Dreaming of a spot at Georgetown Law? Here’s all you need to know [Show Summary]
It’s hard to get a law education any closer to the heartbeat of policy and legal action than at Washington D.C.’s Georgetown Law School, labeled by the Washington Post as “the country’s most popular law school.” Andrew Cornblatt, the Dean of Admissions explains exactly what it takes to get accepted to this top-ranked and highly competitive program.
Interview with Andrew Cornblatt, Dean of Admissions at Georgetown Law [Show Notes]
Thanks for joining me for the 489th episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Are you applying to law school this cycle? Are you planning ahead to apply to law school next year or perhaps later? Are you competitive at your target programs? Accepted’s Law School Admissions Quiz can give you a quick reality check. Just go to accepted.com/law-quiz, complete the quiz, and you’ll not only get an assessment but also tips on how to improve your chances of acceptance. Plus it’s all free.
For today’s interview, I’m delighted to have Andrew Cornblatt, Metta and Keith Krach Dean of Admissions and Associate Vice President of Graduate Admissions and Enrollment at Georgetown Law. A graduate of Harvard University and Boston College School of Law, Dean Cornblatt has been a member of the Georgetown community since 1980. He became Dean of Admissions at Georgetown Law in 1991 and served as Dean of Admissions at the Georgetown Public Policy Institute, now the McCourt School of Public Policy from 2002 to 2016. It’s hard to find someone with more experience in admissions.
Can you give an overview of the more distinctive elements of the Georgetown Law School JD program? [2:36]
I think the two things that are most unique about Georgetown are its size and its location. Georgetown Law is a large law school. I think it’s among the largest in the United States, with 575 entering students. Even though it’s a big law school, we work very hard to make it a big law school with a small law school feel. These are small classes and the campus is beautiful. It’s like a small college with lots of different buildings. We pay particular attention to individual students and their needs. We have big programs, but we have individual people who deserve individual attention and that’s what we focus on.
As far as location goes, we’re right at the heart of Washington D.C. in the center of law in the USA. This is where everything gets made, interpreted, enforced, and implemented. That all happens within a 10-block radius of where I’m sitting right now in my office. When you have that as a resource, and that’s available to you, it enhances the electricity of what you’re studying. It’s hands-on stuff, but it allows Georgetown to be at the crossroads of theory and practice.
When I went to law school all those years ago, and when people go to law school now, so much of it is about the theory of law and what happened way back then and cases from the 1800s. All of that’s important. I’m not saying it isn’t. But this generation of law students is hands-on. They watch it happen on video. They stay attuned to every development every 10th of a second through social media and all of the alerts they get. This is a place that’s right at the center of all of that. That’s part of our course structure too. The plus side of being at a big law school is you have that many more courses from which to choose. But if you want to know where the heart is beating, it’s right outside my window. I think that’s what excites students when they come here.
What are some of the programs that are unique to Georgetown Law because of its location? [5:39]
Let me give you two, even though there are probably 200.
So first, all law schools have clinical programs. It’s a sort of supervised practice where you represent clients. All the clinics are different. Georgetown has the most in the country. This is an expensive education, but we are committed to doing this. You will take your first-year classes, then during the second or third year, mostly in the third year, you’ll be a member of a clinic, which will be for course credit. You could be representing juveniles, tenants, immigrants, or anyone else. You could be prosecuting cases. There are a million different things. Anybody listening here can find all of those on the web. But being in Washington allows you to have that type of commitment as well as the resources, judges, and access to courts that are nearby.
Second, which is completely unique to Georgetown, is our Supreme Court Institute. The Supreme Court Institute is a program that was started maybe 20 years ago where all the Supreme Court cases going before the court are practiced here at Georgetown. When I started, we were at 85%, but now I think we’re at 99%.
