Interview with Dean Robert Schwartz at UCLA School of Law
Published November 2009
Top Law Schools: Dean Robert Schwartz , thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts and insight on the admissions process at UCLA School of Law. I appreciate your allowing TLS members to learn more about the law school and its admissions process.
TLS: How would you describe the ideal candidate for UCLA School of Law?
There is no ideal candidate for UCLA School of Law. One of the central purposes of the law school is the training of attorneys who will attain high levels of professional excellence and integrity, and who will exercise civic responsibility in myriad ways during long careers.
TLS: Realistically speaking, how large a part of the admissions process are factors other than a candidate's GPA and LSAT score? Of these non-numerical factors, are there any that particularly pique your interest (military service, corporate work experience, Teach for America, etc.)?
We place substantial weight on traditional measures of academic ability, namely grades and LSAT scores. We also consider attributes that may contribute to assembling a diverse class. We place special emphasis on socioeconomic disadvantage in our evaluation. We also consider work experience and career achievement, community or public service, career goals, significant hardships overcome, the ability to contribute to law school programs and concentrations, evidence of and potential for leadership, language ability, unusual life experiences and any other factors that indicate the applicant may significantly diversify the student body or make a distinctive contribution to UCLA School of Law or the legal profession.
TLS: Is there any advantage to applying early?
Although you are generally encouraged to apply early to ensure that all your materials are received on time, this will not significantly impact your odds of being admitted. Since the Admissions Committee does not make decisions on a strictly-rolling basis, a candidate who applies later in the admissions cycle will not necessarily be disadvantaged. Applying early also does not guarantee early receipt of a decision. Offers of admission are usually made between January and late April, and various factors will determine when you'll actually hear from us. Thus, our general advice is to apply when you most feel prepared.
TLS: How does the quality of one's undergraduate school factor into the admissions process? If the undergraduate institute's prestige is a factor, what is the "cutoff" below which a school fails affect the admissions Richter Scale?
The quality of one’s undergraduate school is a factor considered by the admissions committee. We compare applicants’ grade point averages with all law school applicants from their undergraduate school. There is no “cutoff.”
TLS: How, if at all, will an upward grade trend in an applicant's GPA be viewed in the admissions process?
An upward trend is viewed favorably. Any downward trend should be explained in an addendum.
TLS: In what circumstances should an applicant include an addendum to explain his or her low GPA or LSAT score? What should this addendum include (old SAT scores, etc.)?
An applicant should include an addendum if there were any circumstances that negatively affected their academic record or standardized test score. The addendum should include any documentation supporting the negative circumstance(s) (i.e. old SAT scores).
TLS: How does UCLA regard applicants with multiple LSAT scores?
Our general policy is to consider the highest LSAT score attained, although we will take note of all scores. In the case of a significant discrepancy between scores, applicants are advised to address it in their application. It is always helpful for the Admissions Committee to be aware of any factors that may have adversely or positively impacted one’s performance on the LSAT. Item 12 on our application is a suitable place to provide such explanation.
TLS: Can you offer any advice on the best way for a student to write a resonant personal statement?
A personal statement is potentially your only opportunity to tell us whatever you want us to know about you. It is your "interview" and should be well-presented and well-written. Because we receive over 8,000 applications, writing a well-written, interesting personal statement can be very important. The personal statement should be written with an intention to set yourself apart from all the other applicants. Human interest stories can be intriguing.
TLS: With regard to the personal statement, can you stipulate any pitfalls or clichés an applicant should avoid?
Though we are seeking diverse individuals, diversity in the format of a personal statement is not something that should be attempted. Write the personal statement in a professional and formal format. A personal statement should be a reflection of how you wish to present yourself. It should be viewed as a personal interview with admissions officers. The statement should be in a formal essay writing format. We recommend that you “be yourself.”
And this is common sense advice: please proofread carefully and be sure to write UCLA rather than another law school’s name in the personal statement.
TLS: Does researching UCLA and then tailoring the personal statement to UCLA increase one’s chance of admissions?
Yes; we are interested in any attributes, experiences or interests that would enable you to make a distinctive contribution to UCLA Law.
