Podcast: Mike Spivey's Top 5 All-Time Admissions Advice

In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Mike gives his top 5 pieces of advice from his 20+ years working in law school admissions.

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Full Transcript:

Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school admissions, you know the drill, a little bit of everything. This is Mike Spivey. Today is kind of interesting. It's law school admissions. I'm going to be taking a change of roles for a little bit because of the demographic cliff coming up, the demand from law schools and more and more central universities, colleges. It’s going to be such that in the near future, you're going to be seeing me not on Reddit, and Anna Hicks-Jaco on Reddit. Me not doing admissions podcasts as much, and Anna doing a lot more. So what I wanted to do in the short term, if I'm not going to do another admissions podcast or post on Reddit for a period of time, what would be my top five pieces of law school admissions advice? So maybe our podcast editors can insert some music in here. Here are the top five, and I'm going to enumerate and title each of them. The titles are going to be a little bit confusing, but hopefully that'll keep people plugged in because these really matter. In 25 years, these are the five most important things.

Number one, nothing defines you but you. Okay, so just please know that if you could get in my head at 51 years old and look back at the people with the 140 LSATs or the 2.5 GPAs or the two DUIs in college who turned their lives around and got married and have children. What one former client of mine who I was just in touch with recently had seven drug convictions but had been 11 years sober and was admitted to Penn Law.

So all of these things, your LSAT score, the school you get into, the schools that deny you, that has nothing to do with you. Your LSAT score doesn't define you as a person. It correlates okay with first-year law school performance. It certainly doesn't correlate with career performance. How does it cause motivation? How does it test how much, how quickly you mature? How does it test EQ? It does not. There's so much evaluative pressure put on everyone. I'm not immune to it either, but particularly people going through this admission process. Where did this person get into? When did it happen? That the process itself becomes this defining, “oh, five people were just admitted to Harvard but I wasn't.” “I thought I was going to get a 170 LSAT but I got a 168.” Nothing defines you but you. Your life is what you make it. I am a case study of that.

My undergraduate GPA sucked. I went into college thinking, “okay I got into a good college.” I've been told all my life, all you need to do is get into a good college. So what did I do, I certainly didn't have a good GPA. And I couldn't have, by my estimation, a better career and job that I love, and life that I love, and my college GPA sucked. But it's not who I am. No one cares. When you start working, no one cares what your LSAT score was. They care about your results. So in your down moment, and almost everyone has them. The percentage of people above the top law schools’ GPA and LSAT are a lot smaller than 1%. Very few people go 12 for 12, 8 for 8, 15 for 15, incredibly few people. So almost everyone has their ups and downs in this process. If you have this down, please come back to this, or just remember your ups in life have very, very, very little to do with one up in the admissions cycle or one down in the admissions cycle. Life plays out based on you and not some external source telling you who you are.

Number two, learn about admissions, but don't obsess during the process. So one way to get better results in life and to reduce anxiety is to become an expert on something. There is tons of data, literature, advice, information out there about the law school admissions process. You can look at LSAC, they have a lot of data. They will soon start publishing their volume summary reports, which will give you cycle data. Our firm has thousands of hours, about a million listens of podcasts and blogs of advice. Often we have Deans of Admissions on our podcasts, even better, because it’s not just me, it’s triangulated with another person. Now I'm going to get to this triangulation on the next one.

We have a book, The PowerScore/Spivey Consulting Law School Admissions Bible, 330-something pages of pure law school admissions advice. The people who dive deep into the details and I'll give you a nuanced example, examples are always helpful. If you live in LA, California, and you’re emailing an admissions office in New York City, East Coast, and they say, “can you call me,” and you say, “sure, does 10 a.m. Pacific, one o'clock Eastern, work for you?” What you're signaling to that admissions person is that you’re a professional. You're very detail-oriented, and you want to make sure you're not wasting their valuable time, so you're putting things in both time zones so that the call doesn't not go through and you never get the opportunity to talk with that admissions person.

There are thousands of nuanced examples I could give you about learning the process. Have your phone number in a signature block in your email so that if you email an admissions officer, and by chance they happen to have a few waitlist spots open up that day, and they’re interested in admitting just one or two, instead of going through 100 files on their phone from applicants in their database, they can just press your number in the signature block and say, “hey, we're interested, would you come if admitted?” A very typical phone call. They're yield protecting with that phone call. So learn all the ins and out. This is now stacked up, make the difference. The feathers on the scale start weighing a lot more when you have a lot of feathers on that scale.