I’ll give you a current example. As many of your listeners know, there’s a very important Supreme Court case, mixing the University of North Carolina and Harvard about the use of affirmative action. That case is about to be argued in front of the Supreme Court at the end of October or early November. In the middle of October, I have a rare ticket to this. I will be going down in our replica of the Supreme Court, right here on campus, and there will be a limited number of us that we will sit in as the attorneys for one side. You can only do one side. They sort of try their case. Then we’ll have judges, we’ll play the role of justices. It’s very informative. You get to hear this stuff and how they get questioned. A Supreme Court Institute isn’t going to happen somewhere else. It’s going to happen in D.C. That’s sort of a DC-ish kind of thing. Add to that job and internship opportunities and that’s where D.C. really kicks in as part of the law student’s experience.
Can you touch on what Curriculum A and Curriculum B are, which are offered to first-year students? [8:41]
In almost every law school, during the first year, you take what the school tells you to take. It’s not that different from what I took when I was a first-year student. At Georgetown, you have a choice of whether you want to be in Curriculum A or Curriculum B. We have five sections of roughly 90 to 100 students per section. Four of the sections are Curriculum A and one of the sections is Curriculum B. This is shorthand for all of this, but the main difference is Curriculum B gets at more of the why and not only the what. If you are in Curriculum A, you’re going to be studying cases and learning through the case method. You do that with Curriculum B as well, but you’ll also be learning what was going on in the country at that time. It’s a more “liberal artsy,” if you will, approach to this. It’s geared toward students who learn best this way and really want to know the context.
You’ll get some of that in Curriculum A. You’ll get some of that at every law school. But it’s where the emphasis is. Curriculum B is designed for more students. In curriculum B, we combine classes. It’s more sort of horizontal learning rather than just vertical, encompassing other disciplines. It’s interdisciplinary. It’s not dramatically different. No, one’s getting out of the first year of law school at Georgetown without learning the basics. But if you do Curriculum B, you’ll get more context that way.
Are the Bar passage rates the same for Curriculum A and B? [10:53]
Yes. And the employment rate is the same as well as success in the second and third year. It wouldn’t last as long as it’s lasted if that weren’t the case.
What was Georgetown’s experience this past cycle following the stratospheric surge of the 2020-2021 cycle, which brought a 41% increase in applications? What do you anticipate for the upcoming cycle? [11:47]
The 2020-2021 cycle was exhausting. It was like this rocket ship we all got on, and all of a sudden we’re going way up and we’re not coming down and then all of a sudden we landed and realized we were up 41%. This past year, we were down 19%. So over the two years, that put us up about 13%.
There’s some gravity here. If you think back on the entering class of 2021, we had a presidential race, and we had all sorts of legal matters. The attention on law was so dramatic and vivid and all-encompassing. I have to say, for the most part in a positive way, that lawyers and judges were supplying the guardrails to all of this. Add that to COVID, and people wanted to look toward the future. I think that’s what caused this. The quality of our applicants went way up and stayed up, which is terrific.
Looking at the upcoming cycle, the short answer is I don’t know. Before the surge, we were 10,000 applicants at Georgetown. During the surge, we were at 14,100. Last year, we were 11,300. If I had to bet this year, we’ll be about 10,500. I think it’ll drop a little. I don’t know that for sure, but I think it will. I’m excited to see what happens next. I think it’s still going to be very difficult to get into places. I can only speak for Georgetown, but it won’t be at the 14,000 level. I’m almost sure. I don’t think anyone will ever see that again.
Georgetown accepts the LSAT, the GRE or the GMAT. Approximately what percentage of applicants are applying with the different tests? [14:53]
Roughly 92% are applying with the LSAT. I would say roughly 7% are applying with the GRE. And 1% are applying with the GMAT. It’s still very much tilted towards the LSAT, which is fine. I tell applicants all the time to decide which one shows them off the best, take some sample tests, and see how it feels. If they do well, that’s the one they should take. We were one of the first schools that were allowed to use the GRE, and at the moment, it felt like an earthquake, but now it’s just a little tremor. Everyone sort of settled down and realized we can live with this.
Are most of the students who are taking the GRE or the GMAT applying to dual degree programs? [15:57]
I wouldn’t say most, I would say a lot. Certainly more than the LSAT. With introducing the GMAT and GRE, we were anxious to get more non-traditional applicants or older applicants. Those applicants for whom the LSAT was sort of Mount Everest to climb, but they really would like to do law. It’s worked out well for us.
