you, when you applied to law school—when was that?
Natalie: The fall of 2004 is when I applied to law school. I was a senior in college, I had known I wanted to go to law school, because I did a lot of sort of legal internships in college. I worked at the legal asylum clinic at BC at the law school, and that really kind of cemented it, the type of work I wanted to do. My dad, who was an attorney, said I should work at a law firm before I make this decision, so I sort of compromised and worked as a paralegal at a big law firm the summer before my senior year of college, studied for the LSAT at night, and then a few weeks into my senior year I took the LSAT. I remember it was a big football game day at BC, Saturday morning. So I really kind of got to put my head down, go downtown, take the test. As you know, like, back then, they averaged LSATs, so I kind of went into it with the mentality that this was a one and done thing, because I wasn't going to risk it going down. So I took it, and luckily I was happy with my score, and it's really a long time ago now, 18 years. Oh geez. But knowing me, I think I had all the applications just kind of ready to go, and I think I sent them out in like October, and UVA was the first school I heard from. They called me in December. Even though I got a few more admissions after that, like early in spring, I kind of had my mind set on UVA.
Mike: So there's a lot of interesting things that we'll unpack there. Number one, when I took the GMAT there was a big football game, and the marching band was playing below the test center. So that was distracting. Actually, the people complaining in the test center was more distracting than the band itself.
Natalie: Funny story, it was not just a football weekend at BC, it was family weekend. And so my dad was there, and my dad, the attorney, he drove me downtown to the LSAT test center, and he said he was going to pick me up after the exam. You know, it was like a four-hour, five-hour exam back then. Well, I called him from my little flip phone when I was done with the test, and he had been tailgating with all my roommates and their parents, and he said, “Can you take the T home?”
Mike: Ha, I love it! Is your dad going to listen to this podcast?
Natalie: Oh gosh, I hope not.
Mike: Did he help you with your law school applications? We find that lawyers love helping their kids or family friends.
Natalie: He really didn't. But I will say, like, my dad went to Georgetown undergrad, Georgetown Law. I learned a lot from him, and like I think him being a lawyer kind of helped for my interest in it. But yeah, I kind of did it on my own. I think that was probably better for everyone involved.
Mike: I just want to double click on something. In 2004, the LSAT was averaged, because schools sent all to the ABA many years ago. Now schools only send the highest. And the reason why this is really important for me to fine point is, for years, there was this mythology post-the ABA giving the highest. So as you know, schools see all your scores, but schools really do focus most on the highest. And there was this perverse mythology that schools average, and people in authority were saying it with a lot of confidence, and that was really hurting applicants. I just wanted to make sure people listening now that, right now as it stands, and correct me if I'm wrong Natalie, but schools care so much more about the highest than the average.
Natale: A hundred percent. With a caveat that five times taking LSAT to get the score you want means less to me slightly than taking it once, and that's just because, I always tell people, you don't get to take your contracts exam five times. And everybody has a bad day, and I do think because schools take the highest now, there's this kind of thought process that you can take it as many times as you want. Well, all I'm saying is it sort of has diminishing returns the more times you take it, because it demonstrates slightly less to us that you're going to come and just knock it out of the park in law school. It might demonstrate a little bit test anxiety or “gaming the system,” if you will. So definitely, if you have a horrible day, retake it, but too many LSATs can be a red flag for me.
Mike: We get that question all the time. The way I think of it is, I can't imagine schools actually sit around and average five takes. But they notice four takes, they notice five takes. Let me give you an example of when an applicant had six takes that made a lot of sense. He was in Korea, his fiancée was in New York City. And for this applicant, it was really NYU or Columbia. He knew he could do better, and he wrote an addendum about why that mattered. In that situation it made sense, so he wasn't gaming, he wanted to be with his fiancée.
Natalie: I do think that makes sense. And again, like, every applicant unto his or her own. It's just, it's impossible for us to see your most recent score without seeing all the other scores within the last five years directly below it.
