How to Get Into Harvard Law School

If you want to get into Harvard Law, take a seat. Jelena & Branden chat with Kristi Jobson, a former HLS student, attorney, and currently the Assistant Dean of Admissions and the Chief Admissions Officer at Harvard Law School.

Jobson humanizes the admissions process for our listeners and reveals what she's looking for in future students. And if crimson red isn't for you . . . I'd still be writing this down. Some of these dos and don'ts might surprise you. But take Kristi's word for it . . . who knows, maybe YOUR application could be the next one on her desk.

Listen and learn . . .

  1. About the most common misconceptions in the application process
  2. What one thing Jobson wish she knew when applying to law school
  3. If Harvard cares about your P/F classes
  4. How admissions changed during the pandemic
  5. Which part of the application Jobson would change

Branden:

Times are changing on the old Supreme Court of the United States.

Jelena:

Yeah, indeed. The court has become more conservative in recent years, but it was conservative before that. It was 5/4 before, now we've got 6/3.

Branden:

Yes. But I'm talking about the loss of a majority.

Jelena:

What? The court has been majority conservative since the '80s. Did you just forget everything that happened since the Warren Court?

Branden:

I'm well aware of the shift that happened in the '70s and '80s under Chief Justice Burger. That's not the majority I'm talking about.

Jelena:

Oh, that majority.

Branden:

Yes, that majority, the Harvard majority. As recently as 2017, a solid five justices had attended Harvard Law School. But now it's a tie for Harvard, for Yale, and with the elevation of Amy Coney Barrett, Notre Dame Law School has finally made its way to the top of American jurisprudence.

Jelena:

Wow. That is still a pretty narrow sample of law schools given that there are about 200 ABA accredited law schools in this country.

Branden:

Yeah. And I wonder if that's a good thing. As a UCLA alum, I feel like we ought to have three, four seats. I mean, more than USC anyway.

Jelena:

Okay, Branden. Unless Massachusetts and Connecticut secede from the union and take the justices from their schools with them, I don't think we will be confronting a UCLA USC rivalry on the court in our lifetimes.

Branden:

Alas, true, true. But since we are a hard-nosed just the facts podcast about the world as it is, not as we wish it would be, we aren't going to explore that very reasonable proposal for choosing Supreme Court justices. Instead, we're going to interview someone who helps decide who gets a shot at one of those Supreme Court eligible Harvard Juris Doctor degrees, Kristi Jobson, Assistant Dean for Admissions at Harvard Law School.

Jelena:

Welcome to the Legal Level, a podcast from TestMax. I'm Jelena.

Branden:

And I'm Branden. We are your companions on the road to the legal field, whether you've just started thinking about law school or you've already passed the bar.

Max Fischer (Rushmore):

What are you, a lawyer?

Jelena:

The Legal Level is available from Apple podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, and wherever you're listening to it right now.

Branden:

If you like today's episode, don't forget to subscribe and tell a friend.

Jelena:

After you're done listening, if you still have questions about today's topic, you can talk about it with the 99th percentile LSAT instructor by texting LSAT to 3108187743. Or if you'd like your question to be on the show, just email podcast@testmaxprep.com and we might answer you on the air. We are beyond delighted to have with us on today's episode Kristi Jobson, Harvard Law School's Assistant Dean for Admissions.

Branden:

Ms. Jobson is herself a 2012 graduate of Harvard Law School and before joining the Harvard admissions team, she was an associate at the law firm Ropes & Gray litigating shareholder actions and complex commercial disputes. More than a few of our listeners are dreaming of getting a yes from Ms. Jobson and her team, and today we'll find out what goes into getting to yes at HLS. Kristi Jobson, welcome to the Legal Level.

Kristi:

Thank you for having me.

Jelena:

Well, thank you so much for being here. And of course, as LSAT instructors, and then Branden's case, bar instructors, we hear a lot about your institution from our students, largely from our students who maybe would like to try to get the kind of LSAT score that gives them a realistic shot at applying there. So I imagine there are many listeners out there that will be incredibly excited to hear from you and will be taking notes on all of your nuggets of wisdom about this episode. But there's a lot that comes with working in admissions at Harvard, I would imagine. One of those things is that your institution, your school is so much discussed and there are so many rumors and conversations about how to give yourself a better shot at Harvard. I wanted to just open this podcast by giving you a chance to dispute a misconception about the Harvard Law School admissions process, if you would like to do so.

Kristi:

Ooh, there's a lot to choose from. There's quite a bit of misconceptions about law school admissions generally, and HLS admissions, but I'll take this one. The biggest misconception I see is the idea that it's completely numbers based and if you hit this number or that number, you are a lock. I think that comes partly from the size of our class. HLS is the, last time I checked anyway, the second largest JD student body of any law school. We have about 560 students per class. And then when you add in the transfers, we graduate about 600 JDs every year. So I think a lot of people think, well, the class is so big. They just, they need everyone with a 178 to hit their numbers. And that's actually not really how we think about it in our office. Sometimes I feel like I have the luckiest admissions job of any of my peers because I don't have to worry too much about numbers and quartiles at all.

