Originally posted at http://blogs.law.yale.edu/blogs/admissions/archive/2008/09/05/new-questions.aspx
I noticed that there are two new questions on the application that ask whether I took an LSAT preparation course or had any assistance in preparing my application. Will it hurt my chances of being admitted if I took an LSAT prep course? Is it still okay to have an admissions consultant give me guidance on my application?
I have a feeling that your questions are on a lot of applicants' minds, so I'm glad you asked! Let me address the LSAT and application assistance questions separately.
For the LSAT, it's become the norm to take some type of preparation course (this is a change from one or two decades ago, when a relatively smaller portion of the applicant pool took such courses). Taking a course -- which helps students understand the test, gives guidance and practice on the different kinds of questions, and gives test-takers a psychological confidence boost -- can significantly help one's score. Of course, applicants who have a lot of self-discipline and organizational skills can self-study with the same (and sometimes better) benefits. But my guess is that most people aren't always as organized or disciplined, and generally take a course if they can -- for which they won't be penalized. These courses, however, are pretty pricey, and not all applicants have access to one. So, if I am looking at an application where a student self-studied, to me it's another piece of data in reviewing the application. That's not to say that a student who doesn't take a course and gets a lower score will get a "pass," or will have a lower standard applied to him or her, but it does allow me and other file readers to consider the resources that were or were not available to the applicant in preparing for the LSAT and weigh that along with the strengths and weaknesses of the other parts of the application.
With respect to the assistance received in preparing your application, I want to make sure that all applicants are evaluated on a level playing field. Most students take the time to prepare their application on their own, and will probably reach out to friends and family or the prelaw advisor at their college or university for guidance on essay ideas or proofreading. That's fine, and we hope and expect that you'll use these resources (never trust the spellchecker on your computer to catch everything!). However, some students pay a lot of money for professional consultants -- some of whom are former admissions officials -- to help package their applications, which usually involves significant help on their personal statements. Now, a student who uses this type of help won't be automatically penalized or rejected. But I would like to know if a student received any professional help and to what extent: after all, I'm interested in evaluating the ideas and writing of the applicant, not those of an admissions consultant. Most importantly, I want students who choose not to spend $500 or $5,000 dollars on a professional packaging service to feel confident that their application -- even if it is not as slick and polished as some others -- will still get due, and fair, consideration.
If you are considering getting an admissions consultant, think about why you need one. There's no blueprint for a law school application, and the most important thing about a personal statement, in my opinion, is authenticity. The only way to achieve that is to write your personal statement yourself, in your own voice. Honestly, there's not a lot of feedback about your personal statement that a "professional" consultant can give that someone who knows you well -- a friend, family member, or a trusted professor or college advisor -- couldn't give as well. Moreover, your PS is not necessarily the most important part of your application. The other aspects of your application, including your academic record, and your recommendations, tell admissions committees volumes about you, and no consultant can change or package those. Finally, remember that whatever type of assistance you receive, you must certify that your essays are your *original* work, which means that no one should be redrafting or rewording your essays except for you. My advice? Save your money for law school -- you're going to need it.