Are you finding that these tools are equally predictive of success in law school? [16:38]
Yes, for sure.
If the ABA were to decide not to require a test, which they’re obviously considering at this point, would you like to see Georgetown retain a test requirement, issue waivers, or perhaps go entirely test-optional? [16:44]
I think the ABA will allow us to do it. I think it’ll go school by school. I don’t know for sure because I need to talk to the Dean and alums and all the other stakeholders in this. If I had to bet today, I would bet we would be test-optional. I think we will be working on finding the right language to say, “Look, if you are somebody for whom the LSAT can show us what it is that you’re able to do, by all means, supply your LSAT. If you are someone who feels as though this does not show you as well, or you don’t have the tools or resources to be able to prepare as well as you’d like, but you have other things to show, then it will be optional.”
We’re working through this right now. This is a tough one. People have very different views on this. This is the first time there’s been any crack in the foundation of the ABA, ever. I think this comes on the heels of undergrads being test-optional in some schools.
In the end, I think the ABA is going to say each school can decide what they want to do. I’m not saying Georgetown is automatically going to be test-optional. I don’t know that. But right now, if I had to lean one way, that’s the way I’d lean.
How can one write a diversity statement if one comes from a well-represented group in the applicant pool? [19:25]
Well, first of all, no one has to do it. It’s not required. We encourage people to share with us what they want to. It’s part of the overall mindset we have, and that is we want to know everything about you. I don’t want to just know your GPA and your LSAT. I want to know everything about you. Diversity comes in all different shapes and sizes. Of course, there’s ethnicity, and we want to know about that for sure if the applicant wants to write about that. But there are other aspects about applicants that make them different. People aren’t cookie-cutter anymore. That just doesn’t exist. What is it about you that’s a little different that you want to talk about? It may be that you covered that in your personal statement. It may be that a recommender is going to cover it and that you really don’t have much to say.
No one, and I can’t say this clearly enough, no one is penalized for not submitting a diversity statement. It never counts against anybody. You’re right, a lot of people have gone through life, and there’s just nothing of that variety to share with us in that respect. Great. That’s fine. We’ll look at all the other aspects of it. The idea of encouraging this is to encourage the uniqueness of the individual. What is there about you? That’s what we want to know.
Do you have a recommendation for how long the diversity statement should be or do you like to just leave it open? [22:42]
Both. I like to leave it open. And my recommendation would be no more than two pages, but generally, one page could do it. Most diversity statements are one page, but again, it’s so tied with the other parts of the application that you are submitting. It’s hard to give one standard answer to that. But I would say, in general, no more than two pages.
I just had one of these info sessions yesterday, and what I say to students is, “You can submit whatever you want. You’re paying a lot of money to apply. Do it any way you want. But my suggestion is to send us the gold. Send us the really important stuff.”
I’m sure there are lots of other aspects about you, but when somebody is reading 11,000, it can come across as just a little bit lazy when your application is basically everything about you and I have to sort out what I want out of it. Part of the sorting out is on the applicants. If it’s not so important, you run the risk of diluting what will be the most important piece. That’s the last thing you want to do.
Do you like to know why students want to go to Georgetown or why they want to go into law? [24:33]
Those are two different questions.
Let’s do the Georgetown thing first. Plenty of schools ask why their school specifically. We do not ask it because if we did, everybody would answer it because we asked it. I say this to applicants all the time, but if an applicant would like to share with us why they chose Georgetown and why it’s the place they want to go, that wouldn’t be the worst idea. It’s not required. But when I’m reading a file, if some applicant is making a convincing case and has thought about this and thought about the connection to Georgetown, will that have a little bit of a plus? You bet. But you don’t have to do it. It’s not required. But if you do, and it’s well thought out, it wouldn’t be the worst idea.
