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Two years of undergraduate education has shown me that maybe law school is my calling. And now, as a junior in college, I’m getting reading to take the LSAT and apply my senior year. In more ways than one, this feels like a repeat of my college application process back in high school.
But I’m definitely older and wiser now, and I think I’ve learned to handle some of the same applications challenges differently the second time around.
I had sworn off standardized testing after my senior year round of AP tests, yet here I was, staring another one in the face. And as my friend helpfully reminded me, if I did do well enough to get into law school, I’d still have the bar to worry about at the end of my three years.
This must be one of the worst two-for-one deals ever created, and I must be a glutton for punishment.
Internet forums and various “sources” say that ideally, I should be taking the June LSAT between my junior and senior years of college, and that I should start studying about 6 months in advance.
Having done the SAT mostly by myself without tutoring or guidance, I realized that now, with my future in the real world on the line, I needed to make sure that I got all the help I needed in order to do the best I possibly could. It could mean the difference between having to find a job straight out of college and putting that off for three years; it could affect my starting salary; it could decide whether I settled in Silicon Valley or New England.
Or…that’s just what things seem like right now.
I had felt the same way about the SAT, like this score would determine the rest of my life. There was a lot of mental pressure and sleepless nights and nails bitten and pencils broken over trying because I thought I’d be an absolute failure in life if I didn’t score well.
But when I came to college, I found out that really, it didn’t matter that much at all what you scored. Nobody asks about the SAT and ACT scores again after you get in, and you’ll find that academic performance in actual college classes actually don’t correspond much with those scores. Also, strong extracurriculars and a strong GPA can mitigate the effects of an average SAT score, so not doing all that well…isn’t all that bad, really.
This is one piece of knowledge that I really wish I had understood when applying to undergrad: there is no number important enough to determine the rest of my life. Test scores may be important and worth trying your best for, but no matter what, they aren’t worthy of constituting anyone’s whole future. No number is.
I had asked an attorney (facetiously) at an alumni networking event once what he got on his LSAT, and he — despite his best efforts — could not remember. He had to go look it up.
But this man was raking in about a million a year as a partner of Squire Patton Boggs. If I were him, I wouldn’t care about an LSAT score either. Would you?
I don’t particularly mind people knowing about my post-graduate plans; in fact, it seems that most people in college are relatively open about this subject. The whole “walking on eggshells” vibe in high school isn’t as much of a thing now — but it still exists in trace quantities.
I’ve found that a lot of my friends who are planning on applying for law school don’t want people knowing; it’s a secret that I’ve been entrusted to keep a few times. And I can respect that; law school is a very personal decision, and whether someone’s going or not is frankly none of my business.
I say this now, but I wasn’t as calm about this back when I was applying for college in high school. I was A) a bit hesitant about telling people where I was applying and B) somewhat hurt when people who I’ve decided to disclose my very private school choices to didn’t return the favor.
I’ve realized that for the most part, the strangers and acquaintances who ask me about things don’t really care. By that, I mean that they’ll probably forget my answer in a few days, and that my answer — no matter what I say — will be treated as an interesting piece of trivia for a few moments and then tossed aside in favor of something more personally relevant to themselves. So even if they do judge you, it doesn’t last.
I’ve had the following exchange with many people already, for instance:.
“Hey Jeanette, what are you planning on doing after college?”
“I’m looking at law school. Why?”
“Nothing, just wondering. But I don’t know, you — as a lawyer? I don’t think I can see that.”
And I laugh it off; I may be introverted, and I may hate public speaking. But I do have my own reasons for pursuing law, and I’m determined to get better at speaking. After all, what’s the point of going to law school if I already know how to be a lawyer?
But on the flip side, I’m also more comfortable now with the fact that some people like to keep their plans secret. They don’t necessarily do it because they don’t like you or don’t trust you — in fact, sometimes they keep things from you because you’re someone they value a lot and don’t want to disappoint. That was the reason I never told my favorite teacher that I was applying to any Ivy League schools, and it became a pleasant surprise for him when he found out that I was accepted to one.
As always, it’s easier to comment about this stuff in hindsight. It was a lot harder living it through the first time.
When I applied for college the first time, I was focused on getting into a “good” school, as if that was the end-all-be-all of my high school career. And in a way, it was. But now that I’m in college, I’ve realized that this type of thinking can be problematic.
My freshman year dorm-mate, for instance, came to Cornell because it was the highest-ranked school she got into; but being a Manhattanite her entire life, she realized in the middle of our sophomore year that she needed a bustling city and a less STEM-oriented school — a school that matched her personality enough so that she could truly grow. She left for Fordham before we both became juniors, and is now a happy sociology major.
Okay. Law school is a little different. Nobody “has to” apply to law school out of college. Many people go straight into the working world, and many others take gap years. I could be one of them. Because of this, I really had to think long and hard about my decision to apply and what law school meant to me.
I feel like I should’ve had the same internal conversation with myself about college, to be very honest.
This time around, I knew that I was applying for myself, and not for the law school. By the time I’ll have graduated, I’ll have earned a double B.A. in information science and China and Asia-Pacific studies from Cornell University, and I’ll also have completed an honors thesis based on my own research.
I honestly could be done right then and there.
But because I want to push myself even more and expand my skill set, I want to go to law school. I’m not prostrating myself before these law schools and begging for their acceptance because I need their reputation. I have accomplishments under my belt as an undergrad that may be enhanced by the faculty I might meet and education I might receive at those institutions, and hopefully these institutions would think I’m a good match for their personalities.
It’s a discussion made on equal footing; nobody’s begging anybody. Law school is a means to a better me; it’s not the end.
I feel like college is the same way: each applicant has a unique set of respectable skills that they want to get better at. Some are so accomplished that they might not even need college. But because these applicants are looking to expand their skill sets and to become newer and better versions of themselves, they’re going to college. They could choose not to go and still do well (and it is possible!).
Ultimately, pursuing any type of education (at least, in my opinion) is a personal decision. I have to choose the school that will work the best with who I am in order to shape me into who I want to become. It’s not a one-sided game where I’m dying for the highest-ranked schools to take me; I am a person with my own strengths and talents and accomplishments and preferences, and no ranking or amount of prestige is a sufficient shortcut to determine where I’d be happiest.
At the end of the day, I’m doing this to become a better me. And because of this, I have to choose my school wisely.
In a few months I’ll be thrown back into the same cycle of stress and worries that I told myself I would never have to deal with after twelfth grade. You can bet that I’m definitely not looking forward to it.
But becoming a better me was never easy, and for that, I’m willing to suffer a little more and study a little harder. Not for any test score, for any school’s ranking, or for anyone else’s approval, but for me, myself, and I — because she’s the person I wake up to and fall asleep with every day, and I owe her a stable future and a few realized dreams.
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