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University of Michigan Admissions Interview

university of michigan

Founded in 1859, the University of Michigan's Law School has an enrollment of approximately 1,200 students, most of whom are seeking J.D. or L.L.M. degrees. The Law School has 81 full-time faculty members and is one of the most selective law schools in the United States. The school's students hail from 270 undergraduate institutions and about 85% of them are from other states.

Among Michigan Law's 20,000+ alumni can be found leaders in law, business, and public service, including late U.S. Supreme Court Justices Frank Murphy, William Rufus Day, and George Sutherland – and Clarence Darrow of Scopes Monkey Trial fame.

Here is a 2-page interview with Sarah C. Zearfoss, assistant dean and director of admissions, University of Michigan Law School.

What do you consider the most important part of the application process?

The personal statement, far and away. There's a strong perception among applicants that the make-or-break factors are LSAT and UGPA – but while those are unquestionably important indicators of academic ability, it is certainly true that many people with strong metrics are not admitted, and also true that people whose metrics are well below our medians do get admitted. What never happens, however, is that someone who writes a terrible personal statement gets admitted.

Do you have any advice for a student applying to your law school?

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I love to give advice, and I recommend that anyone who is interested in reading my thoughts on a successful application take a look at my blog from time to time.

Has your school seen a change (increase or decrease) in application volume?

Yes, we have – we've been hovering between a 20 and 25% increase all season long. Initially, I thought the increase would taper off about midway through the season and that our ultimate increase would be only about 5%, but that does not appear to be happening.

Can a candidate compensate for a sub-standard academic record or LSAT scores? If so, how?

Absolutely. If the undergraduate record is weak, there can be a number of reasons that would lead us to think the UGPA itself does not reliably indicate ability to perform the work in law school. Perhaps the most common compensating factor for a weak undergraduate performance is simply time and distance – if you were young and unfocused in undergrad and have since gone on to mature and succeed in challenging work environments, or in other graduate work, we are far less inclined to be concerned. For LSAT scores, we are often persuaded by a history of poor performance on standardized tests that is then belied by the actual performance in the area the test is meant to predict. E.g., suppose an applicant scored below the 25th percentile in his or her college's SAT scores, but went on to achieve an undergraduate record that placed him or her in the top 10% of the class – we are likely to be persuaded that the LSAT, too, is not reflective of his or her law school acumen. But once we are persuaded that an applicant has the ability to succeed academically at Michigan Law despite low scores, we will also look to see what he or she can contribute to the class and student body in terms of experience and voice.

What are the key characteristics you seek in an applicant?

There is no one emblematic Michigan Law student; in fact, one of our overriding goals is to matriculate a class every year that has a wide variety of experience to contribute to the classroom dialogue. That said, one of the defining traits of the law school experience at Michigan is the collegiality of the student body – and so we try very very hard not to admit people who show indications that they will not be able to contribute positively to a group dynamic.

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