On why law, our essay is wide open. You can write about whatever you want. Generally, 80% of these essays get to that. The whole thing may not be about that, but they get to that. I think that’s a nice idea and something I’d want to know. But I’d rather not say it’s a must. If there’s something we need applicants to let us know, we ask. If we didn’t ask, we don’t need to know. It doesn’t mean we wouldn’t like to know, but it just means we don’t need to know.
For the personal statement, the thing’s got to be about you. The subject’s wide open. If you want to talk about your grandfather or your son or a trip or an internship or the marching band or the lead you had in the musical, it’s all great if that’s important to you. Bring it on. But I better be learning about you. Not learning about your grandfather, not learning about Mount Kilimanjaro and not learning about the tuba section. None of those things are applying to law school. You are. So what I say to people all the time is when you’re done with your first draft, give it to somebody who knows you well, have them read it, and ask them this question: “If you’d never met me before, do you know me a little better now?” If the answer to that is yes, you’re good. If the answer is no, then you’re not so good. Go back and do it again.
Is full-time work experience nice to have or really important to the admissions committee at Georgetown? [27:31]
Nice to have. It depends on what you’re doing. It happens, but what I really don’t want to happen is somebody taking a job or internship they really don’t want because they think it’ll help them get into law school. This may be the parent in me, but you need to do what you are happiest doing. Do I think that law students are more successful if they’ve been out in the world for one, two, or three years? Yeah, I do. But that doesn’t go for all law students. All things being equal, if you want to take some time off, do it. If you’re ready to go to law school, then don’t do it.
I would strongly urge, if you’re in between, to take some time off. A year is fine, but we want students who want to be here. We want students who are ready for law school. It’s not a requirement, for goodness sake, but we find that if you’ve taken a little bit of time off – you’ve paid rent, you’ve been out in the world, you’ve thought about this – that’s the better way to do it.
It’s not the only way to do it for everybody. We have plenty of successful, lovely, highly-qualified applicants who come straight out of college, but that’s been a big change. When I began all those years ago, I would say 25% of our entering class had taken a year or more off and 75% was coming right out of college. In 2022, those numbers are almost exactly reversed. Almost exactly 25% are right out of college and 75% are out in the work world.
Would you prefer applicants who had some exposure to law either by working in a law office or a legal clinic? [30:05]
Yes. For some people, sure. I know this is wordplay, but again, I would differentiate between preferring. Sure, all things being equal, it’s better to have exposure than not, but that’s a very different statement than saying it will cost you or hurt you if you don’t have it. I don’t feel that way at all. If you’re a student and you’re 21 or 22 and you’re going to get a chance to travel the world, that ain’t coming around every year. Is that a great experience to do? Sure. There are ways of talking about this. There are ways of making you more ready for school. It depends on the individual. But for that answer, go travel the world. For the person who maybe has two equally exciting opportunities come up and one is in law, then the tie goes to law. But I would not force that into my life if something else were more appealing at this stage. Go do that and when you’re ready, come apply, and we’ll be happy to take a look at you.
You could just ask for a test score and GPA, if that was the only thing you were considering, but clearly, Georgetown Law considers other factors. What are you hoping to see in other elements of the application? [31:37]
It’s not what I’m hoping to see, it’s who I’m hoping to see. I know I keep coming back to this, but I do because it’s so true, and it’s me getting to know you. Part of getting to know you is how you will fit into this community. Are you ready for this? Do you really want to do this? Have you thought about this? All of that plays into this. I’ve done this enough so that when I read all of these aspects to every applicant, I get a sense of things. Somebody asked me the other day if we use algorithms. I said, “The only algorithms I use are my fingertips.” I swear to goodness, that’s it. There are no formulas in this. As you said, if all I cared about was GPA and LSAT, I could take six months off. I’m not even sure you’d need a person to do that, you have machines that can do that.
It’s not so much what I’m looking to see as I’m trying to get an x-ray of you. Who you are, what makes you tick, and how are you going to fit in here. There’s one other element to our process that Georgetown does and that is the interview. Interviews matter to us. It’s all part of the same theme you’ve heard me talk about ad nauseam here. We have a traditional alumni interview program where we have alums in Providence, Buffalo, San Diego, and Santa Fe.
