Things I Wish I Would Have Known: Applications

We’re kicking off the 2021 application cycle with a new series written by our Student Admission Ambassadors – everything they wish they would have known! We hope this will be helpful for you as you research law schools, start the application process, and navigate final decisions. 

Vance, Gabby 1

I was just beginning my senior year of college and applying to law school. I was top of my college class and very involved in extra circular activities and held many leadership positions. While I was on top of the world, or so I felt at Elon, my undergraduate institution, I was just like any other applicant applying to William & Mary Law School. So how could I make myself stand out?

Law school admissions deans like Dean Jordan and Dean Smith are reading thousands of applications from many qualified students. Some things, such as a high LSAT, will make your application stand out in a sense, but I have always struggled with standardized tests. I knew my LSAT was not going to be the strongest part of my application. My personal statement and letters of recommendation provided a space where I felt like I could really show the admissions office who I was. But even now, almost three years later, reflecting on the application process, I could have done more to make my application stand out and be the best applicant possible.

When I was applying to schools, I spent so much time describing awards I had received and significant personal accomplishments. That is not a bad thing, it is good to have that information on your application. But, I spent very little time discussing WHY I actually wanted to go to law school and particularly WHY William & Mary Law School. I was one of the weird kids, who knew since they were in Kindergarten that I wanted to be a lawyer. Through various high school and college experiences, that passion only grew. During my junior year of college, I interned at a state prosecutor’s office and worked on a brutal domestic violence case. While the case was on trial, I had an aha moment that is I wanted to do for the rest of my life. So, where was that in my application? My personal statement was about on my study abroad experience, which was great and a very special part of my life, but someone who has to read so many applications will more likely remember that powerful story in the courtroom that impacted me so significantly to where that Plaintiff is who I think of when law school gets really hard. Those stories sell you as not just another candidate but someone who, when the going of law school gets hard, will keep going because they have their “why” and they really want to be here and do this.

Second, it sounds a bit ridiculous, but the law school application process is you advertising and selling yourself as the best applicant, and part of that is saying you interested in the school, in which you are applying to . If there is nowhere on your William & Mary application that signifies you would choose to go to William & Mary, you have ties to Virginia, you like Colonial Williamsburg – you are selling yourself short. Visit the school, call the dean of admissions, research the programs, and email a current student. Taking these steps will show you are not just thinking about law school. You are going to law school and likely this one. William & Mary was my top choice law school, and I knew if I got in, I was going. But why did I say that on my application? Law school admissions deans love when a student is really excited about their school. It means they are doing their job well! If the school is William & Mary, which I hope it is or elsewhere, make sure that they know how badly you want them. It will bolster you application and can help move you in the pile.

Gabby Vance is a 3L from Severna Park, MD, serving as the 0L/1L representative for the Student Bar Association 

Shine Bright Like a Diamond: Making an Application Stand Out

As Admission Deans, we often get asked similar questions. What is more important, the LSAT or the GPA? How long should a personal statement be? Does it look bad if I take the LSAT more than once? How do I make my application stand out? 

That last one is killer – William & Mary Law School receives between 3,500 – 4,000 applications per year; that’s a LOT of applications to read, and a lot of pieces of differentiate between. There are a few things to consider when submitting your application to ensure that you are putting your best foot forward.

  1. Don’t Be Modest – “This is not the time to shy away from highlighting your strengths and accomplishments,” says Associate Dean for Admission, Faye Shealy. Your resume should reflect your involvement, your experience, your academic honors, everything. That means being thorough with your resume, identifying the details of your internships, jobs, and responsibilities in student leadership positions. Which leads me to the next tip…
  2. Have a Professional Resume – It goes without saying that applying to a professional program requires a professional resume. Utilize your resources, like the Career Center, to help you build a professional looking resume; and please, please, please, do NOT send us a written list of the things you were involved in. If you haven’t taken the time to outline your resume in a professional manner, we assume that you haven’t taken the time to put your best application forward.
  3. Present the Best Version of You – “There is only one you – present the best version of yourself through every piece of the application,” says Senior Assistant Dean for Admission Rhianna Shabsin. That doesn’t mean changing yourself to fit what you think we’re looking for – we like diverse, unique applicants! You are the only person who has lived your experiences; let that shine through your personal statement, resume, addendum, etc.
  4. Don’t Wait – An application that is submitted earlier in the cycle says that you are prepared, you have taken the time to get your ducks in a row, and that you’re excited to apply. Keep in mind that “earlier”  means not waiting until the last minute to submit. William & Mary Law School typically gets 20% of our total application volume in the last two weeks of February – your application will stand out much more if you don’t wait!
  5. Be Thorough – Details matter, and in the process of applying to law schools, there are a lot of details. From character and fitness questions to the addendum on diversity, there is opportunity for you to provide a lot of details that may help paint a better picture of who you are and how you might fit with our program. Those are the ways we can distinguish between your application and the other 3,896!

Follow these tips, and you’ll be well on your way to standing out from the crowd. Remember to be your unique self – there is no cookie-cutter law student!