Kristen L. Mercado, J.D., Assistant Dean of Admission and Financial Aid, UC Davis School of Law
The Law School
What’s the single most exciting development, change, or event happening at UC Davis School of Law this coming year?
We are excited by the consistent diversity in our law school community, with a majority-minority faculty and student body. Our diverse community complements our continuing growth as source of high profile scholarship and advocacy in “hot topic” areas like immigration, climate change, criminal justice, constitutional law, and social justice. We’ve also strengthened our career placement performance (private sector, government, public interest, and clerkships) every year, leveraging our geographic proximity to and alumni network in robust legal markets like tech hub Silicon Valley and the state capital Sacramento, with its focus on public policy and state and local government law. Our curriculum has diversified to better prepare our students to succeed in these markets, with courses on entrepreneurship and empirical-based legal research courses that incorporate social science methods like statistical analyses. These are just some of the trends we anticipate will continue in the coming year (and beyond).
The Admissions Process
What does the admissions process consist of and how is an application rated?
Our admission process is similar to many other law schools. Each year, the Admission Office reviews every application and makes a recommended admission decision. Our Admissions Committee, the membership of which changes each year, always has four faculty members and two third-year law students. The Committee reviews each proposed decision before it becomes final. Any Committee member can reject the proposed decision and the Committee will meet to discuss the file later in the cycle. For those applicants placed on our wait list, their files receive a new review by the Senior Associate Dean who selects any offered admission.
Do you have an approximate hierarchy on what is most valuable for admissions: GPA, LSAT, etc?
An applicant’s quantitative profile – GPA and LSAT – are key indicators of an applicant’s aptitude for the study of law and the likelihood of success in the first year of studies. Of the two, we weigh LSAT slightly heavier, but we really consider the quantitative profile in the context of the full application – personal statement, recommendations, experience, skills, etc. are equally relevant to our decision-making process.
Beyond numbers, how does your school determine who are the “best fit” applicants?
We review an applicant’s transcript for course selections, grade trends, and areas of academic interest. The study and practice of law requires an agile mind and a broad knowledge base is an asset. Our Committee carefully considers letters of recommendation, particularly those from individuals that taught or employed the applicant and know that person well. Lastly, the résumé and personal statement give us insight to the applicant’s interests, experiences, and achievements. Each year, we strive to create a class that is diverse in the broadest sense. To do that, we have to consider all the pieces of the application to identify those applicants who can be successful in our program and who will be dynamic, engaged community members.
Are students who apply early in the cycle at an advantage over applicants who apply later?
We strongly encourage applicants to apply early, particularly those with quantitative profiles at or below our median LSAT and GPA. Our application opens September 1 and closes March 15, but the vast majority of our offers of admission go out by March 1 and we are generally done admitting by April 1. Applicants for whom UC Davis is the first choice are encouraged to apply to our Early Decision, which opens September 1 and closes November 1. Early decision applicants receive an admission decision by November 30 and are the only admitted students eligible for one of our four $60,000 Select Scholarships. That said, one should never sacrifice application quality to submit it early – a poorly prepared application, no matter when it is submitted, is unlikely to produce a successful result.
What is your view on multiple LSAT scores?
Like all law schools, we see all valid LSAT scores from the past five years, as well as any absences, score cancellations, and misconduct incidents. LSAC also provides the percentile for each score, the score band, and an average of all test scores. Ultimately, however, we make admission decisions using the high LSAT score, which is also the figure we report publicly.
Is a high LSAT score achieved on the second or third try viewed differently than a first-attempt high score?
We view the high LSAT score whether it was the first test taken or a subsequent score. The reality is that most applicants do not see a significant change in their score upon repeat tests. Generally, a score changes 1-2 points and that change can just as likely to be a decrease as an increase from the previous test score.
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?
Our personal statement prompt is broad deliberately and excludes an instruction to describe how the applicant believes they are a fit for UC Davis. We do this because we want applicants to focus on sharing something theywould like us to know about them. We assume that by applying, that applicant has an interest in our school based upon their diligent research and thus there is minimal value to a statement spent referencing our school’s offerings. We learn nothing much about the applicant. A well-written, sincere, and detailed statement that focuses on the applicant’s passions and interests, even if it never mentions our school, is far more persuasive and helpful to us in the review process.
Letters of Recommendation
Applicants often have difficulty choosing and approaching potential recommenders. Can you offer some general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
Letters of recommendation can really bolster an application when done well. Generally though, they neither add nor detract from the other parts of the application. The best recommenders are those who have taught or employed you and who know your skills (particularly those most relevant to law school studies) well. Although generally this means professors and employers, it could mean TA’s, internship supervisors, or even colleagues, if you have been in the professional world for some time. Good letters describe specific skills and characteristics that will make you a strong law student and lawyer – critical thinking, strong research and writing skills, attention to detail, good judgement, effective communication skills with myriad audiences, etc. Great letters describe the instances in which the recommender has seen you display those skills and characteristics. Regardless of the recommender’s role, it’s critical to provide the recommender with information about your experiences, why you want to go to law school, and what you want to do with your legal degree. For those in the academic world and/or legal profession, it can be helpful to also tell them the specific schools to which you plan to apply. Although it’s critical to “prep” your recommenders, it need not be a long conversation – 15 minutes can be sufficient. You should supply a copy of your résumé and allow your recommender plenty of time to submit their letter (at least a month). The busier the person, the more lead time you want to give. Last, do not forget to follow-up with your recommenders at the end of the process to let them know where you land!
Do applicants, especially those with numbers that fall below your law school’s medians, increase their chances of admission by applying Early Decision?
It can, especially if an applicant’s numbers are just below our medians. Regardless of whether their numbers are close to the medians, an applicant needs to have very strong qualitative assets and an indication of why they are prepared to commit early to UC Davis. Early decision applicants typically make up a small portion of our class – less than 10% in most years – and it is a binding program (i.e., admitted students must withdraw any pending applications and decline any pending offers).
What is the typical size of the waitlist, and how deep do you usually go into the waitlist to admit students?
We typically maintain a fairly big wait list, but it depends on the strength and size of the applicant pool. Regardless, we never put someone on the wait list who we cannot reasonably see being successful in our incoming class. Whether and how much we utilize the wait list varies considerably from year to year. In some years, we’ve pulled only a handful of people to fill just one or two seats, and others the final class may have a sizable percentage of people admitted off the wait list. The wait list is not ranked and we do not necessarily pull individuals based upon their LSAT/GPA profile. Most times, we are looking to fill in a specific niche in our class, sometimes LSAT or GPA, but sometimes for geographic area, socioeconomic diversity, or area of academic study. Although we maintain a wait list through orientation, we most commonly pull from it right after our deposit deadlines in mid-April and early June.