Mike: So you went to UVA, I think you worked a little bit, pretty quickly you went into admissions at Columbia, then Georgetown, then UVA. Did I get it right?
Natalie: So, I did practice law for about seven years in New York. I was a litigator and actually liked that quite a bit, but my firm was having me do a lot of recruiting at law schools. And every time I was on a law school campus, I just had this, like, very fulfilled, peaceful feeling. I enjoyed my time at UVA Law immensely, and I think a lot of it was just kind of bringing me back to my law school days. And it was one of these recruiting trips, I was talking to a lot of the administrators at the law school, and it kind of dawned on me, like, they're not flying back to New York tonight and billing a zillion hours. They're actually going home at a reasonable hour, coming back to this law school tomorrow, and doing it all over again. And it kind of clicked that I wanted to work at a law school. And so I took an 80% pay cut, because I was like going into my eighth year of practicing law at a big firm, and that hurt. But from the day I started at Columbia, I knew it was the right move.
Mike: I think a lot of people actually listening to this, there's a part of them that thinks — our listeners will correct me if I'm wrong — but I think there's a part of them that thinks it would be really interesting to do admissions at a college or a law school. You mentioned day one at Columbia was exciting. I imagine it's been exciting at all three schools, but I'm curious how they've been similar and how they differed.
Natalie: Yeah. So I'll start off by saying a lot of things are the same. The applications, reading the files, they're all top 14 schools. So a lot is the same. I would say the office structure at those places is slightly different. I mean, Georgetown is an enormous school. I think when I was there, I was managing a team of 12 at some point, and that didn't even count myself or count my boss, the Dean of Admissions. Whereas here my entire team is six people including me. I mean, Georgetown is just a huge school, they get the most number of applications. It's an operation. There are great people working there, but it's just different.
At the time I was at Columbia, not every applicant got interviewed. They might have changed that. But at UVA, every single person we admit has to be interviewed. And I will say, UVA, part of our brand is we're extremely personal. I think it's definitely the most personal of the three. That's not a knock at the other two schools. I think that when you're someone who wants to go to law school in the middle of Manhattan or the middle of DC, like, you're okay with some anonymity. I think a different type of person wants to go to Columbia or Georgetown—incredibly high-achieving, intelligent go-getters who are looking for certain things at those schools. And they're bigger, they're bigger, so you can't afford to be that personal. Here it's just like, you know, looking out here out my window, it just feels more accessible. Anyone can walk in; it's public, right? Like you don't have security guards, you're not signing in. You have a very small team. It's a very tight-knit community. So everything at this stage of the process feels more high-touch.
I would say that one consistent thing at all three schools—the current students are always incredible to me, I find. They're always super willing to jump in with admissions and help and do all that. Like, scholarship is slightly different, the order of the way things are done is slightly different. But a lot of things are largely the same.
Mike: Yeah. You mentioned order of things and file reading—I used to spend lots of time on every application, even the ones that were below both medians, and that is during quote “file-reading season,” you’ll know what I mean by that. That's a lot of hours. In crunch time, that can be your entire Saturday and Sunday, all day.
Natalie: Yes. This is by my choice and my personality. It doesn't need to be this way, but I read every single file from beginning to end. And that doesn't mean that other people aren’t also reading it, but I'm reading every single file, regardless of the numbers or anything. That's really important to me. I like to read, but extraordinarily time consuming, again, especially when the team is very small. I'm also interviewing hundreds of applicants a year, and doing all the other things, scholarships, recruiting, all of that. So yeah, I would love applicants to know how much time we spend with their files. They're not just a number, you know, we really take time with them.
Mike: Yeah. That reminds me, we are going to be podcasting through the cycle, maybe four times, with someone from Reddit who is applying. This may change for you because the way we did it is we had our COO who, you know, Anna Hicks-Jaco, she read the bios of everyone who submitted. We had them nominate themselves, which is pretty hilarious. It was kind of like nominating yourself for admission. And then she had a few people who I read their bios and signed off on. So I didn't read every file. We'll revisit in two years; you might not be reading every application in two years.
