Application Strategy

Application Strategy

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LLM candidates: How to write a personal statement

This is an excerpt from “The US LLM: From Whether to When, What, Where, and How,” by Desiree Jaeger-Fine. The ebook is available at Amazon,  Barnes & Noble , and  Kobo . It is reprinted with permission. 

5. Personal statement

The personal statement is probably the aspect of the application packet that is the most feared. It is feared in part because it is an important part of the application process. But it is also feared because it requires us to do something we may have never done before and because it calls on us to write about ourselves in a way that makes us look interesting as people.

Here are some points of guidance as you think about writing your personal statement: a. Relax! Don’t worry too much about the content:

Admissions counselors and others who are on the application review team do not expect that applicants will have superhuman qualities. It is rare that law schools see an application from someone who has saved someone’s life, negotiated peace between nations, or won a prize for literary achievement. What schools do want to see, however, is a person who has some dimension beyond that of a student/lawyer. Every person is unique and this is what law schools want to see when they read personal statements. The key is to find that uniqueness in yourself and put it into words.

b. The personal statement should be well written:

The single most important thing about the personal statement is that it be well written. For most US law schools, the personal statement will double as a writing sample (most law schools do not require that you submit a separate writing sample). To that end, the personal statement should reflect that you are capable of writing a mature, serious, formal piece of writing. It should have a theme that you develop throughout the piece and write about in a coherent, well-organized fashion. You should edit your personal statement through the process of critical revision. To the extent possible, the personal statement should be free of grammatical and typographical errors. Sentences and paragraphs should flow logically from one to the next. Schedule your time so that you can leave at least one day between readings; you will be amazed at how some distance between readings can improve your editing process.

c. Make the personal statement specific to the school(s) to which you are applying:

The personal statement should be specific to the law school for which you are writing it. You should somewhere in your personal statement talk about why you want to do the LLM in general, but

also why this particular law school and program is of particular interest to you. How does this school and this program fit your overall academic, professional, and personal goals?

d. Catch the reader’s attention:

Try to write in a way that will catch the reader’s attention. Admissions counselors and others who read applications may spend day after day doing little other than reading applications. A personal statement that stands out will be part of an application that gets noticed, and is a most welcome break from reading applications that lack this dynamic. Some people like to begin with a quote or an anecdote or a question. Be upbeat, be positive, be enthusiastic! Whatever you write, be sure that it is interesting and will attract the attention of the reader. This is a great way to differentiate yourself from many other applications.

e. The personal statement should be personal:

The personal statement should be personal. This means that it is hard to give firm rules about what will work for your personal statement. But the goal clearly is to see you as a person, not just as a professional. Combine aspects of your personality with your academic and professional persona; include in your personal statement things that make you unique as an individual.

This should make obvious that your personal statement should not simply repeat what is on your resume in narrative form; the resume serves one function and the personal statement another. There is no reason to describe every program you studied in, job you have had, or deal you have worked on. These are all in your resume. The personal statement is something different, so you should avoid the common mistake of simply converting your resume into paragraph form and calling it a personal statement. The admissions office will review your resume carefully and it does not need to see the same information twice. The personal statement is your opportunity to present yourself in a different way and to give the admissions committee information about you that it will not get from your resume. Don’t waste that opportunity – use it to show something about who you are as a person that is not apparent from the much more objectively written resume, in which you describe your education and work.

So what should you write about? Assuming that you haven’t saved a life, won a Nobel Prize, or negotiated peace among nations, you can still write an interesting essay. Consider the list below, which may give you some ideas for what to write:

• Highlight accomplishments not clear from your resume
• Explain gaps, special problems
• What makes you the kind of person law schools would want in their community
• What can you contribute to the law school community?
• What demonstrates that you can handle the challenges of living abroad and studying in a

different legal system?
• What special life lessons have you learned?
• What qualities do you have that demonstrate leadership ability?
• Can you give an example of how you dealt with a difficult situation or overcame a weakness or

obstacle?
• What do you consider a defining moment in your life?

