What to Expect If You're Planning on Applying to Law School - Part 4

Here’s a tough thing to hear: 

If you're doing things right, it is unlikely that you will be 100% satisfied with the application you submit to law school.


Because the image most people conjure up when they think about applying to law school does not include page limits, essay prompts, or even directions. There’s an assumption that you can write whatever you want — and as much as you want — because it’s your chance to tell admissions officers what you think is important.

Applicants seem to get most frustrated with resume revisions. While there are some exceptions, the vast majority of applicants — including those with a few years of work experience after college — should be submitting a one-page resume to law schools. That probably means cutting things that you feel are vital to your resume.

If you had a dozen college activities that you think must all go on your resume, prepare for disappointment. If you believe you need 15 bullet points to describe your responsibilities as a law firm paralegal, prepare for disappointment. Your original version may contain things that you cannot possibly imagine leaving off your law school resume.

But what you feel is important and what a law school admissions officer will think is important often differ dramatically. Getting some advice from an outsider on what to cut, and what to keep, can make a big difference. In the end, your materials will be stronger, and you may not feel entirely satisfied with them. A paradox, but an important one to remember.

The same problem applies to page restrictions for law school essays. Many applicants struggle to comply with a two-page limit, which is typical for a main essay to law school. You might tell yourself that all of the extra details are “really important,” or that an idea is “too complex” to fit into a two-page essay. You might offer a variation of this logic: “I just can’t say what I want to say in two pages!” That may very well be true. But writing more is not the answer. Instead, you must find something you want to say that will fit into the page limit. Writing shorter is always harder than writing longer. (Take it from a legendary writer and thinker: "I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.– Blaise Pascal)

Other application instructions also cause consternation for applicants. Some schools will provide an open-ended invitation to attach an addendum explaining some issue not covered elsewhere. But not every school does this. Every year I see applicants blindly attaching their addendum to every application — even when a school does not ask for one (or, in some cases, when a school expressly says not to submit other written materials). When we point out the problem, people can get frustrated: “But it’s important to me, so I want to tell them about it!”

Of course it’s important to you; nobody’s disputing that. But it may not be important to the admissions committee, and they might be signaling very strongly — or even telling you expressly — that they don’t want to hear about it. Worse still, your inability to follow directions about what to submit with your application may draw the ire of the admissions officer who will be deciding your fate. 

Following directions, respecting page limits, and revising your materials can be extremely frustrating. It’s hard work to sum up your life and qualifications and goals in 3-6 pages of original written content. But that’s the task you're given: to provide your best case, in a limited amount of space. The sooner you accept the boundaries of the application process, the stronger your applications will be, and the better off you will be, too.


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.