You've already started admitting—is that strategic, or are you just excited to get going?
Natalie: I'll be honest, we're just excited. I love nothing more than when the cycle opens and you just see who's eager and who's submitting early. But also, a lot of the people we've admitted so far, they applied Binding Expedited Decision, BED. Which means that we, by our own policy, owe them a decision within 21 business days. So if they’re great and they are committed to us and we like them and they interview well, and we owe them a decision soon anyway, like, why wait? Especially, you know, when I interview people, if I really love them, I'll admit them on the spot. So I say no time like the present, it's only going to get busier. And I think back on my own experience, you know, UVA calling me, that was my very first admission. I do think it makes a difference.
My heart was broken last year, I remember one specific person who we didn't admit until later in the cycle, and this is not always the case, but I do think it would have made a difference if we had admitted him sooner. People get their mind set on another school, and it's hard to extract from that, especially if it's just kind of one of our close peers. I won't say where this person went, but that broke my heart. Now of course, with like 7,000 applications or whatever we get, we can't interview and admit everybody early. It's impossible. But now, while I have the bandwidth and I'm fresh and rested and eager, I'm going to just—especially if they're binding, let's go, let's build the class, and they've been awesome so far. It just gets the whole team kind of excited for what's ahead.
Mike: There's actually—there's mixed research, believe it or not there's research on this. I read a dissertation from an undergrad Dean of Admission who did his PhD on this. Obviously his PhD wasn’t on admissions. Maybe Spivey Consulting could start one; that'd be cool. But the dissertation was on, if you were the first admit, the second admit for a school—I think there's mixed research. I think you're right, there is a psychological attachment. I think, as you know, it's definitely true that if you admit someone off the waitlist, later, later, later, later, they have become more and more—so waitlist admits are trickier. The ED stuff I'm curious about. If I was applying to UVA with my horrible undergrad GPA, could I apply to 12 schools ED, but if you admitted me first, I then would have to withdraw from all schools, or could I apply to only UVA?
Natalie: I'll tell you that, I would say it's very frowned upon to apply more than one place early decision, like binding. And that's just because the school, when they get your application, they think if they admit you, they're getting you. Now, we might not know if you've already been admitted somewhere else by the time we get to you, and then you're bound there, and that's just not fair. The whole point is you're signaling to the school that this is the place I will commit to. We wouldn't necessarily have a way of knowing, but I don't like the idea of, it's a race for this person. Like the first person to admit them ED gets them. Like, I think you can obviously have all your other apps out there. And yes, when we admit you binding, you are supposed to withdraw everywhere else and commit, yada yada. Now of course, every year there's one person who reneges or says they want to switch to regular decision or whatever. But for the most part, like, our binding folks are committed, they're excited, they have really good reasons for wanting to come here. And that's a win-win for us. If someone is super strong and they're applying to us and they want to be here, like, yeah, I'm going to go get them.
Mike: Yeah. So I suspect for a school like UVA, you're only going to have one or two people renege. There's always a second side to the story. I'll give you an example—from many years ago and so I feel comfortable saying this. But there was a student who was admitted to a school who deferred—I'm not going to name the schools, but we’ll say two top 10 schools—and then asked the school if they could apply to other schools next year, and they said in writing “yes.” And then when they were admitted, they had a deferral, deferred admit—when they were admitted to a top three school the following year, they withdrew from that school. That school reported them. I don't know if they started talking to other schools, but they reported them maybe through, you know, LSAC's committee of infraction or whatever that is. The school that they were going to go to, the top three school, called this person, this is about nine years ago, and said, “You have a week to explain to us why you reneged on your deferred admit to the other school, or we're going to rescind your application.” Now there's two interesting variables here. Variable one, this person was a practicing Buddhist, so when they called me, it was like the calmest person in the world. Most people would be in panic mode. I was more panicking than the applicant. Number two, they had in writing from school number one that you are allowed. So when they forwarded that to the top three school, the top three schools said, “Oh, great, come.” There's always another side to the story, I guess is what I'm saying.