TLS: Can you briefly discuss who should write a diversity statement and how much impact such a statement typically has on the admissions process?
Anyone who wishes to provide such a statement should do so. We seek to admit students of outstanding intellectual ability who will bring a wide range of backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives to the classroom and the legal profession. Through long experience, the faculty has concluded that the quality of the education of each student is affected in significant ways by the presence of vital, diverse viewpoints.
TLS: Can you offer any general advice regarding letters of recommendation?
Obtain letters from those that know you well and have seen you demonstrate skills that will be useful in law school. It does not matter who writes the letter (i.e. professor or teaching assistant) as long as the writer knows you and your abilities.
TLS: Does the acceptance rate vary significantly for applicants applying to joint-degree programs?
TLS: Many people could not dream up a more suitable location for the receipt of a legal education than Westwood. Can you briefly discuss the advantages and disadvantages--as you see them--of going to law school in Los Angeles?
UCLA Law is situated in one of the world’s most vibrant and exciting geographic regions. While sufficiently close to the thriving metropolis of Los Angeles to afford students convenient opportunities to engage its social and professional scenes, the campus is secluded enough for students to focus on their legal studies. UCLA Law is strategic about tapping into the numerous industries represented in the area (e.g., entertainment, non-profit, business, political, etc.) as a way to enrich our academic programs and combine them with intriguing experiential offerings for our students.
Meanwhile, Los Angeles serves as a major cultural and recreational hub, hosting various sporting and entertainment events and offering scores of theaters, museums, and cultural centers. The city’s global reach, environmental diversity (where you can hike, snowboard, and go to the beach all in the same day), and perpetually desirable weather further enhance the quality of life for our law students.
Disadvantages: traffic (but this can be easily avoided by living on campus or close to campus).
TLS: With regard to ranking: USNews currently ranks UCLA as the 15th-best law school in the nation (though many in California would likely place it higher if asked informally). This puts UCLA within spitting distance of the vaunted "Top 14." Do you see UCLA making the necessary strides to be ranked 14th or higher within 5 years? If so, what steps is the law school presently taking to accomplish this?
As a relatively young law school, UCLA has reached impressive milestones in its short life to earn a place among the nation’s finest (and oldest) schools of law. This has been accomplished by our ceaseless commitment to academic quality and our innovative spirit. Having made tremendous gains in attracting stellar students, hiring world-class faculty, and fundraising in recent years, we intend to capitalize on this momentum to further enhance our stature, while maintaining our commitment to producing global leaders of the highest intellectual and ethical caliber.
TLS: How likely is a waitlisted student to be admitted to UCLA?
We admit a significant percent of our class each year from the wait list; the exact percent varies each year. Wait-listed applicants are welcome to contact us directly to discuss their chances of admission.
TLS: How does the admissions committee regard letters of continued interest (LOCIs) sent by waitlisted candidates? Is a LOCI (Letter of Continued Interest) recommended? If so, have you any tips on what a student should be sure to include in his or her LOCI?
Statements of continued interest, including updates to your application file, may be submitted on a periodic basis (once a month is sufficient) either via e-mail at email@example.com or standard mail to the Office of Admissions at UCLA School of Law. The admissions committee welcomes such statements. If applicable, updated academic transcripts, LSAT scores, or any other official documents can be sent either through LSAC or directly to our office. With respect to new letters of recommendation, they should only be sent if you strongly believe that they illuminate substantially different aspects to your candidacy not covered by the previous letters submitted on your behalf.
TLS: Aside from writing a LOCI, are there any steps a waitlisted candidate can take to improve his or her chances?
Many of the factors considered in our wait list deliberations (e.g., quality of other wait-listed candidates, the enrollment goals of the Law School, number of admitted students accepting our offers of admission, etc.) are external and beyond the control of individual applicants. Thus, there isn’t much one can do to improve their odds, aside from patiently waiting and continuing to express their interest in UCLA Law.
TLS: What does UCLA look for in transfer applicants? Is 1L academic performance the only significant factor in evaluating those applications?
First-year law school performance is one of the most important criteria in determining admission for transfer students. We also consider the law school attended, recommendation letters from law school faculty and the reasons for seeking to transfer.
