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An inside look at UCLA Law School and what you need to know to get in [Show Summary]
Robert Schwartz, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at UCLA Law, shares an inside look at the unique opportunities the program offers students and important tips for those seeking to attend law school.
Interview with Rob Schwartz, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at UCLA Law [Show Notes]
Thanks for joining me for the 448th episode of Admissions Straight Talk. Are you applying to law school this cycle? Or, perhaps are you planning ahead to apply to law school next year, or even later? Are you competitive at your target programs? Accepted’s law school admissions quiz can give you a quick reality check. Just go to accepted.com/law-quiz, complete the quiz and you’ll not only get an assessment, but you’ll get tips on how to improve your chances of acceptance. Plus, it’s all free.
Now, let’s move into today’s interview. I’m delighted to have on Admissions Straight Talk, Robert Schwartz, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at UCLA Law. Dean Schwartz earned his JD from Cardozo Law and graduated magna cum laude. He then practiced law for several years before returning to Cardozo, where he served as Dean of Admissions for 11 years. He joined UCLA in October 2006. Dean Schwartz, thanks for joining me today on Admissions Straight Talk.
Can you give us an overview of the more distinctive elements of UCLA Law School’s JD program? [1:52]
Sure, I can try to do that, at least for a little bit. I think it’s a very distinctive school and program so there’s a lot to say about it. In terms of distinction, I feel like we offer a lot of programs that are really on the cutting edge, that are very important in society today. So you take issues like climate change, we have the Emmett Institute for Climate Change and the Environment. You take issues like civil rights and racial justice, we have a specialization in critical race studies, one of the only schools in the country to offer such a specialization. Take the issue of LGBT rights, the Williams Institute for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law is located here at UCLA. There are several others. We’ve recently launched a Center for Immigration Law and Policy, and a Technology Law Center. On the human rights front, we consider ourselves a powerhouse here on the West Coast, through the Promise Institute for Human Rights. So those are just a few examples.
I’m also very proud of our program that we offer in the first year, before the first full week of classes. We call it Law 101 and it’s a five day program which gives students an introduction to what law school is all about. I think it makes them feel more comfortable, as they get ready to start their legal studies. You even get to take a practice law school exam at the end of the first week. It’s just pass/fail but I think it gets the jitters out before you start your real classes.
UCLA is famous for its strength in arts, entertainment and media law. I read that 29% of the students specialize in media, entertainment and technology law and policy. Can you touch on what UCLA offers in those areas, both in the classroom and outside of it, in terms of extracurricular opportunities? [3:35]
I’m glad you brought this up because when I mention a few things, I inevitably leave a few things out and what I left out was the Ziffren Institute for Media, Entertainment, Technology and Sports Law, which is another one of our specializations. It’s actually not that high of a percentage of students who actually specialize in entertainment. By the time they graduate, I’d say only about five to seven percent of our students actually graduate with a specialization in entertainment law. But, it’s a phenomenal program available to students. In the first year, students can go and attend talks, lunches, and events with our alumni who are executives in all kinds of positions. Then, when you get to your second and third years, you can take classes in subjects like entertainment law, patent law, film finance, copyright. And of course we’re here in LA, so you can participate in part time externships with technology firms, talent agencies, unions and production companies. We have some great clinical programs, too. We have a documentary film legal clinic, and a sports law simulation clinic. We also have a very active student edited entertainment law review and an entertainment law student organization, so that gives you an opportunity to learn more about the field. Just being here, we’re able to bring in a lot of lawyers and executives to campus who can share their perspectives.
Lastly, I would mention every year is the entertainment symposium that we sponsor. I believe now it’s been in existence for about 45 years and that’s held every year. Students can attend that and be able to learn a lot more about the field and network with practitioners.
We have seven areas where you can specialize and that means you’re graduating with a notation on your transcript that you completed all of the requirements. That’s a smaller percentage that actually do that.
What are the seven areas students can specialize in? [6:14]
You’ll test me. We’ll see if we can get them. Entertainment Law is one. We have a Business Law and Policy specialization with the Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy. We have the Environmental Law specialization, I mentioned that one. Critical Race Studies, the Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy, International Law and then, Law and Philosophy. We also offer a certification program in Trial Advocacy.
How has COVID affected the curriculum and experience at UCLA Law? [6:52]
Well, right now we’re pretty much fully in-person. Everybody is masked. But, in many ways we’re almost back to normal. We’re not completely there. We’re not able to have visitors, unfortunately right now, so we’re doing a lot of virtual recruiting events and things like that. But, it’s been very successful. We’ve had really no evidence of transmission in the classroom, and faculty and students are wearing masks.
The major impact is we’re not able to have as many large type lectures or programs, so a lot of those have moved to be virtual. But, compared to how we were last year, this is a definite step in the right direction. I don’t know that I can look into a crystal ball and say exactly how this is going to be going forward, but we’re all hopeful that this is a step in the right direction and a return to a more normal educational setting.