Kristi:

Our 25th percentile LSAT is a 170. I've got 140 slots under that 170. And so there's a lot... Someone who used to work in our office who now works at another law school told me it was just, it was so much more fun to work in the Harvard Law School Admissions office because you can really dig into the applications and think of them as people beyond the numbers. And on the flip side, I've also noticed that I think there's a lot of people who say, well, I got that 178, now I can kind of phone in the other parts of my application. It doesn't really matter what I say in my personal statement or what my recommenders say about me. And that's not accurate.

Kristi:

One of my colleagues who worked in HLS admissions office for years describes it as empty stats where you see these numbers that you feel like, well, they've got really high GPA and they've got a really high LSAT, but there's just not enough there. There's not much else there. And sometimes I feel for those applicants because I do think if they had taken maybe a little more time to flesh out the rest of their application, they would have had a stronger profile and potentially have gotten in.

Branden:

That kind of brings me, I think, to something that, obviously you applied to Harvard Law School, so you were on the other end of this process as well and it sounds like that is a misconception people have that it's a numbers game or only a numbers game. So just from your perspective as you were applying to law schools, ultimately you got into HLS. What is one thing, or you can give us more, but what do you wish you knew when you were applying to law schools in general and to HLS in particular that you would want to share with people who are applying now?

Kristi:

Can I cheat a little bit and say two things?

Branden:

We are all about cheating. But not on the LSAT.

Kristi:

All right. So for the application process itself, I really wish that I had sought more perspectives on my personal statement. I went back and re-read my personal statement once I started in this job and it's okay, but it's not . . . I think there's ways in which I could have improved it. And I really thought, it's got the word personal in it, so maybe I just thought, well, this is this really personal thing I'm writing. I had my boyfriend, now husband at the time, sort of proofread it for me. And I had one of my roommates help me with it a bit with proofreading, but I kind of wish I had sent it to professors who had taught me or people I worked with in extracurriculars in college or colleagues that I was teaching with to get their perspectives because when I read it, it doesn't quite sound like my voice. And I think if I had shared it with a couple more people who knew me well, they would have said, "This doesn't quite sound like you."

Kristi:

And I wrote about teaching. So that's why in particular I think that some of my teaching colleagues really could have helped me with it. So that's the application process itself. And then one thing I really, really wish I did is spend a little more time thinking about financing law school before I got acceptance letters. I remember really well getting into HLS and it was an amazing day. I was in Miami, Florida, on vacation with actually the roommate who had looked at my personal statement. I mean, I treasured that day, but I think I had procrastinated on thinking about how to finance law school really until I got in.

Kristi:

Maybe I was being superstitious and I just didn't want to think about it. Maybe I just had other things on my to-do list, but I found that spring that I was scrambling a little bit like, okay, how am I going to finance this? What is this loan application process? The loan repayment programs, if I want to pursue public interest work, how do these all work? I just remember feeling like it was a scramble that spring. I actually wish I had taken time before I'd even pressed submit on any application in LSAT to really go through the student financial services and the financial aid websites on the schools I was thinking about so that I didn't feel like I was comparing them to each other in a mad dash as the clock was ticking down to May 1st in the decision deadline.

Jelena:

Well, that makes a ton of sense and that gives us also a great chance to promote the fact that we periodically do a financing law school webinar that our students can consider signing up for to find out some of that information.

Kristi:

See, I should've done that. I should've done that. I should've gone to those webinars, but I put it out of my mind until the end.

Branden:

Well, we were not giving those webinars back then.

Kristi:

So there you go. And if you had been . . .

Jelena:

We were not. Someone may have been. Someone may have been, but we were not at this company yet. We did not have this podcast. But if we could travel back in time and deliver you that information, we would. But I want to go back to the first thing you said about personal statements for a moment. You said when you started as an admissions officer, you went and you read your own personal statements. And then as an admissions officer comparing it to others that you were reading, you saw that yours was realistically only okay. So, can we talk about some of the best personal statements that you've read? The ones that made you feel like, oh, mine is only average.

Kristi:

Oh my gosh, I've read so many beautiful personal statements over the years. It's actually one of the big pleasures of my job. I will offer one from a current HLS student. I think they wouldn't mind if I read the opening line. "My mother once told me that dandelions, like our people, scatter into the wind to survive." And it's all about how many of you dandelions as weeds and noxious and invasive, but actually plant experts recognize that dandelions are what's called companion plants. They bring nutrients to the soil. They increase the resilience of ecosystems. And this student was a refugee and from a refugee family and really beautifully tied in aspects of their identity and their path and their family and their motivation for going to law school with this metaphor of dandelions. And I'll tell you, whatever I see a field of dandelions, I think of this person. I mean, it like brings tears to my eyes whenever I think about it. That's probably the best personal statement I've ever read.

