Bad Idea Jeans: The biggest mistake you can make in your Yale Law School application

January 31, 2012

I've been procrastinating about writing on the blog, because the more time that passes since my last post, the more embarrassed I am to come back. "Fell off the wagon" doesn't really do justice to the THREE posts we've been able to manage this entire season—as Craig suggested last week, "We fell off, got run over, and have been lying in a ditch since November" is a better metaphor. But, be that as it may, we're back, and will try to keep it up until the end of this cycle.

Now, though I come up with a lot of blog ideas during the admissions season, I usually refrain from writing them because they more often than not involve things one should or should not do in one's application. It seems kind of unfair to spring that on an applicant in, say, January, when their application might be out of their hands already. So I normally tuck the idea away for the following summer or fall (and then forget about it until I see the mistake again the next cycle).

I'm going to make an exception this one time because I've noticed that MANY applicants this year are applying without submitting two academic letters of recommendation. This may not necessarily be a trend; this year I changed my practice to read the letters of recommendation first, before the rest of the a way of putting off the visual disaster that is the FlexApp for as long as possible (yes, I'm looking at you, LSAC). So maybe I'm just noticing it more this year. But trend or not, a failure to submit two academic references is serious Bad Idea Jeans.

I often tell applicants that applying to Yale Law School is a lot like playing blackjack. The odds are on the house, there's more than a little luck involved, but there are a few basic rules you can follow to increase your chances significantly. One of those rules is to submit two references from faculty members who have taught you in a class. Let me put that another way: Your chances of admission to Yale Law School go down drastically if you submit only one or no academic letters of recommendation. Or let me break it down even further: Your letters of recommendation will make or break your application.

[Commence mass applicant freak-out.]

I realize this goes against what you have been hard-wired to believe, namely, that your admission depends almost exclusively on your LSAT and GPA. I remember reading on some admissions consulting blog that your letters of recommendations don't really matter, so you shouldn't spend too much time figuring out who will write them (which could explain why I'm skeptical of admissions consultants). To be fair, this could be true for some law schools. I imagine that a school that admits a very large number of people might focus more on numbers, and use the recommendations just to ensure that the student isn't a serial killer or something. Well, at Yale, we like to ensure that you are not a serial killer and that you are a joy to teach.

The two issues in play here are 1) numbers and 2) process. In terms of numbers, I send the top 20% of the applicant pool on to the faculty to be reviewed. That's around 700 applications, all of which are comparable in terms of grades, scores, writing ability, leadership, saving orphans, etc. These 700 files have to be whittled down by another 75%. Process-wise, the people doing the whittling down are professors. They think everyone looks great. So how do they make distinctions among all these amazing files? They look at what their colleagues have to say about you. Do you ever wonder why someone with a 3.95/178 gets rejected but someone with a 3.81/172 gets in? It's because of comments like these (these are actual or close approximations to verbiage from LORs of students who have been accepted in the past):

"[Applicant] is hands down the single best undergraduate I have ever taught in my 37 years of teaching. Period."

"[Student A] and [Student B], both of whom I taught, are currently at Yale Law School. [Applicant] is better than both of them put together."

"At that point in the discussion I almost sat down and let [Applicant] teach the class—s/he could have done a better job."

"Any admissions officer who doesn't admit [Applicant] is—and I beg your pardon—an idiot."

Over the top? Possibly. But these are the kind of subjective evaluations you are up against. Even in the screening stage, if I know that you don't stand a chance of being admitted by the faculty—because, for example, in spite of your pretty good numbers you have offered little or no corroboration of your academic ability from professors who have taught you—I may not send you on at all. It really depends on how good the rest of your application is (though to be honest, it's even more of a red flag if you have a straight-A average and couldn't manage to come up with two faculty references . . . it makes me wonder whether you are hiding something, like a serious personality defect or crippling social disorder).

If you're reading this post and realized that you didn't submit two academic references, mild to moderate panic would be appropriate. You should then try to get a second letter. If your application is already complete, it is possible—and likely—that your application has already been reviewed as is, but the second letter can be helpful in the event that I go back to your file for any reason or if you are placed on the wait list.

