If your law school’s application offers optional or extra opportunities for submitting supplementary materials, you are wise to take advantage of them and give the admissions committee more information about you, more reasons to admit you. When writing these supplemental materials, choose your topics carefully and write an essay that will make the admissions committee glad they have more to read, NOT one that makes them wish they had less.
Addendums for law school applications
Addendums are a perfect place to address any weaknesses in your application, i.e. low grades, mediocre LSAT scores, or an off-year where everything just seemed to fall apart. Remember that you do not want to offer excuses – only explanations and context. I had one applicant who told me she went to take her LSAT, misjudged how long it would take her to arrive at the test center, and thus arrived frazzled and hungry because she didn’t have time to eat breakfast. She asked me what I thought of her explaining these circumstances to the admissions committee. My answer? I told her I thought they would think she should have been better organized and brought a snack.
Use this space to explain that you have a history of poor standardized test taking (if you do), that your mother was seriously ill (if she was), or that you had a sudden and drastic life changing circumstance that required you to take on full-time employment (if you did). Do not supply a fluffy excuse for your shortcomings, or worse, lie about why you had a horrible semester or year.
Stick to the facts
Admissions committees are filled with people who understand family crises, debilitating illness, and circumstances that are beyond one’s control. They are not particularly sympathetic to immaturity, irresponsibility, or the expectation that too much partying will be accepted as a reasonable excuse for failing your political science course. If you have a valid and convincing story to tell, use this space to tell it. Remember that the best approach is a “just the facts” kind of tone, free of an appeal for pity or sympathy. You want them to know what happened, not to feel sorry for you.
Optional essays in law school
Go the extra mile
Many law schools are following the business school model of offering an optional essay for interested applicants. You want to be one of those interested applicants. Yes, it is more work. Yes, it is another thing to squeeze into an already packed schedule, but hey – you’re going to be a law student. Get used to it! Your goal is to rise above the crowd, to surge to the top of the applicant pool. You need to convince the adcom you have more to say and do not shy away from challenges. You are the creme de la creme.
What should I write?
If you are lucky you have lots of possible things to discuss. Your experience working for Habitat for Humanity? What it was like to have a hitless season in college baseball, only to score an out of the park home run in the playoff game? Your family’s trip to Costa Rica and how it broadened your horizons? Some schools will give you a list of suggested topics, but many will simply say, “Is there anything else you would like the admissions committee to know about that is not included elsewhere in your application?” Use this opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills, your determination to rise to the challenge, and to give them another insight into who you are outside of the numbers.
Extra letters of recommendation
Should I send more?
If you choose your recommenders wisely, the standard two, or sometimes three, letters of recommendation will usually be sufficient. Don’t send more than the school asks for. They have many applications to read, and you don’t want to annoy them by not following directions. There is one exception to this rule: If you are waitlisted at a school that you very much want to attend, you can attempt to sway the committee to move you onto the accepted roster by sending another letter of recommendation.
How to go about it
You will want to write a follow up letter (see below) where you will state that another letter of recommendation is coming. Choose this recommender well, and make sure you tell them exactly what you would like them to say. This letter should not only emphasize your strengths, but also should describe how you have overcome any past weaknesses, especially those that you feel contributed to landing you on the waitlist. But the most important qualification of all is that your recommender be someone who doesn’t necessarily wear the biggest wig, but who does know you best and will write a glowing recommendation. And if they are an alumnus of the school to which you are applying, all the better.
Law school waitlist letters
The dreaded “maybe”
After months of uncertainty and waiting for a yes or a no answer to your request for admission, you are greeted with a wishy-washy “maybe.” While this is obviously not as good as a warm welcoming “YES!” it beats the heck out of a flat out “NO.” So let the campaign begin. If you want to be admitted to the school, you need to let the committee know that this isn’t simply one of the many schools to which you applied, but your number one choice.
Demonstrate your enthusiasm!
Everyone wants to be wanted, and admissions committees are no exception. If they believe that you are completely dedicated to their school, and that no other law school will do, you have already moved ahead of 90% of the competition. How do you convince them that what you say is true? First, you write a swift but thorough response to notification that you’ve been placed on the waitlist. In this letter, you tell them why you are interested in their school, what you plan to bring to the party, and/or anything that has changed since your original application. Demonstrate you are interested, have done your homework, and that nothing is more important to you than an acceptance from their school.
Videos, photographs, and any off-beat submissions
In general, all of these extras belong in your circular file. So before you mail off that life-size poster of yourself wearing Big University’s sweatshirt, remember that no matter how clever or amusing your submission might be, you are applying to law school, not the circus or Survivor. Treat your application seriously, and you will be seriously considered.
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• The Law School Admissions Guide: 8 Tips for Success, a free guide
• Recipe for Disaster: Mistakes to Avoid When Applying to Law School
• 3 Musts for Your Law School Application Resume