Law School Admission Series – School-specific Admissions Tips

Each law school has its own preferences when it comes to admissions. The same applicant may be viewed and valued very differently by two otherwise very similar and comparable schools. The following is a brief summary of what my personal impressions are regarding the preferences in admission policies at T14 schools, after combining my own experiences with accounts from other applicants.


The concensus is that every applicant, even a 180/4.0 from an Ivy, is a crapshoot at Yale Law School. It is simply too unpredictable. You would have to find the cure for cancer or become Mother Teresa Jr. to guarantee an admission.

If there has to be some regular pattern, then it is that those who are admitted tend to fall into at least one of two categories: they either have extremely high numbers, or write extremely well, and, as is the case with most admitted students, both. But such people abound in the pool of Yale applicants, and only a small percentage of these people are admitted.

Just about any other law school allows you to submit an essay on an arbitrary topic and sets a 2-3 page limit – a reasonable restriction that translates to about 1000 words. Yale asks you for a 250-word essay as the primary personal statement. This not only makes it impossible for you to reuse your essay prepared for other schools, but is also a highly challenging task. Effectively marketing oneself in only 250 words requires a mastery of the English language no less than that of Lincoln, and even he went 22 words over that limit in his Gettysburg Address.

I’ve read a few essays from people who got into Yale Law. One wrote about the GPS unit in her car, and another wrote about his reflections (pun intended) over a puddle of water. They are very interesting to read, somewhat spiritual and not at all like the typical “look at me, i am so great” essay.

In short, if you have to try your chances at Yale, write well, especially that 250-word essay.


Harvard Law is both easy and hard to get into.

Harvard is very easy to get into if you are from a top undergraduate intitution, have a 3.8+ GPA in a real major and score a 174+ on the LSAT. If you fall into this category, then don’t waste your time on writing your admission essays or going after profs for recommendation letters. All you have to do to get into Harvard is to file your application on time. Here “top” undergraduate intitutions include the ivies, elite liberal arts (AWS), elite private non-ivies (From Hopkins/Emory and up) and very few publics (UM, UT, Berkeley, UNC and UVA).

Harvard gets slightly harder to get into if you fit all of the above but the GPA rquirement. People with 3.7+ GPA from one of the top schools above generally get in. Sometimes people with 176+ LSAT and a less than ideal GPA get in as well.

Getting into Harvard Law becomes an uphill battle if you fit the following profile: 171 (+/- 3 points) LSAT and 3.9 (+/- .1) GPA from an average (read: big-state-u) UG.

For most people, anything less than 168/3.8 is next to impossible to get into Harvard, barring the few who enjoy affirmative action and/or legacy status.

Conclusion: Compared to Yale and Stanford, the admissions game at Harvard Law is played very conservatively. Their adcomm appears highly risk-averse. LSAT, GPA and UG prestige are by far the three most important factors in their decision making process.


Stanford is another odd ball in the admissions game. Like Yale, it doesn’t admit people by the numbers only and rejects plenty people with 175+/3.8+ (almost auto-admit for Harvard), so again, just about anyone is a crapshoot at Stanford. However, while Yale’s emphasis seems to be on personality and writing skills, Stanford seems to like those with an unusual story to tell (Harvard couldn’t care less about this), those with graduate degrees from the most competitive programs (such as Stanford EE), and those with a strong view that’s considered unorthodox by most.

So if you have the stats for Stanford, one way to construct your application is to write about your homosexuality and fervishly support gay marriages, assuming you are indeed gay. As one xoxo poster once lamented: Stanford Law loves gays.

* * *

The rest of the T-14 pretty much work by the numbers, with a few exceptions as noted as follows.

Yield protects (*) by deferring people. To avoid yield-protection, remember to write that “Why Penn” optional essay. Don’t be deceived — it really isn’t optional. This essay is almost trivial to write — most common reasons to attend Penn Law as mentioned by applicants are: 1. I heart Wharton and 2. I heart Ivy. Too bad neither has anything to do with Penn Law itself but the adcomm there seems easily satisfied with such answers, so make sure you write a few lines about how you heart ivies and Wharton.

Also of note: Penn’s U.S. News ranking of #7 is not an accurate reflection of its position in the pecking order of law schools. It is known to be a heavy manipulator of data (acceptance rate, employment rate, etc) to artificially boost its ranking. It’s a fair game they are playing, so just don’t be misled.

Strong emphasis on personality matches and less on sheer numbers, so make sure you spend time polishing those essays. Yield protects by waitlisting people.

Berkeley (Boalt Hall)
Boalt has gathered a reputation of disliking people with high LSAT scores. Whether Boalt actually prefers 168s over 174s is probably a myth that can never be proved or disproved, but it’s almost certain that Boalt places an unusually strong emphasis on GPA and the rigor of undergraduate education, much more so than any other T14 schools. So if you are a big splitter with a low LSAT and high GPA, throw an application to Boalt and see what happens.

