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November 11, 2014

New York Times Op-Ed on Veterans Day

Happy Veterans Day! As some of you already know, I also help run a non-profit called Service to School, which provides free application help to veterans. Our goal is to help veterans get into the very best colleges and graduate schools as they transition into civilian life and navigate the sometimes strange world of higher ed. 

Today, one of my S2S colleagues and I have an op-ed in the New York Times on the subject of veterans' education, the G.I. Bill, and for-profit schools. You can read it here: "Fix the New G.I. Bill."

For any veterans out there who are reading this, thank you so much for your service.

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions and How to Prepare a Standout College Application, and also serves on the leadership team of the non-profit Service to School.

November 11, 2014

How to Approach the Last 4 Weeks Before the December LSAT

Today’s advice comes from our friends at Blueprint LSAT Prep. Blueprint students can enroll in live LSAT prep classes throughout the country, online LSAT courses from the comfort of their own home, or self-study with Blueprint’s new Logic Games book 

Halloween may be well behind us, but for those taking the December LSAT, the truly scary time of year is just beginning. With just about a month left until the Big Day, you might be stressing about being behind on your prep. The good news is that almost everyone feels that way – this is around the time when people start realizing that although they’ve come a long way in terms of LSAT prep, they still have a long way to go. The other good news is that even if you do feel that way, you might actually be right on track.

If you haven’t started your prep at all yet, the prognosis is not good. The general recommendation is to prep for 2-3 months at minimum. Sure, there are people who have prepped for a month or so and done very well, but those people are extreme outliers.

So if you haven’t even cracked a book yet, you should probably wait for a later test date, even if that means delaying your applications by a year. If you have your heart set on taking the December LSAT, be aware that you’ll need to make the LSAT your life for the next month, and you won’t have time to prepare to your full potential.

Okay, so the bad news is out of the way. Let’s talk about where you should be if you are in the thick of your prep!

If you have already started studying (and we mean really studying, not just idly flipping through an LSAT book from time to time), then you’re probably in a better spot than you think. For instance, if your practice test scores have been lower than you’d like, there’s no need to be concerned just yet – there’s still ample time to improve your score, and it’s pretty common to see a big score increase in the last few weeks of prep.

This is the period of studying when you will hopefully see things start to come together. You should’ve been spending most of your time at the beginning of your prep learning the techniques and making sure you understood everything. Now, it’s time to start trying to speed up. 

If you’re still struggling with getting through questions quickly and efficiently, you’ll want to start incorporating more timed practice. You should start at a pace that is a little quicker than normal, but not so fast that you’re getting everything wrong. Once that pace feels comfortable, lower your time goal again.

You can start with smaller chunks of questions and work your way up to full sections. This timed practice should be interspersed with taking full practice tests; after each practice test, make sure you thoroughly review the test and spend some time working on anything you struggled with before you take the next test.

Around this time, LSAT preppers sometimes start to feel overwhelmed by how much work they still have to do. It can seem intimidating, but try not to stress too much just yet – there’s still a lot of time for things to click, and you’ll have ample opportunity to stress once the test date gets a little closer! For now, keep plugging away – all of that hard work will pay off over the next month.

For more study tips from Blueprint visit their LSAT blog, Most Strongly Supported

November 3, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: The Long Essay

Essay content you’ve polished for one school often serves as a great starting point for the next application, but as we’ve often said, customizing this text for the school in question is key.  One particular challenge we see applicants struggle with each year is effectively expanding a short essay they’ve written for one program in responding to a question on the same topic but with a longer limit.  With this in mind, we’d like to offer some pointers on converting condensed comments to more extensive remarks.

1) Expand in proportion.  When taking an existing response as a starting point for crafting a longer document, one good rule of thumb is to build upon each subject to more or less the same extent.  While elaborating on your work to date might involve less time and work than the more research-intensive “why School X” discussion, it’s generally prudent to maintain balance among subjects and provide all of the major pieces of information a school requests in equal measure.

2) Maintain focus.  One frequent issue with long essays is that they sometimes lack a clear sense of direction.  To ensure that the reader is able to understand the relevance of your remarks and follow the connections among the various ideas, it’s a good idea to include transition sentences at the beginning of each paragraph that tie the subsequent remarks and examples to the topic of the essay and clearly state how certain statements relate to the question.  This exercise also serves as a check for the applicant in making sure that all of the details in the essay are related to the subject.