Natalie: Yes. There's definitely always another side. At the end of the day, what can we do? If someone applies ED, we let them in, they don't come, what are we going to do? We're not going to go kidnap them and make them come. There's no specific “performance,” to use a contracts term, right, with an ED contract. For me, if somebody does that, I will scold them a little bit and I'll just say, “Listen, do what you have to do, but you are entering the profession of law, and I want you to think carefully before you sign documents. Like, nobody came and told you to apply ED to UVA or to any other school.” And what those applicants don't realize is how much time and energy they cost us when they do things like that. We have someone that we thought was coming that we are excited about. So I think a lot of times when applicants act badly, they don't realize that they're creating a mountain of extra work for us. That's frustrating.
Mike: No, that's a fair point, and kudos to you for taking the time to reach out individually. I'll reach out individually to that school from nine years ago and scold them.
All right, so speaking of UVA, you don't have a “Why UVA” essay. gut you do interview everyone. We have over 250 years admissions experience within our firm, law school admissions—when I was recruiting you to our firm, I probably told you that a hundred times—we even have this internal debate in our firm, like. how important is signaling a “Why UVA”? Or a “why law” in the person's statement? How important is it in the interview? Must they, at some point in the process, tell you why UVA? How much does that matter to you?
Natalie: It's certainly not required. I tell people, their job in the application is to get themselves to the interview phase. Everybody needs to be interviewed to be admitted. So if your application is very well put together, you're smart, you're driven, you have a good personality, good recs, all of that, and you don't say a thing about UVA, that's very well someone that I could interview with that exact goal in mind. Is this someone who would come here? Are they interested in us, or did they kind of blanket the T14 with their apps? So there are definitely ways to get to the interview stage without talking about UVA, but yes, you should absolutely expect me to ask, “Why did you apply to UVA? What is it you like? What can you see yourself doing here? How would you contribute?”
There are also so many other ways applicants demonstrate their interest in us without some boilerplate “Why UVA” statement. You know, they want to practice in DC. They had visited us before. They were really involved in their community in undergrad, because that's a huge personality trait of people who come here. There are other definite clues in the application that don't need to be spelled out in a statement. And the really high-achieving applicants, they know exactly what to say to get where they want to go. So we do read these “Why UVA” statements that some are authentic and some are not. I don't think I’m perfect at detecting authenticity, but I think I'm pretty good, and just kind of copying and pasting faculty and clinics, talking about the Blue Ridge Mountains in a “Why UVA,” I would rather you not even submit one then. There are some really genuinely personal, moving “Why UVAs” that really get me and that I love. If that’s not your truth, don’t speak it, don't say it.
And I don't blame people for just kind of applying to a bunch of different places. That's fine. What also troubles me is when I do ask in an interview, like, why someone wants to go to UVA and they don't really have a well thought out answer to that question. Even if UVA is not your top choice, I would say kind of, think of some recent—or think of some questions about UVA in particular.
I just want to make it super clear that we do not disadvantage people who don't have a “Why UVA,” for all the reasons I just said. Sometimes they're not effective anyway. And if there are other signals to us in the app, that's perfectly fine. And a lot of times the interview helps us flesh it out more just on like a personality…
Mike: You mentioned something that brings back memories for me. We all think we're really good at reading authenticity. We all think we're really good at hiring. So, okay, I've interviewed this person for a day, I have a feel for them. But we all can remember the time we made a bad hire or we all can remember the time that someone literally convinced us if we took them off the waitlist, they would forever love our school. We admit them off the waitlist, and three weeks later I find out they're going to Penn Law.
Natalie: Yes, we're always their first choice until they get into Harvard or until scholarships season comes around. My favorite—in air quotes, “favorite”—thing about the cycle is just how the tables turn from beginning to end. “I love you, I love you. Let me in.” “Now, what are you going to do for me? Because this other school did XYZ.” So we get burned all the time, of course, but we try to give our limited number of offers to people who we think have a good chance of matriculating.
