My Journey to Choose A Law School

In the middle of last year, somewhere around my trip to Colorado, I decided to go to law school. This was a huge decision that took a lot of prayer and thought, but once I decided to go this route, I jumped in head first. This will be a long post, so if you’re not in the mood to read, just scroll to the very bottom.

Overview

My first challenge in the process is that I knew very little about law school in general, not to mention the application process. So, as I do frequently, I turned to Reddit and r/lawschooladmissions to learn everything I could.

The Law School Admissions Test, otherwise known as the LSAT, is the standard test that is required for admission to virtually every law school in the country. The LSAT is administered by the Law School Admissions Council, or LSAC. Lots of acronyms, I know. That is the first thing you need to know about applying to law school: its nothing but acronyms.

Preparing for the LSAT

The LSAT is comprised of 6 different sections, two Logical Reasoning sections, an Analytical Reasoning section, and a Reading Comprehension section, all of these are multiple choice. Additionally, there is an unscored writing sample. There are around 25 questions per section and you have 35 minutes to complete each section. One of the three multiple choice sections also repeats in the form of a experimental section. In this section LSAC tests out potential new questions. The test taker doesn’t know what questions are experimental, however. Scores fall on a scale of 120 to 180. 150 is average. For reference, the average LSAT score at Harvard is 173. Does that sound confusing? Good, now you know how I felt.

The key to the LSAT is that it does not evaluate previous knowledge at all. The LSAT attempts to measure the test taker’s ability to draw and articulate conclusions after being given a scenario. So you don’t have to know the capital of Iowa (Des Moines) or the scientific name of a Willow Oak (Quercus Phellos) to do well on this test. Though it is pretty impressive I knew both of those, right?

The reading comprehension section is pretty straight forward: read a short article (or two articles) and evaluate the arguments presented. The questions might ask “Which of the following is the author’s main point?” Or if you are comparing two pieces it might ask “Which of the following might the two authors agree on?” You get the picture.

Logical reasoning is very similar, it asks the test taker to evaluate short paragraphs for logical congruency. LSAC may present an argument and ask, “Which of the following, if true most weakens the argument?” Or, “the argument is flawed in which of the following ways?” These are tough, but pretty straight forward and a good guess can usually give you a decent answer.

What the LSAT is famous for is the analytical Reasoning section, otherwise known as the Logic Games. These questions are challenging and fun(?). The good news is that in the past they’ve been pretty formulaic, and once you’ve cracked the code for a particular question you can get all the questions right…in theory anyway. The bigger issue on these questions comes down to time, you have to not run out of it! Take a look at this example question and see if you can solve it. LSAC gives an explanation for this one, but I’ll try to solve it now too and explain it below the question.

Halfway through the test, the testers take a 15 minute break.

When all the multiple choice sections are done, its time for the writing sample. This is super low pressure and has very little impact on admissions. This section is unscored, but is provided to schools to give them another way to evaluate candidates. Usually, they present two possible options and ask you to choose one and explain why. If anyone asks, I’m #TeamBrewpub. Once the test is done, its time for a reward…usually cookout.

My First School List

Being that I knew almost nothing about what made a good law school, and had very little preference in where I went, I decided to use data to attack the decision. I made myself a google sheet, and then went through every school on LSAC’s list and pulled out any school that was of interest to me. I ended up with 61 total schools, ranging from Harvard in Boston to Thomas Jefferson in San Diego.

I then collected a whole slew of data on these schools: two different ranks, class sizes, employment percentages, bar passage rates, cost, etc.
I then wrote each school’s city on a card, spread them out on my kitchen table and ranked the cities (“Would I rather live in New York or San Francisco? DC or Lexington?”). I then took all this data and used to to give each school a raw score based upon what mattered most to me. Notable schools near the top: Harvard (1), Boston (2), and George Mason (3). Notable schools at the bottom: Thomas Jefferson (61), Liberty (60), and Miami (58).

Throughout the rest of this process, I whittled down this list based upon these numbers. Because I didn’t know my LSAT score yet, I had to make sure I kept a wide range in the running.

