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How to get into Harvard Law School: Forward

 
 

MY BACKGROUND

My name is Andrew Chen and I want to share with you how I earned admission to Harvard Law School – even though I didn’t have the highest scores or strongest credentials as an applicant.

What do I mean when I say I didn’t have the highest scores or strongest credentials? Well, at the time I applied, I was an undergraduate senior from a state college, not an Ivy League university. I had no full-time work experience, no published scholarly work to my credit, no meaningful study-abroad experience, and no exposure to law. I also didn’t have anywhere near the kind of LSAT score that would have made admission a breeze.

What was I up against? Well, Ivy League graduates comprise a hugely disproportionate share of every Harvard Law class – and every elite law school. It’s staggering. Moreover, elite law schools increasingly prefer applicants with substantial work or post-college experience: last year 3/4ths of Harvard Law matriculants had at least 1 year of post-college experience, and more than half the class had 2 years or more. The admissions committee also looks favorably on published scholarly articles, which I didn’t have, and unlike business school, law school is much more of a numbers game: LSDAS, which centralizes law school applications, even has an online calculator that shows you the historical odds of admission at any law school given your GPA and LSAT. I didn’t have LSAT scores that were close to the top range of Harvard applicants, and – given that I’m Asian American – I doubt I benefited from affirmative action either.

Despite these odds, I applied for and was admitted to Harvard on my first attempt at applying – in the very first round of applicants (i.e., over the winter holiday). I was also admitted to the law schools at Stanford, Columbia, NYU, and Chicago among others – also all in their first rounds. (At their invitation, I applied last-minute with an application fee waiver to Yale but was waitlisted; I decided not to pursue admission further and accepted my offer from Harvard.)

After going through the law school application process, I realized that what I learned from the experience applies to the application processes at all elite law schools – whether it’s Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, or Chicago. This was further reinforced by my experience as a law school admissions counselor and (amazingly enough) an LSAT instructor for Kaplan (despite not having a strongly competitive LSAT score by Harvard’s standards), as well as my experience as a law school admissions advisor for Harvard undergraduates during my time at HLS.

So I want to show you the tips and techniques I learned that I think helped set me compellingly apart from other applicants, and which are directly relevant for applying to any elite law school. And while I concede upfront that you do need to have a certain baseline in terms of GPA and LSAT scores (otherwise, you raise real doubts about your ability to withstand the academic workload), that threshold is quite a bit lower than you might think. If you don’t have the highest numbers, law schools do look for something else in their applicants beyond purely numbers – and which can push you “over the edge” in terms of admission. My goal is to help you demystify what that “something” is. And with this coaching, I want to help you get into your top-choice law school that can help advance you toward your academic and professional goals.

WHAT THIS GUIDE CONTAINS

The guide that follows explains in detail how I applied for and was admitted to Harvard Law School. It also synthesizes learnings from dozens of conversations with other students admitted to elite law schools who did not necessarily have the highest scores. I will explain both the general principles and mindset behind specific application strategies, and illustrate with concrete examples along the way. I’ll also provide critical, step-by-step advice on each piece of the application and show you how to combine those pieces in a way that tells a compelling overarching story. Finally, I’ll describe what to expect when decisions come back, what the day-to-day experience is like at Harvard (and elite schools like it), and potential career paths after earning a J.D. at an elite law school.

Feedback is always welcome and you can reach me at andrew@hladmissions.com.


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Andrew Chen is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He was admitted to Harvard on his first attempt at applying – in the very first round of applicants. He was also admitted to the law schools at Stanford, Columbia, NYU, and Chicago among others – also all in their first rounds. You can follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Google+.