Somehow Northwestern Law wants to duplicate the success of Kellogg, but so far hasn’t succeeded. Among the T14 schools it has the lowest reputation score and despite its #10 spot on the U.S. News, really isn’t considered a top10 school by many in the profession. Northwestern is known to be a manipulator of ranking data as well as seen in the sudden jump of the LSAT/GPA median in just one year.

One area Northwestern Law really shines (and not reflected in the U.S. News data) is the prior work experience of its students. Running under a b-school model, Northwester Law encourages applications from those with 2 years or more work experience. So if you have been out of school for a while and worked full-time, Northwestern might be your best fit.

Georgetown, or GULC (Georgetown University Law Center), is known to be a “huge LSAT whore” (quoting an online poster), almost the exact opposite of Boalt. So if you are a big splitter with a high LSAT but low GPA, give GULC a try.

I know I am leaving out Virginia, Duke, Chicago, Columbia and NYU. I don’t know enough about the admissions practice at these schools to make a comment, but as mentioned above, they all more or less play the numbers game, with Chicago least so and NYU/Duke perhaps most so.

* * *

(*) Yield Protection is when the school would like to admit a strong applicant but thinks this person will get into higher ranked schools and is therefore unlikely to accept an offer of admission from this school if admitted. In this case, some admission officers will ask the candidate to submit an extra essay, come in for an interview, or simply defer/waitlist the candidate’s application to gauge interest. If no subsequent actions are taken by the candidate, then the school assumes that he/she indeed does not have a genuine interest in attending and will reject/waitlist this person despite his/her strong credentials.

One may ask why would schools yield protect at all if the candidate in question qualifies for admission. The answer lies in the annual U.S. News ranking of law schools. Yield, the percentage of admitted students who choose to enroll, is one of the ranking factors and supposedly measures the reputation of the schools in the eyes of law school applicants. A low yield rate at a school means most of its admitted students turn down offers in order to attend other schools. The lowest yield rate in the top 14 is, unsurprisingly, Georgetown and the highest is Yale.

Often schools waitlist borderline candidates, and this is not to be confused with yield protection waitlists. How to tell the difference? First off, none of Yale, Harvard and Stanford employ the tactics of yield protection. They don’t need to. If you are waitlisted at other schools, compare your numbers to the published middle 50% LSAT/GPA range of the school. If both of your LSAT and GPA are above it’s 75th percentile, then there’s a good chance your waitlist decision is a yield-protect.

I just realized that I left out Cornell in my earlier post. Oh the fun in dealing with Cornell. How can I have left that one out? So here it is…

At the end of the admission season, I came away with a feeling that Cornell is the most insecure and least confident school among t14. True, it is the bottom ranking school among all ivies with a law division, but nothing warrants the self-consciousness exhibited by Cornell’s admissions office.

In almost every single piece of correspondence I receive from Cornell, from admission offer to scholarship letter, invariably asks people to withdraw from Cornell as early as possible if they have made up their mind to go to other schools. If this behavior doesn’t strike you as odd, just think when is the last time you read an admission letter that expects itself to be turned down?

An admissions office that doesn’t feel confident about itself naturally employs the yield-procetion tactics in the admission game. Cornell is perhaps the most protective of all schools I have dealt with. It asks the “Why Cornell” question in the main section of the application form, and requires an interview for many applicants with high numbers. Unfortunately, the interviews were above and beyond their original purpose of gauging interest–they almost also serve as a deterrent against actually attending Cornell. Bratcat went through such a telephone interview and rated the experience as awful, with the interviewer, someone on the regular Cornell admissions staff, being especially rude. Who would want to attend such a school?

Conclusion: can you say “Cornell is my number 1 choice because… “? I am sure they will love to hear this and the reasoning behind. They need assurance, so give them some.

Comments (17)

  1. mengzhe

    hi,there.i was introduced here several months ago.it’s my second time here. the website is simple but creative (I’m no expert in web design, i just like it)really interesting.
    please give my best wishes to your daughter and your wife 🙂
    besides, I may attend middlebury college(vermonet) this fall!

  2. littlenorth

    Welcome back. 🙂 Middlebury is an awesome LAC. Congrats and best of luck!

  3. Sky

    thanks for your sharing.

  4. CJ

    I’ve been following your posts and enjoy your writing a lot. Fluent, precise and above all, very authentic. Any tips to share? Thanks a lot!

  5. bratcat

    I have been wondering about the same thing for a while. Littlenorth is indeed a great writer in English.