That said, once you've learned and once you've submitted, there are things you can do of course, but there's a natural tendency to obsess about it. I mean, there are people who'd status-check, the name of this podcast, 5, 10, 15, 20 times. Someone, it was brought up in an admissions conference years ago, someone checked their Georgetown status checker, I can't remember the exact number, around 150 times in a day. So if you think about the sleeping minutes in the day, they're checking it every three minutes or four minutes. Someone do the math and let us know. That person, Georgetown could see who it was. When you start obsessing, if you're on Reddit every day, it's just going to stress you out. If you're looking at your status checker every day, it's just going to stress you out. The more you've learned in an ideal manner, the less you're going to obsess about this stuff. And it tracks that just as people who learn the ins and outs do better, people who obsess every day during the cycle tend to do worse. Don't send admissions offices a postcard every day of the admissions cycle.

Mistrust to relax is number three. So what does that mean? I mentioned triangulation. I have seen in my career not just on the admission side, in the Assistant Dean side, but on the consulting side, so many people absolutely burned by trusting what someone posts on Reddit. Someone comes on and they say, “hey, I'm a Dean of Admission at a top-14 law school. I can't identify myself, but here's an AMA. And within the first answer or two our entire firm knew that that was a false flag or whatever you want to call it. Admissions people tend to talk in admissions language, and this person was not. So we knew it was just some troll. There was something like 130 questions. People were pouring their hearts and souls into these questions of this troll before Reddit figured it out and banned the person and deleted the thread. There's lots of bad advice online. There's obviously good advice, too. There are some applicants, even though they have no admissions experience, we've hired two of them at our firm who have really good instincts. But there's also some applicants who say things with authority, so they have this Dunning-Kruger almost feeling about themselves. Who are going to say things absolutely wrong but as if they know the truth. And we see this all the time.

There are schools that can say something for themselves but don't generalize or universalize that for all schools. So if a school has a podcast and they say something, yeah they might very well work for that school. And I say ‘might’ because absolutes are very few and far between in this world. It might be something they’ve been saying for many years or it might work great for that school but not for other schools. I use the word ‘triangulation’, you do want to see, “okay, what does Spivey say?” But don't trust just Spivey in a vacuum, that's me by the way. It’s so weird to say your last name. What does Dean Z say about this? What are people on Reddit saying about this? Particularly from people who do admissions or have done admissions. The more you can sort of find a common consensus answer, the better. Which is why in our new TikTok page, we're often having five, six, seven former admissions officers chime in so that there's triangulation within our brief TikToks.

Similarly, the websites out there, predictor-based. I plug in my GPA and my LSAT. Those are horrible, I have talked to the end of the earth. The only reason to have one of those is to draw people to your website. To begin with, you're looking at a small data set and sometimes, false positives of data. There's weird people out there who are just going to say, “oh yeah, I have a 130 and a 2.5 and I was admitted to a top 10 school.” So you're looking at small amounts of data and there is false positive data. That's problematic. But the much bigger problem is you're looking into the past, not your cycle. Things that could have been predictive a cycle ago might be completely off for this current cycle. Cycles go up and down. If you stake your certainty that this predictor site said you have a 75% chance of getting into Harvard, you're looking backwards in time and that's not really helpful in admissions.

Number three, it's not that mistrusting humanity will make you relax. I just want to define the title. But having a little bit of skepticism about, “oh my god, this person claims they were admitted with these numbers to Harvard today,” or even just claims they were admitted. If you're going to take that as “boom! I believe that.” And then the next one happens. And the next one happens. And you're on Reddit every day, remember number two, you're going to have a long painful cycle. If you take these things in stride, okay, maybe there's a little bit of predictive value in a predictor site or law school data. It has nothing to do with as a micro data point me as a person, and I'm not going to obsess about people claiming they were admitted. It's always going to seem like more admits are happening early. Well, over 50% of admits this cycle are going to happen in 2024. That's what I mean. Knowing these things will help you relax.