One additional point when it comes to the content of the personal statement. It is far preferable to illustrate your attributes than to simply state them. What we mean by this is that saying you can thrive in a fast-paced environment is much less impressive and meaningful than giving an example of how you have thrived in such a context. Let the reader arrive at that obvious conclusion on her own rather than just telling her how you perceive yourself to be. You might consider making a list of attributes that you would like to demonstrate yourself as possessing. Think of how you  

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Harvard law school llm personal statement

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Expert Reviewed

How to Get Into Harvard Law

Six Parts: Completing the Application Building Your Resume in College Building Your Resume After College Beating the LSAT Writing a Great Personal Statement Acing the Interview Community Q&A

Harvard Law School is consistently ranked as one of the top law schools in the United States. It provides its students with a solid foundation in law, a dedicated faculty with invaluable legal experience and a diverse student body from the United States and around the world. And even in what has been a difficult market for law school grads, over 95% of Harvard Law students find work within 10 months, [1] with an average salary of $120,983 for the class of 2014. [2] The bad news is that out of 5,973 applicants for the latest class (2017), only 918 were accepted. [3] To give yourself the best chance of getting in, you’ll need to build your resumé, score high on the LSAT, write a great personal statement, apply early, and then ace the interview.

Steps

Part 1

Completing the Application

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    Reach out to current Harvard Law students before applying. A great way to get insight into the admissions process and life at Harvard Law is to contact current students. The Harvard Law admissions office will be happy to put you in touch with a student who will share their experience. [4] You can call them at 617-495-3179, or email them at [email protected] [5]

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    Apply early. Harvard Law uses rolling admissions, so according to the dean, there is an advantage to applying early before too many of the places are filled. The application typically goes live in late September. For the best chance of getting in, you should be ready to submit your application then or shortly thereafter. [6]
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    Complete the application online. You will apply at LSAC website . You’ll want to start early in order to acquire recommendations, complete the LSAT on time, and make sure your personal statement and resume are as good as you can make them. The application consists of 7 mandatory parts: [7]

    • A fee of $85
    • The application form
    • Your resumé
    • A personal statement
    • Your LSAT scores
    • 2-3 recommendation letters. (At least one should be from an academic. If you have been out of school for a long time, you may submit non-academic recommendations, or consider taking extended education college courses to get to know a professor.)
    • Character and Fitness Questions (to determine eligibility for the bar upon graduation)
    • An interview (granted to approximately 1,200 applicants)
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    Add a diversity statement if applicable. Harvard Law strives to admit a diverse mix of students. A diversity statement gives you a chance to place your achievements in the context of your background and to make a case for how you would increase diversity on campus. [8]
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    Include an addendum. Particularly if there are discrepancies in your application, such as a low GPA and high LSAT, consider including an addendum to explain them, preferably in a way that turns a weakness into a strength. For example, if you had low undergrad GPA, you might address it up front, and explain that between working your way through school and your commitment to an extracurricular (sports, student government, debate, etc.), it was difficult to maintain your grades, but you learned valuable things from these other experiences. [9]

Part 2

Building Your Resume in College

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    Pick a good major. You can major in anything and get into Harvard law, though you’d do best to avoid criminal justice, which is not considered an academically rigorous major. [10] The key is to pick a subject that is rigorous, that you enjoy, and in which you can make good grades. If you want to study chemistry, go for it, but know that you will need to supplement your major with electives that demonstrate your reading, research, and writing skills. Here are some common “pre-law” majors. [11]

