“Leave them alone to make their own life decisions,” ex-Berkeley admissions dean advises parents

To parents and counselors: “Leave them alone to make their own life decisions,” advises Edward Tom, retired UC Berkeley Law admissions dean. In Part 2 of our insider interview, we unveil the ideal role of parents and counselors, imprudent personal statements, best advice for undergrads and high schoolers, and expert tips on navigating admissions amidst a pandemic. (But first, catch up from Part 1!)

Can you bust a myth that law school or college applicants widely believe?

I blame the rankings in part for the belief that the entire process is solely about two numbers. Applicants need to stop focusing on law schools’ LSAT/GPA averages.  Instead, they need to find out the range of each factor. Applicants need to recognize the value that their individual life and work experiences will bring into law classrooms.

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What might you see on an application that’d cause you to do a double take?

Wacky or imprudent personal statements or attachments that are meant to distinguish themselves from the rest of the applicant pool are off-putting. They indicate poor judgment on the part of the applicant.  The use of big words, pictures of tattoos, poetry, esoteric ramblings, and verbosity almost never work.

What advice have you given prospective students that really helped them 1) earn a seat in the class and 2) succeed in the law program?
  1. Make sure you really want to go to law school and that you’re just not following “the herd.” If this means taking a gap year or more, then do it. The study and practice of law is a calling. It should never be a life default decision.
  2. Understand your life trajectory. Admissions deans are interested in where you’ve been and what you’ve accomplished or overcome AND in how those experiences will contribute to classroom dialogue.
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How should undergrads best prepare themselves for law school admissions? What about high schoolers?

Undergraduates:  Take advantage of your university’s diverse curriculum and get a well-rounded education. The major is not as important as seeing a transcript with a sampling of courses such as economics, philosophy, English, history, political science or the arts. Science/engineering majors do well in admissions as well, especially if they take a few courses in the liberal arts, too. Above all, learn to think critically and to write well.

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