Number four, admissions officers are humans. So I talked about sort of letting go after you become an expert. But most people are hired in admissions because the Dean of the Law School who hires an Admission Dean tends to correlate outgoing, friendly people, extroverts with admissions. But that might be right, that might be wrong. I think the ideal is someone who is an expert on strategy and data and happens to have a high EQ if you want to go into admissions or be a Dean of a Law School, that's your perfect hire. But generally you're dealing with people who are likable. Guess what? A commonality of likable people is likable people like to be liked. If that's not in Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People, I'm going to write a follow-up book and just use the same title and say ‘part two’. Likeable people want to be liked. Does that mean you should call the admissions person you met a forum every week? No. Does that mean you should go to a forum and try to meet an admissions officer? Yes. If you can afford it, go. If you can afford it time-wise, money-wise, go. If you can afford going to visit schools, time-wise and money-wise, go. Try to meet, email or speak with admissions people. They're humans. They want to be liked. It's not the office of denial. It's the office of admissions.

And I cannot tell you how many times a year, because it's in the thousands if you look at the whole cycle, that as medians stabilize and people are admitted off the waitlist, it's people who are likable, who stay in touch with the admissions office. Maybe once a month or once every month and a half, but you're not being read by AI. I know there have been right angles of death, what U.S. News & World Report just did to the weight of the admissions metrics, which is negligible, which makes me put a huge 14 exclamation points after this. Now, admissions officers, more than ever before or later, laterally if they care about U.S. News & World Report are going to start admitting people they like because they're also to say, “well, if I like this person, they're professional, they're charismatic, they're outgoing, they can carry a conversation, they're going to kill it in an interview and get hired,” and hiring those are now the outcomes or the metrics that matter in rankings. I would suck at all the advice I'm giving you, if I were 20 or 22 or 24. But I would probably see these admissions people as these people with great authority who, the Dean of Admissions at an elite school. Well, they're also human beings with their ups and their downs or good days or bad days, or good qualities, their bad days, no different than you, and they want to like you. Be likable to them, but just don't try too hard, be yourself.

If you're taking the time to listen to the podcasts, my guess is you’re a respectful, professional person. My guess is the people who troll on Reddit don't listen to long podcasts about the cycle. They're too busy self-medicating, trolling on message boards. I can say with a great deal of confidence, just be yourself throughout the process, don't be what you think an admissions officer wants you to be.

And then my final piece of advice, I could go all day, but I'm going to try to keep this kind of short, is your best version of "you" can start with this process. At 22, this stuff didn't matter to me at all, but we had Dr. Gabor Maté on our podcast, Gabor Maté is a big espouser of the theory that everyone has an addiction. So everyone wants to numb some pain by escaping that pain through an addiction. Now, when you hear the word addiction, people often think substances, but they could be anything. It could be work, it could be extreme sports, it could be shopping. And someone once said to me, “Mike your addiction is self-improvement,” which would be a new addiction and I'm happy to embrace it.

If you're interested in becoming a better person, think about a swamp with rocks, to cross the swamp you have to jump from one rock to the next to get through the swamp with alligators or quicksand or whatever you want to come up with in your mind. Going through this process and staying stable and calm and a professional is the same step, the same process as going to trial with its ups and downs, preparing for a case, preparing for a merger, starting your own law firm, handling the challenges of life. There will be ups and downs during the law school admissions process. There will be long waits during the admissions process. Some people will deal miserably. Some people will, although this could be funny at times, post rants at two in the morning and maybe regret them when they wake up the next day. Some people will pick on others on social media just because they think they feel better about themselves or say horrible things to you or say horrible things about schools. This would be a great time for the 22-year-old me to work on impulse regulation control, to work on maturity, to try to make every day better than the day before. To work on how do I as a person grow, because this process is out of my hands now that I've submitted and I've gotten to know an admissions officer and I sent them an email. Again, this goes back to number one, at the end of the day, this process won’t define you, but it certainly can help you if you would sort of embrace it as, “This is the rest of my life. My professional career starts now.”

It's a wonderful way to end this 20-minute podcast. “My professional career starts the day I start applying.” And again, I'm a great example, I was not a professional as an undergraduate student, right? I was playing video games with my buddies. Which is fine in doses, but if you're doing it all day and skipping class, not really that great. But I became a professional when I started applying to business schools. And boy did I rock on those applications and boy did I rock in my business school GPA, which is the very highest, juxtaposed with my undergraduate GPA near the very lowest, because I matured. The application process was when I said to myself, “hey Mike, get it together. Learn about yourself, learn how to be a professional.” So this process can actually be life-long beneficial if you embrace it like that.

I hope this was helpful. I'm not going anywhere long-term, but this was the top five I could think of. And this was Mike Spivey with the Spivey Consulting Group. Have a great cycle.