NOTE: If you DID submit two academic letters, you do NOT need to submit additional ones at this point. I'm sure some economist could graph this out for me, but there is an optimal number of LORs for Yale and it's somewhere around 2.4. This is because of the "meh" factor. If you submit two references that are stellar, and then one that is just "meh," you immediately bring down the impact of the two great ones. There are some students who manage to find three professors who knock it out of the park for them, but many fall into the "meh" trap. Unless you are absolutely certain that your third recommendation is going to be beyond amazing, just sit tight. And please don't send more than three . . . that's just overkill.

One final observation. I've noticed that I get mixed reviews whenever I try to give honest application tips and insider advice. For example, in a recent discussion on TLS about my post a few years ago stating emphatically that there is no correlation between when you are admitted and whether you are an auto-admit or admitted by faculty, a poster asked, "Does she really expect us to believe that?"

It's funny—it had never occurred to me that I could use this blog as a vehicle for mass deception about Yale's admissions process. Though I can see how the image of me sitting at my desk, laughing maniacally about throwing applicants "off the trail" while stroking a very mean and fluffy cat, might fit in with your experience of the law school admissions process generally. I kind of like the image myself. Sadly, the reality is that I'm usually slogging through admissions files while eating a stale hummus wrap from the dining hall, taking occasional breaks to check email and compulsively buy Groupons. Besides, even if I wanted to, it wouldn't be a good idea for me to lie about the admissions process on a blog read by several members of Yale's own faculty. Especially after I just wrote a post entitled, "Please Don't Lie." (For what it's worth, about 20% of faculty are done reading before the winter break, so you could be an auto admit OR a faculty admit even if you are admitted in December.)

But, whatever, I'm just the messenger, people. *shrugs*


Kate said:

Hi Asha,

I'm so glad to see a new post! This blog is great. I have a question about academic references: how does Yale regard LORs from TAs? I had a TA that taught me for 4 separate classes. S/he easily read more of my writing and had me in discussions more than any 1 single professor I had. I admit my app is in and out of my hands, so it's mostly a moot point, but is a letter from a TA acceptable as one of our 2 academic references?

Thanks again for the post.

February 1, 2012 5:30 PM

Lili Arakelian said:

I have always dreamed of going to law school at yale and reading this blog gave me a heads up on many important things that I had never even considered. Even though I'm only in my first year of high school and I live in California , I have hopes of being accepted to yale and honestly I found your blog to be very helpful and interesting .

Thank you :) - Lili Arakelian

February 1, 2012 6:59 PM

Ash said:


I know applications are due soon and I am stressing out because I only have one LOR from a professor I had as an undergrad. I graduated three years ago and have been working at Yale since with two different professors in neuroscience. I know I am not their student but I am in academia and I am constantly reading, writing, and thinking critically as would be a grad student in their program. Would these LORs be sufficient enough or would I still need to have a LOR from another professor from my undergraduate college? Thanks!

February 1, 2012 8:23 PM

asha said:

@Kate: Very good question. TA recommendations are OK. We understand that at most undergraduate institutions, classes are not always small enough that the person evaluating you will be the professor him- or herself. So a recommendations from a TA who can speak in detail about your work is preferable to a tenured professor who doesn't remember your face.

With that said, I think that if you do submit one rec from a TA, ideally the other one will be from a professor...the professor rec has will have the added benefit of providing some context for the evaluation (e.g., "this person is in the top 3% of the approximately 1,000 students I have taught in my career") that can only come with more experience.

February 2, 2012 10:08 AM

asha said:

@Ash: I would strongly recommend that you try to get a second recommendation from your undergrad. I would probably classify a rec from the people you work with now as "quasi-academic," similar to recs from professors who had you as a research assistant or a TA. These do talk about similar things as a straight academic reference, but they lack the component of discussing how you are as a student, and what it is like to teach you. My sense is that the faculty is mainly interested in these.

If you do find a second recommendation from undergrad, I think it's totally fine to also add a "quasi-academic" recommendation as a supplement, to discuss what you are doing now in an academic setting.

