Reflecting on the Application Process

Name: Michelle Tellock

Class: Class of 2007 Graduate

Hometown: Hortonville, WI

Current Residence: New Haven, CT

Majors: Cognitive Science and Sociology

Greetings from chilly and fall-colored New Haven, Connecticut! I just finished conducting a tour of my new academic home, Yale Law School, and on the walk back to my apartment I passed three
huge groups touring the undergraduate school. The presence of prospective students on campus en masse always makes me smile and become a bit reflective.

My desk, outfitted with the necessities of law-school paper writing...a big glass of water to stay hydrated, Post-It flags to mark important passages in case law, saline solution to keep my eyes hydrated, and chocolate to help me forget just how late/early it is when I'm *still* working on my paper Six years ago, I embarked on the college application process as a relatively naïve high school senior. Looking back, I admittedly made some mistakes – I probably shouldn’t have avoided taking the SAT IIs, there were other schools I should have more thoroughly investigated, and some schools that I applied to were pretty obviously not a good “fit” for me. All told, though, I am grateful that I by chance ended up applying to Johns Hopkins and thankful for the wonderful four years I spent at Homewood.

Working in the admissions office at JHU gave me an insider’s view of the process, which certainly helped to calm my nerves when a little over a year ago I started submitting law school applications. I was older, wiser, and certainly better informed about how to go about the process this time around. Here, my advice to those of you just starting your own whirlwind application cycle:

* Start with a wide net, informed by a number of sources – Don’t rule out schools too early on without a good, personal reason; add schools to your list when they seem interesting for whatever reason: you saw an article about interesting research being done there, a friend of yours posted gorgeous pictures of the campus on Facebook, a chance encounter with an alum or current student sparked an enjoyable conversation; rankings can be helpful to guide your search, but remember that the only rankings that matter in the end are the ones that you construct for yourself, based on a variety of factors that matter most to you. I worked really hard not to rule out law schools that well-meaning friends told me I shouldn’t consider going to. On the other hand… Me (center) and my two co-1L roommates, at a party celebrating one of our classmate's birthdays
* Be judicious about your list – Come December, you don’t want to have 48 applications to complete! Your guidance counselor can probably give you a good sense of how many applications you should send off, but don’t submit ones to schools that you know in your heart you’d never attend (it’s just wasting your time/money, and someone else wants that spot!). Focus your energies on schools you love, and your applications will turn out much better: any school-specific essays will be easier to write, and any “Why School X?” questions in an interview will be easy to answer. I applied to 13 law schools last fall, a few of which should never have made my list…when I found it hard to answer “Why School X,” I should have realized that those schools weren’t a good fit for me.

* Write your essays with heart. Go over them with a fine-tooth comb. Then let them sit for a couple days, read them over again to make sure they sound like “you,” and be done with it. – People reading applications hate to find grammatical and spelling errors that show you haven’t spent enough time proofreading your writing. What’s even worse, though, is when the words on the paper don’t sound like you wrote them because you’ve so carefully edited your thoughts into what you think you “should” say. Don’t be afraid to completely scrap something you’ve planned for months in favor of something that’s suddenly inspired you. If you write something unique and heartfelt, it’ll (almost) make up for lack of perfect polish. My best law school application essay (in my humble opinion) was something I pounded out on my keyboard in ten minutes after being frustrated with writer’s block for over a month. It ended up being a little rough around the edges when I hit “submit,” but it showed an aspect of my personality that didn’t shine prominently in the rest of my packaged application.

* Don’t let yourself get caught up in the hype. Enjoy your year! – Your friends might be hearing back from schools, you might be tempted by online discussion forums (I know I spent an unhealthy amount of hours carefully poring over fellow applicants’ statistics and stories), and you might be checking your e-mail and phone compulsively for messages from specific domains/area codes. It’s completely understandable. Still, don’t forget to enjoy your senior year and all the memories that will come along with it. You won’t get the year back to live again.

The beautiful Connecticut countryside in fall, as seen from the Honorable Judge Guido Calabresi's farm; he's my torts teacher, and he had the whole class over to his house last Sunday for an amazing Italian lunch * When making your decision, listen to yourself first, and listen to yourself lastFirst impressions mean a lot. When you step foot on campus, an electric feeling might be a sign that you’ve found your perfect match. Don’t be afraid, though, to ask challenging questions to the admissions staff, the financial aid folks, and current students. Understand what it would be like to live there, study there, and have fun there. In the end, make sure you can picture yourself as a member of the community; personally, I acquired t-shirts from my final three law school contenders, and considered how I felt while wearing each one (for a few weeks, I must have seem awfully confused to any unknowing observers!). When I felt at home in my t-shirt, I knew I had an answer.

I hope these few bits of wisdom will help you as you’re going through an intensely (yes, also intense!) personal process. Academic application processes are stressful, and they don’t become any less stressful as you go through more of them (just ask my roommates what it was like living with me in the week leading up to the release of LSAT scores!); however, if you recognize that the process is unique to you because it is your process (over which you have a lot of control), you will certainly more thoroughly enjoy the months meant to help you find the place that is the best fit for you. Best of luck!

*** If you enjoyed this alumni blog entry then we recommend you check out Michelle’s other guest blog entry from last year — Greetings from Washington, D.C. — and also her archived blog from her time as an undergraduate — Not-Quite-Daily Ramblings.

  • By Rohit Dasgupta, November 9, 2008 @ 11:25 PM

    Hey Michelle,
    This is a really good entry. Reading over it makes me think that I should have invested a little more time on my college list, but I’m so glad that I am at Hopkins! I really love it. Hope Yale is going great!

  • By JHU Dominique, November 22, 2008 @ 2:10 PM

    I agree with everything, especially the “Don’t get caught in the hype” section. I too spent too many hours and worries on certain discussion forums that have false information, which made me even more nervous and anxious about the process. I think people go too crazy, especially when they get waitlisted or not in at all–it took me a long time to get over the process for stupid reasons. Enjoy life!

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