Branden:

Well, that was a beautiful opening line and that's, I am a fan of the extended metaphor and it sounds like a metaphor that that student thought about and really worked on. And so I would love to read a personal statement like that. My personal statement definitely was not as good. And so, do you have advice for what should be in a personal statement, or what are you looking for? Obviously that was a beautifully written one and it's bringing up an experience that is obviously very gripping and compelling, but I think a lot of people like myself included don't really have a gripping, compelling story to tell. Can we still apply to HLS, can we still get in if we don't have that gripping story to tell? What should we focus on if we don't?

Kristi:

No, yes, of course you can absolutely get in. I myself wrote an only okay personal statement and lived to tell the tale. You know that phrase, first do no harm?

Branden:

Yes.

Kristi:

Yeah. That is my top piece of advice for personal statements and I share it sometimes with prospective students and they're sort of deflated. They are like, "Wait, I'm looking for the key to everything. I want to write that personal statement about dandelions." But I think first and foremost, make sure that you're not giving the admissions officer reading your personal statement a reason to be concerned about your candidacy. There's a lot of ways people do that and I'll share the one that we talk about the most. When people start every sentence with I, or there's just lots of I and me and I statements, they can sometimes come across as somewhat self-centered. And sometimes they're even trying to share a story about their world and their engagement with the world and it comes off as just, it makes you feel like maybe every interaction is just all about them and that can be kind of a turnoff.

Kristi:

So first, do no harm. And second, think a little bit about where you have been, where you are right now and where you're going. The best personal statements, and they don't . . . Again, it doesn't have to be the best personal statement. I should have rephrased as very good, solid, personal statements often touch on at least two out of those three categories. So again, where you've been, where you are, where you're going. You could talk a little bit about where you've been and how that ties into your plans for the future. You could talk about what you're doing right now and how that ties into the future or what you've done in the past and how that ties into what you're doing right now.

Kristi:

Whatever it is, try to stay pretty true to who you are and what your actual goals are and the motivations bringing you to law school and try as best as you can to be really honest with yourself as you're writing it and honest with the reader. I think of this especially because we interview at HLS. So I often interview candidates. And sometimes when they sit down for 15 to 20 minute interview, they say things that are somewhat different than their personal statement and it can feel almost like they were trying to craft a very specific narrative to market themselves in a particular way that when you ask them two or three followup questions in the interview, it kind of becomes clear that it was somewhat inauthentic in the first place. And that can feel like a real disappointment, especially when you were looking forward to meeting the candidate, because you want to understand the candidate and meet the candidate as they are and who they are, not a sort of public relations or marketing version of themselves.

Jelena:

You mean personal branding isn't the key to all success in life? I was told as a millennial that personal branding is the key to all success in life.

Kristi:

I'm not saying it doesn't work on Instagram, but especially if you're applying to a school where there's some chance you're going to be asked some follow-up questions about your deep, passionate interest in technology law, and if you look at me during the interview like you're a complete deer in headlights, I will wonder why you wrote that in the first place.

Jelena:

Well, that is good to know that you're checking on that. And I want to kind of follow up on that and continue along with that. So earlier you talked about how having those kinds of 140 slots for people potentially below the 25th percentile. That's a way to look at composing an incoming class that I haven't even really thought about before that there are spaces for people that you can let in without changing any of your percentiles and any of your stats really just based on other aspects of who they are. So, what do you see in either a personal statement, a resume, a letter of recommendation, the non quantitative aspects of an application that makes you put one of those applications that is below a 170 to the side and say, "You know what, this is a maybe for one of those 140 slots."

Kristi:

I mean, so many things. A couple of things that come to mind right now are trajectory. So that sense of movement of where have they been, where are they now, where are they going? People who have very clear career goals, often that really resonates for the reader. And by career goals, I don't mean necessarily that they've mapped out each and every legal job they will ever have or even that they've identified any particular legal job that they want to have. But you get a very strong sense of their motivation for pursuing law in particular. And maybe not each step of the journey, but a sense of where they see their destination and where they see their role. Like they have a vision for the world and they have a mission for what they want to accomplish in the world.

Kristi:

They may, but they usually don't, necessarily know all the steps, all the tools, all the aspects of how they'll get there. But the mission is very clear and very earnest and very authentic. And that resonates quite a bit. And then really, really interesting compelling work experience, especially when it's something that is less present in our student body, that's really important too. And sometimes people are just, let me just say it. Sometimes people are just great. They're like really good eggs. They're nice, they're considerate, they're courteous, they're thoughtful. Who really cares what their LSAT score is?

