Mathiew Le, Assistant Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid- The University of Texas School of Law
The Law School
What’s the single most exciting development, change, or event happening at The University of Texas School of Law this coming year?
ML: It’s truly difficult to single out just one aspect at the law school that is exciting because there are so many to choose from! We spend a great deal of time thinking of ways to innovate and create ways to bridge the gap between a strong foundation in legal theory with practical skills to prepare our students for the practice of law. As an example, we developed our Financial Methods course to help students acquire basic financial concepts like balancing sheets, profit-loss statements, among many other topics. Students love this class! It’s taught by a great instructor and is one of the most popular upper-class offerings. Similarly, we’ve expanded our transactional skills instruction so that students can leave law school and say that they’ve drafted a contract. In one course, students work in small groups with seasoned drafting instructors and learn what makes a strong contract. Finally, writing in general remains a great strength that we constantly invest in. Our first-year Legal Research and Writing courses is the best of its kind!
One trend that we don’t foresee slowing down any time soon is the continued economic growth and attractiveness in Austin, Texas. Austin’s high quality of life, strong economy, and booming tech scene has benefited the law school is so many ways. For one, it makes attending law school at Texas Law particularly attractive because the low cost of living means our students can graduate with a law degree from an elite national law school for a fraction of the cost.
This growth also has created many opportunities for students to explore the intersection of law and a wide array of industries particularly in the entrepreneurial, VC, tech, and private sectors in Austin. And located just a few short miles from the State Capitol, students can take advantage of the number of government/public service internships and clerkships throughout the year.
The Admissions Process
What does the admissions process consist of and how is an application rated?
ML: We undertake a rigorous, holistic approach to reviewing each component of an applicant’s file. From the personal statement, résumé, academic record, and letters of recommendation, the admissions committee is trying to determine two essential questions for every applicant: (1) are they capable of handling the academic rigors of law school, and (2) how will they enhance and enrich the learning environment at Texas Law?
Do you have an approximate hierarchy on what is most valuable for admissions: GPA, LSAT, etc?
ML: Standardized test scores are still stronger predictors of academic performance in the first-year of law school so I would say that the LSAT is viewed with a slight edge over undergraduate GPA. That’s not to say, however, that the overall academic record doesn’t play a strong role in the evaluation process because it certainly does. We take great care in reviewing transcripts and the CAS Report to look for grade trends, selection of coursework, and academic rigor.
Beyond numbers, how does your school determine who are the “best fit” applicants?
ML: This is where the personal statement and résumé plays a significant role in our process. First, the personal statement provides insight to the candidate’s experiences, perspectives, and their writing ability. We can often tell whether an applicant would be the “best fit” just on the topic the candidate chooses to write about and the quality of their writing. I have seen where the personal statement can elevate an applicant’s chance to be admitted into Texas Law and similarly, lower an applicant’s chance regardless of their LSAT and UGPA.
We can also tell whether a candidate would be a good fit based on their résumé. The Committee is interested in an applicant’s professional experiences, leadership potential, community engagement alongside a whole host of other experiences. I often read applications where the applicant submits the traditional one-page résumé. This may work when you’re applying for a specific job but for us, we allow students to submit a résumé that is up to three pages. This additional space is an opportunity for the applicant to share much more about themselves so that we can assess whether they would be a good fit.
Are students who apply early in the cycle at an advantage over applicants who apply later?
ML: Absolutely! We admit students on a rolling basis and each year we admit a limited number of seats to enroll our desired class. Once we get closer to that admission target it becomes more difficult and competitive for students who apply later in the cycle.
What is your view on multiple LSAT scores?
ML: For starters, students should also know that law schools are required to report the highest LSAT score a student achieves, but that we see all scores an applicant obtained in the past 5 years.
We understand that admissions into law school is competitive. We also understand that the difference between one-to-two LSAT points may mean the difference of several hundred to a few thousand dollars in a scholarship offer. While we encourage students to prepare for the LSAT to take it just once, we often see students take it 2-3 times and that’s common. Multiple scores become more of an issue when an applicant takes the LSAT 4+ times. When the Committee comes across an applicant who has taking the LSAT that many times or more, they begin to wonder what else is going on.
Is a high LSAT score achieved on the second or third try viewed differently than a first-attempt high score?
ML: It depends on the score differences, but as a general matter it doesn’t make a difference to us.
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?
ML: I’m not sure if I would describe it as “significantly improve” their admission chances, but it certainly helps when a candidate tailors their essay. At the end of the day, we want a great essay, one that showcases writing ability, personality, and a clear sense of purpose in going to law school in general and our school in particular, is always going to be a differentiator. It may not make all the difference, but we will definitely notice. When a student writes about their experiences and perspectives and then connects it to the mission, values, or academic programs at Texas Law, that demonstrates to us that the candidate has researched our school and has envisioned how attending law school at Texas Law would be a good fit for them. The “one-size-fits-all” personal statements where a student just finds and replaces the school name are easily recognized and will make a poor impression.
Letters of Recommendation
Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
ML: A good rule of thumb is to make sure you select the recommenders that the school is asking for. If the school specifically requires academic letters of recommendations, then make sure to do so! You’d be surprised how many students try to do a “one-size-fits-all” approach.
For us as a general matter, letters of recommendations from individuals who can attest to a candidate’s academic ability are preferred. It doesn’t have to be from a tenured faculty member or full-time professor, the letter can be from a teaching assistant or any individual that is in the position to write positively about the candidate’s academic work. In many cases, these letters can help assuage any concerns the Committee may have about a student’s academic potential particularly if the candidate doesn’t have strong objective measures of academic potential, i.e., LSAT/GPA.
A student may also consider a letter of recommendation from an employer or someone in the community who can attest to the same aspects a letter from an academic would comment on. As an example, if a student has been in the work force for a few years, they may choose to ask their employer to write a letter of recommendation that details the candidate’s analytical skills, communication skills, and work product. This would be very valuable to the Committee to assess fit as well.
Do applicants, especially those with numbers that fall below your law school’s medians, increase their chances of admission by applying Early Decision?
ML: The Committee evaluates candidates in the same way regardless of whether the candidate is an Early Decision applicant or Regular Decision applicant. The candidate needs to be a strong candidate regardless of which pool they’ve applied to; so Early Decision doesn’t provide students with lower numbers with an advantage in the process.
What is the typical size of the waitlist, and how deep do you usually go into the waitlist to admit students?
ML: Unfortunately, there’s no typical size of the waitlist as it varies from year-to-year. Similarly, the number of students we admit from the waitlist varies each year. What we aim to have is a manageable waitlist pool that is comprised of only those applicants whom we know if we would love to have at The University of Texas at Austin School of Law if the opportunity arose.