We can’t tell you what every law school wants in an applicant, but we can tell you what we look for at Michigan Law, and we can share our wisdom about what makes a good general application.
At Michigan Law, we seek to enroll the very best law students in the country. But what do we mean when we say the “best”?
Our Holistic Approach
We take a holistic approach to decision-making because we want to know a lot about how someone will be a part of the Michigan Law community.
Every school will have a different vision for the kinds of students who match well with their institution. Here, while we do want the brightest students to apply, we also want more than that too.
A candidate’s academic performance is not enough to understand how they can or will contribute to the intellectual and social life of our community—and more, we feel strongly that academic strength is not defined by the metrics of the LSAT or undergrad GPA.
At Michigan, we seek candidates with a sense of humor. We like serious people who don’t take themselves too seriously. We like competitiveness that doesn’t have to come at others’ expense. We want smart people, but we also want our students to be kind. We want to train lawyers who know how to work (and play) well with others.
Completing Your Application
You probably have questions about the application itself. We’ll get into the specifics, but first, some general advice: authenticity goes a long way. We are all multifaceted. It’s okay to emphasize different parts of ourselves in different contexts. But always be genuine. A seasoned admissions officer can sniff out fakery.
Yes, you do need to prepare for the LSAT.
The good news is there are a lot of free and low-cost resources for preparing. (The more expensive LSAT preparation courses and tools are not better, according to the Law School Admissions Council’s own research. Many resources are available on the LSAC website.)
In a perfect world, you would get a score that satisfies you the first time you take the test. However, that’s not always going to be the case.
We can’t tell you whether to retake the test or not, but once an applicant takes the test three or more times, the persuasiveness of any one strong score is lessened. It might be tempting to go for a particular score, but retaking the LSAT over and over again invariably provides diminishing returns.
It may comfort you to know that we do take your test-taking abilities into account. If you have a history of outperforming your standardized test predictions, it’s worth writing an addendum to your application to explain that. For example, let’s say you went to a college where the median ACT was 30, and your ACT was 22. But you did very well at that school. That ACT score did not predict your performance. We’d want to know about that.
With all that being said, the mythology around the importance of the LSAT in admissions is extreme, and it can really get inside your head and make it harder to perform well.
Remember: The whole point of a holistic process is that we’re looking at the individual as a whole. We care about the numbers. But we also care about a lot more.
The undergraduate GPA, while an easily captured piece of information, is almost completely useless on its own. Someone’s alma mater, major, classes, and extracurriculars all affect someone’s GPA. If you have a lower GPA, let us know the context to understand why.
You can redeem yourself from a less-than-ideal GPA. We know people change and grow after college. If you feel like there are any mitigating or extrinsic factors that affected your GPA, we want to hear about that.
Letters of Recommendation
The letter of recommendation is the one element in an application in which someone other than the applicant can weigh in on the applicant’s fitness for studying law. This makes it a valuable potential resource for the applicant who hopes to demonstrate that other people agree with their assessment of themselves.
The best recommendation letters come from the people who know you best and can write a detailed letter of support about your work from a position of having supervised it.
We aren’t at all concerned with the pedigree of the letter-writer. We care about what they have to say about you and your work.
Unlike the resume you submit to potential employers, the resume you submit to us does not need to be one page. We like to know as much as possible—about your professional experience as well as your extracurricular activities, outside interests, and hobbies. Take as much room as you need.
To be clear: a resume does not have to be a comprehensive record of everything you’ve ever done in your life, but it should hit the highlights.
If there’s a significant blank period in your resume, or if you don’t show any current employment, don’t let that discourage you. Do your best to provide us with clear information about your significant work history.
Personal Statement and Optional Essays
Think of the personal statement as your opportunity to give the admissions decision-makers a 10-minute monologue on why you belong at a given law school. Step back and think about the characteristics you would want them to know about you. Then, take the time to think about an episode or episodes from your life that illustrate those characteristics. It should hang together as a single essay and be interesting to read. It’s that simple.
Some applicants imagine that a personal statement filled with drama and obstacles overcome is especially compelling to an admissions committee, but what we want is authenticity. If you have a painful episode in your life, don’t feel obligated to write about it. On the other hand, if you feel you don’t have any “good” stories from your life, you should not feel that you have nothing to write about. Our lives are made up of many moments. There are certainly some in all of our lives that can serve the purposes of a personal statement.
Some people just have a hard time answering such a broad prompt. If that’s you, the more focused questions of many optional essays are perfect for you. They are truly optional—we admit many people who don’t write any—but they can be very helpful in cases where someone’s personal statement falls flat in some way. It’s one more opportunity to showcase your writing and thinking. (And although they are optional, we have to say, writing more essays than are required of you is certainly a lawyerly trait.)
Include an Addendum or No?
An addendum to your application is any written explanation of some part of your application that is not otherwise obvious. It is not always clear when an addendum is needed or would be helpful to your application.
If you have a misconduct record, we need to hear from you. This disclosure can significantly affect the course of someone’s application. If an applicant mishandles their disclosure, otherwise minor misdeeds may sometimes appear more concerning. On the other hand, a well-handled disclosure can go beyond merely alleviating concerns and become a positive factor in the evaluation of a candidate’s maturity and readiness for a challenging academic undertaking.
You might want to give an addendum if you feel that your academic record needs some explaining. For example, if you have had a break in your education, or if you had a period of significantly worse grades, or if you transferred schools, we’d like to hear more about that. Understanding the context helps us understand who you are as a complete candidate.
As we said above, if standardized tests have not historically predicted your academic performance, we want to know. The more specific you can be about your scores and your subsequent academic performance, the more persuasive it is.
If you are employed but don’t have a recommendation from your current employer, or if you’ve had a significant break in your working life, an addendum provides a fuller picture for us and can improve your application.
Basically, look at your application as if you’re a stranger (or ask someone else to look it over for you). What doesn’t make sense? What looks fishy? If you feel like you could explain anything confusing, write an addendum.
Our Application, Annotated
We know you may have questions about individual pieces of our application—what are we looking for? How will the information you give us be used?
That’s why we’ve created an annotated application, to help clarify the “why?” for you.