[Almost] exactly how law school admissions files are read

The excerpt below is from an article written by William Deresiewicz posted in the New Republic. The entirety of that article has a thesis that undergraduates should not go to Ivy League schools. At the same website, a counter argument is offered that they should. Neither is what this excerpt and blog are about.

The part copied below, salient to law school applicants,  is a very real representation of how law school admissions files are read (with one exception — they are not read in a group setting  but rather read, evaluated, and then sent to another committee member). They are assigned a numerical rating based on a vast number of variables, in law schools this can be seen often as 1-3, 1-4, 1-10 etc. There is a scoring system, and as in the below, “1′s” are admits and “4′s” are highly likely denied unless there is some special circumstance — again this happens just the same in law school admissions.

Where things get interesting (and where Spivey Consulting can really move the needle for clients), is in the 2 – 3 category.  This plays out as either a possible admit and those that are waitlisted. But whether for a given school you are a “1″, a “2″ or a “4″, this article provides a glimpse into what happens when your files goes from complete to committee. Enjoy!

By William Deresiewicz
In the spring of 2008, I did a daylong stint on the Yale admissions committee. We—that is, three admissions staff, a member of the college dean’s office, and me, the faculty representative—were going through submissions from eastern Pennsylvania. The applicants had been assigned a score from one to four, calculated from a string of figures and codes—SATs, GPA, class rank, numerical scores to which the letters of recommendation had been converted, special notations for legacies and diversity cases. The ones had already been admitted, and the threes and fours could get in only under special conditions—if they were a nationally ranked athlete, for instance, or a “DevA,” (an applicant in the highest category of “development” cases, which means a child of very rich donors). Our task for the day was to adjudicate among the twos. Huge bowls of junk food were stationed at the side of the room to keep our energy up.

The junior officer in charge, a young man who looked to be about 30, presented each case, rat-a-tat-tat, in a blizzard of admissions jargon that I had to pick up on the fly. “Good rig”: the transcript exhibits a good degree of academic rigor. “Ed level 1”: parents have an educational level no higher than high school, indicating a genuine hardship case. “MUSD”: a musician in the highest category of promise. Kids who had five or six items on their list of extracurriculars—the “brag”—were already in trouble, because that wasn’t nearly enough. We listened, asked questions, dove into a letter or two, then voted up or down.

With so many accomplished applicants to choose from, we were looking for kids with something special, “PQs”—personal qualities—that were often revealed by the letters or essays. Kids who only had the numbers and the résumé were usually rejected: “no spark,” “not a team-builder,” “this is pretty much in the middle of the fairway for us.” One young person, who had piled up a truly insane quantity of extracurriculars and who submitted nine letters of recommendation, was felt to be “too intense.” On the other hand, the numbers and the résumé were clearly indispensable. I’d been told that successful applicants could either be “well-rounded” or “pointy”—outstanding in one particular way—but if they were pointy, they had to be *really *pointy: a musician whose audition tape had impressed the music department, a scientist who had won a national award.

“Super People,” the writer James Atlas has called them—the stereotypical ultra-high-achieving elite college students of today. A double major, a sport, a musical instrument, a couple of foreign languages, service work in distant corners of the globe, a few hobbies thrown in for good measure: They have mastered them all, and with a serene self-assurance that leaves adults and peers alike in awe. A friend who teaches at a top university once asked her class to memorize 30 lines of the eighteenth-century poet Alexander Pope. Nearly every single kid got every single line correct. It was a thing of wonder, she said, like watching thoroughbreds circle a track.

Article can be found at: