Preparing Your Law School Application: Tips From the Other Side of Admission
For many students, an undergraduate degree is a stepping stone to law school. This was my dream since high school, but having few connections in this field, I did not know much about applying, or even where to start. This article is for those considering law school, especially those applying in the Fall. This is a good time to start planning.
First, begin looking at schools to get a sense of what they are looking for. Compare admissions requirements side by side, focusing on average GPAs and LSAT scores of first year students, tuition costs and first year class sizes compared to number of applicants. At best, the information terrifies you into quitting. If you still believe in yourself, you are ready to move on.
Next, prepare for the LSAT. The test is held 4 times per year (February, June, October and December) and you must register on the LSAC website. Register early, as spaces fill up quickly. I recommend a course or tutoring if you have the time and money, as the test requires well-developed reasoning skills. My Princeton Review course was very helpful. Some say to start studying six months in advance, but most full-time students with part-time jobs and/or extracurricular commitments may find this difficult. I spent all of May taking a prep course before writing in June. In spite of delayed academic deadlines during last year’s strike cutting into my study time, I felt prepared to write the test by the time it came around. This is also why I recommend writing in June: more time in the summer to prepare and more opportunities to rewrite it if you are not satisfied with your first score. The test is entirely multiple choice. There are three types of sections: analyzing short arguments, analyzing longer passages and logic games. Learn strategies to attack each of these efficiently and quickly. There is also an unscored writing sample where you must argue for one of two given options. Do not sweat this: if you have ever written an exam essay or had an arbitrary argument (ex. Marvel vs. DC, iPhone vs. Android), you are ready.
Now you complete the application. Apply to Ontario law schools through OLSAS. They will connect you with a pre-law advisor and provide information about each school’s application requirements. Many parts are straightforward, such as submitting LSAT scores and your academic transcript. You will also need an autobiographical sketch, outlining activities like jobs, volunteer or extracurricular work. When seeking references, find out exactly what each school requires. Schools may ask for academic and/or non-academic references. Be selective in your approach. A professor who you had in a class of 50 may not be able to help as much as one with whom you have taken multiple classes. Having done research or other work with a professor outside of class is definitely a bonus.
An increasingly important part of the application is the personal statement, especially as schools look to a more holistic approach to the application. This can show admissions committees who you are and what drives you. Some schools give writing prompts, asking why you want to go to law school and for challenges that you have overcome. Individualize each statement with information connecting personal interests with a school’s specialties, goals or focuses. Beyond this, discuss what you are passionate about. Your GPA will tell enough about academic capabilities. Talk about relevant life experiences and activities which have prepared you for law school. Do not be afraid to add light humour, but be mindful of the character count. If you are applying to multiple universities, be prepared to type up your personal statements multiple times because they cannot be uploaded or copied and pasted.
Applications for Ontario law schools are due in late October/early November. Schools in the rest of Canada wait until well into the Winter. Getting into law school is not easy. A Canadian law school will accept roughly 10% of applicants each year. Apply to as many schools as you can to be safe. Play to your strengths when completing the application. If you are not good at studying, allot more time to preparing for the LSAT. If you are not a good writer, start work on your personal statement months in advance and have people read it over and help you. Finally, be sure that this is an option that you want to open yourself up to. Applying to law school takes a lot of time and money, so prepare to persevere when things get difficult.