Kristi:

There comes a point where for a lot of these elite law schools, you hit an LSAT score and you've shown you can do the work and that's what the LSAT tells you. You're really just at the point where you want the admissions office to think about how you can contribute to the community, how you can contribute to the profession and what you're going to be like to have around. We see you for the next three years. We stand in line behind you for coffee on campus. So it's nice if it's going to be a friendly face and someone who's going to be a supportive classmate and someone who will be excited to develop a relationship with in the coming years.

Branden:

I want to address something that I think is adjacent to what we've been talking about right now, but it's a little bit different. Let me preface it by saying, so we were talking at the beginning of the podcast about the presence of a number of Harvard trained lawyers on the Supreme Court and obviously that's just a tiny number of jobs that the vast majority of humans will never get anywhere near. But that said, I went to UCLA. I think it's a very good law school. My JD, I think, would open the door at a lot of places. But it is I think not just quantitatively different the number of doors that it would open, but I think it is qualitatively different. And I think that example of the Supreme Court shows that there's, I don't want to say cache because that trivializes it, but there's something that goes along or it's like an introductory card that you have in your back pocket that you have graduated from a law school that not just everybody in America knows, but lots of people around the world know.

Branden:

And so having set this question up, I think every school has a responsibility to promote diversity and inclusion. But the more powerful your degree is, the more of an entree it can make somewhere else, I think the more that responsibility would. At least if I was admitting people to Harvard Law School, I think that would be something that factored into what I was thinking about. So, how does Harvard Law School address that responsibility? How do they promote inclusion? How do they make sure that the people who are getting the Harvard law degree are going to use it, or at least some of them are going to use it, to promote diversion and inclusivity beyond Harvard's ivied walls?

Kristi:

That is such a big question and I can't tell you the number of emails and tweets our admissions office gets from people in the world who feel that other people are not bringing their own vision of the world to bear and they want the current admissions team to explain how so-and-so ever got into Harvard Law School in the first place. It is pretty a daily part of my life. It's interesting, I don't think an admissions office can guarantee that. People are showing one very specific slice of themselves in their written application materials. Admissions offices are thinking a lot about academic potential, which often overlaps with a commitment to social justice, commitment to inclusion, commitment to diversity, but may or may not always.

Kristi:

But admissions offices are thinking about an academic institution, and admissions offices for law school by and large are considering applicants and thinking about applicants who are very, very early in their careers, very early in their own personal growth and journey and change quite a bit sometimes in ways you don't expect during law school and beyond law school. And I can think of a number of my friends who one L year had very strong opinions on a number of issues that changed completely by the time they were done with one L year, by the time they had graduated, by the time they had moved on.

Kristi:

But with all that preface, how do admissions offices think about that as we're evaluating candidates? A couple of things come to mind, again, with the caveat that it's imperfect. One thing we really look for is applicants who have evidenced and discussed an interest in connecting with other people, understanding people as humans, understanding that they won't agree with everybody. In fact, they're guaranteed to have a lot of instances in which they don't agree with everybody. And part of this is about how you handle disagreement. Partly it's we're training lawyers.

Kristi:

So it's how do you persuade others to see your point of view, but also understanding that sometimes you might not persuade others to see your point of view and how do you handle that and how do you treat your counterpart, whether it's a formal adversary in court or on the Senate floor or in class or just a friend that you're out of the bar with. Like how do you treat the person that you're dealing with? Because if you're thinking of them as a human, if you're trying to understand their point of view, you will often get a lot farther than if you're thinking of them solely as an adversary or somebody to be shamed or convinced.

Kristi:

And then the other thing we think about and we hope to find are students who are going to be really thoughtful of what it means to be a lawyer and what it means to be in service of others. Partly you can see that sometimes in resumes and the activities individuals have engaged in, the type of work that they have done and the type of projects they have worked on in a particular setting, the initiatives that they have pursued. Sometimes it's organizations that they have founded that are doing incredible work on a global scale. Sometimes it's teaching Sunday school. It's a lot of different things, but a tendency towards service is something that we look for because ultimately if you're going to be a lawyer, you're going to be in a client facing profession and you do have an ethical obligation to promote justice.

Jelena:

Well, of course, as we all know, the appropriate way to handle an ideological adversary is to figure out where their capitol is and gather as many of your friends as possible to storm said capitol. So I assume that is the attitude that you are looking for in a . . .

Kristi:

No, that was a deeply disturbing day. I think it was later that day or early the next morning our Dean, Dean Manning, sent an email to our community that was pretty clear. I mean, this was not just an attack on a building or an attack on individual people or something in favor of a particular person, but an actual attack on ideals and values. I could not take my eyes off CNN that night.