    • History – Teaches strong reading, research, and writing skills, as well as a basic knowledge of U.S. laws and politics. [12]
    • Philosophy – Teaches logic, critical analysis, close reading, and writing, and is considered a very rigorous major. [13]
    • Economics – Teaches analysis and logical thinking. A senior thesis that displays research and writing skills will boost your application. Economics is considered preferable to business. [14]
    • Political Science – Teaches strong reading and presentation skills, as well as a basic knowledge of the U.S. legal system. However, political science is considered a less rigorous major, so you will need a very good GPA. If possible, do a senior thesis to supplement your courses and show strong research and writing skills. [15]
    • English – Shows strong reading and writing skills, but you will need to supplement your course work with research heavy courses.
    • Science majors – The difficulty of these majors makes a high GPA even more impressive. That said, you will need to take electives to show you are strong in reading, writing, and research. Also, your application will be stronger if you say you are planning on being a patent or intellectual property lawyer. [16]
    • Art/Music/Film – Harvard law actually likes students with less traditional backgrounds, though to get in with a major in the arts you will need a great GPA, supplemental course work in fields like history, economics, or philosophy, and preferable a senior thesis. [17]
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    Round out your coursework with electives. Harvard law accepts students from a wide variety of majors, but to maximize your chances of getting in and succeeding in law school, you’ll want to be sure to take courses that develop your reading, research, and writing skills. For example, if you’re an economics major with practice researching and analyzing data, you might want to take some history or literature electives to show that you also have developed reading and writing skills. [18] Consider taking: [19]

    • Courses with term papers – Term papers might not be fun, but they require reading, research, and writing, making these classes the ideal preparation for law school.
    • Courses that emphasize reading – Literature, philosophy, history, and political science.
    • Courses that emphasize textual research – Economics, psychology, sociology, history, or any course with a term paper. (The key here is textual research, so lab work will not be as useful.)
    • Courses that emphasize writing – Literature, history, philosophy, or any course with a term paper.
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    Get good grades. Harvard has high standards. For instance, a 3.75 GPA would only land you in the 25th percentile (meaning you did better than 25% of applicants) for the class of 2017. A 3.87 would get you to the 50th percentile, and a 3.95 would be needed to reach the 75th percentile. [20]
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    Take summer courses to boost your GPA. If your GPA is not where it needs to be, consider taking summer courses to boost it before your senior year. Increasing it by even .1 or .2 points can mean the difference between acceptance and rejection from Harvard. [21]
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    Engage in the right extracurricular activities. Lots of people who apply to Harvard Law have high GPAs and great LSAT scores. The right extracurricular can help set you apart. And if your GPA and LSAT aren’t as good as you’d like, they can make all the difference. The key is to start early – schools like Harvard are less impressed if you only participate your senior year – and to focus on quality over quantity. Pick 1 to 3 activities and really commit to them. [22]

    • Non-profit work – The larger and more prestigious the organization, the better. Think Habitat for Humanity or a Community Law Project or Clinic in your area. [23]
    • Legal internship – Most legal internships are for non-profits, government, or the American Bar Association. They are good summer experiences, but not necessarily better than any other extracurricular activity. See here for a sample of possible internships.
    • Debate – Debate teaches you a number of skills useful in law: memorization, crafting arguments, speaking extemporaneously, and analyzing texts, amongst them. [24]
    • Pre-law – Pre-law societies run activities like mock trials and cross-examination exercises, and often have journals that you can contribute to. Participation builds valuable skills and shows a passion for law. [25]
    • Model United Nations – Allows you to practice diplomacy and mediation. And since most law cases are settled before trial in mediation or arbitration, this is a vital skill. [26]
    • Student government – Just serving is not enough. Focus on what you have done for your school and the specific changes you have implemented. [27]
    • Other campus organizations – Any campus organization can be a bright spot on your resume, so long as you hold a leadership position in the organization and can show you made an impact. [28]
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    Study abroad. There are prelaw study abroad programs, but any abroad experience is valuable. Harvard Law appreciates the cultural experience and language proficiency that come from a semester abroad. [29]

Part 3

Building Your Resume After College

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    Take time off after college to work. You don’t have to apply to law school in college. In fact, taking a few years off to work will actually make you a more attractive candidate to Harvard Law. [30] Having work experience makes you more employable, as well as teaching you responsibility and valuable time management skills that make you a better student. And if you take the right job, it can also give you exposure to the field of law. Any job in an intellectual field – teaching, working in government, clerking – will boost your resume, but here are some of the best jobs to consider:

    • Paralegal or legal assistant – These jobs will not necessarily give you an advantage over other jobs – indeed, Harvard Law likes people with eclectic backgrounds – but they certainly won’t hurt you, and more importantly, they can help you to decide if law is right for you. [31]
    • A non-law job related to the law field you are interested in. If you are interested in corporate law, you might work in business. If you are interested in patent or intellectual property law, you might work in tech. In general, you will get the most out of your non-law job if it relates to the field you want to practice in. [32]
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    Volunteer with non-profit or community organizations. Particularly if you didn’t participate in a lot of extracurriculars in college, your post-graduate life can be a great time to improve this portion of your resume. Prestigious national organizations will carry the most weight, but anything that shows commitment, leadership, and tangible results will help. You should even consider signing up for full-time service opportunities like Teach for America, the Peace Corps, or Americorps. [33]
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    Take continuing education courses at the local college. Especially if you have been out of school for a while, acing courses at a local college can show that you have matured as a student. The better the college you take the classes at, the more weight these results will carry. [34]

    • These courses can be particularly useful for people who have been out of school for 3+ years, as they can yield academic recommendations.
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    Get a graduate degree. A graduate degree costs money (unless you get a scholarship), but if it can get you into Harvard Law, then it will probably be worth it in the long run. Especially if you attend a top school, there are several benefits:

    • A graduate degree gives you a chance to soften the blow of a bad undergrad GPA. Grad GPAs are not factored into LSAC’s GPA calculations, but they are reported and can shows that you have matured as a student. [35]
    • Graduate degrees can yield fresh recommendations from professors.
    • Your degree can make you a more viable candidate for certain fields of law. For instance, if you are going into corporate or tax law, a MBA or accountant’s degree can help. If you are entering patent or intellectual property law, a graduate degree in a scientific field can help tremendously. [36]

Part 4

Beating the LSAT

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    Register with the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) to take the test. The LSAT is offered only on a few dates each year, usually once each in June, October, November, December, and February. It is best to take the February test the year before you apply or the June test the year you apply, so you can get your application in early. The December test is the last one you can take and still apply that same year. Registration is typically due over a month before the test date, so plan ahead. You can find more information on specific dates and register for the test on the LSAC website .

    • You must have taken the test within the last 5 years before applying to Harvard law.
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    Know the score you need. The LSAT is scored on a scale of 120-180. To get into Harvard, you’ll likely need to score in at least the 170s. For the class of 2017, scores of 170, 173, and 175 would put you in the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles, respectively. [37]
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    Familiarize yourself with the test. For the most part, the LSAT does not test skills that you learn in class. Instead, it focuses on logic, language ability, and reading comprehension. It consists of five 35 minutes sections of multiple choice questions, only four of which are scored (the fifth is to try out questions for future tests), and one unscored 35 minute writing sample. The question types are: [38]

    • Reading Comprehension (one 35 minute section) – You will be asked to read a text and then answer questions about its content and structure. This question format will be familiar if you have taken the SAT, only the texts you must read will be more difficult.
    • Analytical Reasoning (one 35 minute section) – Also known as Logic Games, these problems test your deductive reasoning and ability to structure data, and are of the type: “Jill, Bob, Susan, Erik, and Stan must be seated at the same table. Jill can’t sit next to Susan or Erik. Bob must be beside Stan…” Most test takers find them the most challenging part of the test.
    • Logical Reasoning (two 35 minutes sections) – These questions “evaluate the ability to analyze, critically evaluate, and complete arguments as they occur in ordinary language.”
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    Start practicing early. A week or two is not enough to prepare for the LSAT. For most people, it takes months of intense practice (15-20 hours a week) to reach the score they desire. [39] At the very least, you will want to purchase previously administered LSAT’s on the LSAC website to practice on and purchase a study guide. If you are still not happy with your scores, consider enrolling in an LSAT course or hiring a private tutor. [40]
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    Choose a good LSAT prep course. If you do decide to enroll in a class, you’ll want to make sure it’s a good one. Be sure that your class is being taught by someone who scored at least a 170 on the test and that the course uses actual questions from the LSAT. [41] And be sure to sign up well in advance of the test. Give yourself at least two months to prepare. Some highly ranked LSAT prep courses include: [42] [43]