3) Finish when you’re finished.  While it’s important to take advantage of the opportunity that each essay presents to share information about your candidacy, you shouldn’t feel obligated to reach the upper end of a suggested word limit/range if you feel that you’ve already addressed the question and presented a full picture of your interests and background.

Good luck to everyone composing essays with an eye to R2 submission!  For more tailored guidance on essays in particular or the application process in general, feel free to contact us.

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

October 29, 2014

How Does a Diversionary Program Affect My Law School Application Disclosures?

Every law school application I know of asks about some mix-and-match of criminal disclosures.

And every school asks differently, so there is no "universal" disclosure for all schools. They could make one if they wanted, but they choose not to. So for now, you're stuck reading each question carefully and making sure you answer it accurately. It's very possible that you end up having to check "yes" for some schools and and "no" for others depending on what they're asking for in their disclosure questions.

You would be forgiven for thinking that the law school application forms assume you've gone to law school before you've actually gone to law school. These terms are quite technical, and you might not now whether what you did or what was done to you constitutes an "arrest," a "charge," or a "conviction," for example.

This post is all about helping you figure out what the key words in the disclosure questions are, and how to figure out what a particular school is asking you to disclose. (They are law schools, after all, so the precise language they use does matter.)

Some schools ask about convictions only, but others also ask about charges, and still others also ask about arrests. If you were the subject of a diversionary program, you might think you get a pass and don't have to disclose any of that stuff, because you might assume your diversionary program made any arrests/charges/convictions magically go away. You can't make that assumption.

When you're looking at the disclosure questions and doing the analysis, do not confuse the answers to any particular trigger word (arrest, charge, conviction, etc.) with a program like diversion, which is a particular form of punishment or an alternative to conventional punishment. Arrests/charges/convictions are separate things from diversion, and most application forms don't even mention diversion.

Instead, take the analysis one step at a time in the following way, using the trigger words of the application question: 

1. Arrest - did a law enforcement agency take you into custody and process you for a specified crime? Unless this happened, there was no arrest. 

2. Charge - did a court issue a document alleging that you committed a crime? Unless there was some formal allegation of wrongdoing (a "charge"), and you were arraigned (notified in court in a formal hearing) of those allegations, then there was not a "charge." 

3. Conviction - did you go through a formal, in-court process where you waived your rights and accepted responsibility by pleading guilty? This would be a "guilty plea." Alternatively, did you have a trial (by a judge or a jury) that resulted in a finding that you were guilty of one or more charges? This would also qualify as a conviction. Note that in most cases, a "diversion program" is designed to prevent a person from having to either plead guilty or go through a trial that could result in a conviction. The theory of these programs is that in exchange for agreeing to do community service or some other alternative punishment, the person is "diverted" from the traditional legal process that might result in a conviction. 

A diversionary program could be:

  • Offered before an arrest - instead of arresting you, they only "cite" you for a crime and tell you to attend a diversionary program. This usually only happens in driving cases.
  • Offered before a charge is issued so that you don't have charges in your record - so you might have been arrested, but then rather than being formally charged, you are given the diversionary program alternative.
  • Offered after a charge is issued and you are arraigned to avoid a conviction  - you might be arrested and charged in court but then may avoid conviction by doing a diversionary program. 
  • Offered after a conviction to avoid some more severe penalty (e.g. "attend this program instead of going to jail"). 

Bottom line: You still have to figure out whether you were arrested, charged, or convicted (or whatever else the application is asking about) and disclose those as required, whether or not you participated in a diversionary program. If you check the "yes" box for any of those disclosure triggers, you can and should mention the diversionary program in the required explanation that you'll have to attach to the application.

Important caveat: If you're not sure about the specifics of your case, you need to consult the jurisdiction where you think you were arrested, charged, or convicted, and get as much in writing as possible for your records. You might also need to hire a lawyer to get further clarification if you're not sure how to interpret your records. We are helping you decode the application form questions, not giving legal advice. And if in doubt, err in favor of disclosure. Hope that helps!

Related topics form the archives:


Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions and How to Prepare a Standout College Application, and also serves on the leadership team of the non-profit Service to School.

October 28, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: The Comparison Trap

We wanted to take some time today to discuss a frequently made mistake in the application process.  In their desire to make their case to their target MBA programs, many applicants devote sentences and even paragraphs to explaining why the school in question is their “first choice” and arguing its superiority over other schools.

