“What Makes an Application Stand Out?”

by Elizabeth Cavallari

“What makes an application stand out?”  We hear this question a lot from prospective law students, and there are a lot of components to the answer.  At William & Mary there is no magic formula or benchmark that we expect all applicants to reach: we do a full-file review of all elements of your application (GPA, LSAT, work experience and extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, and personal statement) so we can fully evaluate you as a candidate for admission.  Having said that, there are some traits that really mark potential applicants as people who will become successful law students and lawyers, and the way that these traits show up in applications can really vary!

Oral Communication

The ability to articulate yourself well and persuasively make your case will be important to your success as a student and as a practitioner after graduation.  How can you showcase your oral communication abilities in your application?  A number of activities, including participation in Mock Trial, leadership roles in campus organizations or Greek Life, employment projects, collegiate or recreational sports, and countless others can demonstrate your ability to be a persuasive speaker.  Additionally, oral communication is as much about speaking as it is listening.  Working with clients and co-workers requires listening critically, taking key information from conversations, and utilizing what you have learned.  Think about the experiences that have developed and honed those skills, and make sure that we see evidence of that in your application

Written Communication

It shouldn’t be a surprise that lawyers and law students have to write often and write well, so we expect a high level of writing proficency from our candidates:even though legal writing may seem a bit like a foreign language during your first weeks of law school, you still should have a strong foundation from which to build.  Prospective students still in school should take courses that develop your objective and persuasive writing.  Utilize your school’s writing center and other resources at your disposal.  For those in the work force, embrace opportunities to write in your job (beyond writing another quick email); volunteer for projects that require heavy writing and will stretch and challenge you.


Knowing how to utilize case law, statutes, administrative regulations, and other sources of binding and persuasive authority is instrumental in the legal profession.  What research experience do you have?  Your research background does not necessarily have to include research with a faculty member (particularly if you’re not passionate about the topic or subject).  Did a class spark an interest that led to an independent study or thesis?  Have you been driven to learn more about a topic than you learned in a lecture?  Have you started a new project at work that required you to critically examine previous efforts?  Make sure your application reflects the research you have done and indicates your ability to successfully transition those skills into the arena of legal research.

While we try to discern these three skills, this doesn’t mean that we ONLY look at those abilities while reviewing your application.  Make sure to highlight your abilities in oral communication, written communication, and research, but remember that these skills constitute just one piece of the puzzle.  William & Mary Law School would be boring if all of our students were cookie cutter!  We take shaping a diverse and interesting class seriously, and we want to get to know you through your application and see how you can help make it even better!

Should I apply?

by Brian Wall

As I meet with prospective students, one questions comes up again and again.  The precursor to the question is often different, but the question itself is the same: “Should I apply?”  We want anyone who wants to be part of the William & Mary Law School community to apply to join our ranks.  In case there is someone out there who has not been able to personally ask me this question, I want to address some of the circumstances that other prospective students have invoked as they have asked whether or not they should apply.

1) “My GPA/LSAT is lower than your median score.  Should I apply?”  We are grateful for the high caliber of students who make William & Mary Law school such an outstanding institution, but this does mean that getting into William & Mary is challenging.  For the Class of 2014, the median LSAT score was 165 (with a 75th/25th percentile range of 167-161) and the median GPA was 3.73 (with a 75th/25th percentile range of 3.82-3.46).  However, those numbers are not minimum numbers.  Additionally, it is important to know that our application process is not only about the numbers: we consider your entire application, and in many cases applicants with scores below our medians have been accepted based on their strong potential as evidenced by other aspects of the application.  Answer: YES, you should apply!

2) “My major doesn’t have anything to do with law or politics.  Should I apply?”  The stereotype of a pre-law student is usually a political science major with a minor in history.  While we’ve had our fair share of those here at William & Mary, we take students from every academic background.  Current William & Mary students studied economics, engineering, English literature, business, communications, finance, foreign languages, hard sciences, sociology, psychology… you get the point.  No matter what your undergraduate major was, the answer is: YES, you should apply!

3) “I will be graduating this spring and don’t have any work experience.  Should I apply, or should I take time off to work?”  This one is really up to you.  A lot of our students have come straight through college and enter law school immediately after graduating from their undergraduate experience, while others take time off to work, volunteer, travel, or pursue other opportunities.  Your application will not be adversely affected if you come straight through or if you take some time off, so the answer is: once you’re ready, YES, you should apply!  Conversely…

4) “I have been out of school for a long time and am significantly older than most of your students.  Should I apply, or is it unrealistic to think that I can compete with much younger students?”  We have had a number of “non-traditional” students not only be admitted to William & Mary Law, but do significantly well while they have been here.  One of my classmates, for example, was a nurse with thirty years of experience who decided to change course and become a lawyer.  She was very successful in her time here.  Answer: YES, you should apply!

5) “I don’t know exactly what I want to do with my law degree.  Should I apply?”  Hopefully if you are applying to law school you at least know that you want to practice law in some capacity; if you aren’t sure of this yet, you might want to take some time to consider if this is really right for you, as law school is a major time and money investment.  However, if you know you want to be a lawyer but are not sure exactly how, that is a different matter altogether.  While some first-year students come in with a laser-sharp focus on a particular career path, most law students have not yet been exposed to every area of legal work, and that’s entirely normal.  You will have a number of opportunities to meet practitioners in a variety of fields and, though clinics, internships, externships, and courses, will have practical experience in the areas of your choosing.  The answer is: YES, you should apply!

If you are still wondering whether you should apply to William & Mary and your question was not addressed here, please feel free to email or call me.  I would love to speak with you, and chances are good that my answer to you will also be “YES, you should apply!”