Last year saw a surge in applications to all law schools. What do you see, in your crystal ball, for this cycle? [8:13]
Our median LSAT for the class that entered this past fall is a 170 and the median GPA is at 3.82 and right now, as of today, the number of applicants in the country, as you say, is pretty flat. It looks like as of now, the Law School Admission Council reports a 1.3% increase in applicants. We are up at UCLA of about 5% over last year. And last year, at the end of the day, we saw a 33% increase over the year before.
It’s early in the cycle and it’s difficult to make predictions right now. But, it looks like it will be another high volume year, although it doesn’t look like we’ll see another big increase like we saw last year over the year before.
UCLA accepts both the LSAT and the GRE. Do you have any preference for one over the other? [9:55]
We do not have any preference for one over the other. We’ve only been accepting the GRE for a few years now, so it’s a little early. In terms of preference, I think it’s not really on our side, I think it’s more important for the applicants themselves to decide which test they think they can perform better on. But, we’re still seeing the vast majority of our applicants take the LSAT. In this year’s entering class, we only have a few students, a handful, who took the GRE. I think we had 11 the year before. So, it’s still a pretty small number.
I’m always happy to counsel anyone individually, about their specific circumstances and what might be best for them. Many of the applicants who are applying who took the GRE are applying that way because they’re already in a graduate program, they’ve already taken the GRE for that reason so they don’t necessarily need to sit for another test. But, I find that most people that are applying to law school for the first time and haven’t pursued a separate graduate degree are still sitting for the LSAT.
It’s a little too early to tell and we don’t have the same detailed statistics that we get, like from the Law School Admissions Council, which shows the correlation between the LSAT and first year grades.
Is full-time work experience nice to have when applying to UCLA Law? Or, is it really important to the admissions committee at UCLA Law? [11:28]
We do value work experience in the review process. But I would say to applicants, you should go to law school when you want to go to law school. If you know that as a senior you want to get going, there’s no reason not to apply. I would say the last few years, close to a third of our entering class came right out of an undergraduate program. I think that work experience is something we value, but it’s not absolutely essential in the review process.
And when people are applying as a senior, many times they do have work experience they’ve had during the school year or during the summers, in between the college years.
Much broader perspective. I think if somebody wants to get some experience in the legal field, at a law firm or at a public service agency, they should do that because they’re excited about that position and not because they want to necessarily enhance their law school admissions application. Do it for yourself, not for the admissions committee, that would be my advice.
What factors, if any, do you weigh in addition to the GPA? [13:32]
We consider many factors in the admissions process. I guess I would say, we’re admitting people, we’re not admitting numbers. Your grades and your test scores are important because we want to admit people who we think are going to succeed. But, we’re also fortunate to have a lot of applicants from people who will be very successful in law school and as attorneys.
I can list a number of factors that are important to the admissions committee. We briefly touched upon work experience as one of them. Other factors the committee considers important are things like your extracurricular pursuits, particularly leadership skills that you’ve demonstrated. Community and public service is important, challenges you’ve faced. One of the optional questions on our application is are there any of our particular programs that you’re interested in that you think you could contribute to. That’s also a factor that we will take into account. Those are some of the major other factors.
Grades and test scores are important. When you look at who’s admitted to the law school, we make this data public, you can see that the higher your grades and test scores, the better your chances are of admission. But, when you’re in a category where there are more of those applicants and we can only admit a smaller percentage, these other factors that I was just talking about are critically important. They’re important for all applicants, but they’re even more important depending on where you fall in the applicant pool.
I think, as a prospective student, really all you can do is be smart about the application process. Pick a wide range of schools to apply to. Depending on how many you’re applying to, make sure some are real reaches where your scores are much below that of the school, and then others where you’re right on the mark and some safety schools that you’re excited about going to as well. I think if you do that, you’re going to very likely have a successful admissions cycle.
I think that people need to remember these are medians. Half the people are going to be below those numbers that you mentioned at the beginning. That’s a lot, that’s 50% of the class.
UCLA Law is a little different from many law schools in that the personal statement asks students to discuss what would enable them to make a distinctive contribution to UCLA Law or to the legal profession, in addition to the more traditional elements like their ability to succeed in law school or why they want to become a lawyer. Where is this coming from? [16:12]
Well, I think first of all, the personal statement serves a few purposes. One is that it’s a sense of your writing. The second thing is that it gives us a chance to get to know you a little bit better. We wish we could interview every applicant but we cannot. I would encourage prospective students to think of the personal statement as an interview. If you were coming in, what would you want the admissions committee to know about you? Now, you’re applying to law school so you could tell us a lot about yourself. But, what we really want to know is something about yourself, your background and how you got to this point in your life and why it is that you’d like to go to law school.
I don’t know that it’s so critically important that you address what you’re going to be contributing per se, but what is important is that you address on some level your interest in the law. It is important that you have some sense of why you’re applying to law school and what it is you hope to accomplish.
