If you are wondering what Ivy League school officials are looking for in an application, look no further. Admissions consultant Derek Meeker has made hundreds of accept/reject/waitlist decisions at the world’s most selective law schools.
Formerly the dean of admissions at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, Meeker and his colleagues reviewed as many as 6,500 applications for about 250 openings.
"Top schools have enough applicants who are qualified," says Derek Meeker, senior law school consultant, for Admissions Consultants, Inc. What they are looking for, he says, are students who are especially passionate and committed.
Meeker talked to Uttara Choudhury in New York.
You studied comparative law at Oxford University in England and earned your Doctor of Law (J.D.) degree from Capital University in Ohio. Does studying law in two different countries leave people with more options over the course of their careers?
It depends. I chose to do it because I did not study abroad in college and because the Oxford program presented an opportunity to study comparative freedom of speech issues, which was of particular interest to me as I was a Journalism major in college. But it was a two-month summer program, not the type of in-depth study that would open additional career options.
Students who do have an interest in practicing some type of international law, which could be in any number of fields, such as business, tax, intellectual property, human rights, immigration and refugee law, could benefit from studying in another country, perhaps for a semester or even a full year at a foreign law school. More important, perhaps, is fluency in other languages and familiarity with other cultures, and seeking summer fellowships and other employment opportunities abroad.
Would you say that part of your job is to steer applicants in the right direction and increase their chances of getting into a law school that's right for them? How does the process normally work -- do prospective law students that come to you have a wish list of Ivy League schools they want to attend and do you moderate some of their expectations?
Absolutely. A significant part of my job is to assess an applicant’s strength and weaknesses and to determine where they will be competitive. Most applicants do come to me with a wish list of schools, and, in most cases, the list has to be modified. I am always very honest about an applicant’s chances for admission to particular schools. I typically give them a list that includes “reach” schools, “target” schools, and “safe” schools, and then they choose the schools to which they want to apply.
Do you offer advice on Letters of Recommendation and Resumes?
Yes, as both are important components of the application process. In short, the most important rules with regard to letters of recommendation are:
1) that the writer knows the applicant very well, typically from an academic or professional relationship and can write a detailed letter with specific examples of the applicant’s academic potential, writing skills, analytical skills, critical reading and reasoning skills, and/or any other skills or characteristics that would indicate potential for success in law school; this is very important: some applicants will choose a recommender based on the recommender’s credentials or position, such as political figures or top scholars, but in many cases these individuals do not know the applicant well enough to write a detailed, specific letter regarding his or her skills or academic potential, and that will result in a weakness in the application.
2) Unless the applicant has been out of school for a few years or more, it is best to have a minimum of two letters from professors. If an applicant has some substantive work experience, then a letter from an employer is fine. The best case scenario is to have a combination of academic and professional letters from people who will provide a variety of perspectives because they know the applicant in differing settings.
With regard to resumes, they should be pretty detailed. I get the impression that many applicants think the “one-page resume” rule applies to the law school resume, which is not the case (unless, the applicant really hasn’t done much!). Law schools want to know an applicant’s work history with some detail in terms of responsibilities, accomplishments and average number of hours of work per week. They also want to know about activities in which the applicant participated in college even if he or she has been out of school for awhile. Again, some details are important here, i.e. level of responsibility, leadership positions, accomplishments, etc. Any awards and scholarships should be listed, study abroad, foreign languages. I also like seeing hobbies and interests too: it tells me more about the applicant outside of his or her academic and career interests.
Does your firm work with international clients looking to study in the United States? And, would you offer people living overseas advice and admissions strategies over the phone and email?
Yes, we do work with clients living overseas. Almost all of our consulting is done via telephone and email, even for clients living in the U.S.
Do most US law schools offer candidates interviews? And, as a follow-up to that question do you conduct mock-interviews with students and also give them reading lists that can be helpful?
Very few U.S. law schools conduct applicant interviews. For the schools that do offer interviews, such as Northwestern and Vanderbilt, we do provide interviewing tips and will conduct mock interviews with clients to help them prepare.
Are you careful to ensure your clients don’t end up sounding like they are mouthing coached facts?
That is part of the preparation process.