  6. littlenorth

    CJ, I am glad you enjoyed my daily babbling. 🙂 I am unhappy with my writing in both Chinese and English, but since I started blogging, things seem to have changed ever so slightly for the better, thanks to the daily writing exercise, so perhaps you could try blogging as well. Not really a tip, but I hope this is helpful. Once you start you will see how much fun this is, and let me know when your blog is online so I can put a link on mine. Cheers.

    and bratcat, my wriTTTing, like Michigan, is already in rancid decline… 😉

  7. xiaoningning

    The LSAT of Duke is similar to Berkeley, sort of low. NYU is really a LSAT whore. For Yale, it is like you have to have kind of speicial experience or background. Where did you read the yale applicants’ essays? I would like to read some of them. Is that good essay helpful on Harvard? Or Harvard is sort of a number whore.

  8. littlenorth

    I read the Yale essays at xoxohth.com, an online discussion board for law applicants. They were posted back in late December or early January when the first Yale admissions started rolling out, but were soon deleted by the authors. I guess once they got over the initial joy they realized that posting these essays for the whole world to envy and scrutinize over might not have been a good idea. If I remember correctly both of these two particular Yale admittees ended up waitlisted by Harvard, so apparently those good essays didn’t catch Harvard’s eyes, and that probably means Harvard weren’t looking at all.

    And thanks for the update on Duke and NYU.

  9. xiaoningning

    Why always T14, not T15? Is UT really bad? Or UT cannot go national like other T14? At least from their admission data, UT is not friendly to international applicants.

  10. littlenorth

    I have no idea why it’s always T14 and not T15. The legend has it that since the inception of the US News Ranking, the top 14 schools have stayed the same despite occasional internal rearrangements. The same can be said for the top 15 (or 16), though, so I really don’t know why 14 is the cutoff — perhaps people think Georgetown should be in the first echelon and it’s almost always ranked at #14?

    UT is just about as national as any school in the T14 and has an added advantage of good placement in Texas, although it’s not only unfriendly to international students. I’ve heard plenty of complaints about UT’s inefficient staff and horribly unethical admission practices from its domestic applicants.

    Also, UCLA is just about as nationally recognized as any lower T14 schools, so don’t take the T-something too seriously. Personally I would happily go to UCLA/USC/Vandy and not look back at all.

  11. bratcat

    UT is not just unfriendly to international students. By law, UT must admit 80% of its students from the state of Texas. So if you are not a Texas resident, regardless of your nationality or race, you are at a severe disadvantage.

    UT Law can be disorganized. This year, there was the scandal of UT mistakenly sending admissions emails to everyone who applied to its LLM program.

    ~cough~..Umm.. Mr. Littlenorth happily going to USC or Vandy? 😉 I wonder what if someone holds you to that promise…

  12. xiaoningning

    the problem of UT law is the overall problem of Texas. so is every univ in tx. our new federal judge is from tx. :(( she is from baylor law. i knew some international guys got into UT law years ago. vandy cannot compete with even BU, BC in the great area of NYC, i heard it from vandy guys. but they are good in DC though. the employment rats of USC or UCLA are low. why?! their alumni are very strong in CA.

  13. xiaoningning

    Michigan: Strong emphasis on personality matches. So what kind of personality does Mich prefer? how about your personality? smart? open? aggressive? how do you focus on the personality to match with Mich?

  14. littlenorth

    i wouldn’t know. i am only repeating what i heard from talking with current mich students and the admission staff about the personality match theory. my own observation from talking to other darrows shows a few common characteristics: self-diminishing and modest, with a strong commitment to community, excellent citizenship and a clearly defined career goal. i remember one was a women’s rights advocate and another was an adamant environmentalist, both with impressive employment and service records to prove their dedication.

    re: vandy, it has a strong presence in the south. that’s good enough for many who want to stay in the south.

    re: USC and UCLA. CA is a tough market anyways. Berkeley doesn’t fare much better either.

  15. bratcat

    Where is your federal judge located, xiaoningning?

    If he is not in Texas, I am quite surprised that a Baylor grad will make it outside of the state.

  16. xiaoningning

    Priscilla R. Owen confirmed as federal appellate judge in May 25, 2005. not he, it is she. “Owen was a partner in the Houston office of Andrews & Kurth L.L.P. where she practiced commercial litigation for seventeen years. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Baylor University, and graduated in the top of her class from Baylor Law School in 1977, receiving a Juris Doctor degree, cum laude.” But the new mayor of LA is cool, he failed the CA bar four times.

  17. bratcat

    Vandy maybe better than BU for Texas, since Vandy is a southern school.

    I noticed that some federal judges are not from so-called T14 schools, especially in Texas. This is not surprising since the majority of Texas lawyers went to law school within the state.

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