A top-3 law school, a location in sunny California, and a beautiful campus in paradise – it’s no wonder why Stanford Law School (SLS) is many aspiring law students’ dream school! For the 2016 calendar year, 3,821 students applied for full-time spots at Stanford, of which 11% were admitted. Each year, Stanford welcomes 180 students to its matriculating class. Stanford boasts impressive academic credentials, with its 25th/75th percentile GPA range standing at 3.75 – 3.95 and its LSAT range standing at 168-173. What does Stanford’s application process look like, and how can you boost your chances of acceptance?
Stanford’s application becomes available in late August and closes in early February. The January LSAT is the very last time you can take the LSAT and have that score be considered during Stanford’s review process.
An overview of Stanford’s admissions requirements
Stanford’s application includes a:
• Completed Application for Admission, submitted electronically through LSAC.
• Nonrefundable $100 application fee, paid by credit card through LSAC. This fee can be waived in cases of extreme personal hardship, given a successfully approved SLS Application Fee Waiver Form.
• One-to-two page resume of your academic, extracurricular, and professional accomplishments.
• Personal statement of about two pages, sharing information about yourself that is not readily apparent from the other application materials you are submitting.
• At least two recommendation letters, and no more than four. Note that Stanford highly values school-specific letters of recommendation.
• An optional diversity essay in which you can share information about how you would add to the diversity of the incoming class.
• Up to two optional short essays from a list of four topics. Each response should be between 100 and 200 words.
• Checked box on the LSAC Letter of Recommendation form indicating whether or not you waive rights to access your letters of recommendation.
• Valid LSAT score from an administration no later than December of the year prior to enrollment.
• Completed LSAC Credential Assembly Service Report, including copies of all transcripts sent to LSAC.
What is Stanford looking for?
As with any top law school, Stanford looks first and foremost for academic ability. You will need to prove that you are capable of handling the rigors of law school. Check out our post on law school numbers for more information about how important your LSAT and GPA are in the admissions process for all top law schools.
Stanford specifically wants to see well-rounded candidates. Strong academics alone are not sufficient. If you graduated from college with a stellar record but spent the last five years watching TV in a basement with a bag of chips, the admissions officers will wonder how you’ve been putting your talents to use. Likewise, if you had a rocky start in your college years but were able to move into a successful career as a political organizer, Stanford may be more forgiving of your earlier grades. Stanford is known for being more focused on candidates’ outside-of-the-classroom experiences than other top law schools, so make sure your personal statement reflects your qualities and background beyond your LSAT and GPA. After all, beyond basic academic ability, Stanford looks for excellence – how have you distinguished yourself from others around you? How have you maximized the opportunities given to you? How have you demonstrated your ability to inspire, innovate, and lead, in the words of Stanford Law School’s motto? Tailor your essay to Stanford to show how SLS fits into your educational and career goals.
Stanford, in closing, is attentive to assembling a diverse and well-rounded class. SLS has referred to various application components as pieces of an individual candidate’s “puzzle.” Each admitted candidate, in turn, fills a piece of that class’s overall puzzle. Identify what makes you different from the other 3,800+ applicants interested in Stanford Law and be sure your application reflects those distinctions. For more recommendations on making your law school application the best it can be, check out Law School Applications: The Basics.
Like most law schools, Stanford’s essay prompt is incredibly broad:
“Please attach a statement of about two pages describing important or unusual aspects of yourself not otherwise apparent in your application.”
Here is a link to the Stanford JD application page.
This prompt is wide-open, but SLS gives you one clear direction: do not reiterate what is on your resume and in other parts of your application. You don’t need to re-state what the admissions officer already knows. Essays that run through a list of your accomplishments end up sounding boastful and boring.
Now that you know what not to do, how should you approach the question?
First of all, stop and take a deep breath. A personal statement is all about telling a compelling story. (Don’t believe me? Check out SLS Dean of Admissions Faye Deal’s blog post about the personal statement.) You can do this!
Here are a few questions to start brainstorming:
- When in your life have you felt entirely engaged in an activity, project, or cause? (This is just a less cheesy way of asking what you are passionate about.)
- Why do you want to go to law school? This can be a particularly helpful starting point if you can identify a key moment when you decided to become a lawyer. (If you are unsure of the answer to this, see our post on how to know if you should go to law school!)
- Thinking back on recent college or work experiences, are there one or two moments or stories that stand out in your memory as particularly meaningful?
- What is the most challenging obstacle or setback you have encountered? What did you learn from the experience?
These do not need to be monumental events. A story about a college athlete dealing with a sports injury can be a compelling tale of perseverance and commitment. A story about learning to play an instrument as a child can be a powerful tale about navigating family dynamics.
Many applicants get paralyzed by the idea that you need to stand out from a crowd of thousands of other talented, smart people. This can seem impossible, especially if you are still in college. But remember that it is not your experiences that need to stand out; it is how you describe, analyze, and reflect on those experiences.
Some people will have truly unique backgrounds in military service, work experience, or public service—great! But for everyone else, the challenge is to take a common experience and talk about it with an uncommon depth of reflection.
Notice that SLS does not ask: Why do you want to go to law school?
Most applicants will end up addressing this question, either explicitly or implicitly, but this does not need to be the guiding principle of your essay. If SLS wanted every applicant to write about this topic, they would ask for it.
Instead, they ask: What makes you different? What is important to you? Focus on these two things. You can write a beautiful personal statement about your love of music or the value of being part of a team or the thrill of scientific discovery.
Like many schools, SLS gives you two opportunities to demonstrate your thoughtful approach to complex issues. In addition to the broad personal statement, there is an optional diversity essay:
“While admission to Stanford Law School is based primarily upon superior academic achievement and potential to contribute to the legal profession, the Admissions Committee also regards the diversity of an entering class as important to the school’s educational mission. If you would like the committee to consider how factors such as your background, life and work experiences, advanced studies, extracurricular or community activities, culture, socio-economic status, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation would contribute to the diversity of the entering class and hence to your classmates’ law school experience, you may describe these factors and their relevance in a separate diversity statement.”
Some people are definitely admitted without submitting the additional essay. However, it is in your best interest to use every opportunity that you have to show SLS what you can bring to the school and to the practice of law.
Do not feel as though you must be a member of an underrepresented minority to write this essay!
SLS already knows a lot of demographic information about you based on the boxes you checked on the application form. They don’t need an extra essay to know your sex, race, ethnicity, etc. They do need an extra essay to know what you have learned from your life experiences—both those stemming from your identity as well as those stemming from your decisions—and how you will share that with your classmates.
Your two essays should work together to demonstrate different aspects of your personality, experiences, and goals. Try to pick different themes for the two essays to avoid appearing one-dimensional.
Finally, read over your essays and make sure they are clear, well-written, and error-free.
Most lawyers spend a great deal of their careers writing, so a key element of any law school application essay is demonstrating that you have excellent writing skills.