Mike: Yeah. The leverage equation is fascinating in admissions. It goes 100% from the law school to 100% to the admit—not the applicant, the admit.
So one more UVA-specific question. You added an essay about resilience.
Natalie: Yes. Oh geez. So I will tell you why. You might know this Mike, I'm sure a lot of your listeners know, previously our question #12 was activities and interests—that was like the title. And it had three parts, and the first part was, describe to us your activities, things you're involved in, in order of importance to you. Like it basically gave people a space to flesh out more than what just their resume would say about community involvement, extracurriculars, things like that. And then part two of the question was tell us your hobbies, interests. And part three of the question was, do you have a geographic preference for where you want to end up after law school?
So problem with that—I understand why the question was originally there. It's been there for years. We care about good community members. That's a huge like cornerstone of UVA. We want to see, are you going to be of service to the community? Are you going to be involved? Are you going to take on leadership roles? This is not a place, typically, where people just come to, like, go to the library alone for three years and leave. So I understand why that question was originally there, but it caused, frankly, more confusion than you would think in the applicant pool.
Mike: I do know about the confusion as well.
Natalie: Yeah. And some people would say like, “Please see resume”—and we’re like, no. It was confusing A, and B it was also kind of redundant of what was on the resume, so we sort of brainstormed, and we thought about what qualities mattered to us in future law students and future lawyers. We talked about a lot of different options, but resilience kind of kept coming back. We wanted to examine how people sort of bounce back from setbacks or how they themselves would describe that. And that's because law school is really dang hard, and practicing law is really dang hard. And we wanted a sense of, if you have never gone through anything challenging in your life, never risen above, you are going to struggle when you get here.
And we heard this from all the student services teams, all of my fellow deans, we talked about this ad nauseam before this question got added. “Wow, like, people just are having a really hard time, they get a bad grade and it's like they fall apart. So how can we maybe flesh some of this out ahead of time?” And look, I've read a lot of the responses already, and some of them are phenomenal and really add to the picture of the person. The more information we can get about a person the better, in my opinion. There’s just one paper application, and people are so much more than that. And then yeah, some people are less successful with it. So it has been just a fascinating experiment. Who knows if it will stay on our application. But for now I'm really excited, because I think so far, it has just elicited more from the applicant than we would've gotten in the past.
Mike: Yeah. I hope you keep it on. Just as a practical matter, I have a book coming out on resilience; it's called Why We Suffer. In fact, I should plug, we just sent to publishing our admissions book, the PowerScore/Spivey Consulting Admissions Bible, so that's going to be out in October/November. But then the other one—I'll give you a fancy word I would never use in a personal statement, “psychological hormesis.” So hormesis is the concept that, you lift weights and it tears your muscles apart in a minor way, but then they build back stronger. You take a cold ice bath, it hurts your body mildly, but then your body comes back stronger. I think I coined the phrase—I probably shouldn't say this yet since the book's not published.—psychological hormesis: the things we overcome, that don't break us down, sort of help build us up in the long run.
Natalie: A hundred percent, yes. And I'm so glad to hear you say that, because I think resilience is sort of something that needs to be talked about more. Obviously, if you have not overcome major, major, major challenges in your life, are you disadvantaged because we added this question? No. Anybody could answer this question if they dig deep and they really think about it. But it also—I think it's giving our applicants who have overcome a lot a space and an opportunity to tell us a little bit more about that. So I agree with you completely. It's so important just to character in general, but especially for going into law school and to practice law.
Mike: Yeah. I would argue that we've all overcome a lot. I’ll quote Terry Real, he's Oprah's therapist, he's a world-famous therapist and he was in our podcast. Anything significantly less than nurturing to a child is traumatic. So it's just whether we want to admit it to ourselves. So I like that you said dig deep, because we all have something that's significantly less nurturing to us, and we've all overcome, whether it's age 6, 12, 18, 21, 25, by then we've all overcome things.
We'll get away from UVA; it's something you could probably talk about all day. I know you love being there. What are things that frustrate not just you, but your admissions colleagues at other schools, and what are things that really get you excited, not just you but your admissions colleagues at other schools?