It used to be in person if you lived in that area, but with Zoom, now everybody lives in the same area. We’ve sifted through the alums and an alum gets to meet our applicants. A lot of law schools do that. Almost all undergraduate schools do that.
What we do is the person who wants to know most about you is me. The one you’re talking to right now, me. So at Georgetown, over the last eight years or so, we have grown and grown to where I’m meeting groups of students. I meet applicants in groups. We do group interviews and by we, I mean me. I’ll meet six or seven people at a time on Zoom and spend an hour with them. I’m not going to say any more than that, but we spend an hour with them.
We’ve built it up now so that last year I met almost 4,000 applicants, myself on screens like this. It is enormously helpful to me. It helps with the x-ray. I can really get to know you. It’s wonderful. Because of Zoom, I’ve been able to travel the world and not leave my office. It’s been grand. I’m talking to people in 50 states. Now, we should be clear on this. Not everybody I interview gets in. But I will tell you that last year I met 90% of the entering class myself in sessions like this.
Are Georgetown interviews by invitation only? [35:19]
Yes. We’ll find you.
But you don’t have to interview to be admitted? [35:23]
That’s correct. People get in without being interviewed but there’s a certain process that goes through when I read a file that first time, and I say to myself, “I’d like to meet her. I’d like to meet him.” When we do, we invite them to interview. I’m doing this for three or four hours a day for five months straight. This stuff matters. Nobody in their right mind does this unless it has an impact on the admissions process.
Who are you? Let me get to know you. Will you collaborate? Can you work together? That’s why I love doing groups. Individuals are interesting, but the group stuff enables me to watch people work together. It’s something I just have a sense of now since I’ve done so many of these. It’s a fun part of the process. Our first one starts next week.
How do you view applications from students who have had an academic infraction or perhaps even a criminal record? [36:37]
It all depends on the individual situation. If it’s academic misconduct or an honor code violation, that’s a tough one. But for plenty of people, that happened 10 years ago. There are three legs to this stool: what was the violation, how do you talk about it, and how does your school talk about it? I’m not talking about you getting caught smoking dope on campus or parking where you shouldn’t have parked. Who cares?
But there are some more serious situations, and if that’s you, you’ve got to go talk to somebody at your undergraduate institution who will vouch for you and will give context and say that it’s not who you are anymore. Don’t think we won’t pick up on it. We pick up on everything. I want to hear what you have to say about it. I want to hear what somebody from your school has to say about it.
The same thing goes for criminal violations. Obviously, there are different degrees of this, and it’s not a good thing to have a record for goodness sake, but there are different aspects to this. It’s on the applicant to supply that context, obviously in the way that’s most favorable to the applicant, but that’s on her or him. That’s not on me.
I don’t want to hear excuses. Again, maybe that’s the parent in me. Where are you now? What steps have you taken? I want to hear from somebody besides you who can talk about this and can put it in context. It doesn’t wash it away. It’s part of who you are and what you’ve done, but there are a million parts of who you are and what you’ve done. This is one of them. It’s big, but if you can explain it away, it’s not an automatic, anything.
Does Georgetown Law consider update letters from applicants who have something significant to tell you after they submit their application before hearing back from you or from wait-listed applicants? [38:59]
Yes and yes, capital letters, exclamation points. You bet. Life changes. Stay in touch with us. I’ve got a terrific staff here and they’ll add it to your application. I’ll come back again and review it. Especially on the waitlist.
What is a common mistake you see applicants making during the application process? [39:37]
Not working hard enough at it. By that, I mean an essay that feels very cookie-cutter with no particular sense. I’ve taken this exam lots of times. I know the answers to this. If someone is not energetic in how they apply or they applied late or their essay is a little messy or it’s really long, I can tell in a heartbeat. That’s, I think, the biggest mistake.
Another common one, but not as fatal as the first one, is keeping arm’s length in the application process. No matter how many times I say it, I want to get to know you well. People are wired differently and you don’t have to tell me every aspect of your life if you’re not comfortable. But to keep me at arm’s length, just for this particular Admissions Dean, doesn’t work so well with me.