TLS: By virtue of the fact that you are devoting your time to this interview (and we at TLS sincerely appreciate your doing so), it is clear that you are aware that a significant percentage of law school applicants spend time in online communities, such as TLS, where they discuss law schools and the applications process. There is a persistent rumor that members of admissions committees browse the forums and that what individuals post online might affect (negatively or otherwise) their chances for admission. Can you shed some light on this or provide any specific examples of when this has been the case?
Although we do occasionally browse these forums to gain insight on what law school applicants are thinking about, I am not aware of any cases in which an individual’s posting adversely impacted his/her admission outcome.
TLS: Last but not least, have you any general advice for TLS members regarding the law school application process as a whole or even success in law school itself?
Stay true to yourself and maintain perspective. There are plenty of fine law schools across the country, and as long as you know yourself and what you want out of a legal education, you will find a place that is right for you. To that end, take the time to self-reflect and consider the factors that may be important to you (e.g., location, size, reputation, availability of financial assistance, clinical opportunities, career prospects, etc.). Enjoy the process of researching and visiting law schools, and the more you learn about your options, the likelier you are to make a good choice.
Thank you to Dean Robert Schwartz from UCLA School of Law for participating in our Admissions Spotlight Series. Dean Schwartz is the acting Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid. Joseph Fernandez from Parliament Tutors conducted this interview.
As the Senior Assistant Dean for Admissions, Financial Aid, and Career Planning, what are your day-to-day responsibilities?
My day to day responsibilities vary considerably depending on the time of the year. I am always responsible for overseeing the entire admissions office operation and supervising all of our employees.
What do you consider the most significant parts of an application for admission, the parts which applicants should prepare the most carefully?
All parts of the application are important but the personal statement is the one which applicants need to spend considerable time on.
Is there anything you frequently see on an admission application that you hope to never see again?
I have seen applicants write the name of another law school in their personal statement. That is an error we prefer not to see.
What common pitfalls should financial aid applicants be careful to avoid?
My best advice is to follow the application instructions. For example, do not provide a statement that is longer than the limit we set. Answer the question we ask. And make sure you answer (in an addendum if necessary) any questions that you think an admissions counselor will have when reviewing your file.
Are there any myths about the application process which you would like to dispel?
We read each and every application; there are no numerical cut-offs. That said, numbers are important and we do publish detailed information regarding our admission rates.
What advice would you give to an admissions applicant with below-average test scores but significant work experience?
Emphasize how the work experience will enable the applicant to contribute to the law school community and classroom and how it will enable the applicant to succeed in the legal profession.
Does your program frequently have to turn away applicants whom you wish you could admit? If so, what could those applicants have done differently to be admitted?
Yes, we do need to turn away thousands of applicants each year. We are fortunate to receive so many highly qualified applicants. I do not have any magic advice other than to encourage applicants to “put their best foot forward”; write the best personal statement, obtain the best letters of recommendation they can, and indicate why they are interested in UCLA and how they could contribute to our community. If an applicant is not admitted, I encourage them to consider applying to transfer to UCLA after their first year at another law school.
How much faith do you have in the ability of an LSAT, to predict success in law school?
As a general rule, the LSAT is a good predictor of law school performance. It is not a matter of “faith”; the Law School Admission Council has completed detailed reports which indicate that fact. That said, it is not predictive in every case. And that is why we review each application carefully and admit students with a wide range of LSAT scores.
What do you look for in a recommendation letter?
We look carefully at letters of recommendation. Ideally the recommender will provide detailed information regarding the applicant’s chances of success in law school and as a lawyer. We hope that the recommender has observed the applicant demonstrate skills that will be useful in law school and in the legal profession.
Suppose an applicant has little or no experience relevant to your program, but has significant experience in other fields. What can that applicant do to distinguish himself or herself in your eyes as a good candidate for your program?
We do not expect applicants to have experience in the legal profession. We admit students each year that have majored in a wide variety of areas and have worked in many different fields, from Archaeology to Zoology.
Joseph Fernandez specializes in LSAT Tutoring.