UChicago Law students and a dean of admissions explain how to nail your interview and personal statement to land a spot at the elite law school

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First-year law school enrollment hardly budged this year despite the pandemic. New data shows that the number of new students at nearly 200 American Bar Association-approved schools fell by only 0.21% from the previous year.

The University of Chicago Law School saw the same trend: 188 1L students enrolled this year, only a slight dip from the 197 in the year before.

The school consistently ranks among the most prestigious graduate law programs in the world, with an acceptance rate of 18%. Unlike some of the other top 14 schools, UChicago Law has an especially small class size, at just over 600 full-time students. (Columbia, which shares its number-four US News ranking, has double the number.)

“It makes such a close community where you’re going to have meaningful engagement with your classmates and faculty,” said Ann Perry, associate dean of admissions. “You’re starting your legal network right there.”

The small class sizes also mean close faculty engagement. Professors’ offices are located in the main law library, making it easy for students to drop by for office hours.

Also central to UChicago Law is the emphasis it places on ideas — “the life of the mind,” as it calls it.

“As cheesy as it might sound, it really lives up to the reputation of being a place where ideas matter,” said Daniel Mozley, a first-year student at the school. “Some other schools can be more about, ‘this is what you need to pass the bar.'”

It’s midway through the application season — applications for this cycle opened September and the deadline is March 1 — but it’s not too late to apply, despite some drawbacks.

Here’s the advice that Perry, the associate dean of admissions, and three 1L students have for upping your chances of landing a spot at UChicago Law.

To early decision or not to early decision?

When it comes to the timing of applying to the program, Perry said it ultimately hinges on whether UChicago Law is your first choice or not, since early decision is a binding commitment.

All three first-year students that Insider spoke with applied in the regular decision cycle.

Alessandro Clark-Ansani briefly considered applying early through the school’s Chicago Law Scholars program, a special ED application exclusively for current students and alumni of UChicago undergrad, but wanted to open up the opportunity to attend another university. He sent his application over Thanksgiving break last year, as did Mozley, though they both recommend applying as early as possible, since admissions are on a rolling basis.

That said, Stella Park, another 1L student, said that she applied in early January, so it’s still not too late.

For those who end up on the waitlist, Perry said that applicants should show their continued interest, within reason. For example, if they’re still in school, they can send updated transcripts or an additional letter of recommendation, though they should refrain from bombarding the admissions team with emails.

Get personal and specific with your statement

The personal statement is a great way for an applicant to make a good first impression with the admissions committee, said Perry, and “is an important piece of the application puzzle.”

The statement should not only showcase good writing — one of the most important lawyer skills is communication, after all — but should also give a compelling story of why you want to be a lawyer.

Park said that it’s important to “be honest and passionate,” and to really let your interest in law shine through.

A good personal statement might talk about a family experience or a law-related job, for example. Clark-Ansani said that he wants to pursue public interest law, and wrote about his stint working at a public defender’s office.

Fret not if you don’t have previous job experience in the legal field. Clark-Ansani advises that applicants think about a moment or person that sparked their interest in law, while Perry said that writing about non-academic contributions, like being an athlete, living abroad, or raising younger siblings, can make for an interesting and meaningful statement.

On the flip side, a personal statement shouldn’t be a resume rewritten in paragraph form, which would be redundant and a wasted opportunity, Perry cautioned.

The UChicago Law website has some examples that Mozley found especially useful.

Pick the LSAT study style that works for you

While a great personal statement can potentially smooth out any less-than-stellar grades or test scores, numbers do play a big role in law school.

Though the school is seeing more applications with GRE and GMAT scores — especially with the increasing interest in joint programs, like UChicago’s recently launched JD-MBA program — the LSAT is still the most popular among law school applicants, said Perry.

When it comes to prepping for the notoriously tough test, “my best advice is to make it your priority when you’re studying for it,” whether it’s during your senior year of college or taking a summer to double down on prep, said Mozley.

According to Clark-Ansani, success in the LSAT boils down to finding a study style that works for you. Both he and Mozley, for instance, signed up for a Testmasters prep course, which has a more structured approach. Park studied using 7Sage, which leans more toward self-studying.

Whichever path you take, it’s crucial to take lots of practice tests, especially since nailing down the timing is one of the hardest parts of the exam, advised Clark-Ansani.

Ask people who know you and your interests in law to write your recommendation letters

Letters of recommendation can also help round out an application. Clark-Ansani suggests finding professors or a manager at work who know you, your specific interests in law, and your career goals well. 

“You don’t need a celebrity reference. You just need someone who can speak to the quality of your work and your contributions, and do it in specific terms,” added Mozley.

If you feel like you may not have established that close relationship with a professor during college, it can be helpful to send a writing sample to help jog their memory, Park said.

Prepare for the virtual interview with research and practice

After a candidate submits their application, they’re likely to be invited to a video interview, which Perry said a “vast majority” of applicants do.

“The point of these interviews is to get to know a student more beyond the application, or if we have a question on their application that we want to get further information on,” she said.

According to Perry and students, some questions asked during the interview include:

  • Why UChicago?
  • Why law school? Why now?
  • If you could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, who would it be?
  • What’s your favorite book or author, and why?

The best way to prepare for these questions is to do research into the specific culture or clinics offered by the school, and tying these points to your specific interest in law, said Park.

UChicago Law has a Virtual Welcome Center that contains a wealth of information about the school, including a Sidebar option, where candidates can sign up for individual Zoom meetings with the admissions team, who can then set them up with current students.

It’s also helpful to review your personal statement and resume to refresh your memory ahead of the interview. “You want to make sure you present a consistent image of yourself through these different parts of your application,” said Clark-Ansani.

Since it’s a video interview, Mozley recommends that applicants practice with a friend. “Let your natural personality shine through,” he said. “A friend can tell you if you’re too stiff or too casual, or if you have a weird camera angle.”

Making the most of the school

Whether they begin the school year in-person or remotely, admitted students should take advantage of the resources available to them, from academic resources like professors to career services.

“These are people who will take the time to speak with you about academics or your career. Actively engage with those resources — don’t just read the emails,” Mozley said.

While law school can be an infamous trial by fire for many students, it’s also helpful to not get caught up in stress and competition.

“Don’t have preconceived ideas of what you’re supposed to do. Law school students hype themselves up and stress themselves out too much,” Park said. “There are lots of different paths out there for someone with a law degree.”

SEE ALSO: How to get into Harvard Law School, according to the chief admissions officer, students, and admissions consultants

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SEE ALSO: How to stand out during Morgan Lewis’s individually-tailored virtual interview process, according to the Big Law firm’s recruiting manager

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