My Second School List

I didn’t need the list to stay at 61 schools. So I took my list, and broke schools into bands based upon my likelihood of admission based upon my LSAT practice tests. Then, from that list, I selected 30 schools evenly distributed across that spectrum. This way, no matter what I ended up scoring on my LSAT I would have options.

The December LSAT

In early December of 2016, I headed over to NC State to take my LSAT. I had spent the previous few months pouring over different study books and taking a number of practice tests. My scores had been falling in the high 160s to low 170s. So I was feeling pretty good.

I get in to the facility and registered, and then we are funneled into the testing room. I’ve got my pencils. I’m ready.

The first half of the test goes smoothly, I am feeling great, I’m tackling sections that gave me trouble before with ease. Going into our break, I’m thinking that I am going to score exceptionally well.

Then, in the middle of the test I sneeze.

I look down at my hand…it is bright red. Turns out I was having the most inconvenient nose bleed in history. I raise my hand to be escorted to the bathroom, a la kindergarten, and run. Folks, I don’t mind telling you I trashed that place. You see, when you lose time in a section like this, you don’t get it back. So every moment I’m plugging my nose is a moment I lose on the test.

I jam paper towel up my nose and run back to the test center, on the way I was the proctor, “Can I leave this in my nose? I promise I won’t use it for scrap paper.” I ended up finishing that section early, and went back to the bathroom to clean up.

That ordeal threw me off my game, though. The next section was the logic games, and I was stumped like I had never been before. I started freaking out, couldn’t make sense of the questions. Eventually, I just ran out of time.

I left the center upset, I had no idea how I did, and I had to wait until the results came out after the new year.

I ended up scoring a 159, not a bad score, but far below where I had been practicing. So I decided to retake the test in February, an repeat adventure I was not looking forward to.

Thinning The Herd

In the meantime, I had enough information to cull my school choices even further.

There were two possibilities on my February LSAT, I would either score better than I did in December, or I would score just as bad or worse. Becuase most schools just take your best LSAT score, that meant that my final score would be between 159 and 180. I decided to go ahead and apply to a few schools, that I knew I would have good odds of admission with my LSAT score. The earlier you apply in an admissions cycle, the better your odds of admission and scholarship offers.

I applied to Campbell, South Carolina, University of Kentucky, and the University of Denver.

I then took the rest of my list and created three sections: schools I would definitely apply to regardless of my new score, schools that I would definitely apply to if I did not score better, and schools that I would like to apply if I scored better than I did in December.

My First Acceptances

While I was studying for the February LSAT, I got my first acceptances. South Carolina, Campbell and Denver all admitted me with various scholarship offers. This was nothing to write home about, but it took a great deal of pressure off to know that I was going to Law school, regardless of what happened on my next test. Kentucky had decided to hold my application for review until they got my February LSAT score.

The February LSAT

Relative to my December LSAT, the February test went without a hitch. With one notable exception.

The LSAC are obsessed with cell phones, they are strictly forbidden from the testing rooms. You sign something like 3 different forms, before you ever enter the room, saying that you won’t bring them in.
The LSAC really strives to ensure fair testing conditions for all of its test takers, after all, there is a great deal on the line. Any irregularities can result in the cancellation of scores for everyone in the room.

Well wouldn’t you know it, right before we’re about to take the test, a woman at the front of room raises her hand, “Excuse me, am I supposed to have my cell phone?”

Needless to say, the rest of us in the testing center were not very pleased. She was told she needed to talk to the main proctor, and left the room. A few minutes later, a staff member reentered the room and collected her things: she wouldn’t be taking the test today.

The rest of the test went well, I felt about as good as I did before, only this time no nose bleeds. The logic games did not give me as much trouble as before, though I did still run out of time on that section.

When I left the center, I got the ceremonial cook-out as a reward…of course.

Choosing my Final Schools

From that point on, it became a waiting game. I started to work on a few applications that had deadlines shortly after the February scores would be released, but for the most part my life became about distracting myself.

Then one day, as I was riding in the car to Winston-Salem for an FCA event, I got the email. I had scored a 167 on the February LSAT. This was an absolute game changer. Schools that were reach schools became almost shoo-ins. The LSAT matters that much.

When I got home that night, I reran the numbers on where I could get in and selected my final list. Then I slept on it.