Though certainly understandable, this is actually not a very productive exercise.  Let’s consider a few reasons why from the schools’ point of view:

Tell me something I don’t know.  A popular strategy – and not always bad one – for applicants seeking to demonstrate their fit with one school above any other is to study its website to understand the program’s self-determined selling points, and then profess an interest in those.  The thing that essay writers don’t always consider is that while a school’s distinguishing characteristics might be the factors that set it apart from others, this is not necessarily what the admissions committee wants to read about in an applicant’s essays.  The very admissions officer reading your file spends months every year pushing this marketing message out to prospective students.  Members of Harvard’s and Darden’s admissions staff know all about the merits of the case method, Kellogg and Duke’s admissions committees are already up to their ears in team orientation, and Stanford and Yale could not be more aware of the benefits of a small class size.  This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t touch briefly on these key points (the schools highlight these for a reason), only to suggest that to put together a really compelling application, it’s important to push beyond high-level differentiators and immediate association and demonstrate that you’ve learned about the program on a deeper level.  In making room for this level of detail within a restrictive word limit, cutting other schools out of the picture is a great starting point.

Enough about us, let’s talk about you.  It’s not uncommon for applicants to become so engrossed in explaining how their target program differs from other business schools that they neglect to really articulate how their own interests, personality and preferences fit into the picture.  Very nearly every school requires that prospective students compose an essay explaining how the MBA program will help them accomplish their goals, but there’s not a single one that adds “better than any other MBA program.”  Though several schools do explicitly inquire about other target programs if an applicant advances to an interview, at this early point the adcom is much more interested in hearing about the candidate and his or her fit with the school.  It’s a bit premature to assure a school that it’s your number one pick when the adcom hasn’t even decided whether they’re interested.  It’s better to use all the space at your disposal in the essays to cover your experiences and accomplishments, share your aspirations and showcase your research on the MBA program.

I bet you say that to all the girls.  Seriously, though, if an applicant goes out of his way to profess that Chicago Booth is the best school for him, is his first choice, etc., Booth really has no assurance that this applicant hasn’t written an equally passionate love letter to regional rival Kellogg.  If a strategy seems likely to work in one place, might as well use it everyplace, right? Yes, it’s generally true that schools prefer to admit students who are excited about their program and seem likely to attend, but actions speak louder than words.  The details of campus visits and conversations with students and alumni are far better topics to cover in your essays.  To invoke a classic essay-writing maxim, “show, don’t tell” the adcom that you care.  Further, the best way to convince the adcom that you “only have eyes for their school” is to not mention any other school at all.

We hope that this offers a number of helpful “do”s to offset this big essay “don’t.”  It is very important to get an in-depth understanding of your target MBA programs and engage members of the community.  Taking the time to learn about the school’s curriculum, special programs and extracurricular activities – whether through a visit to campus, conversations with members of the community or reading the Clear Admit School Guides – will pay dividends here.  Happy writing and researching!

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

October 20, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: Interviewing the Interviewer

We’ve been offering a good deal of advice lately on how to conduct oneself and prepare responses to MBA interview questions.  Today we’d like to highlight the importance of thinking about what you might ask. Virtually all business school interviewers conclude their discussion by offering the applicant a chance to ask some questions about the program.  While it might be tempting to claim that you’ve already learned all you need to know about the school, this is actually a great opportunity to gain additional insight, show your enthusiasm about a specific element of the curriculum or community, and demonstrate that you appreciate the opportunity to learn from your interviewer’s experiences.

Here are a few simple guidelines to keep in mind while thinking about what you might ask:

1. Focus on the positive.  Now is not the time to conduct due diligence or express skepticism about a school’s academic program or career resources.  You’re still marketing yourself to the adcom at this stage of the process, so you’ll want to project enthusiasm and demonstrate a desire to become more familiar with a program’s merits and your potential fit.

2. Avoid the obvious and the obscure.  Because this is an opportunity to tap the interviewer’s unique knowledge and point of view (and he or she will assume that you did your basic research before applying), it’s best to avoid asking questions that could be answered by perusing the school’s website or speaking with anyone you might happen to encounter on campus.  On the other hand, you don’t want to ask something so obscure or specific that your interviewer might not have an answer.  Seeking the interviewer’s opinion on or impression of some element of the program often makes for a discussion that both parties will find interesting and enjoyable.

