When you apply to law school, admissions look at your UGPA and LSAT score. That is well-known fact. It’s also fairly well-known they will look at your credentials, such as extracurriculars, work experience, and volunteer work.
Something else that is taken into account, which may be lesser known, is how you fit-in or stand-out with the particular law school program and law school, most of which they decide from your credentials, major(s) in college, work experience, etc. Your opportunity to subtle demonstrate this is in your personal statement/essay.
“Fitting-in” means you are generally accepted by classmates. This doesn’t mean you have to be some sort of sheep who just goes along with what everyone says and does, but overall, you make a good “fit”.
“Standing out” means you have something unique about you, and bring something unique to the law school, and this certain quality or talent distinguishes you from other students.
After reading both definitions, it may appear it’s best to both fit-in, and stand-out at the same time.
Generally speaking, law schools are looking for people who will overall fit in with the general school, but also slightly stand out with unique talents and/or abilities.
(This also goes for job hunting, applying to other school’s and programs, and nearly any organization in general). While this article could technically apply to nearly any area in life, today, we will obviously be focused on showing how you both fit in and stand out through your law school application.
Being able to figure out how exactly you fit in and/or stand out takes a certain amount of self-awareness as well as understanding the general atmosphere of your law school and those who apply to law school in general.
Obviously, if you have a great personal statement, great academics, a few extracurriculars, and a great letter of recommendation, this shouldn’t cause too much concern. However, it is something to be aware of.
For example, being a paralegal, part of the debate team, or extracurricular’s involving law or speech would be things that help you “fit in”. Being into more creative activities such as photography, or computer related work would be something that causes you to “stand out” in a law school setting.
*Keep in mind, this article applies more so to those whose grades are on the fence of what is normally accepted*
If you only fit in, then it sounds like you’re just another student. Admissions may assume you won’t bring anything new or unique to the school.
If you have extraordinary academics compared to other students, this may not matter as much. When it comes to a top law school however,, all applicants have great academics, and you’ll want to have a little something extra.
For a humorous comparison of “fitting in” too much, we have an example from the Hangover 2. For those who have seen the movie Hangover 2, you may be familiar with the scene where the character Stu is getting married, and his bride to be’s father calls him “Khao”, which is “soft white rice in luke warm water. It has no taste.”
For those who haven’t seen it, and for a little entertainment break in your law school journey, we took the liberty of posting below. (It’s from the beginning to 1:30.)
Stu, as far as the bride to be’s father see’s, is someone who fits in far too much. He see’s him as very bland and as nothing special. Basically, he just fits in, and nothing else. The point of this is, don’t be the “khao” of law school applicants. Don’t be the applicant who has no “taste” or substance. If you only fit in, you will be “khao”.
That of course then brings us to being able to “stand-out”. Similar to only fitting in, you also don’t want to stand out too much either. Standing out too much means you don’t resemble any of the other students in any way, and may cause you to appear risky to have around.
For a prime example, continue watching the video. Alan, the character who continues with an inappropriate speech after the bride to be’s father, is someone who stands out far too much. In the movie, he’s the wild card. He doesn’t fit in the group at all, and causes mayhem. In fact, he’s the reason for the plot developing in both movies. In the movie it may be funny, but in real life, it’s not.
Don’t be the Alan of applicants.
Obviously, if you stand out, it doesn’t mean you’re as far-fetched as Alan from the Hangover, but hopefully you get the idea. You don’t want to seem SO out there that admissions will become concerned.
So what is the key between fitting in and standing out?
It’s about the balance between the two.
Finding Your Balance
You want to ensure you sound as if you will mostly fit in with the environment, but also show you have a few unique qualities that will allow you to stand out and bring something new and different to the campus.
The key to this is to be aware of the general atmosphere of the campus of the school, and figure out where you fit in and stand out in regards to that specific law school. For some law schools you’ll find you easily fit in, and will want to make a stronger point of how you stand out. With other law schools, you may stand out more, and will want to make a stronger point of how you fit in.
We’ll take a look at three examples:
Standing Out From Your Background & Focusing on How You Fit In
For example, if you grew up from a family of means, and are attending a school where the general population comes from median income families, it would not be to your best interest to continuously make remarks about how your family owns half of wall street.
It would be more beneficial to show you have worked in community service, and have experience working with people from all walks of life. (or not mention it at all.)
Standing Out From Past Career/College Major & Focusing On How You Fit In
If you have been a computer programmer for several years, (or another career/college major that involves little communication) and are now deciding to attend law school, a concern may be you lack the communication skills to effectively produce results in law school (Being a lawyer for the most part involves a certain degree of communication skills).
While this allows you to stand out, as you most likely are very intelligent and pay close attention to details, it may also be a concern you have a lack of social experience, which may make it harder to fit in. It would be wise to include information in your application about extracurriculars or volunteer work that involved being more social, or how you communicated with clients. See how that creates the balance?
Fitting in From Activities And Focusing On How You Stand Out
On the other hand, if you have been a paralegal for several years, or perhaps on the debate team, it’s no question you’ll fit in. What’s more important is focusing on how you stand out and bring something unique, as it’s very common for law school applicants to be paralegals or on the debate team. Perhaps you were the leader of the debate team, or earned high recognition as a paralegal. These would stand out.
If not, you’ll want to focus your application on a certain aspect of you that shows you do stand out from the other applicants who are paralegals or member of debate. (Just make sure it’s not something too far-fetched).
How to Fit In And Stand Out Conclusion
Obviously something like this will not have the biggest impact over whether you will be accepted into your law school of choice, but it is one of the details that can make a very big difference with your application.
What’s most important is to focus on earning the best grades possible and to demonstrate your characteristics through your credentials to show not just what you do, but who you are in the process. By doing this, you’ll naturally show both how you fit in and stand out.
Just remember, don’t be Stu or Alan of law school applicants. You only want to sway 5% or so in either direction. If you already mostly fit in through your credentials, you only need to show you stand out a small amount or vice versa. Don’t feel you have to go overboard.
If you already stand out from your personal background or experience, make a greater effort to show how you can fit in. If you already fit in, such as your background and experiences are similar to most of the students, focus more on how you stand out, such as through unique experiences, strong leadership qualities, or your ability to work with a team.
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