    • Power-Score Live LSAT Preparation
    • Blueprint LSAT Preparation
    • Manhattan LSAT
    • Kaplan Test Prep
    • The Princeton Review LSAT
    • TestMasters
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    Retake the test if necessary. You can take the LSAT up to 3 times in any 2 year period. Harvard Law – like most law schools – only uses your highest score in evaluating your candidacy, so there is no reason not to retake the test. If you score higher, they will use that score. If your score lower, they will use your previous score. [44]

Part 5

Writing a Great Personal Statement

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    Read successful essays. If you’re in college, your career counseling office should be able to provide you with sample essays that worked. If not, you can buy books that contain personal statements that helped get the writer into Harvard Law, or you can find personal statements online here . The best way to know what works is to read what worked in the past.

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    Pick a narrow topic. Don’t try to encapsulate your life in a short essay. Instead, you’ll have better luck picking one powerful experience and explaining its impact on you in a way that highlights some of your strengths as a candidate. [45]

    • Write about something you care about, even if it has nothing to do with why you are going to law school. The goal is to let your personality, strengths, and way of thinking shine through. They already know you want to go to Harvard Law. You applied.
    • Don’t write about how your study abroad experience transformed you. It’s been done way, way too many times.
    • If you are going to write about why you want to be a lawyer, know that this is probably the most common type of essay. That doesn’t make it a bad topic, but you’ll need to tell a particularly engaging story to avoid boring your reader. [46]
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    Hook the reader. Your first paragraph should be engaging, or it might be all that an admissions officer reads. Consider opening with an honest statement about your values or something important to you, such as “I believe in freedom of expression,” and then going on to tell a story that develops why, and how that relates to your application. Or start with a sentence that leads into and explains the story you are about to tell, such as “I never thought much about what it meant to be blind until I met my best friend, Jim.”

    • Do not start with an overly dramatic story. This is a clichéd technique that has been used far too many times. [47] If you are going to tell a story, make sure you first frame why it matters.
    • Definitely don’t lead with something like “I’ve always dreamed of attending Harvard Law” or “I have a passion for the law.” (Unless you follow that statement with a twist like, “But then a professor told me what a terrible idea that was.”)
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    Show, don’t tell. It’s true in all writing: showing a vivid scene that illustrates your point is more effective than simply telling someone your point. So if you want to convey to Harvard Law that you have a passion for immigration law, for example, a story about your experience with an immigrant will leave a much more powerful impression than a simple statement about an internship. [48]
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    Don’t discuss a particular field of law. Unless you just got your PhD in medical research and are certain you will be entering patent law, you should steer clear of being too specific. Law school offers the opportunity to explore multiple fields of law and choose one that appeals to you. [49]
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    Do your due diligence. If you mention why you want to go to Harvard in particular, be sure you can back up your statement with accurate facts. If there is a particular professor you want to work with, make sure he or she is tenured and teaching regularly before you mention him or her in your essay. [50]
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    Proofread! Re-read your essay multiple times to remove all errors, then have several people you trust closely read it as well. A simple spelling or grammar error will have a negative impact on the reader’s impression of you.
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Part 6

Acing the Interview

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    Relax. If you are asked to interview via Skype, it means that the admissions committee finds your application promising. If you treat the interview as a sign that you’re doing well, it will be less stressful. [51]
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    Dress comfortably. Most candidates where a shirt and tie or a simple blouse, but if you feel more comfortable in a full suit or business casual, that is fine, too. The most important thing is that you are comfortable, which will help you to relax and give a good interview. [52]
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    Clean up. Make sure the background behind you is neat and orderly. If the room you are in is a mess, it will leave a bad impression with the interviewer. [53] A few well-chosen books on the shelf behind you, on the other hand, can reinforce your image as a serious student.

