April 08, 2005

An Applicant's Dilemma

by Armen

I just saw this post by Prof. Leiter (hat tip: Kerr at VC) about the "possibility" of law schools rejecting a person because they may be "too qualified." (Shocking...I know). But quite frankly I'm more appalled at the reaction this is getting than anything else. See, e.g., Kerr, "This practice is scandalous. Or at least it should be."

First, the original student's e-mail to Leiter reeks of elitism and a sense of entitlement. Paraphrased, I can write the entire e-mail in just one sentence: "I have all the numbers, gimme gimme gimme." I've written here before that it is preposterous to predicate anything on GPA and LSAT scores (a habit all too familiar to most pre-law students). At the time I was speaking of succeess in the legal world, but this applies just as much to success AT A GIVEN LAW SCHOOL and by extension admissions. It's really convenient to look at the LSAC's predictor tool and write some checks and wait for the admission letters to arrive. But law schools are not a single entity politely lined up in a continuum where once the proper cut-off is determined you are then properly admitted to every school above/below/next-to/adjacent/within the 8th dimension of...that spot.

This raises my second and more important point which I'd like to properly call "bit o' inconsistency." Admission rates, as Leiter points out, are 2.5% of the entire score of the US News rankings. Now pay attention here, THE STUDENT BASES HIS/HER SUSPICIONS ENTIRELY ON THE POSITION OF VARIOUS SCHOOLS ON THE US NEWS RANKINGS. If YOU don't want schools to decide YOUR application with the rankings in mind then YOU shouldn't decide on which schools to apply to with the SAME rankings in mind.

Of course there are countless explanations for why schools would do this. One dean of admissions read your personal statement; another didn't. One school LOVES the East Coast; another doesn't. One school is looking for ringers for its IM softball team; another isn't. And the most novel one, admitting a student that is not likely to attend the school is taking precious space from another who will. What? OUTRAGEOUS!!!! They should be tried for treason. Numbers don't lie...and that's all we should look at. Who is to say where the person will go or will not go? The choice is his and his alone.

I can only roll my eyes when I hear those types of arguments. No, the choice is not his and his alone. I really wonder if any of those who so righteously object to the practice of not admitting someone with numbers far above a school's average think about the potential impact of this, i.e. schools not too close to the feeding trough must admit more and more students the farther away they go from said trough. You know, if you're a Tier 2 school, then you MUST admit every student qualified to go to a T1 school and then those who actually will come to your school.

Now the problem is that there are plenty of students who don't even think about rankings or their scores but simply decide on a school because of geographic, familial, financial, or other constraints. These students should be free to apply to any school and not fear getting waitlisted because they are over qualified. And I think that's where the personal statement comes in. Unlike the student who e-mailed Leiter initially, I don't think these individuals apply to the top 20 schools just to see where they land.

Long digression, but going back to inconsistency... wouldn't admitting students who will not go to your school but have far superior numbers go further in increasing the US News composite score by raising GPA and average LSAT? Whatever, gimme gimme gimme.

April 8, 2005 03:50 PM | TrackBack
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