I had hoped to apply to just 10 schools, but I was left with some hard choices. So the next morning, I completed applications for a total of 11 schools, and sent them off. In the end, I applied to Campbell, South Carolina, Denver, Kentucky, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Wake Forest, George Mason, Georgetown, and George Washington.

The Final Four

Decisions rolled in for a month or so, and at the end of the day, I was accepted to 9 schools, rejected at Georgetown, and Waitlisted at Vanderbilt.

I started negotiating scholarship offers from the different schools, and eventually got down to just 4 schools.

Here are the four schools, listed with their national rank, and cost of attendance for 3 years (based upon what I was offered in scholarship money):

George Mason
Arlington, Virginia
#41
$88,000

North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC
#39
$91,000

Wake Forest
Winston-Salem, NC
#36
$104,000

George Washington
Washington, DC
#30
$158,000

I started doing a whole lot of research on these four schools. I was essentially between two regions: North Carolina or DC. Each region had a better school, that was more expensive, and a “worse” school that was cheaper.

Making My Decision

I scheduled to visit each of the four schools: Wake Forest first, then the following Friday I would visit UNC, then the next day I would drive up to George Mason. I would join those three schools for their admitted students’ day. Essentially a day where they try to convince you to go to school there. The same weekend I was in DC, I scheduled a regular tour at George Washington.

Almost immediately I eliminated George Washington from the running. There was just no way I could justify the cost of attendance.

My first visit was at Wake Forest. Their admitted students’ day was excellent. I felt super welcome, and they gave me a great idea of all the school offered. The facility was beautiful and the staff was kind. I was particularly impressed by their offerings when it came to getting practical experience. Their clinics and pro bono offerings were the best I had seen. As a part of the day, we sat in on a first year class, I had to keep myself from wanting to try to answer the instructor’s questions!

I had two issues. The first is that I was not wild about Winston-Salem. To me, it can’t hold a candle to Raleigh. Secondly, they did not offer any sort of joint degree in Public Policy, something I was very interested in at my other schools.

I left Wake thinking, that was great, but I’m sure that every other school will be able to offer all the same things that I liked, but in a better location and with a public policy focus. So I took Wake off my list.

The next weekend I drove out to Chapel-Hill. I was super underwhelmed by this visit. Within the first 5 minutes of getting there, I was already talking with another student about how great of schools Wake Forest and George Mason were. Plus the folks at Chapel-Hill seemed utter disinterested in recruiting me. The whole day felt like a orientation for incoming students, instead of a day to sell undecided students. The climate felt aggressively liberal, which wouldn’t be a problem except that it felt like it was expected that everyone would just agree on political issues.

So, I crossed UNC off my list. Which just left me with George Mason, which if you remember from the top was in my top 3 from the beginning. I got up early and drove north to DC. George Mason’s facility was nice and clean, very modern (which should be expected from a school founded in 1979). But right away things started going off the rails.

I met some of my fellow prospective students, a few of whom really rubbed me the wrong way. I was one of the youngest people in the room, which is abnormal for law schools. I looked around the room, and noticed, with the exception of a few people from Asia, there were no people of color in the room. Not as students, not as staff, not as faculty. That was a major red flag. I started to get worried.

We were ushered into a classroom, and the day of presentations began. The first was a mock class by a very emotive professor, not the calm, subdued, socratic method you might expect from a law school. George Mason likes to view themselves as “The new punks on the block” and you can tell. If I had to sum them up with one idea it would be this. If a community college had a law school, it would look exactly like George Mason.

I stood up in the middle of the presentation, excused myself and walked around the block outside. I was having a small panic attack. I called my parents and told them what I felt in my gut: I wanted to go to Wake Forest.

Conclusion

There you have it, starting in August of 2017, I’ll be driving out to Winston-Salem, and starting my law career at Wake Forest. I’m incredibly excited, and I hope you’ll stay connected with me as I am there.

Thanks for reading,

Related Posts

  • Training Leaders Through Trial
  • Billy Graham
  • See You at The Pole 2016
  • Guard Her Heart Syndrome

Comments 2

  1. Congrats Zach! I have always loved Your mom and knew of each of her children’s journey! I have 4 children of my own and she and I have shares many stories! You are going to be awesome! Fight for good!

    1. Post
      Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *