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Finding the Right Fit for a Nontraditional Candidate

One thing I do for clients is help them find the best fit law schools for their educational and career goals among all law schools out there. That's often the key that can effectively position them in the admissions process, especially for "non-traditional" applicants.

One time I worked with a client who, in statistical terms, would have sunk from view in the applicant pool. His LSAT was below 160, and he had a 3.5-ish GPA from a decent but no-name college. It didn't help matters that his major was considered very 'soft.'

His personal story was a lot more impressive. He had immigrated to the US from a developing country, arriving here with exactly 100 dollars in his pocket. He really pulled himself up by the bootstraps. He took the entrepreneurial route, starting and then selling his own business. He later moved on to health care management, which was the field he was currently working in, very successfully. But while that's an impressive life story, the bare facts of it weren't going to persuade most law schools that he was J.D. material.

The client had his sights set high. He wanted to get into one of the top 20 law schools. I told him it was going to be a stretch, given his LSAT and GPA.

I knew that the key to law school, for him, lay in 1) school selection and 2) emphasizing his 'boot-strapper' background – without sounding whiny.

I persuaded him to trim his list of target schools to those which I know appreciate applicants with substantial professional experience. Northwestern really fit the bill. The average age of Northwestern students is a bit higher than at other top programs, and – more importantly – they interview applicants. Given my client's personality and background, I knew that the interview would be a great opportunity for him to put some extra ‘wow' into his candidacy.

Before he could get to the interview stage, though, we needed to prepare an application that leveraged his strong points: a fascinating background and a successful career. The part of his story that we agreed we should focus on was that he had a desire to help other new citizens starting businesses navigate the pitfalls of entrepreneurship that he had experienced first-hand.

His essays were of a total piece. His personal statement discussed his background generally and his professional and entrepreneurial experiences specifically. The other essays he wrote about his background gave more detail about his life experience. Finally, the essay he wrote about his career goals and his desire to attend law school tied it all together perfectly.

He was not only admitted to Northwestern, but was offered a hefty scholarship there as well.

– Contributed by Senior Consultant Mark Meyerrose, a former Harvard Law School admissions officer.

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