We all have challenges in life. Sometimes, they come from unexpected avenues.

Not too long ago, I had an applicant who had failed to get into any programs on his first try before coming to me. Because of this, we had to take a hard look at just what his application package was saying about him.

First, his LSAT sat at 156 – but when he retook it, it went down to 154! His GPA was a 3.4. Not spectacular, but still very workable as a candidate. So our next step was to examine the resume, recommendations, and personal essays and identify what was sending the wrong signals to the admissions committees.

We had some work to do.

I first asked for completely new recommendations; his were from work clients that didn’t clearly identify him as a strong candidate – they read very forced, and seemed to lack any solid content. There was little to show academic merit, which is what these schools really want from applicants.

Next, we looked long and hard at the personal profile and essays. We uncovered a fairly common applicant mistake; his essays focused mostly on his past accomplishments. Because these essays communicated the same information found in the resume, and he was not showcasing his unique personality, we needed a new tack to take.

After some probing, I discovered that he had attained a remarkable goal in mountaineering! Truly a remarkable achievement that wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the essay! Focusing on that, we completely reworked his essays to present some unique information about him, which provided a much clearer picture about “who he is.”

We reapplied to the same school again, a top forty school where the 25 to 75 LSAT percentile stood at 160 – 165. On this, the second try, he was admitted! Though it was a completely exhaustive makeover, it was worth it to see him finally get into the school he’d wanted.

– Contributed by Senior Consultant Heike Spahn, a former Associate Director of Admissions and Assistant Dean of Financial Aid at the University of Chicago Law School.

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