What I say to people all the time is the two key words that every applicant should try to be at Georgetown specifically are open and authentic. Be open and be authentic. If you’re those two things, that puts you and will put me in the right frame of mind. I’m trying to get to know you. If you won’t let me get to know you and you want to keep at arm’s length, I’m not saying you won’t get in, but I’m a little less likely to say this is someone we really want at Georgetown. Remember, every applicant about whom we say what I just said, “This is somebody we really want at Georgetown,” will get in. Full stop. That’s it. You get in.
I can’t take everybody I really want at Georgetown, but the ones who give it the extra effort, they were fabulous at the interview, their essay was wonderful, they come across as someone we would love having here, they’re going to get in. But you, the applicants, have to make that case. Have at it, I’m open. Numbers aren’t going to automatically qualify you or disqualify you.
I say to students all the time the way to think of this is that your GPA and LSAT, assuming you take the LSAT, set the height of the bar you have to jump over. I read all the other stuff about you, and depending on how high that bar is, that’s how good the other stuff has to be.
If you look at it that way, that’s exactly how we do it. Applicants should always remember that everybody gets to jump over the bar. There are no cutoffs. Everybody gets a shot. It’s harder if the bar’s higher up but everybody gets a shot and everybody has to jump. You don’t just get to walk around and not have to get up and over the bar. You need to persuade us too. We have too many great applicants at this law school for you just to rely on your numbers.
What would you have liked me to ask you? [43:13]
You did really well. You asked just about everything I would want you to ask me.
I think the last thing I would share is what hurts an applicant. I’d give you two words for that: laziness and arrogance. Don’t be either of those two things. You can study law somewhere else. I got too many applicants who are wonderful and fabulous and who are sitting on a waitlist or who couldn’t quite make it in five years ago they could have, but it’s different now. If you think you’re going to waltz right in, there’s no waltzing at this law school. Maybe you can waltz when you get in and celebrate with the waltz, but you’re not waltzing in. Don’t act like you are. So it’s that arrogance part. Laziness too. Those are the two things I’d stay away from. That’s what can hurt you.
Where can listeners learn more about Georgetown Law? [44:51]
The one thing we didn’t cover, just one quick thing, is when to apply. That’s an element of this, and it plays a role in everything. We have rolling admissions. Most law schools do. It’s different than undergrad. Here at Georgetown, it’s rolling. That means the sooner you apply, the better your chances. People apply, applications get completed, maybe I interview or whatever, and we admit people. I’ll start admitting people in the middle of October.
Think of it as a party. Cornblatt’s throwing a party and those Cornblatt parties are so great, you’d love to come. So if you ask for your invitation and the room is emptier, you are more likely to get a “yes” than as the room gets fuller and fuller and fuller. The first knock on the door to come to my party is October and November. The second knock on my door when it gets so hard is February.
While the recommended deadline may be March 1, I would recommend for all students, if they can, let it be Thanksgiving. Plenty of people apply in January, December, and February. If you’re listening to this and if you’re ready to go, don’t wait around. Seats get filled up.
The last thing I would say is there are two different ways to apply to Georgetown Law School, early decision and regular decision. Regular decision is the typical way to apply and is 85% of our pool.
But there are 10% to 15% for whom Georgetown is their first choice. If Dean Andy sends an email that begins with that delicious word, congratulations, they are in. I can hear them shrieking with joy from my house here in D.C. If that’s what you want, this is where you want to apply early decision. Does it help your chances? A little bit.
I’m sure you’ve had this question a million times, but let me just speak for Georgetown. Early decision admits and regular decision admits are treated exactly the same way for financial aid. My honesty is on the line. I promise you, it won’t matter in terms of the financial aid award you get, whether you’re early or regular. I just wanted to add those two things.
To those of you who are listening to this, I look forward to reading your applications and hopefully welcoming you to law school 12 months from now. Who knows? Thanks so much for having me, Linda.
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