Natalie: Yeah, I'll start with the frustrating things so I can kind of end on the happier note. Frustrating things, I'll say two main things. One is lack of self-awareness. Sometimes, I understand that everyone needs to reach high and go big and shoot their shot as everybody now says, I totally respect that. You miss 100% of the shots you don't take. But, like, at the end of the day, being a great person, having great experience, and even overcoming a lot if you're a resilient person, and being smart, doesn't qualify you for law school necessarily. And more specifically UVA law school. I think there's just this—entitlement is the word that I'm sure a lot of my colleagues use a lot. It's just sort of like, I appreciate your application, and I'm putting time into it, but at the end of the day, you just have to understand this is not available to everybody. When I read files, I have empathy coming out my eyeballs, and I will literally say out loud, “This person will land somewhere else great.” I have to tell myself that. So I am not like some heartless person reading your file and making a decision, but when people really push back and they're nasty and they just don't get it, you just kind of have to think bigger than yourself and think how many people are out there in the world, and UVA law school can't let everybody in. And so that lack of self-awareness bothers me. And every time I have not gotten something, I have never once thought, “But I deserve to get that.” Well, clearly I didn’t, because I didn't get it. I've never once not gotten something and thought anything other than, “Well, I just didn't do enough.” People don't think that way anymore. They say, “It's your fault, admissions. It's X, Y, Z external factor.” So that's frustrating.
Mike: I'll chime in just one thing because it's of note, what you're describing is what a researcher at Stanford, Carol Dweck, would describe as a growth mindset. And the reason why I wanted to jump in is because people who do really well in life, who are both successful and happy, I personally would say, it's not that you're not deserving, but you take ownership of “what could I have done better?”
Natalie: And I'll shout out my parents here, for better or worse, when I was younger and I said, “I didn't get this” or “I got this grade” or “This person was mean to me,” they said, “Well, what did you do wrong? So why didn't you study harder?” It was never like, “How dare that person be mean to our daughter?” They said, “Well, what did you do?” I don't think parents are like that anymore; I'm not a parent, but I'm just guessing based on trends I'm seeing. But yes, growth mindset. I love that. Again, I think just sitting back and accepting a decision that you didn't want and reflecting on yourself and not putting blame elsewhere, I think is a just great place to be.
The second thing, this is just something we see all the time. I would just call it a mistake that I see that is very frustrating. Every cycle I get essays, “Cornell's my dream school.” “I want to go to UC Berkeley.” And can I tell you, how is this possible? I want your listeners—like, I would love to hear, how is this possible? If you even read that essay over one time carefully, you would find that. I don't even send an email without reading it three times minimum, like an email to a colleague or my staff member. How are you submitting a law school application that's going to determine your future and not read it over even one time to find the wrong school name? This is actually a mystery to me. And I'll share a little inside tip with your listeners, that will disqualify you from UVA, because we don't have time. We have so many more applicants in the pool than we can admit that if you make a careless mistake like that, you're gone. And that might sound harsh, but I—unless somebody could, like, tell me that there's some other reason other than not reading it over carefully—this is law school. This is quite detail-oriented work you're going to be doing. So that is extremely frustrating.
Mike: When I was at Vanderbilt it was a death knell for us too, but I just want to put people at ease. Your application very likely may have one or two or three blemishes in it. It's actually rare that they don't, but that one is not a blemish. The way I interpreted it is, you're either so sloppy that you made the biggest of all mistakes or you're so overconfident that you just don't care.
Natalie: Control-F is your friend, make a list of every single school you're applying to. And then in every essay, if you don't want to actually read it beginning to end, do a little Control-F. I'm just telling you it could make the difference. And this is not just weaker applicants doing this, this is strong applicants. It frustrates me.