Jelena:

I think that's what we were all doing that night. I think that must've been the highest ratings day in CNN history for recent years anyway.

Kristi:

As it happens, that was one of the days that we were in committee deliberations. Once upon a time, committee deliberations were in our conference room on the fourth floor of Austin Hall and we had like essentially a no laptops. I think we had our phones on, but it was sort of a no electronics rule. You are focused on the application at hand, focused on the discussion obviously in Zoom land. All of us were on Zoom having our committee deliberations. But the news closed. We had kind of our phones off and we were just focusing on discussing candidates and chatting about candidates with one another. And so the five individuals on the HLS admissions committee kind of missed that in the first couple hours until I think someone's roommate kind of knocked on the door and was like, "Are you still in meetings because you need to get off meetings. Haven't you seen what's going on?" And then we just kind of ended committee for the day that afternoon.

Jelena:

Oh, wow. That is one of those days that for years it will be like telling the story of where were you when you found out the World Trade Center had fallen. It's like there are so many stories like that. Oh, I was in a meeting with no laptops and no phones and it wasn't until I got out of this closed door meeting and I saw the people around me looking completely shell shocked that I realized something must've happened. I was a kid, my 9/11 story is I heard it on the radio on the school bus and I thought it was a war of the world style scripted radio drama. I didn't think it was real until I got to school and there were TVs in all the classrooms.

Kristi:

Wow. Right, because it was in the morning.

Jelena:

Yeah. I was on the morning school bus. I was like, what a crazy scripted series that this bus driver is listening to. This is like something that would never happen. They've got radio dramas coming back, I guess. It's my little 12-year-old self who was familiar with radio drama because my step-grandfather was a radio drama voice actor. Yeah, weird these days that there are definite before and afters too. That was one of them. But talking about the committee meeting makes me think about the question of the day in the life and the actual job of an admissions officer. You trained as a lawyer. How did you go from graduating as a lawyer to an admissions officer and what do you love about the job and what maybe did you love or did you not love about law that led you to go in a different direction? And yeah, what's the job like?

Kristi:

Okay. My background is originally in teaching. So I taught in New York City after college. I was three years between college and law school. Went to law school. After law school, I clerked for state and federal judges in Boston. For those listeners who are wondering what does it mean to clerk, it's basically a one-year temporary job where you work for a judge depending on . . . and it's typically, not always but typically for recent law school graduates. Depending on the judge, the responsibilities might look different but you're often sort of taking the first shot at writing drafts of judicial opinions, you're doing research for the judge, you're helping them prepare for oral arguments. If you're in an appellate setting, you're helping them prepare for different hearings and trials and things that happen in a trial court setting. So I worked on both appellate and trial courts. Really loved that. Very fascinating to get an inside look on the judicial system.

Kristi:

And then I was at Ropes & Gray, a very large global law firm based in Boston. I was in the Boston office and I was a litigator. Along the way, I had actually been an outside reader for the HLS admissions office and I was an interviewer for Teach For America, sort of an alumni interviewer for many years. And so I had participated in these other admissions type processes and really enjoyed that. I really liked the idea of thinking about individual people who might be a good match for certain opportunities and I really liked being in education. When I was at Ropes & Gray and clerking, I also taught at Harvard Law School working in the LLM program. So an LLM is a master's degree in law. In the United States, it's typically for people who have an undergraduate degree in law, often individuals from places outside the United States. So it's really exciting to teach LLM students at Harvard Law School because I had students from Bolivia and China and Australia and every hour in between.

Kristi:

Not everybody comes from a common law system the way we have a common law system. So there was a lot of sort of interesting discussions of legal analysis in that role beyond just the mechanics of legal writing. So I stayed tied to Harvard Law School. I have a really deep love of the institution as corny as that may sound. I really loved a lot of the professors and staff members here. This particular job, being the head of the admissions office, sometimes I feel like it fell in my lap in 2018. Basically my predecessor moved on to a different role at Harvard Law School. A couple of people reached out to me about putting my hat in the ring for the opportunity.

Kristi:

Sometimes they say that it came two years too early. I feel like I had a few more really good years left at the law firm I was working at. I loved the work. I didn't always love the pace of the work. I didn't always love the volume of the work, but I loved the actual work itself and I really liked my coworkers at the law firm. And I miss it actually. People ask me that all the time. I was at a dinner with somebody the other night and they asked, "Do you miss practicing law?" And I was like, "Yeah, every day when I wake up because I don't do that anymore." I'm immersed in law in the sense that I work at a law school and that I talk to people all day long who are thinking about being lawyers themselves, but I don't practice the way that I used to.

Kristi:

I think I will go back to it someday actually. Maybe once I retire from this job, especially I think civil legal services is something that I didn't really have an opportunity to do beyond my clinical work when I was in law school and I think that would be a really good fit for me for a someday. Careers are very long. So I like to think that I have a lot left in me in a lot of different paths.

Branden:

No doubt. What I heard you say in there somewhere was that 2018 was two years too early. What that means is that you would have been jumping in in 2020, which brings us to the question nobody wants to get asked but the question that we ask here, which is, what the heck happened in this past year or two?

Kristi:

What the heck happened?

Branden:

What the heck happened, and especially in there, we've disabused people of these notions on this podcast before, but people are thinking that there are many, many more higher LSAT scores coming out. The math doesn't work like that, but what has this admission season been like and how can students learn from it? Are any of those issues that arose here going to continue forward and what do you see as the logical resolution of this very odd period in admissions history?

Kristi:

This past year was bananas. It was a wild ride for applicants and it was actually a bit of a wild ride for admissions offices as well. As you know and as listeners probably know, undergraduate schools also got huge spikes in the volume of applications they received. Most people attribute that to undergraduate schools going test optional for the most part in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. I'm going to refer to USC. Do you mind? I know you're a UCLA person.

Branden:

As long as we acknowledge that my law school is the best one in Southern California.

Kristi:

Okay. Well, this is undergrads.

Branden:

All right. I know the undergrad stuff is fine. I didn't go to UCLA as an undergrad anyway. Honestly, it doesn't matter to me at all.

Kristi:

Okay. There was this article I read in the Chronicle of higher ed where the Dean of Admissions at USC undergrad said, "When you have a 20% rise in application volume, they don't give you a 20% increase in your staff." And that, I mean, I copied and pasted it and sent it to my whole team because my team worked really hard this year. We had a big increase in application volume mirroring and even exceeding the national increase. And I had the same amount of team members to read all the application files. An important thing to know is that admissions offices don't change process and unless you are really lucky with your finance team, you don't change staffing levels when you see a volume increase like this. So, we honored the multi-reader process we have in place.

Kristi:

All decisions are made in a committee setting at HLS. That's very time intensive. It means that every member of the admissions committee has seen basically every file no matter what the decision is. But we really believe in it and we held to it. But it meant a lot more hours and a lot more reading. And every morning we get this sort of the import of how many new applications you got the day before. And particularly in December, sort of between Thanksgiving and the New Year, it felt like every morning I would wake up, log on at six in the morning, see how many new applications were there and I literally couldn't believe it. I could not believe how many applicants were applying to HLS and applying to law school this year.

Kristi:

And there was a lot of really wonderful applicants too. I mean, I also couldn't believe the applicants that we let go of this year. We made the decision to start doing deny decisions in January because by the new year, it was very, very clear that this was going to be an ultra competitive cycle. It had been clear for some time, but it was also very clear that we needed to start letting people go, even people we really liked because there just there wasn't going to be room for everybody in the class and we felt it was more fair to start those decisions earlier in January rather than wait until February as we usually do.

Kristi:

Sometimes I think one thing I didn't realize until I started working in admissions full-time is how emotionally attached you can become to an applicant that you've never met in person. You've only read ultimately a couple pieces of paper about their lives, but you really you feel strongly that they're going to be amazing attorney, that they're going to be an amazing law student. It can be really hard to let go and there can be a temptation to say, "Well, let me just hold on. Let me waitlist this person and see if there's going to be room or if something opens up."

Kristi:

And what I've learned over the last three years is that might make me feel good, but that's not what's best for the applicant and we always have to center what's best for the applicants, even if I might be sad to let them go. It's better that they know sooner rather than later instead of waiting and waiting and waiting. I don't know, this past cycle was a wild ride. What do you think is going to happen next cycle? I think next cycle might be a little wild as well, but at least we'll be better prepared for it experiencing this one.

Branden:

Well, we've discussed it a little bit on the podcast here. We are not experts with inside knowledge such as yourself. My take was that I think it's going to be not quite as crazy and not quite as competitive, but also maybe you can answer this question, I think. Well, my understanding as someone on the outside is that there are a lot of deferments that are already in the pipeline. Is that the case or is it like an expanded applicant pool in a smaller number of seats because some of those seats are already spoken for? That's one of the things I'm worried about still in the pipeline between now and the next cycle.

Kristi:

Yeah. This, I guess, ties into some of the advice I have for applicants. I guess HLS is a little different because we've always had a lot of deferrals. I went back and checked historic data and we have years where we've deferred 200 people. If you go back decades and decades, it's been a very regular part of the practice, particularly in the early 2000s. We're very comfortable with that, but we also have a much larger class. So we can kind of absorb a lot of swings. That's interesting. From talking to other people, I thought deferrals were pretty normal for next year, but I understand that there's a lot of schools that are over enrolled that are encouraging deferrals, so it might impact them.