How do you view addenda that address a dip in grades, perhaps an academic infraction, challenges overcome or something along those lines? [17:38]
Well, for us it’s actually a question on the application, which is optional in part. “Is there anything you want to tell us about your academic background or your standardized test taking history?” It’s there that you should address those things and they’re important. I think the way an applicant should look at it is if a stranger, which we are, is looking at your transcript, are there things that stand out? Maybe there was one semester where you didn’t do as well or a course where you didn’t do as well, and it’s there that you can provide any explanation that you want us to take into account.
What about the reality of a student who has some kind of criminal record? [18:19]
Well, first of all I would say it’s important that that individual investigate with any state bar that they’re thinking about practicing whether or not that criminal record could impact their ability to be admitted to the state bar. Because once you graduate law school, you’re going to have to go through a character and fitness portion of the admission process. That’s a separate matter.
For us, we have to evaluate each application individually and holistically. Some of the things we would consider is how serious an infraction it was, when it took place, what the applicant may have learned from that or what they’ve done since then. We’ve admitted people before who have various criminal infractions, so I wouldn’t say to somebody that that automatically means they’re not going to be admitted to the law school. But in some cases we may interview that applicant. There’s so many wide varieties of things we could be talking about here, but we just have to look at each application individually and consider the circumstances.
Under what circumstances do you invite people to interview? [19:39]
Well, a few. We have a few full tuition scholarship programs and we do interview everyone we’re considering admitting for those, as well as for our early decision binding admissions program. We also interview everybody who we’re considering admitting from our waiting list, once we get to that portion of the process.
Sometimes, we interview people during the regular review process and that’s just a function of, it could be a wide number of factors, but based on a review of the file, we would like to meet the candidate but that’s in a small number of cases.
Does UCLA Law accept and consider update letters from applicants who feel they have something significant to add to their application after they submit it and before hearing back from you? [20:24]
Absolutely. Letters of recommendation, I would say no. We require two letters and that’s it, until we get to the waitlist process and then we’ll consider additional letters. But if somebody has an update to their file, an update to their resume, absolutely we would welcome that.
What is a common mistake you see applicants make during the application process? [20:55]
First of all, the good news is it’s not that many mistakes. But, sometimes I would say just not following the instructions, like we talked about the personal statement and what our requirements are. We ask for a two page statement, maybe somebody submits a four page statement. Or, somebody writes in the personal statement, “Those are the reasons why I want to go to,” and instead of saying UCLA Law School, they put the name of another school. Those are the kinds of mistakes we see. Grammatical errors in the personal statement or in the application. But, by and large, there are not too many grave errors.
I guess, after talking to applicants after cycles are complete, I think the biggest mistake that they make is not so much in their application, but in terms of where they apply. We talked about that earlier and that’s why I mentioned it, just having that range of schools to apply to and being thoughtful about where you’re applying.
What do you see as the appropriate role for parents in this process? [22:05]
I actually have dealt with parents very infrequently. I would say, more often than not, where it happens is parents are coming to visit, coming to an admitted student program or coming for a tour. And, I think that’s great. They want to be with their son or daughter and see where they might spend the next three years and help ask some questions. That’s totally fine.
What advice do you have either for applicants trying to apply this cycle or for those planning ahead, to apply next year or later? [22:53]
I think what we’ve learned over the last few years is that with this higher volume, you really want to try to prepare as early as you can. Try to apply as early in the cycle as you can. There’s no question that last year, there were applicants who applied closer to the deadline who, had they applied earlier, we would have been able to offer them admission. So, just try to do your homework early, take the LSAT or the GRE early and get prepared, get your letters of recommendation together, be working on your personal statement.
You do want to apply as early as you can, with the strongest application that you can. If, for example, you take the LSAT and you’re not as happy with your performance and want to retake it, clearly better to apply a little bit later with a stronger score. But as a general measure, trying to get your application in as early as possible is important.
When does UCLA’s application open? [24:21]
Typically, September 1st and our deadline is February 1st. It’s not that you have to apply by September 1st. But if you can get it in by around this time of the year, early December, I think that’s great.
Is there anything you would have liked me to ask you? [24:35]
Well, I guess I would just highlight that, if people have questions that you didn’t ask, we’re happy to answer them and there are many ways people can go about doing that. That’s what we’re here for, is to help be of assistance to them. If somebody out there listening to this is thinking, “Huh, I wish Linda had asked him that,” you can still ask me that. I’m available by email and we offer, at least now, virtual tours where we have an admissions staff come on and answer your individual questions. Right now, we’re not able to have people observe law school classes in-person, but we can email links and live stream it to a prospective student. I think for prospective students to get a sense of what they’re getting into and to see what a law school class is actually like, that can be a really helpful thing to do. I guess, I would just encourage people that want to know more to take advantage of those opportunities.
Where can listeners learn more about UCLA Law? [25:45]
Well, they can go to our website at law.ucla.edu. They’re also welcome to email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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