Kristi Jobson, Assistant Dean for Admissions and Chief Admissions Officer, Harvard Law School
The Law School
What’s the single most exciting development, change, or event happening at Harvard Law School this coming year?
There are so many to choose from! Personally, I’m really excited about Zero-L– a new online course we’ve developed to introduce incoming HLS students to the American legal system and what it means to be a law student. With video lectures from more than a dozen HLS faculty and comprehension checks along the way, Zero-L gives our students a foundation of knowledge that helps build their confidence and jumpstart their law school experience.
Many students, particularly those from STEM, international or nontraditional backgrounds, have commented on how Zero-L helped demystify law school and prepared them to succeed in their first year. We’ve built on the success of last year’s program by adding additional modules for this year’s incoming class on subjects ranging from legal history to an introduction to the criminal justice system.
I distinctly remember the moment during my first year of law school when I realized for the first time that the state courts and federal courts were two distinct systems. I was sitting in Pound Hall in Civil Procedure, and I inferred from the class discussion that state courts and federal courts actually operated separately. My stomach just sunk. I assumed that every single one of my sectionmates already knew that, and I felt completely behind. Looking back, of course, I know that I had no reason to feel anxious – everyone was learning together, and we weren’t even a month into the semester.
But I am certain I would have felt more prepared and confident as a first-year law student if I had taken Zero-L the summer before I entered law school. I’m so glad that Harvard is making this resource available to our students.
The Admissions Process
What does the admissions process consist of and how is an application rated?
Our application consists of the following components: application form, transcript(s), test score(s), letters of recommendation, personal statement, and interview (by invitation). We also accept an optional statement and any addenda the applicant wishes to submit to us.
We review applications roughly in the order that they are received. Files are randomly distributed among the readers, so that our reader queues are representative of the pool as a whole.
I love the feeling of opening up the next application in my queue – the applicant could be from anywhere in the world, and could have done anything. The possibilities feel endless.
Interviews start in the fall. We interview by invitation, and conduct all of our interviews over Zoom (yes, even if you are sitting 200 feet away from our offices). I am one of four interviewers, alongside the associate and assistant directors of admissions. Interview days are intense for us. After the interview, the application is sent to our faculty committee, and the members provide input on the applicant’s candidacy.
We hold our admissions committee meetings multiple times during the year. It typically takes us a full week to talk through all candidates up for admission in each committee session. I love committee days. It reminds me of working on a very intense group project together during college, or preparing for a trial when I was a litigator.
Do you have an approximate hierarchy on what is most valuable for admissions: GPA, LSAT, etc?
No. We consider all information provided to us, and do not employ any mechanical shortcuts. We give careful consideration of each and every application submitted to us. And we work hard to put all aspects of the file in context. For example, a high GPA might look impressive, but we will scrutinize the applicant’s transcript to assess the rigor of the course load. No one aspect of the application is dispositive or weighed more heavily than others.
Beyond numbers, how does your school determine who are the “best fit” applicants?
We take all factors into consideration as we assess a file. Truly! I get the sense that folks think there is some algorithm that inputs GPA and test scores and auto-admits our 560 incoming 1Ls in the class, but that just doesn’t happen.
Certainly, your application should convince us that you are academically prepared for the curriculum at HLS. But we also want to know what you will bring to the community, and whether you will jump into all that HLS has to offer. We also like to see a sense of purpose in our applicants – perhaps you don’t know exactly what you will do with a law degree, but do you have a vision for yourself as a lawyer and leader?
Are students who apply early in the cycle at an advantage over applicants who apply later?
Great question. We wrote a blog post on this topic last year, and the advice in that post still stands. Yes, there is some benefit in applying earlier in the cycle. For one thing, you will probably receive a decision earlier. More broadly, there are more opportunities for you to rise for consideration for an interview, and for admission.
That said, the most important thing is to press submit and feel completely content with every aspect of your application. Better to wait until your application is ready than rush just for the sake of saying you applied “early.” Every year, there are plenty of HLS students who submit their application right at the buzzer. And they all matriculate together on the same day in August, no matter when they submitted and when they were accepted.
What is your view on multiple LSAT scores?
We accept both the LSAT and the GRE, so this answer pertains to both. We know that there are many reasons why someone might take the LSAT or the GRE multiple times, and our team has read enough addenda to understand that all sorts of extenuating circumstances might impact an individual’s performance on a standardized test. While the ABA only requires us to report an individual’s highest score, we do consider all scores in our assessment of the application. Of course, test scores are only some of the data points we consider as we think about an applicant’s academic potential in law school (you can read more about our views on test scores on our blog).
Is a high LSAT score achieved on the second or third try viewed differently than a first-attempt high score?
I think it really depends. We ask ourselves a number of questions as we think about multiple scores. Do the scores evidence an upward trend? What explanation is offered for the disparate scores? How much time has passed between the tests?
Could an applicant significantly improve his or her chances of admission by drafting a personal statement specifically for your school, as opposed to a general personal statement that briefly mentions your school, if at all?
Gosh, that’s a good question. I’m sure there’s some scenario in which that could happen, so I don’t want to dismiss the possibility entirely. But it’s hard to picture a circumstance in which that makes the difference. I’m reading your file to learn more about you. Given that you only have two pages for your personal statement, I’d hate to see an applicant forego telling me more about themselves to tell me more about HLS.
Letters of Recommendation
Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
Pick recommenders that know you well. I’ve heard Dean Theis-Alvarez at Berkeley provide excellent advice on this topic: substance over signature. We are more interested in the substance of a letter than in the person who wrote it. Always choose the junior professor who supervised your thesis over the department head who has seen your name on a spreadsheet. When a recommender does not know you well, it shows.