I've started filling out my applications through LSAC. As I go, I continuously bring up the printer-friendly PDF version to proofread it, and I notice there's some wacky formatting things happening. Information getting cut off, whole pages with one line of text on them, etc. Submitting applications electronically through LSAC certainly seems to make everyone's life easier in theory, but I hate that these formatting issues keep arising. Is it fairly common to open a file and see these things as an admissions officer? Are evaluators aware that these things are (usually) LSAC's issues and not the applicant's?
Yes, another blog post on the exciting topic of forms! (See last week's post about application forms here.) Bear with me, because this topic is pretty important.
Since the new online law school applications went live on September 1, I've been getting an earful about them, and I've been talking to a lot of people to get more clarification. I have a couple of take-aways and observations to share, and I hope they help:
1. Welcome to the Flex App
Unless you've had the pleasure or curse of looking at law school applications over the course of several seasons, you wouldn't necessarily know that LSAC has changed its online application system pretty radically this year. My overall reaction: Hallelujah!
Up through last year, schools still made their online applications look like the old paper versions, even though paper applications had already gone the way of the dodo. They paid graphic designers to make these forms look pretty (and sometimes paid them to make forms look ugly), but in any event, they looked just like old-fashioned paper forms except you were filling them out online, and they all had a different look and feel and layout.
Now, the illusion of a "form" is gone. Schools don't really have their own application forms anymore, just their own application questions. The "form" as we used to know it no longer exists. Schools all ask their (individual and different) questions in a template out in the cloud, and you answer them out in the cloud in a totally standardized online format.
That change moves law school applications closer to the Common App model which many of you know from undergraduate admissions, although the law school system is not as "common" as the Common App. The law schools wanted much more flexibility to ask their questions exactly the way they want to, and so there's still more variety in the questions from school to school than you'd see in the Common App (even including the Common App school supplements). Hence the name "Flex App," which reflects their more flexible approach. (Flexible for the schools, that is. Not for you.)
You can read the official announcements about the Flex App here and here and here. For those who are curious, LSAC was forced into this new online system by a lawsuit alleging that the old online system discriminated against blind applicants, because the old online applications weren't compatible with screen reader software. Creating the Flex App was part of LSAC's settlement to that law suit, and they were given until September 1, 2011 to make a compliant system available. (That probably explains why it's still so buggy. They didn't have the luxury of taking extra time in the development phase, and I'm guessing they'll be fixing it as they go.) In any event, that's another nice outcome of the Flex App: greater accessibility for the visually impaired.
2. Welcome to the Many Tech Glitches
Because the system is so new and was probably rushed, it's also very, very buggy. LSAC will no doubt iron out those bugs over time—it sounds as if their tech support has already been pretty busy fielding applicant phone calls over the last week and a half since the new system went live—but I wouldn't expect all the bugs to be fixed overnight. So this year's applicants are the guinea pigs aka beta testers.
Good news: you all are a 2.0 generation, and you are already trouble-shooting all the bugs and crowdsourcing solutions. Here, for example, is a thread on Top-Law-Schools.com identifying a bunch of bugs. I like the work-arounds suggested there, so go check them out, and no doubt there will be more to come.
3. Additional Attachments
One of the bugs identified in that thread is the problem of attaching addenda that aren't expressly required. Apparently, they give you a place to attach those pieces that the application asks for (like your essay or your resume), but if you need to attach an unsolicited addendum explaining something you want to explain, you might not be given a way to attach it. One suggestion, which I think it great, is to combine all your written attachments into one master attachment document for now (or at least until LSAC lets you attach more stuff), so you'll create one big Word Doc that includes your essay, your resume, your addendum, and whatever else you want to be attaching. More tips for handling attachments are in that TLS thread (and elsewhere).
4. Some other quirks
If you're applying to my alma mater, the University of Chicago Law School, you'll see that LSAC created two different apps for them: one for Regular Decision, and one for Early Decision. Does that mean you have to commit to ED or RD when you select the application? What if you change your mind half-way through (say, because you're still waiting for your October score)?
Fortunately, I've been told by those in the know that even after you start working on one application, you can always delete it and just start over with the other. It's not an ideal system in my view, but at least you have that do-over option, and you're not locked into a RD or ED application just by virtue of selecting it. So if you know you want to apply to Chicago but are on the fence about whether to apply ED, you don't need to put off working on the application in the meantime.
We may be in for a bumpy application season as we work through and around the quirks of the Flex App. The good news is that if you're running into certain problems, you can be sure that other applicants are too, and law schools will know better than to assume that you intended to use a whole page for just one sentence, or that you intended to cut off the last word of your conclusion.
Readers, do you have any other feedback or solutions to share about the Flex App?
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. Read more admissions tips in The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions, downloadable as an e-book. Join the conversation here in the blog comments and on Twitter and Facebook. Or email us a new question for the blog.