3. Mind your audience.  Remember that students, alumni and admissions staff will all have a different perspective on and level of familiarity with the program, and that it’s wise to pose inquiries tailored to his or her experience with the school.  For instance, alumni interviewers generally feel strongly about their schools but might not have the most current information on the academic programs and campus culture, so a good question might focus on the classes they have found most useful in their post-graduation career.

We hope that these guidelines are helpful in thinking about how you might approach the end of your discussion and wish everyone interviewing at business schools in the coming weeks the best of luck!  For personalized interview coaching, mock interviews and school-specific advice, feel free to contact Clear Admit or investigate the downloadable Clear Admit Interview Guides in our online shop.

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

October 15, 2014

How Much Can I Help My Friend With His Personal Statement?

At a recent LSAC forum, I met a guy who is a refugee and is currently in the middle of the law school admissions process, as am I. He is studying for the LSAT, but having much trouble due to English being his second language. I offered to assist him in preparation for the LSAT. I have been working with him on this, but he has recently asked me to review his personal statement, and I am unsure of the ethical constraints in such work. I read your book and I can tell that you approach such issues with considerable tact and ethical consideration. Do you believe that it would be acceptable to help him with grammatical issues? He is highly intelligent but struggles with verb tenses in the English language. His oral speech is for the most part easily proficient, but his writing needs considerable work. I am concerned about assisting him on this because I know that a law school may be upset if they find that his writing is considerably less grammatically sound than his admissions materials led them to believe. I would appreciate any advice you may be able to give.

This is such a great question, and big points to you for caring about where that line gets drawn. It's one I'm mindful of every day in my work with applicants, and sometimes the line can get fuzzy, so it bears thinking about. There are both ethical and practical considerations, and I'll tackle both in this post. I'm thrilled you're giving me an excuse to think out loud about this topic, so thank you.

When I think back to when I was an admissions officer, my expectation was that for something really important like a grad school application, it makes a lot of sense to have a second (and picky) pair of eyes stare at your documents to make sure that things are squared away. There's nothing wrong with that, and that includes fixing a verb tense here or there. 

We've all been there — you've stared at the same document a gazillion times, you're trying to get it perfect and just so. That's precisely when your eyes and your brain betray you, and you stop seeing little problems and mistakes that can sneak in and stay put.

As a writer, you can miss macro problems, too, because you're too close to your own material. Maybe you think you're being really clear in a particular sentence or paragraph. Or you assume the essay has a coherent arc but in fact it takes a bunch of detours that seemed terribly important to you but really don't move the essay forward. Pity the poor admissions officer trying to make sense of some of that stuff.

For those reasons, the best help someone can give you as an applicant is to tell you when things are making sense, when they're easy to follow, when they are true to what you are trying to say, and when they have your voice. Or, more importantly, when that's not the case. Just make sure you ask the right people. It's amazing what kind of damage others can do when they have nice intentions but have half-baked notions about what a law school personal statement is supposed to accomplish. The worst essays, bar none, are the ones that have obviously been written by committee: here's a bit you included to make your dad happy, there's a bit that a 1L friend threw in, here's something you added based on something you saw on a discussion board. And next thing you know, you end up with a dog's breakfast instead of a good personal statement. Crowdsourced essays are almost always awful.

So getting some kind of outside feedback on a personal statement can be helpful in the right circumstances. That's true for both the superficial stuff and the substance, and it's true for both native and non-native English speakers.

I regularly help people with grammar, but I try to make sure they understand that something like a verb tense isn't discretionary, that there are actual rules that govern. Maybe nobody in high school or college taught them about the past perfect tense, for example. (Very few schools seem to teach it anymore. Ditto for proper punctuation and parts of speech.) If you're applying to law school, there's no time like the present to beef up your grammar and writing skills, and not everyone comes into the process with the level of skills they want or need. Whether you get help from a friend, or the writing center at your school, or someone else, those skills matter not just for your application, but also for your success in law school and your success as a lawyer.

Because guess what? Law school professors and law firm partners are notoriously picky about what the rest of the world would consider minutiae. So are judges. Some of them are picky because they're pedantic (I'm guilty, too, sometimes), but they are also picky because in the law, these details matter. Putting a comma in the wrong place in a contract can cost your client a million dollars and result in a malpractice suit. If commas can get you into that much trouble as a lawyer, imagine what can happen if a lawyer hasn't yet mastered other parts of written English. Here's a page from a brief where the judge actually marked up the writing mistakes and kicked it back to the lawyer who had filed it. Embarrassing. 

But there's a big difference between teaching someone good grammar and trying to make a non-native writer sound native. Let me state for the record that I'm not dissing non-native writers. My two favorite authors in all of English-language literature were not native speakers (Nabokov and Conrad), so don't mistake this for a xenophobic screed.

More specifically, if you can stick to teaching correct grammar and making sure your friend actually improves his own writing skills, then that can be a helpful exercise, not just for his personal statement but for his LSAT writing sample as well. But if you try to make a non-native speaker sound native, or try to make his written English substantially better than he'll be able to perpetuate on his own, you're turning him into something he's not. I hear from applicants from abroad (and from certain countries in particular) who ask for that kind of help all the time, and at our firm, we decline to go that far. Sometimes we get yelled at because we haven't made an applicant's English "perfect." We try to persuade those applicants that if their essay sounds as if it's been written by a native English speaker, and it's clear from their background that they are not, no admissions officer will find that essay credible, and they'll begin questioning the authenticity of the application more generally. Most people aren't Nabokov, it's true.

Moreover, admissions officers will compare the essay to the writing sample on the LSAT (the only helpful purpose of the writing sample, in my opinion), and if that gap is too large, it will be obvious that the essay has been "scrubbed." That is never a benefit for the applicant; it actually amounts to self-sabotage.

For those reasons, a non-native English speaker is better off staying closer to her true level of written expression, however far she can push that between now and then. It's impossible to fool admissions officers about actual writing skills when they have that LSAT writing sample in front of them. (That's true for native speakers as well.) They don't expect the LSAT writing sample to be perfect — test takers are given stupid topics to write about, and those writing samples are drafted under time pressure without the opportunity to belabor 20 revisions. But it is a great baseline against which to compare the application essay when its authenticity is in question for any reason.

What does that mean for an applicant whose written English skills need "considerable work," as you describe the situation? Remember that one of the things an admissions officer is measuring in the application is whether the person has sufficient command over written English. (See my Big Rule #1 for writing a law school application essay.) If an applicant's writing skills are too deficient, then I'd say that person isn't ready yet to apply to law school, or at least to a competitive one. (I concede that there are plenty of junk law schools that do not select for good writing skills, but they aren't worth attending anyway; good luck finding a decent legal job afterwards.) Applicants with poor writing skills won't be able to keep up at a law school whose grades revolve around long, high-stakes, written exams at the end of each semester, and those schools don't want to set people up for failure if they admit them. Will you be around to fix your friend's writing when he's muscling through his law school exams, submitting a legal brief to his summer employer, drafting cover letters, or taking the bar? You won't, nor should you be. But I give you a big, gold star and a bunch of karma points for mentoring him. And sometimes mentoring means *not* doing something for someone, but helping him help himself.

That doesn't mean that a top law school is out of the picture for your friend full stop. Maybe his current level is good enough that you can help him improve it between now and the LSAT/submission of the application essay. But if that gap is too wide, he would probably benefit from an additional year to participate in an intensive writing program and get his written English skills up to par. There is no shame in that, and in the long run it will make him a better law student and a more effective lawyer, too. It will also make him more likely to land a good legal job afterwards, which is ultimately the whole point. All of that is true whether a person grew up speaking English or not. 

In the meantime, here are some of my favorite books that help people get their written English from good to great. To master the rules, the Chicago Manual of Style is still the gold standard. For pro tips on merging grammar with style, check out Sin and Syntax: How to Craft Wickedly Effective Prose. And here's a separate post I wrote on good writing for law school applications.

If you get a chance, please share updates in the comments. I'm all in favor of paying things forward, and some day, when his writing skills are much stronger, I'm sure your friend will turn around and help others with their writing. When done right, that's a great thing. Good luck to you both on our LSAT and your applications.


Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions and How to Prepare a Standout College Application, and also serves on the leadership team of the non-profit Service to School.

October 13, 2014

MBA Admissions Tip: MBA Interview Prep

With interview invitations from a number of programs already on their way out to Round One applicants, we wanted to offer some more advice on this element of the admissions process.  Last week we posted some very basic etiquette information that will help candidates ensure that everything is in order on the big day.  Today, we turn our attention to some steps one can take to prepare for the interview itself.

1) Know what to expect. This might go without saying, but interview types and duration vary across programs.  For instance, nearly all invited Stanford applicants interview with alumni, while on-campus Wharton interviews are conducted by second-year students and admissions staff.  Candidates for Columbia admission participate in an informative resume-based chat, while HBS and MIT interviewers have in-depth knowledge of the applicant’s entire file.  Thinking carefully about the format of the interview and the person conducting it will influence the sort of questions you might come prepared to ask and help you arrive at a mindset conducive to success.

2) Review your materials.  Because it’s important that you reinforce your positioning during the interview, reading over your essays and reflecting on the themes presented in your application is a great first step in preparing to speak about your ideas and objectives.

3) Tell them something they don’t know.  In addition to reinforcing your existing message (a critical component of most interviews), the interview is also a great time to expand or add new information to your file via the interviewer’s notes.  Have there been any major developments in your candidacy that you should share?  Have you visited the campus or spoken with students since submitting your written materials?  Have you made any strides toward your goals?  Even if just an example from work or an activity that relates to the interview question but didn’t fit into your essays, it’s a great idea to approach the interview with the goal of enhancing the admissions committee’s knowledge of your candidacy.

4) Anticipate and practice.  Though it’s impossible to predict the exact questions you will be asked, the type of interview and historical data will provide some great clues as to the sort of information the interviewer will be seeking.  The Clear Admit Interview Archive could serve as a great starting point, as it features detailed firsthand interview accounts from applicants to the top MBA programs.  After arriving at a list of possible inquiries, it’s a good idea to not only reflect on what you might say in response, but to actually practice articulating your responses, explaining your goals and recounting some significant professional and extracurricular experiences.

Best of luck to all those who are eagerly awaiting invitations and preparing for interviews!  For more information about Clear Admit’s school-specific Interview Guides visit our shop and access immediate downloads of all the latest interview questions for your target school.  For more information about our tailored one-on-one mock interview services, feel free to contact us.

About Clear Admit:

Ivey Consulting is proud to partner with Clear Admit to provide comprehensive admissions information and consulting services to business school applicants. Learn more about Clear Admit here.

October 7, 2014

Submit with September LSAT Score or Wait to Apply With December Score?

So you didn't get the score you wanted on the September LSAT, and you're planning on retaking in December in the hope of improving your score.  You and lots and lots of other people! What's the best move for your application timeline?  Should you submit now with your existing score, or hold off until you have your December score? 

I recommend submitting your applications with your September score, even if you think you'll be retaking the test. You could always hold off on submitting until the December score comes in, or you could submit with September but ask the schools to hold off on reviewing your file until then (which is effetively the same as not submitting until the score arrives). 

But that's awfully late in the game to be submitting, and most repeat test-takers don't go up by much. You might have wasted two months just to see your score go up one or two points, or even down; it happens. If you had a bad day in September, you might have another bad day in December. Some people find that they always have a bad day where the LSAT is concerned. 

So it's fine to plan on retaking in December, but don't hold up your applications in the meantime. 

Related question: When you're submitting with your September score, should you let schools know that you want to retake the test? Here's a pro tip: They don't actually care that much if you're planning on retaking -- they care if you actually do retake.

You could let the schools know that you plan on retaking th test, but I'm not a huge fan of that option. You might not be able to take the test when the December date rolls around — maybe you wake up with the flu, or you're snowed into your apartment, or some other emergency gets in the way. Life is like that sometimes, and it's best to anticipate that kind of contingency. If you've told schools you'll be retaking, and then don't actually retake, it's awkward to have to get back to them with a big old "nevermind." Then it's better just to send them a score if and when you have it. If all goes well and you do end up retaking the LSAT in December, the schools you've already applied to will automatically receive the new score.

And a word of advice to eary birds who aren't applying this season: Make September*, not December, your backup. That means June should be the latest time you take your first test, so that your retake is in September at the latest. Then you won't find yourself in these timeline pickles.

Good luck in December!

* Some years it's September, in others it's October. 


Related LSAT posts from the archives:


Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founder of Ivey Consulting. She and her team help college, law school, and MBA applicants make smart decisions about their higher education and navigate the application process. She is the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions and How to Prepare a Standout College Application, and also serves on the leadership team of the non-profit Service to School.