And I'll go on to what excites me the most and my colleagues. I mean, it's cheesy, but when you're there to facilitate this dream of theirs to go to UVA Law, I mean I get thank yous all the time, and you changed my life, blah blah blah, and I say, “I did absolutely nothing. I was here to open the door, you got here 100%.” And I get chills even thinking about, like, some of my past admits who were so overcome with emotion that I was overcome, and I know that they and I will have a special relationship in perpetuity because of that, but really it's everything they did. And just being here to witness that big moment of success, and then once they get here in person, seeing them really thrive, make law review, get a clerkship, make really great friend—that is so satisfying. It will never get old. It will never get old, because it's the first time for them. It could be the thousandth time for me, but the first time for them, and I just love it.
Mike: To this day I get Facebook messages from people I admitted 23 years ago. And they'll say like, “Hey Spivey, if you ever need free legal representation, you know, I love you,” And I always do say that, I say, “No, you admitted yourself. You don't owe me.”
So one thing that frustrated me a ton when I was in admissions, and it kind of frustrates me to this day, is when people ask questions that are Google search away. “What's your median LSAT?” I mean, and I think that bothers everyone in admissions.
Natalie: Absolutely. We have a beautiful website that we have put a lot of time and effort into, and yes, we're like always trying to improve on it and maybe like clean it up in certain ways. But I think it's pretty dang good. Everything you could possibly want to know is on there. If you already do your research in advance, I talk about this in one of the upcoming episodes, the podcast, like all about visiting a law school. If you’ve done your research in advance, gosh, you can get so much more out of your conversations with people that are beyond just the basics, right? Like if you're asking those basic questions, you're using up someone's time when you could be talking to them about what they love about it here or what they're looking for in a file. So yes, Google should be your friend along with Control-F and spell check.
Mike: We moved heaven and earth on our blog, and kudos to our COO and our webmaster, who was kind of resistant to this at first, but to make our blog searchable. And we have, you might know this, but hundreds if not maybe a thousand blogs and podcasts. And now you can find an answer to almost any question. So very similar.
Final sort of thing to end on—this cycle, how do you see it shaking out? I have so many thoughts. I wouldn't even know where to begin. When is LSAC—it's usually mid-September right, where they start publishing the volumes?
Natalie: Current volume, yeah, I was talking about this recently with our COO, our Associate Dean. I was thinking it was mid-September, and we kind of looked back, and last year we saved it in October. So it's coming out soon, any day now I would think, next couple of weeks, volume summaries. I would say—you know way more about the sort of predictions and data and things, probably, than I do. I'm not great at this because I'm both an optimist and a pessimist. I think it's going to be a tough cycle and nobody's going to come and they're all going to go to Harvard. But then I also look at this past cycle, which was, to be perfectly honest, brutal. I mean, it was a really, really difficult cycle. I only had one director; she and I interviewed all 770-whatever people that we admitted. There were days when I was like, are we going to bring in this class? I mean, it was really, really tough. But then I look at the 1Ls who are here and I'm like, “they're amazing.” We pulled that off. We have another Director now, which I'm super excited about. We literally doubled the work share.
My prediction is that we're just going to get more great people. I mean, I know that sounds trite, but I feel more calm and more confident going into this cycle that the great people will come, and they will find us. And there are people who—this is their home. I think the last two years starting in the Dean of Admissions job, I felt a little overwhelmed and terrified, frankly. As far as like, volume, I'm predicting not a huge change from last year, to be honest, maybe 3% in either direction, up or down. I think 5,000 to 6,000 apps is where UVA Law kind of lives, and that's fine. Like I'm not one of these Deans who wants to go out and drum up thousands more applications. Like why? I think the people who want to be at UVA Law find their way here.
So competitiveness—look, our medians are out, they're high, I don't think they're going down, knock on wood. So it's going to be competitive, and I think we're excited. We're excited to see who is applying. As you mentioned, we're already admitting people. So I don't see the volume changing dramatically, but I would love to hear what you think.
