February 11, 2004

The Black Bag With 30 Admissions Files in It. The other object (see previous post) in my life that represents a momentous task is a black bag, sitting on my stairstep at home, with thirty admissions files in it. (So why am I blogging? Shouldn't I be dealing with these things? Well, I spent the morning prepping my conlaw class, which starts soon.)

I see Instapundit wrote yesterday, after linking to a discussion of college admissions:
I think it's somewhat better at law schools (I don't have firsthand experience, as I've never sat on the Admissions committee) but even there it's heavily numbers-driven. If your numbers are high enough, or low enough, the decision is pretty much made -- the rest of the application doesn't matter that much unless you're in an intermediate zone that can be fairly narrow.
Of course, some lower cutoff point will be established that will be almost entirely a matter of combining the LSAT score and the college GPA. We're given a calculation of those two numbers that produces a single number called the "FYP" or "first year predicted" average. But a school can make the group it considers in detail as large as it wants, and it should make it large if it wants to get an interesting, diverse, motivated class. I am forced, in fact, to rely on factors other than the FYP, because I'm given a group of 30 at one time to consider relative to each other, and within this group, they all have the same FYP. In fact, last week I had a group that not only had the same FYP, but had a FYP produced by a relatively high LSAT in comparison to the GPA. This week, it's the reverse: they all have the same FYP, but the GPA is high relative to the LSAT. Other times, I've gotten a group where the LSAT and the GPA were at about the same level.

I like doing this work because it's interesting to find out about so many people and to try to figure things out from what is in the file. As a teacher, you look out on a class full of students and you see them all in their student role. But if you've done the admissions work, you know how varied and how impressive their backgrounds are. Selecting applicants to admit, you have a creative role in producing the mix of people that will be here in the next few years. You're constantly engaged in making the institution what it is. Having done it, you feel a tremendous amount of respect for the people who do become students. You don't think, these must be the people who had the best numbers we could get. You know these are people we found who we believed would add to the law school and benefit from being here.

You do also want people who are capable of doing the work on approximately the same level, and the numbers say something about that. And you ought to worry a bit about the non-numerical factors because it may be that the most privileged applicants are the ones with the most ability to assemble a file that makes the soft factors appear impressive. It's a bit like having a great lawyer presenting the case. Like a good juror, I try to see what the story of each person really is. One of the things that have most impressed me reading a file is when a person with a truly compelling story to tell tells it simply, without puffing it into the-saga-of-my-personal-development, as if no one had ever said to him, "This will look fantastic on a law school application!" On the other hand, I don't hold it against a young person who attempts to turn, say, the death of a grandparent into the-saga-of-my-personal-development. I just look for what else is in the file. It's important to remember that most of the applicants are young people, many of whom don't have all that much to tell beyond their academic accomplishments. These are fine people too, and they too deserve the respect of the law schools.

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