Kristi:

Here's the thing with deferrals though. Sometimes people who defer kind of melt away. They get going on a new job and they said, "Let me defer for one year to take on this new job." And then they get really into it and maybe they come back to law school some other time. Maybe they ask to defer for another year. Maybe they pull out altogether and decide they're going to reapply again in the future. I've seen that. And some of them never come to law school at all. The deferral melt is a very real thing. We have a lot of deferrals and we never bank on most any of them coming, it can kind of depend. But this goes to a larger message I think that coming out of this cycle is there's really nothing you can control. An admissions office only has their limited ability to select and recruit a class. But you might have some huge swing in a public health situation, as we saw in 2020, that impacts your work.

Kristi:

And as an applicant, you really have the ability to focus on your own materials and giving it all your best shot, but you don't know what's going to happen in the world. If 2020 has taught us anything, it's just you just don't know what's going to happen in the world. So you kind of have to focus on putting your best foot forward, feeling really good about all your materials. And then to the extent you can, being at peace with the outcome or giving it another shot. We love free applicants. We love applicants who apply to transfer from another institution. Don't feel like this was your one and done only chance to go to Harvard or the one and done only chance to go to law school of your choice. And there's a lot of great places to get a legal education.

Branden:

The one follow-up I wanted to ask about that is do you think that deferrals this year will be more sticky if people were deferring because they did not want to do remote school in their one L year, or is that asking you to speculate too much about motives of people that you don't actually know?

Kristi:

I wouldn't say there's a difference because whatever their motivations were for deciding to defer, they probably did something with their time in the intervening year. At least what I've observed is a lot of times people get very attached to what they're doing. The other thing I'd say is one thing I've seen a lot, at least sort of in our applicant pool in the students that deferred during 2020, is there were a lot of people who had critical language scholarships or Fulbrights or research opportunities as something that was going to bring them... United States citizens who had something that was going to bring them out of the United States for the year, master's programs in the UK, whatever it was, who deferred because they thought, well, I'll get to do that in the sort of 2020/2021 year.

Kristi:

And then they came back to us and said, hey, my fellowship didn't bring me to Jordan. It didn't bring me to Indonesia during 2020/2021 for obvious reasons and they ask to defer again, which is totally fine with us. But I think there'll be some of that too. People change over time and their interest in law might not change, but their interest in going to law school right that moment, I've observed anyway, really does.

Jelena:

I have one other follow-up question about the wild year and the rollercoaster we've all just been through, and it's a question we get from our students a lot. Do you care about the difference between a student who took an in-person LSAT and an LSAT-Flex? Do those scores look different to you at all?

Kristi:

No, we don't care. I mean, it's one of those things that's like if you were taking the LSAT in Flex, it's not like you have some big choice. And so we don't, and we say this on our website. Stop me if this is things listeners already know, but we've said very publicly since the beginning that we're going to view those scores as the same. I mean, it doesn't tell me much more than you took this LSAT at this particular point in time and I know that this was the option that was available to you. Yes, it was three sections instead of five, but that's what life was so onward. But there's no like calculation, there's nothing different that happens from our perspective. It's a 172 or a 155. Like it's just the same number in our view.

Branden:

There's a kind of similar GPA question that we have gotten in the past year about that, which is a lot of students over the last year were trying to preserve their GPAs by leaning more heavily on pass/not pass classes. And so they were worried about how that would be viewed as they're applying to law school. So if you see, and my advice, I'll just give you what my answer has been because I'm speculating about what admissions officers would see. But what I say to them usually when I get this question is, well, you're training to be a lawyer and lawyers are cautious and they protect the interest of their clients. And so what I would think is that if a law school sees you that you have a GPA and that you're protecting it under extreme circumstances, that they're going to be very understanding of that. Am I wrong? Is that different? Do you look at pass/not pass less favorably if people are leading on it more heavily in a pandemic?

Kristi:

That's so interesting. I can honestly say I don't think I've talked to somebody who has at least told me I'm opting for pass/fail classes to protect my GPA during the pandemic. I've talked to a lot of people who are opting for pass/fail, or considering it at least because of circumstances with their family. As we all know, a really large number of people in the world got COVID in the last year and that includes a lot of college students whose coursework was impacted by being ill themselves and having family members who were ill, having various uncertainties in their lives. For a lot of students, the economy impacted their academic choices. And so what we tell all of them is please don't worry about it.

Kristi:

Whatever your rationale was, it's fine. We understand that this was just a really unusual year in a lot of respects. And so we're not going to cast dispersions on you because you opted for pass/fail. We've also told people you don't need to explain it to us. I think sometimes people feel a lot of pressure to submit an addendum that says, "Let me tell you everything awful that happened to me in spring 2020 or fall 2020 to help explain why I did pass/fail courses." And we've tried to encourage applicants to share if they'd like, but not to feel any pressure to share that with us. So it sort of stayed the same. I wouldn't candidly advise people submitting an addendum that says I took pass/fail classes in order to preserve my GPA because then that makes it sound like you are . . . I guess I have a different view.

