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Elle Woods, Reese Witherspoon‘s character from Legally Blonde, studies ferociously for the LSATs on her exercise bike, as sorority sisters and Bruiser the chihuahua cheer her on. Harvard Law School‘s admissions committee watch her stylish video application, dumbfounded, as she makes her case for admission in a bikini poolside at her home in Southern California.

The stunned admissions officers reason that Ms. Woods “did get a 175 LSAT score” (the magic number), and “a 4.0 GPA.” When one disbeliever questions her “A in Polka Dots,” another notes that they’ve never admitted a Fashion Merchandising major before. Shaking his head and shrugging helplessly, the Admissions Director acquiesces: “Well, Ms. Woods… welcome to Harvard.”

Somehow there is this urban legend that law school admissions is only about the numbers, in contrast to, say, graduate business school. The student forums cynically proclaim that it’s only about your LSAT and GPA, as if nothing else matters. This belief sounded a bit too simplistic to me, so I dug into the class profiles of the top twenty U.S. law schools to see what they look for in JD applicants.

These elite institutions’ acceptance rates range from 6 percent to the low 20’s. Their LSAT and GPA 25th-75th percentiles range roughly from 160-175 and 3.6-3.9, respectively. So an aspiring law school applicant cannot simply hope to compensate for lame scores or grades with some colorful work experience. However, applicants with impressive LSAT and GPA numbers are not so rare that they don’t need to do anything else to qualify for a top law school. With so many baby boomlet applicants competing for admission, elite JD programs can “have it all”: the numbers, diverse backgrounds, and water-walker resumes.

Harvard Law states on its Web site: “Quantitative factors, while informative, do not play a decisive role in our selection process. We have no computational methods for making admission decisions, no mechanical shortcuts, no substitutes for careful assessment and good judgment. All completed applications are reviewed in their entirety with the LSAT as one factor in an overall assessment of academic promise, personal achievement, and potential contribution to the vitality of the student body.” I believe this statement is more than a nod to “holistic admissions,” especially when one considers the incredibly fascinating credentials and “circuitous route” experiences matriculants bring to elite JD programs.

Penn Law’s Web site describes its 2013 Class “Beyond the Numbers”: “They hold PhDs in neuroscience, neurobiology, philosophy, and political science… They include teachers at all levels, including former members of the Peace Corps and Teach for America… patent examiners, CPAs, journalists, entrepreneurs, grant writers, and engineers; commissioned officers in the Army and Marine Corps… a science, tech, and weapons analyst for the CIA… a former professional basketball player… players of every instrument you can imagine from the bugle to the pipe organ; members of improvisational comedy troupes and several DJ’s…” You get the picture: it’s not just about 175.

As I analyzed the entering class statistics for individual institutions, I found an average age of 24 or 25, with age ranges between 20 and mid-40’s, so applicants who are accepted to elite law schools are not typically freshly minted college graduates. In fact, only about a third of matriculants come directly from college, and somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of matriculants hold advanced academic degrees.

It is true that entrants to top MBA programs tend to be slightly older with more “real world” experience. If top law students typically matriculate after two years, top MBA students matriculate after four. Applicants to both types of programs, however, are doing something pretty impressive during those intervening years.

Related reading: How to Get into the Top Law Schools, 4th Ed., by Richard Montauk; The Best Law Schools’ Admissions Secrets: The Essential Guide from Harvard’s Former Admissions Dean by Joyce Curil; The Law School Admissions Game: Play Like an Expert by Ann K. Levine. Related posts: Does Your College GPA Matter?

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Resources abound to help you create a resume for internships and your first job out of college. Your college career center is a great place to start, especially because your school may have a specific required template for its resume book and interview sign-up process.

The internet has plenty of great sites with resume templates, such as CollegeGrad.com and QuintCareers.com. And check out What Color Is Your Parachute? For Teens Second Edition by Richard Nelson Bolles or Resume Magic Fourth Edition by Susan Britton Whitcomb.