February 2, 2012 10:12 AM

asha said:

@Lili: Thanks!

February 2, 2012 10:18 AM

Ruth said:

Hi Asha,

I go to a very small college where students typically develop close relationships with many professors. (I took one professor from my major out for a beer to tell him I hoped he wasn't offended that I didn't ask him for a reference.) I missed the memo on not sending more than three letters, and I'm wondering what I should tell underclassmen here who ask me for advice on their applications. In this sort of situation are more letters always bad?



February 3, 2012 3:03 PM

asha said:

@Ruth: You're fine. More letters aren't always bad—it's just that if you have three really good ones, you rarely need to have a that point the point has been made. But you aren't going to be penalized for having four. My point in the blog was just to discourage people who already had two or three strong academic references from running out to get more because they think it will help; they don't need to do this.

As far as advice, I think generally, two to three really strong letters are fine if they are all coming from undergrad. Perhaps if you are a graduate student you might opt to have two from undergrad and two from graduate school, but even then I think one from graduate school would be fine.

Hope this helps. Don't stress out.

February 3, 2012 9:19 PM

APT said:

Hi Asha,

Does a LOR from a senior thesis faculty advisor qualify as an "academic" LOR? While I did not take a class with this professor, we worked together very closely for two years on my senior thesis. I felt this professor could speak about my academic potential in finer detail than most of the professors I had in a classroom setting.



February 6, 2012 5:35 PM

Whitney said:

For those of us who have already submitted our applications with fewer than two academic letters and are now panicking (as predicted)... What is the best way to submit an additional letter so that it can easily be matched with the rest of our application?

Thanks for the help and advice!


February 7, 2012 4:38 PM

Suraj said:

Hi Asha,

Thank you for the very informative post! I am bit of a non-traditional applicant, applying with multiple Masters degrees and job experience. I have been removed from my undergraduate experience for quite some time and I was wondering if letters of recommendations from employers carry equivalent weight in the review process? Or is having a letter from an undergraduate professor absolutely critical? I do have one letter from a graduate professor.

Thank you.



February 7, 2012 10:04 PM

Amy said:

Hi Asha,

How does a letter of recommendation from an employer (particularly for a candidate who works as legal assistant) look in your opinion? Could a recommendation from an attorney and a professor potentially hold the same weight?



February 8, 2012 1:05 PM

MC said:

Hi Asha:

Thank you for your post. Do you apply the same standard to applicants who have been out of school for a long period of time (for example, someone who hasn't attended a school in 7 years?) A recommendation from someone who hasn't seen an applicant's work in such a long period might not give a very a detailed or accurate account of the applicant.

Thank you!

February 9, 2012 8:15 AM

Mel said:

Hi Asha,

I graduated from a German law school more than 12 years ago. Many of my professors are not even at the school anymore and those who are do not remember me. Is there any chance for me?

Thanks, Mel

February 9, 2012 12:42 PM

Bach said:

Dear Asha,

Thank you for your advice. My LORs are on file with LSAC but I decided to postpone applying to law school by a year. Do I need to ask my LOR writers to resend letters to LSAC for the new application cycle? Is it a bad idea to send reference letters that were written a year before the application?

Thank you!

February 9, 2012 2:52 PM

Emily said:

Dear Asha,

I made the mistake of getting rec letters from professors that were close to me and knew my character strengths, but weren't as familiar with my academic work because they taught large lecture classes with multiple choice tests. How important is it to have the rec letters emphasize academic strengths as opposed to personal qualities (e.g. tenacity)?


P.S. Your blog offers the best free law school admissions advice I have seen. Thank you!!!

February 12, 2012 2:51 AM

Dylan said:

Thank you so much for the advice! Why your blog doesn't pop up first when googling law school admissions is beyond me.

My question is I went to a branch campus of a large school for two year before transferring to the main campus of my University. I developed great relationships with my professors at the branch campus. However because of study abroad I haven't really had a chance to get to know any of the professors at the larger campus. Does it hurt me to get recommendations from the tenured professor at the branch campus who know me rather than a professor at a larger campus who's more reputable?



