Dean's Certifications MIA

Take a walk down memory lane with me.

In hindsight, my biggest frustration when I applied to law school many years ago was something that should have been easy to check off the list: the Dean's Certification. I had submitted the forms to my pre-law advising office early. My record contained no disciplinary or academic problems to complicate matters. And I waited... and waited... and waited... while they sat on the form. It felt like forever, and every day that they weren't getting around to it was another day some of my applications weren't going complete. I was very frustrated. Why were they holding my applications hostage like that? I never did get a good answer.

I'm sad to report that not much has changed since then. Given the similar stories I hear from applicants every year from a whole range of undergraduate institutions (including some fancy-pants schools), that experience is not unique to me, to my college, or even to that decade.

In a recent post — "Why Hasn't My Application Gone Complete?" — I talked about the importance of following application instructions, and making sure you've checked off all the required bits and pieces if you're wondering why your application hasn't gone complete. I specifically mentioned the Dean's Certification as an example. Sometimes the problem isn't on you, though. Maybe you've checked in with the pre-law advisor (or whoever handles those forms within your college) and you've been told, more than once, that the form will be completed and mailed "next week." And next thing you know, months have gone by. Months! Argh. I remember that as if it were yesterday.

What can you do in that situation? This might be one of your first experiences having to "manage up." Managing up means you have to get someone to do something, but without any direct or formal (or even indirect or informal) authority over that person. That's especially hard to do when you're dealing with a big bureaucracy. Can you compel your pre-law advisor to do anything? No. No carrot, no stick.

So assuming (1) you delivered the proper paperwork (2) with plenty of lead time, and (3) you were told that it would be sent out by X date, and (4) that date has come and gone, it's time to become the squeaky wheel. Nobody likes being on the receiving end of a squeaky wheel, but if an administrator has repeatedly given you the run-around, you might need to call or email or show up in person once a week until that person does what he or she has promised to do. (And gets paid to do.) I don't advocate that approach lightly. All four of those conditions above must be met, and you must always communicate with that office pleasantly and professionally. Do not yell, do not get mommy involved, do not lose your cool. But do be persistent, and document your communications and follow-up efforts.

Note that if you've had some kind of disciplinary or other problem at that institution, you should make an appointment to discuss what's in your official file so that you can make the proper disclosures in your applications and make sure everyone is on the same page. You'll need to build even more cushion into your timeline in that case. More on those kinds of disclosures here:

And now to the good part: if your pre-law advisor has been responsive and timely in sending out the form, make sure to say "thank you." He or she has spared you a big headache, and you may not even realize how good you have it...

Former Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School and a recovering lawyer, Anna Ivey founded Ivey Consulting to help college, law school, and MBA applicants navigate the admissions process. You can find more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions. Join the conversation here in the blog comments and on Twitter and Facebook, or email us a new question for the blog.