Mike: Yeah. We commit a lot of resources to this, because it's very important for what we do to counterbalance other signals in the market and to law schools we work with. Law schools work with us for us to make predictions for them. Our data expert—my running joke is he would've scored a 183 on the LSAT-Flex, so he gets the data very—right, everyone in admissions gets the joke. You mentioned a number of times the right word, which is applicant volume. LSAC said something in writing about a month ago about application volume being strong so the pool is strong. As you know, in admissions, application volume is meaningless, it's applicant volume. So applicant volume, I would say if I had to guess is going to be 1% to 5% down. I kind of like your hedge, though, I mean, prediction is difficult, especially when it involves the future. +3% or -3% is a much better guess maybe.
I think demographically, it would look like it's going to be a little bit down. I think what we have is we have a September LSAT that we didn't have last year that's backfilled the dearth in applications from the summer. So we're still going to be, after September, a little bit down applicant wise. What's really interesting is we don't know the ratio yet of first-time test takers, retakers. That ratio is going to be really important, because if it's a bunch of first-time takers, then all those people in the summer are extra applicants who aren't retaking. If it's a bunch of retakes, then it's probably not adding much to that backfill in September.
So once we get that ratio and then once we get the October and November tests, we're going to have a really good feel. I think 1% to 5% down. What's going to be really interesting to me is the organic nature of the LSAT bell curve; is it going to normalize or is it still going to be a little bit—they always use the word “bubble”; I don't know why, I hate it. Here's a fascinating number, percentage: Two years ago, in the crazy year of LSAT-Flex three-section, it was like something like 19.79%, very close to that, 165 and higher. You mentioned how tough last cycle was; it was only something like 19.5% of the pool were 165+. So that percentage didn't change much. That caught us off guard; we live in predictions. So I'm curious to see if that normalizes or if the number of retakers and some other reasons I won't get into have kept the LSAT a little bit fatter at that 165+ range.
Natalie: Yes. The word I was thinking was “bloated.” I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. I think this cycle, we're not going to see a ton of difference in terms of strength of LSAT; I think that's just going to kind of still be there. I don't know if it's ever going to go back fully to how it was, just because my understanding is that this new version of the LSAT is like here to stay, the four-section test. But I could be wrong, again. Again, it's all bell curve, as you said, so some people do have to fall in different areas. But I think this year we're going to see the same type of scores. What scares me, this sounds so silly despite your data guy who got a 183 on the Flex, it really does only go up to 180. And so the medians at schools are rising, and I say this all the time, like, we can only go so far, and GPA too. I mean, I know we’re in inflation, like people are getting 4.5s whatever, but I don't know. I think a whole other podcast could be devoted to, is this ever going to kind of come back down, or are we going to be stuck up high in the sky with medians forever? Because no one wants to go down obviously, but there's only so far to go. Is Harvard one day going to have a 178 median LSAT?
Mike: We have wondered internally if there's going to be a 4.0 median GPA one day. GPA keeps rising for multiple reasons. Consumer-driven education system versus apprentice-driven education system, and the COVID era inflation. How is this as a conclusion, because I could go on forever about this stuff, and maybe we will do a podcast on it. But, GPA is elevated versus three years ago; LSAT—which is the predominant test option, and even if things go test optional next cycle, like this cycle is still going to be heavily LSAT—LSAT elevated versus 20, 30, 40-year norms. So that's that. I think that's going to be a consistent, at least in the short term.
Long-term predictions are almost impossible. But with a smaller number of applicants, keeping in mind that a human being can only go to one law school on orientation, you can't multiply yourself and go to multiple schools—if the applicant pool is diminished, which it’s going to be slightly if I had to guess, things get a little less competitive, because you have to, as you know, admit more people to get the same entering class with less applicants. Is that a fair note to end on?
Natalie: That is a perfectly fair note to end on, and that played out. I mean, I think the acceptance rate went up this year. I mean, it definitely did for us. I know it did for the schools whose data I've seen published in the last few weeks. So that's absolutely true. I hope that's good news for applicants. It will be slightly less competitive in terms of whom you're competing with and how many people we need to offer.
Mike: Agreed. Thank you, Dean Blazer.
Natalie: My pleasure. Thank you for having me. I'm super excited that we got to see each other and chat!