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    Prepare, but keep it conversational. The interview is meant to be conversational, so scripted answers will not help you. Please, don’t memorize anything, but it is a good idea to have a basic idea about how you will answer some typical questions: [54]

    • Why do you want to go to law school?
    • What attracts you to Harvard Law, in particular?
    • When did you decide to go to law school? [55]
    • What do you see yourself doing when you graduate? [56]
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    Don’t restate information on your resume. The point of the interview is to learn about you as a person, not about your accomplishments. Avoid talking about your resume or listing examples found in your personal statement. [57] You will score the most points with your interviewer if you come across as intelligent, curious, and fun to talk to.

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    Ask intelligent questions. At some point, your interviewer will probably ask if you have any questions. You’ll need to have some ready, and because it’s important to have researched Harvard Law in advance, they shouldn’t be things that can be easily answered simply by browsing the University’s website. So instead of asking “what opportunities are there for gaining practical experience,” you might ask “I’m really interested in the Transactional Law Clinics; can you tell me more about how they work and build on classroom instruction?” The point of the question is not only to gather information, but also to show that you are intelligent and inquisitive.

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    How long does it take to finish Harvard law school?
    Brian Salazar-Prince
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    Law school typically requires that you complete a bachelor degree (4 years) prior to admission. Once you are admitted, the actual law school coursework generally takes 3 years, but in some cases, can be extended to 4.
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    How can you get into Harvard Law if you complete all the required points, but you are a foreign student?
    wikiHow Contributor
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    Harvard Law does not care if you are foreign, but it is very hard to get in. Meeting the requirements does not mean you’ll get in. You have to be outstanding.
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    Quick Summary

    To get into Harvard Law School, major in something academically rigorous in college, like history, economics, political science, or English. You should also round out your coursework by taking electives that focus on reading, writing, and researching. Also, do some extracurricular activities to help set yourself apart, like volunteering for non-profits, joining the debate team, getting a legal internship, or running for student government.

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    Show more… (54)

    Article Info

    Categories: Applying for Tertiary Education | Law School

    In other languages:

    Español:  ingresar a la Escuela de Leyes de Harvard , Русский:  поступить в юридическую школу в Гарварде , Italiano:  Entrare alla Facoltà di Legge ad Harvard , Português:  Entrar no Curso de Direito de Harvard

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    Expert Review By:

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    Clinton M. Sandvick, J.D.
    University of Wisconsin-Madison

    This version of How to Get Into Harvard Law was reviewed by Clinton M. Sandvick, J.D. on June 19, 2017.

    Co-authors: 15
    Updated:
    Views: 109,339

    92% of readers found this article helpful.

    12 votes – 92%

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    NK

    Naz K.

    May 1

    “I’m a foreign student, so I had some questions, but I could not find anyone who studies at Harvard Law. I found all answers I was looking for. It’s an awesome article, thank you.”…” more


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    Anosh Matti

    Mar 27

    “The tip to talk about elements about yourself not found on your resume helped. ”


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    Madi Brown

    Jul 1, 2017

    “Thank you so much! I was wondering about how to get into Harvard, I have wanted to go to Harvard since I saw the movie Legally Blonde when I was about six years old and I have started planning my future of Harvard. I have already started studying for the LSAT test and this was so much help, thank you!”…” more
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    Diana Cortes

    Feb 4, 2017

    “Learning how to get into law school is a great help, and learning how to get into Harvard is wonderful. I am glad I read these articles to start planning ahead. I’m sure most of those who fail, it is because they do not plan ahead. Thank you for your time, good job. “…” more


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    J. Carr

    Jul 22, 2016

    “This guidance concerning applying to Harvard Law School has an open, comfortable feeling. It actually encouraged my sense that, yes, an application to HLS is doable. Take courage, follow the instructions and take your best shot!”…” more


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    Brianna Reveron

    Apr 1, 2017

    “This really helped me understand everything in detail and summed it up perfectly! Thank you very much for this.”
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    Izac Boateng

    Jul 31, 2016

    “The interview part was on point.”


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    Jul 10, 2016

    “Very helpful and well organized.”


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    Jan 3

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