February 22, 2012 2:14 PM

Kristin Johnson said:

Hi, Asha:

Thank you for this post and the greater blog. It turns out that I can't take the LSAT to save my life and have a score reflecting that. I did, however, submit three academic recommendations that I expect are pretty complimentary, and so I hope.

My bigger concern now is this: the dining hall serves stale hummus wraps?

February 28, 2012 12:18 AM

Diego Rivas said:

Thank you Asha

This has really helped me alot. I always wanted to get into Yale and now I know how. I'm just a sophomore so now I know what to do when i feel out my application next year,or senior year,.

March 8, 2012 8:33 PM

jimmie said:

Hi Asha:

I was wondering if is a good idea to submit a LOR from a professor that taught you in class where you struggled in the beginning but ended up with A at the end (taking an advance level philosophy course when I am a Psychology major).

March 24, 2012 1:48 AM

Veronoca Marlowe said:

Dear Asha,

Thank you for your wonderful blog! I enjoy the insouciance with which you write! It brings some levity to what is a "very serious" matter.

Do you have any advice for older applicants who are no longer in contact with any of their undergraduate professors? I have been out of school for 15 years, and it is just not possible for me to get academic LORs. I can get glowing ones from employers, volunteer organizations, saved orphans, etc., but no academic letters... Is there something one could do to counteract the effect of no academic LORs in order to a) get my application through to the professors, and b) get them to see that I am a joy to teach?

Thank you so much for your time!


April 30, 2012 4:59 PM

Grace said:

Hi Asha,

First of all - I must admit I truly love reading your blog. It is witty and honest and I appreciate the insight into the admissions world. That said, I am a hopeful law student with a burning question. Several years ago, when I was a mere 19 year old over-achiever and nearing graduation, I took the LSAT without a definite clue of where I wanted to go with my life and with a few other additional circumstances. I scored a 160. Not stellar by any means. I applied to law schools within the top 40, got accepted, but decided not to attend. I took several years off, got a wonderful job where I have been promoted many times, became involved in my community through activism and advocacy, and have now taken it again. My new score is a 174. I know this is far more representative of the person I am today and intend to submit an honest addendum explaining this. I do not wish to appear whiny or give excuses by any means, nor would I want to hinder my application in addition to the already low LSAT score. I simply wish to honestly communicate that I have grown significantly from the 19 year old with wanderlust I once was. If you would take a moment to give me advice I would truly appreciate it. Moreover, do you think it is futile to even apply, considering my average is a 167? Thanks in advance.


May 31, 2012 10:37 PM

Josh said:

Hi Asha,

I have a quick question about exactly how powerful an academic letter of recommendation can be. I went through undergrad frankly not caring about college (UGPA 3.07). All I wanted to do was be a Paramedic/Firefighter the day I graduated. That's exactly what I did—I've been very successful in the public safety field and I have dozens of awards and newspaper clippings to prove it.

Fast forward a few years, a master's degree, and several life-altering events, and I want nothing more than to attend YLS starting in 2013 to become the best public interest attorney I can be. I earned my master's degree summa cum laude and I have stellar letters of recommendation to go with it: Do I have a reasonable chance of getting into YLS given that old UGPA?

Thanks so much for your time. Reading your blog has definitely provided some insight.


June 5, 2012 11:44 PM

Michelle Holmes said:

"Well, at Yale, we like to ensure that you are not a serial killer and that you are a joy to teach."

This is really encouraging to read. I graduated from Oberlin College a few years back and after working a few years, I'm considering going into law school. My GPA is decent and currently prepping for my LSAT. Like a few of the people commenting above, what are my chances getting if my LOR is from an employer who is in fact a lawyer versus a professor I knew in college and have more or less lost contact with?

Looking forward to your reply,


June 14, 2012 12:15 AM

Shubhangi Srivastava said:

Hi Asha,

I'll be completing my high school (in India) in march next year, and I want to pursue law as a career option in Yale. So, I wanted some advice on how to apply for admission and which program to choose, I am very confused. I desperately need our help!!