Kristi:

I think if someone had that rationale, it would make it sound like they were afraid and that they were afraid of risk. I mean, it's not the worst thing in the world to like get a B+ in a class even if you usually have As. Maybe I'm kind of biased because I have such a large class that the median GPA for us usually just kind of like falls where it falls. It's often very close year to year and there's a lot of people within all of that bandwidth. So at least for us, it's something we think about but in conjunction with the rigor of the coursework you took and what your recommenders say about you a little more so than the number itself. But I guess I can't speak to other admissions offices that might be really, really, really focused on the number and might have more understanding as to why someone would want to protect the number that they have then.

Kristi:

But I guess that's a really long way of saying it was a rough year for everybody. It was a really difficult year. And so a lot of people opted for pass/fail courses and we're not going to make any assumptions about you one way or another. We're not going to see that you took pass/fail courses and assume that you must have had somebody who died in your family and we're also not going to assume that you did it to preserve your GPA. So I just wouldn't worry about it too much. It is what it is at this point. If that's what helps the person get through the year and feel better about their academic trajectory, I think that's okay. But I probably wouldn't say it explicitly in an addendum.

Jelena:

Makes sense. Okay. We've talked about the admissions process as it is and what you like about doing it at Harvard Law specifically as opposed to potentially in other departments, but what would you change? Is there an element of the application process that you would get rid of if you could?

Kristi:

Yes, absolutely. Okay. I would get rid of the whole idea of rolling admission for law school. I would move us to maybe two rounds of admission. When I say us, I mean all law schools. I would move it to something closer to what undergraduate students have where there is a date certain on which you will find out the decision on your application. Whatever that decision is, you'll know when it's coming. And yes, you might have some real anticipation leading up to the day, but at least you won't wake up every morning for an entire year wondering will I hear from Michigan today? Will I hear from Harvard today? Will I hear from Temple today? I think that uncertainty about timing is what generates a lot of the anxiety that I see on Reddit and other fora where people sometimes grasp onto really small little things like what is the status checker portal doing?

Kristi:

Sometimes what are other people saying is happening to them to try to read the tea leaves because you don't know in admissions what the decision will be on your application for any particular school, but you also don't typically know when it's coming. So, if I could blow up something, that's what I would blow up. I would just get rid of rolling emissions. And I actually think it would be better and more orderly for admissions offices as well because instead of rolling into the office every day... This is not how we work in our office, but instead of sort of looking at the week and thinking, oh, should we waitlist some people this week or how should we structure this, you would be working towards a date when you were set to release everybody's decisions and all of your peer schools and colleagues were as well.

Branden:

Well, that sounds like a very sensible proposal. I would definitely be on board with it. And although it will never be easy to get into a world-leading law school like HLS, I want to thank you Kristi for coming on. I do feel like our listeners have a much better idea now of how to put together a winning application. And if you know what it takes to get into Harvard, you've got a great idea of what it would take to get in anywhere.

Jelena:

Now, what I took from that last answer from Kristi is that Kristi is reading your Reddit comments, so watch your back.

Kristi:

Everybody's reading your Reddit comments, folks. Everybody's reading them.

Jelena:

Don't say anything on Reddit that you wouldn't want Kristi to see unless you are very confident in the anonymity of your Reddit handle. No, yes, I want to second what Branden said. Thank you. All of this insight information is very helpful and we appreciate you clarifying not only what Harvard is truly looking for and what it takes to compete, but what it's like from your side of the table, because most of us will never sit on your side of the table. Now, we do always like to give our listeners the opportunity to learn more after listening to the podcast. So, is there anywhere online where they can follow you or learn more about the topics we've discussed today?

Kristi:

Look for our Instagram and our Twitter, HLSAdmissions, and then we're in the process of revamping it, but we think we have a lot of good content on our blog, particularly a lot of our student-authored blog pieces and that's on the HLS Admissions website and look for Admissions Blog. You'll see it right there.

Branden:

Well, thanks once again, Kristi, and thanks to all of our listeners for tuning in this week and we will see you next week.

Jelena:

And that's our show for today.

Branden:

Thanks for listening.

Jelena:

You can find all of our past episodes on Apple podcast, Spotify and wherever else you get your podcasts. You can also send us a question at podcast@testmaxprep.com or record a short voice message at 3108936303.

Branden:

You can also check out the show notes for links to further reading and resources from today's episode.

Jelena:

Until next week, stay hydrated, study hard and remember,

Branden and Jelena:

Plenty of heroes carry a briefcase!

Need LSAT Prep Help?
Get your free copy of The Road to 180!
Road to 180 LSAT Book