So do you really need a resume post on my blog, too? Rather than repeat what every website says, I will offer you a few of my own macro perspectives on resumes.

1. One page for college students is enough. You may have gone to two pages on your high school resume for your college application, because you went into great detail about your extra-curricular activities. That was okay for admissions people reviewing your application, interested in all the ways in which you could potentially enrich campus life. But companies looking at internship and entry level resumes have hundreds, perhaps thousands, to review for a few positions, and they need to get a quick snapshot of you, that’s it.

2. Start with a combined objective and qualifications summary. What kind of position are you seeking? Who are you in a nutshell and what assets are you bringing to the table? Say it in one sentence, and spare the jargon. For example: “Junior undergraduate economics major with experience in independent research seeks management consulting summer internship position.”

3. Education comes first in the resume of a college student. Focus on academic achievements, such as GPA (or major GPA), Dean’s List, scholarships and honor societies. Mention special academic opportunities, such as assisting a professor’s research, tutoring students in your major, or presenting a paper at a consortium. Briefly include high school background, with academic attainments such as GPA, class rank, awards, honor societies, and test scores. This information is still relevant; it shows your smarts and hard work only a few years back.

4. For the experience section, place all experiences relevant to the position for which you are applying upfront. These experiences could be internships (paid or unpaid); directly related volunteer work, practica, research, student organization participation; or relevant study abroad. Experiences should be in reverse chronological order; that is, most recent first. The logic: It is not an autobiography, it is a management summary. Who you are today is more relevant to prospective employers than who you were years ago.

You may have worked for “big name” companies that instantly lend credibility. But if your organizations are not household words, give more explanation. Don’t create a laundry list of duties. Emphasize results accomplished, what you learned, and how the process skills you honed are transferable to the position you are now seeking. Did you solve a problem? Were you innovative or entrepreneurial?  Did you build rapport with customers? Think on your feet in a fast-paced environment? Gain exposure to how an organization works? All relevant!

5. Collapse high school and college sports, arts and community service accomplishments. The way to shorten your resume is by simplifying your athletic, artistic and volunteer achievements. Unless these activities are directly related to the position for which you are applying, they only make you “interesting” so they can be mentioned in a more broad brush manner than in your college application. These activities are “icing on the cake” now, not the main substance.

6. Go for clear, fresh communication, not overused clichés and technical jargon. Tired, hackneyed buzzwords make you sound banal, even insincere. They make a screener’s eyes glaze over, because he has read so many resumes with identical jargon that nothing signals him to pay special attention to yours. If he has to wade through techie BS and insider acronyms, he may not even be able to understand exactly what you did. Marketing 101: who is your target audience? Don’t make your reader work too hard. And remember the K.I.S.S. principle!

7. Whether you use bullet points or paragraphs, keep the communication simple and topline. The purpose of bullets is to streamline; to summarize key accomplishments. So should one job entry have 10-15 bullet points? That means the writer has not prioritized enough. A screener does not want to wade through a comprehensive list of every single thing you did at your job. They can grasp, digest and remember three things. What do you want those things to be? I like paragraphs myself, but again: short, user-friendly paragraphs that say only a few key things.

8. Make sure the employer can easily reach you. Your parents’ home telephone number is useless; make sure your cell and school email is on your resume. And check your emails constantly if you are looking for a job!

9. No need for references on your resume. References will only be needed if the employer is interested enough to contact you for an interview. And saying “references available upon request” is not necessary. Of course they will be.

10. White space is inviting. If you have to cram so much on a one page resume that you’ve created wall-to-wall text, stop and reconsider. You may be trying to give too much detail; another rewrite is needed, simplifying and collapsing your communication. If you still feel everything you have written is absolutely necessary, it is okay to break the one-page rule. It is better than having a one pager that looks formidable to read.

Related posts: Does Your College GPA Matter? Getting a Job with a Lackluster GPA, Your College’s Career Center, Liberal Arts and the Real World.

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