July 12, 2012 6:51 AM

CJ said:


Just wondering if YLS gives a Yale undergraduate any slight edge, provided his/her LSAT's and GPA are incredibly strong>

July 23, 2012 10:07 PM

Liz said:

Wow. Awesome post. I am just getting ready to apply this year for fall of 2013 - since I've been out of school / in the work force for seven years I figured just one academic recc would do and my employers' recc's would be more useful. I'm so glad I discovered this with plenty of time to spare!!

August 14, 2012 3:04 PM

Faith said:

Dear Asha,

Thank you for your advice. My LORs are on file with LSAC; last year, I already applied for a handful of law schools. However, I wasn't satisfied with my LSAT score and the schools I got into. Therefore, I decided to reapply for law school this year; I'm also retaking my LSATS. Do I need to ask my LOR writers to write new letters of recommendation or resend LORs to LSAC for the new application cycle? Is it a bad idea to send reference letters that were used previously and written a year before the application? (I may be applying to some of the same law schools). Thank you so much!



August 22, 2012 9:54 PM

Kinga said:

Dear Asha,

I have a question regarding LORs coming from international applicants. I am currently attending SOAS in London and after careful review of the admission procedures to JD programmes in the US, I have to admit that the differences in education systems create plenty of difficulties for applicants like me... Firts thing is that we only have 8-10 hours of lectures and the emphasis is put on individual coursework. No seminars, tutorials, discussions- nothing like that for final year students. Therefore, it's very difficult to obtain a LOR from a lecturer who saw me raughly 10 times per year in a class of 200 poeple. Will a reference coming from my personal tutor (a senior member of staff with whom I have regular meetings and discuss my academic progress, dissertation topic etc., but who does not teach me in class)reviewed equally to LORs coming from lecturers/teaching assistants of American students? Thank you for your response in advance!

Best Regards,


October 17, 2012 7:56 AM

Sue said:

@APT: Yes, we would consider a LOR from a senior thesis faculty advisor to be an academic LOR. Given that you've worked so closely with your thesis advisor on such a significant project, your advisor will likely have a great sense of how you research, write, and think, which is a big part of what we look for in the LORs.

October 23, 2012 12:47 PM

Sue said:

@Suraj: Generally speaking, LORs from faculty will carry greater weight than LORs from employers. This is because the people reviewing your application tend to be more interested in what you were like as a student and what your potential to succeed academically at Yale would be, rather than in whether you are a good "team player" or can "work quickly and efficiently." If it's impossible or nearly impossible for you to get a strong LOR from an undergraduate professor, you'll at least be better off if you can get letters from people who can speak to, e.g., your ability to write coherently and persuasively, to reason analytically, to comprehend complex reading material - the kinds of skills that will help you succeed in law school.

October 23, 2012 12:57 PM

Sue said:
@Whitney: If the review of your application has already begun, an additional LOR is unlikely to make it into the packet that goes in front of your reviewers. You can still send in another letter through the normal process and it will be held in your file (just not, in all likelihood, reviewed concurrent with the rest of your application). Should you be placed on the wait list, or should we feel the need to look at your file again, any additional LORs will be there for a later-round review. October 23, 2012 1:04 PM
Sue said:
@Amy: All things being equal, it's unlikely that a letter from an employer, even an attorney-employer, would hold the same weight as a letter from a professor. If you think about who your audience is - Yale Law faculty who will potentially teach you, hire you as their research assistant, supervise your papers - it's probably no surprise that they are more interested in hearing what other faculty have to say about you in an academic context than what a practicing attorney has to say. That said, if you're faced with a choice between a very vague and lukewarm LOR from a professor and a glowing and super-detailed LOR from your employer, the latter would be more helpful. October 23, 2012 1:37 PM

Sue said:

@MC: We certainly understand that for much older applicants who have been out of school for many years, it may not be feasible to obtain two solid academic LORs. Your professors may be difficult to track down, they may be retired, or they may not remember much about what kind of student you were. And you'd be much better off sending in LORs that are detailed and accurate than ones that have little to no substance or are based on fuzzy memories. As we tell many applicants, if your recommenders can speak to the same kinds of skills and qualities that a professor could have discussed - skills that would show your potential to succeed academically at YLS - their letters will have more of an impression. In other words, the more closely they can approximate academic LORs in substance, the better!

