Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Posted by John S. Wilson at 8:00 AM
A special thanks to Dean Stephen Perez, Assistant Dean for Admissions & Recruitment at Texas Tech University School of Law, for participating in our Admissions Spotlight Interview. Joseph Fernandez from Parliament Tutors conducted this interview.
As the Assistant Dean for Admissions & Recruitment, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
I’m responsible for all aspects of admissions and recruitment. Recruitment is mainly in the fall, where I handle the strategic decisions like where to recruit, what kinds of non-travel recruitment we will do, coordinating the creation of print marketing materials, and website content. Around mid-November, that shifts to admissions, which involves managing the applicant review process, (LOTS of) reviewing files & making decisions, managing our student recruiters, and closely monitoring our application cycle to ensure we admit the quality and quantity of students we’re looking for. There is also a great deal of recruitment that happens in the spring, only it is targeted at admitted students. We have an admitted students day in the spring that my office plans, as well.
What do you consider the most significant parts of an application, the parts which applicants should prepare the most carefully?
The most important aspect of an application are the academic credentials – the LSAT and the GPA. A student “prepares” for those far earlier than a year in advance (especially the GPA), whether they realize it or not. The next most important piece is the personal statement and any addenda that a student might submit. No matter how much I and my colleagues stress that this must be error free, the majority of essays still have errors ranging from minor typos to major writing problems. Things like the resume and letters of recommendation are also important.
Is there anything you frequently see on an application that you hope to never see again?
Typos. Spelling errors. Semi-colons (they are RARELY used correctly). Headshots of the applicant! (there’s always a few every year.) Unexplained bad grades. Countless students have horrible semesters or wild fluctuations in grades and provide no explanation, leaving me to assume they are simply poor students or unreliable. High school accomplishments.
What common pitfalls should applicants be careful to avoid?
Leaving off experiences/jobs from the resume because they don’t think they are “relevant”. Law schools are looking for well-rounded people with experiences and interests beyond law. Plus, you don’t know what a reviewer might consider relevant. Put as much as you can fit on 2 pages (max).
Are there any myths about the application process which you would like to dispel?
I don’t know that I know of any widely held “myths” about the process.
What advice would you give to an applicant with below-average test scores but significant work experience?
The two things are kind of unrelated. Test scores are a measure of your ability to think critically and analytically under time pressure. No amount of work experience is going to overcome significantly below par LSAT scores. Someone with a 130 will never “work” their way into law school. However, if test scores are low but in the range for a school, work and life experience can give the extra edge to a student and be the thing that makes the difference.
Do you frequently have to turn away applicants whom you wish you could admit? If so, what could those applicants do to be admitted?
Yes. We’re lucky enough to be a selective law school. We have many applicants who will be admitted to other law schools, graduate, pass the bar, and become fine lawyers. There are just too many for us to admit them all so we can only take the best of the group. We always have hard-working, dedicated students that simply don’t have high enough grades and test scores to allow us to admit them over other people who are just as hard-working and accomplished that have better numbers.
How much faith do you have in the ability of the LSAT to predict success in law school?
I don’t have to have “faith” in it. There’s lots of statistical data behind the LSAT. It isn’t perfect in that it doesn’t predict first-year performance (the ONLY thing the LSAT tries to predict, not bar passage or how good of a lawyer the student will be), but nothing is 100%. The LSAT is by far the best predictor of first-year success. Adding LSAT and GPA together is even better. (GPA by itself is fairly week given the wide disparity between quality of schools, majors, etc.). We have very few students with 90th percentile LSATs that don’t end up near the top of the class and our history has shown that students with LSATs below a certain level have a very hard time making it through. Now that’s a pretty wide range, of course, which is why we have to look at all the other aspects of the file.
What do you look for in a recommendation letter?
I look for how the recommender knows the student and how well they know each other in an academic or professional context. Letters from family friends, relatives, or politicians are barely read.
Suppose an applicant has little or no experience relevant to your program, but has significant experience in other fields. What can that applicant do to distinguish himself or herself in your eyes as a good candidate for your program?
I don’t put much weight on the idea of “relevant’ experience. The law is so varied and there are so many different things people do with their law degrees that virtually everything a human being can experience is relevant. I tell students not to worry if they don’t have any law-related internships or work experiences. I care that students have experiences, period. Law-related experiences are beneficial to students because they can help focus their interest in (or away from ) a particular practice area, but that is a personal benefit not one that will improve a student’s chances of admission. A law firm job isn’t any better than a job at a bank, doing Teach for America, studying abroad, volunteering at your local church, or any of the other million things people do. I tell students to go be interesting. All the things I listed are things students should do anyway for personal growth, regardless of whether or not they help them get into law school.
Joseph Fernandez offers home tutoring with Parliament Tutor. He is an LSAT Tutoring specialist.