Law Schools, Media and Journalism, U.S. News

U.S. News Puts Out Misleading Guide For Prospective Law Students

Pithy guides to getting into law school are not new. Indeed, we offer a comprehensive guide here at ATL. That said, a good guide mixes practical advice with honest counseling about what a student should really consider before blindly applying to Yale in hopes of being a “constitutional lawyer.”

Not every publication shares that view.

U.S. News & World Report has a new guide to crafting a successful T14 law school application that it’s peddling to its readers. Is there some good advice in the guide? Sure. Does it include shameless propaganda to entice students with no business applying to law school? Obviously.

Without further ado….

U.S. News is basically the History Channel of news media. It calls itself “U.S. News & World Report,” but you’re hard-pressed to find actual coverage of either unless you exert some effort. Instead it’s a non-stop rankings cavalcade. Much like the formerly venerable purveyor of WWII documentaries that now runs a 23-hour Pawn Stars marathon interrupted for a single hour of hillbillies chasing alligators.

And they don’t even provide useful rankings. No, I’m not talking about the ATL rankings — valuable though they are — but Princeton Review is at least willing to tell you which school is the most fun.

U.S. News publishes a column called Law Admissions Lowdown, ostensibly to help prospective law students navigate the difficult task of applying to law school. A process that is likely to admit 80 percent of applicants this year (4th item). Given those numbers, you wouldn’t think an admissions guide is all that necessary, and you’d be right. However, most of the world is catching on to the fact that graduates of lower-tier law schools suffer unemployment, underemployment, and debt more acutely than T14 graduates. Therefore the new task is to convince all students that they too can enroll at a T14 program.

Plus it reinforces their rankings because that’s their lifeblood.

This week’s Law Admissions Lowdown explains:

The first step is to recognize what distinguishes the students admitted to top law schools. Do they all have 4.0 GPAs and 180 LSAT scores? No.

Even though top schools like Stanford Law School and Yale Law School could fill classes with perfect LSAT scores and GPAs, they choose to assemble a diverse class of individuals who demonstrate a broad interest in a wide variety of legal disciplines and a rich array of personal and professional experience.

True, but misleading. Academic perfection is not necessary to go to a T14 school. Did anyone think it was? But this passage isn’t about telling students that a 3.8 and 172 are good enough. This passage is designed to convince people that their sterling personalities can overcome a rotten college career. Go ahead and begin enrolling in prep courses and paying for applications, because that story you have about working with underprivileged dyslexic kittens will cover that 2.8/155.

Remember, this line about “not needing a 4.0 or 180″ is going to frame everything that follows.

I don’t suppose the author has an ulterior motive for encouraging people to apply to law school, does he? Oh.

Anyway, back to the U.S. News piece:

Your Stats: This category includes your undergraduate GPA and your LSAT score. While your numbers are not the only factor considered in the application process, there are some steps you can take to maximize your grades and LSAT score and increase your chances of acceptance.

If you are still in college, consider taking additional course work and put in extra study time to boost your GPA. Even a small increase can make your application more competitive.

When preparing for the LSAT, give yourself at least four months to study. The exam is an important aspect of the application, and you do not want to leave it to chance. In addition, consider seeking help from an expert tutor.

This does mitigate some of the damage of the rest of the article by reminding everyone that grades and LSATs really are important. That said, if you’re in the position where you need to “consider taking additional course work and put in extra study time to boost your GPA,” maybe T14 is an unrealistic goal. Acing “Rocks for Jocks” as a senior is not going to serve a student all that well in Torts.

Your Story: It is crucial to craft a compelling narrative throughout your application which should be reflected in your essays, recommendations and extracurricular activities. This narrative should be coherent but also demonstrate your variety of interests and unique attributes.

Start early. The sooner you begin to compile your application, the more developed it will be because you will have had extensive time to review it and make any changes necessary. If you are applying this year, you should begin as soon as possible.

Definitely. These are important for distinguishing between two candidates.

Brainstorm the most unique possible essay topics and strategize how to most effectively link them. For example, one of the most compelling essays I ever read was from a woman who was admitted to University of California—Berkeley School of Law with relatively low statistics, but who illustrated the key life lessons she learned from her colleagues while working at Applebee’s.

I call shenanigans. I’m sure this woman crafted a brilliant essay about how important it is to wear 37 pieces of flair, but the article implies that she got into Boalt based on this essay despite bad grades and LSAT scores. Except the article doesn’t actually say that this woman had an otherwise poor application, just that this essay was good. The placement of this anecdote in the context of an article about “not needing a 4.0 and 180″ is disingenuous.

And that’s the whole problem with this article. The advice is not really bad — get good grades, do well on the LSAT, and then use your application to distinguish yourself from others with similar scores — just misleading. The article is structured as false hope for prospective students, suggesting that last-minute tricks and clever essays can land a T14 slot when really these strategies are for maximizing the opportunities of students already T14-bound.

But U.S. News is not in the practice of writing articles that say, “Stop reading if you don’t think you’re already one of the elite law school prospects of the year.”

That kind of article is as anathema to U.S. News as, say, writing about “U.S. News.”

Craft a Successful Application to a Top Law School [U.S. News & World Report]
The decline of American journalism [Inside the Law School Scam]

Earlier: Above the Law Top 50 Law Schools
ATL Career Center: Pre-Law

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