October 23, 2012 1:51 PM

Sue said:

@Mel: I think the previous response would apply to your circumstances as well!

October 23, 2012 1:52 PM

Sue said:

@Bach: First of all, kudos to you for having the foresight to get LORs on file with LSAC while you were still in school. This is something that we encourage applicants to do, particularly if they know or think they will be waiting a year or more to apply to law school. Securing LORs from your professors while they still remember everything about having you as a student is just a smart thing to do. If the letters are on file with LSAC, you shouldn't have to ask your recommenders to resend them. And no, it's absolutely not a bad idea to send letters that were written a year before the application - there is no need to update those letters or be concerned that they will seem "outdated." The value of those LORs is precisely in the fact that they were written a year ago, when everything about you was fresh in your professors' minds.

October 23, 2012 2:05 PM

Sue said:

@Emily: In short, LORs that can speak to your academic strengths (e.g., your writing and reading comprehension skills, logical reasoning, ability to think through difficult problems) are typically going to be much more helpful and valuable than LORs that discuss personal qualities like tenacity, initiative, ability to work well in a group, and the like.

October 23, 2012 2:13 PM

Sue said:

@Dylan: In our view, the substance of a recommendation letter is more important than the reputation/name of the person writing it. So if faced with the choice between a lesser-known professor who is much more familiar with your skills and abilities and a famous professor who barely knows you, I'd go with the former.

October 23, 2012 2:59 PM

Sue said:

@Kristin: Thankfully, there is no shortage of good eats outside of the law school (and free food within the law school)!

October 23, 2012 3:06 PM

Sue said:

@jimmie: It's hard to say in the abstract - it really depends on how well this professor got to know you and what kind of letter he/she could write on your behalf. It's great to get a LOR from a professor who gave you an A if he/she can provide a lot of detail in describing what you were like as a student, what your talents are, how you compare to other students he/she has had, etc. But if all the professor knows about you is that you got an A in his/her course, or that you started off struggling but managed to improve your performance, your LOR won't have the substance and meat that we're looking for, and the fact that you got an A in the class won't add much by itself. That said, if you believe that this professor knew you well enough to write a detailed letter, you could benefit from showing us that you ventured out of your comfort zone and took a difficult class in a different field, overcame a rocky start, and found academic success.

October 23, 2012 3:22 PM

Sue said:

@Veronoca: Please see the responses to @Suraj and @MC. Hope they help!

October 23, 2012 3:25 PM

Sue said:

@Grace: I don't think it would be futile for you to apply. We don't have any particular policy with respect to multiple LSAT scores, so we wouldn't just look at your average score of 167 and label that your "true" score. We look at all of your LSAT scores, and an addendum could certainly be helpful in explaining the large difference between your first score and your second score. We also would note that a lot of time has passed since you first took the LSAT and, as you said, you may very well be in a different place today than you were several years ago. We try to view everything in your application in the context of everything else, and a brief explanation in your addendum would provide some additional context to help us interpret your LSAT scores. So if you're interested in our program and think it would be a good fit for you, I would encourage you to apply!

October 23, 2012 3:34 PM

Sue said:

@Josh: It's hard to gauge exactly what your chances would be because under our process, admission is based on many different factors (and not necessarily the same factors in every case) including the particular pool of applicants that year. Because we have a faculty-driven admissions process, grades do matter; however, given that you've been out of school for a while and also have a graduate school record, those grades would be taken into account and, if they are really stellar, might provide a counterpoint to your UGPA. It sounds like there would be some compelling things in your application, and we would certainly give it every consideration. Should you choose to apply, it might behoove you to include a short addendum explaining your UGPA, so we can better understand your story. Good luck!

October 23, 2012 3:53 PM

Sue said:

@Michelle: Please see the responses to @Amy and @MC!

October 23, 2012 4:06 PM

Sue said:

@Shubhangi: Definitely take a look at all of the information on our website, including all of the helpful advice in Asha's blog. This should at least give you a sense of what our program offers and how to maximize your chances of admission. Best of luck!

