Alumnae/i share law school realities, advise on applications

When I decided to apply to law school almost a year ago at the beginning of my junior year, I was lost in figuring out what a personal statement was supposed to look like, how to prepare for the LSAT and even where to apply. I decided to learn about law school through interviewing various alumni and alumnae, who generously took the time to share their personal experiences navigating their law school applications and reactions to their respective schools. To those of you who are feeling directionless in the law school application process, like I was, or want to perfect their maps down to the degrees longitude and latitude, I’d like to extend what I’ve learned so far and return the help that I’ve received.

Berkeley Law and its student community is famous for its dedication to public service. Berkeley Law graduate Victoria Larson ’14 and second-year Kevin Cosgrove ’17 reaffirmed that reputation. “I haven’t actually encountered any of the negative stereotypes [elitist, cutthroat mentalities] about law school at Berkeley,” Cosgrove told me, laughing.“There are very strong norms about doing public service.” These values drew Larson to Berkeley. “I knew I wanted to do public interest work, and Berkeley allowed me to work basically full-time while getting a lot of valuable experience in the field,” Larson said. “Looking back, I don’t think I could have done law school anywhere else.”

Cosgrove and Larson concurred that diversity of opinion is alive and well, partly because of Dean Erwin Chemerinsky pushing a variety of speakers across the political spectrum and a culture of students debating ideas with mutual respect.

To conclude, Larson and Cosgrove offered their advice on law school applications. Cosgrove said, “For the personal statement, try to be concise. Remember that no one will penalize you for making the admissions officer read less.” Larson recommended taking time off before enrolling in law school. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do at Vassar, and originally wanted to go to film school as a geography and film major,” Tori admitted. “Taking two years off between Vassar and law school definitely made me more prepared and helped me figure out what I wanted to do in the future.”

At UPenn, Raymond Magsaysay ’17 expected a hypercompetitive arena, and instead found a cooperative community. “Here, it’s a common practice to send notes over class and help each other in the weeks before every exam,” Magsaysay stated. “Every week, my professors take a group of people for lunch or coffee, so I’ve already formed very close relationships in my classes.” Additionally, the administration also supports students; deans and administrators have open-door policies, and the financial aid office guided Magsaysay through the scholarship process.

Nonetheless, like Tori, Raymond emphasized the importance of taking time between college and law school: “Even with the ways Penn supports its students, 1L [first year of law school] is still very stressful, and I would highly recommend taking time off. Work experience helped prepare me for law school as I got experience in a 9 to 5 environment and gained a lot of perspective on the real world. I’ve found that the most successful law school students are often paralegals, who have less of a learning adjustment when they enter.”

Kylan MacLeod ’19 decided to go directly to University of Texas at Austin School of Law after graduating from Vassar with a history major. One of the first questions I had for MacLeod was what the most difficult process of the application was for him. “I’d say that the most difficult part was the LSAT, which was an absolutely grueling process,” he replied. “Something that I didn’t realize at the time is that it’s important to take time off while studying, and not to try and cram prep tests.”

However, MacLeod felt that he had anticipated many of law school’s challenges and noted how his history major and discussion-based classes helped prepare him: “There’s definitely a lot of work during your first year at law school and you need to come in mentally prepared. That being said, I felt that the process of preparing for class was pretty similar to what I had to do in my history classes at Vassar. While at Vassar I had to figure out the different perspectives in a primary source, and in law school, classes are often about figuring out the correct angle from which to approach a case.”

Finally, MacLeod talked about what surprised him going into law school. “I didn’t find the stereotype of law school students being conservative to be true at all and found that there’s a large community of liberal and progressive people at my school,” MacLeod commented. “UT Law has a very friendly community, but since it’s a larger school, you end up mainly meeting people through the classes you have, as well as law school’s happy hours and Bar Review.”

Allegra Kaufman ’19 is a former history and drama major who is currently at Georgetown Law. In our conversation, Allegra highlighted Georgetown’s thriving extracurricular offerings: “There are weekly events for every single organization, a speaker every single week and I’ve had a chance to continue with what I was interested in during undergrad. Right now, I’m a member of Georgetown’s a cappella and drama clubs, so I’ve definitely got my bases covered outside of studying.”

In addition, Allegra talked about the care and commitment the administration exhibited towards the law schools, saying, “There’s something very special about the Georgetown’s administration. Being on campus, you can feel the effort that the deans put into making their law school the best it can be and will help you in any way they can.” Allegra cited the example of Family Weekend, where families and friends of Georgetown students are invited to attend speeches, events and performances while exploring the campus and Washington D.C.

Before hanging up, Allegra emphasized the importance of preparing for law school early. “It was hard to find the time to apply to law school between writing my thesis, my classes, and studying for the LSAT. For any future students, I’d recommend studying for the LSAT in junior year and getting it out of the way during that summer and drafting the personal statement ahead of the fall semester.”

One Comment

  1. I am fond of saying that Vassar alumnae/i are one of our very best career resources… and they have undoubtedly given some excellent advice here! Indeed, the vast majority of Vassar applicants to law school are alumnae/i, about evenly split between 1-3 years out and 3 or more years out. Additionally, the pre-law advisors in the Career Development Office (CDO) work closely with Vassar applicants to law school, whether they are current seniors or alums. Anyone thinking about law school or in the throes of applications should reach out to the CDO… we have a lot of information and wisdom about the process.

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