By Lizzy Pierson HC ‘12
Thank you to Haverford alum and current law school applicant Lizzy Pierson, who took the Fords on Friday alumni blog challenge! We love advice from alums!
My first recommendation is that you review the Haverford Pre-Law website. I’m going to offer some tips that supplement those provided there. The Pre-Law people are experts who know a lot about the application process, whereas I am a twenty-five-year-old who applied to law school once. Mostly, I’m going to tell you things I wish I had figured out sooner. Every applicant is unique, and my experiences and advice might not resonate with you. Then again, maybe they will, so here goes:
1. Take the LSAT early, if you can.
When I was a senior in college I decided to take the LSAT while in “school mode” rather than put it off until I had gotten out of the habit of studying. The first six weeks of senior year were about as miserable as you would expect, with practice tests crammed between reading assignments and thesis preparation. But then it was over! Three years later, I applied to law school with the score I got as a Haverford student. Based on my conversations with friends who took the LSAT later, I really think my way was more humane. Trust me, current students: when you are working full-time, commuting, cooking, and trying to maintain a social life with friends who live more than a quarter-mile away from you, you will not feel like devoting your Saturdays to logic games.
If you’re reasonably confident you want to go to law school, but you plan on taking time off after college (which I definitely recommend), just take the LSAT as soon as possible. The scores last five years. If you take the test a year or two before you actually apply to law school, the application process will be much less stressful.
2. The dreaded personal statement: draft, draft again.
The Pre-Law website tells you to write several drafts of your personal essay. I found I had to write several versions, on totally different topics, and then write multiple drafts of the chosen version. Although this might seem like hair-splitting, to me, it’s a meaningful distinction. It’s not easy to find a topic you can use to showcase your intelligence, wit, compassion, ambition, integrity, wisdom-beyond-your-years, and oh yeah, down-to-earth humility (isn’t the personal statement fun?). I know I stumbled my way through three or four terrible essays on different subjects before I generated one that was almost ok, which I then edited beyond recognition. Don’t marry a topic before actually drafting an essay or two.
3. Read the applications first.
Before you start your applications in earnest, do yourself a favor: invest half an hour to skim the applications on LSAC. Some schools hide mini-essay questions behind innocuous titles like “Applicant Background,” or “Activities and Interests.” If you know they’re coming, you will be more likely to craft thoughtful, thorough responses, instead of resentfully pounding out a few sentences while wishing you could just watch Netflix already.
4. Make sure you know why you are going to law school. Then come up with your elevator pitch for the 1,587 people who will ask you to defend your choice.
You will probably find yourself discussing your law school plans with a lot of people. Once your friends and colleagues know you’re applying to law school, they’ll introduce you to others with that fun fact. Soon, you will find yourself at a party, or a work event, holding a drink and explaining to some guy named Mark why you want to study law. Mark might not like lawyers. Or, Mark might be fascinated by every detail of your career plans. Mark might be a lawyer, hate his job, and try to convince you to change your path. Mark might be really obnoxious. But with any luck, you can make Mark go away by telling him in a few short, confident sentences about your goals, then changing the subject to sports.
Although I feel good about my decision to go to law school, I still struggle sometimes with my “elevator pitch.” If someone asks me why I want to go to law school, and I’ve been stressing for days about the FAFSA, I might have some trouble coming up with a convincing answer right away. Then that makes me think I’m not committed enough, and maybe the questioner is onto something (because of course, when you’re in this kind of mood, every innocent question feels like an attack on your life choices). I think a lot of us question our major decisions as we’re making them – as part of the process of making them. It doesn’t mean we’re making mistakes. It just means we’re thinking. But I know that on the days when I can tell someone confidently why I want to study law, I leave the conversation even more confident about my decision. Sometimes you have to provide your own positive reinforcement. Which brings me to my final tip…
5. Keep your balance and remember your motivation.
We apply to law school because, hopefully, we want to study law and be lawyers. Keeping that in mind should help stop the application process from temporarily ruining your life. If certain books or movies inspire you, turn to them when you’re ready to erase every word you’ve ever written because your personal statement is garbage. (I watched Legally Blonde the night before taking the LSAT. Best decision ever.) If certain people have always supported you, call them when somebody makes you second-guess yourself. Do something positive and affirming to balance the stress of applying, and to keep it in perspective. The applications are a pain, but they’ll get you where you need to be.
At least, that’s what I hear. I need to go work on my FAFSA… good luck!