October 23, 2012 4:17 PM

Sue said:

@CJ: In short, no. Thanks for writing!

October 23, 2012 4:19 PM

Sue said:

@Faith: Please see the response to @Bach's very similar question!

October 23, 2012 4:22 PM

Sue said:

@Liz: Glad to hear it!

October 23, 2012 4:22 PM

Sue said:

@Kinga: Given your circumstances, our perspective is that you would indeed be better off obtaining a LOR from your tutor (who has worked more closely with you and likely has a better sense of your academic abilities and potential) than from the course lecturer who barely knows you. This is similar to the advice that we sometimes give U.S. students that letters from Teaching Assistants may be stronger and more detailed than letters from professors. In your case, if the tutor can provide some details on how you compare with other students at your institution or other students that he/she has personally tutored, that would give some additional weight and value to the letter.

October 23, 2012 4:24 PM

Kayla said:

I'm not planning on attending law school at all, but find your blog posts hilarious and so interesting to read. Thanks! :)

December 10, 2012 11:06 PM

Phillip said:

Hi Sue or Asha (whomever may be checking this blog)

How does Yale evaluate recommendations from debate coaches? My coach is a professor at my university, but I have not taken a class with him. I have, however, spent many long days working with him to write and research arguments, turned in updates for files, and traveled with him all over the US. Would admissions consider him to be an academic reference?

September 9, 2013 7:08 PM

Sue said:

@Phillip: We wouldn't consider your debate coach to be an academic reference (because he wouldn't be able to tell us what it was like to have you as a student in a classroom setting); however, given the nature of the work that you were doing with him and the fact that skills involved probably overlap with those that would make a successful law student, a letter from your debate coach could serve as a useful third reference.

September 10, 2013 9:34 AM

Ed said:


I have two professors who I think will write me stellar recommendations. I'm debating if I should submit a third academic letter. I spoke with the professor I'm thinking of asking and he said I am a great student and was one of the top performers in class. I think his letter would state that I am an excellent student, he enjoyed teaching me, and he knows I will do great in law school. I don't know that he would necessarily "knock it out of the park" for me, though. Is this the kind of the letter that you would classify as a "meh" letter?

I also have in mind somebody I worked for in a volunteer organization. I think he would "knock it out of the park," but of course, his recommendation would not be from an academic standpoint.

Would you suggest that I submit only two letters or three. If three, who would be the better recommender? Thanks!

September 18, 2013 10:22 PM

Sue said:

@Ed: There isn't really a clear "right answer" to your situation - ultimately, you should think about what each letter might contribute (or not) and weigh the pros and cons. If your two academic references truly are stellar, then a third academic letter that doesn't convey the same enthusiasm or employ similar superlatives to describe you certainly could come across as "meh" by comparison. You should ask yourself what you stand to gain by including the third academic letter - are you really giving your application reviewer(s) any information that they wouldn't already have with just the two academic references? What would be the purpose of including that third letter? If the third recommender has something to contribute that isn't likely to be captured by the other two letters, then perhaps it would be worth including. Similarly, think about what, if anything, the non-academic reference would add to your application that wouldn't be captured by your other materials. And note that a letter that raves about your unmatched positive attitude or uncanny ability to get along with everyone, for all of its enthusiasm and extolment, could still elicit something like a "so what?" or "that's nice" reaction from a reviewer. The good news is that it doesn't seem like either course of action (submitting a third academic or non-academic letter) will really hurt you if your two primary academic letters do "knock it out of the park." Good luck!

September 19, 2013 3:27 PM

Amber said:

What if your LOR is from an advisor of an orgization you were part of on campus, like an honor society or a student ambassador organization? Not necessarly someone you actually had for a professor in class?

February 19, 2014 5:24 PM

Sue said:

@Amber: Generally, we don't find such letters to be very helpful (if at all), so I would really try to steer clear if possible. If you decide to send one, I would at the very least make it a third (i.e., optional) letter and make sure that your other two letters discuss your academic abilities.

February 20, 2014 9:17 AM