October 7, 2014

52 Weeks to College: Week 15 — School Reports

Two applicants are applying to the same college. They both have a 3.99 GPA. Will the admissions officer give them the same academic rating while evaluating their files?

Not necessarily.

Why not? Because not all 3.99 GPAs are created equal. Maybe student A has gotten top grades in the toughest classes at the most competitive schools, while student B has gotten top grades in the easiest classes at the least competitive schools. Those GPAs aren't really the same. You know it. Admissions officers know it. Everyone knows it.

So how does an admissions officer actually figure out what your 3.99 GPA means?<--break->

That's where the school report comes in. It is a crash course for the admissions officer to learn about your high school so that he or she knows how to interpret your 3.99 GPA. The school report typically explains how the GPA is calculated and weighted; what your rank is in the class (if your school ranks); and how rigorous your courses are. What the admissions officer learns in your school report will have a direct bearing on your academic rating. 

So if admissions officers are going to be scrutinizing your school report, you should know what's in it and how an admissions officer will interpret it. We include our top tips for school reports below, and you can also find more information about them in chapter 18 of our book.

(Note that we call it a "school report" because that's what the Common Application calls it. Some colleges have other names for these reports, like "secondary school report" or "counselor recommendation." Treat those all as the same thing.)

Week 15 To-Dos

Every Week

  • Check your email, voicemail, texts, and snail mail for any communications that relate to applying to college. Read them and take whatever action is necessary.
  • Update your parents about what you’re doing. This regular communication will work wonders in your relationship with your parents during this stress-filled year.  

This Week 

  • Draft your 6th application.
  • Interview with your colleges.
  • Check the websites of colleges on your list to see if and when admissions representatives will be coming to a place near you. 
  • Meet with college representatives.
  • Continue working on your CSS/PROFILE forms and college financial aid applications.
  • Prep for your upcoming standardized tests. (See Week 6.)

Tips & Tricks

1. Educate yourself about the types of school reports and the kinds of information in them. There are several different kinds of reports: the original school report, the midyear report, the final report. Everything but the original report is just an update to that original report, so don't get bogged down by the names. Your school will submit the original report around the same time that you submit your application. Depending on circumstances, there might also be additional reports: typically optional reports, international reports, or homeschool reports. 

2. Check out your own transcript. You are required to provide official transcripts from every school you have attended since ninth grade. On the transcript, the admissions officer will be able to scrutinize your grades, identify trends and patterns, and spot markers of brilliance or slackerdom. What trends do you see? What do your transcripts say about you? Are there any shining stars or black holes? Also make sure the information is accurate!

3. Make sure the school profile serves you. Because an admissions officer might not know much about your high school, the school report will include a school profile. It should give some basic information about your school (location, composition of the student body, public/private/boarding/military, accreditations); information about what advanced academic programs are available (AP? IB? honors courses? which ones?); the grading system; and a profile of the most recent graduating class (test results, grade distributions, regional/national/international academic awards, what kinds of colleges they went on to). If your high school doesn't post the school profile on its website, ask your college counselor for a copy. If the school profile is inaccurate, out of date, or lacking from your perspective, talk with your school counselor about addressing those problems. 

4. Follow up with your recommenders. Recommenders get busy and aren't necessarily paying attention to your deadlines the way you are. It is helpful for them if you check in and follow up to make sure your recommendations gets submitted on time. A short, polite e-mail is appropriate.

5. If you haven't already finished your early applications, drop everything and get those done!

You can read more tips around school reports and recommendations in chapters 18 and 19 of our book

About the Authors:

Alison Cooper Chisolm heads the college admissions consulting practice at Ivey Consulting. She came to private consulting after working in admissions for more than 10 years at three selective universities (Southern Methodist University, University of Chicago, and Dartmouth College).

Anna Ivey is the former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process and make smart choices about higher education.

You can find more college admissions tips in their book How to Prepare a Standout College Application (Wiley 2013), and follow them on Twitter and Facebook

About the 52 Weeks to College Series:

52 Weeks to College is a week-by-week plan for applying to college. It breaks this complex and difficult project down into weekly to-do lists with supporting tips and tricks for getting it all done. Based on the Master Plan for applying to college found in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Application52 Weeks to College is designed for any applicant who intends to apply to top U.S. colleges. For those of you who are just discovering the 52 Weeks series and want to catch up, click here.

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