P.S. Boot Camp: Reality Check, the Finale

October 22, 2010

This week we are going to conclude our P.S. Boot Camp series, since it's almost the end of October and many of you have already sent out your applications (I begin reading next week!). Keep in mind that, unlike most schools, Yale's admissions process is designed so that your chances of admission stay the same regardless of when you apply, so if you're not yet ready to hit "submit," keep your finger off the trigger until you have included everything you want me and the other readers of your file to see when we read it.

You know, my Boot Camp series got a lot of buzz recently, including from some law professors in the blogosphere who felt that I was somehow maligning the legal profession (and zombies, with whom they apparently identified strongly) by suggesting that law practice might be less than what it's cracked up to be on TV, or in headline-making cases. I don't have anything against lawyers (I am one, after all), or the practice of law, but it seems to me that as a gatekeeper of sorts it's only responsible of me to throw a few warning shots out to potential applicants who might be marching down the road to significant debt and existential ennui without a lot of forethought and reflection.

In fact, this time of year always reminds me of my first few days at the FBI Academy. When you first arrive at the Academy, you're pumped: you're seventeen weeks away from getting your badge and creds, kicking down doors, and profiling serial killers who make bodysuits out of women's skin. Because we all know that's what FBI Agents do.

Well, on the second day at the Academy, right after getting fitted for a bulletproof vest, you get filed into a room with a movie screen and a tall man with a crew cut who doesn't smile. He tells you it's time for a "reality check." Lights go down, and on the screen is the view from a dashboard camera on a cop car that's driving down a road, pulling over an old pickup truck. Cop gets out, goes to the driver's side window, gets the license, and walks back towards the cop car to check it. Except that in the background, you see the guy who got pulled over get out of the truck, reach into the back, and get out a double-barreled shotgun. As the cop turns around, the guys from the truck unloads a few rounds. At this point, everything goes off screen—you hear the cop trying to call for backup, and the truck guy walking towards the cop car, and then, in sound only, unload again. Lights go on, and everyone just sits there, pale-faced in stone silence.

Usually after Reality Check, a few people drop out of the Academy.

I've often wondered, as I read applications with descriptions from Law & Order, cites to Brown v. Board of Education, and analogies to Legally Blonde, what a law school reality check would look like. And I found it, right here:


Look I want all of you to apply to law school (and to Yale), but I also want you to think about what you're getting into. These are tough times out there, and while law school might be a great place to hide out for three years, those three years will end. (And, for the record, I'll say that those three years, if spent at Yale, can be amazing—I'll take exception to the characterization of law students in the video when it comes to Yale, as you can see from our class profile and what they have to say in their own words about being here.) If you're inclined to take some time to think about where you want to go, this is the time to explore your options: practicing law can be fun, rewarding, and potentially lucrative, but only if your heart is totally in it. And to bring this all back around to the Personal Statement, if what you're writing starts to sound too much like what the woman said in the above video, you might want to watch it again and revise.

If you're still willing to take the plunge, consider yourself warned and good luck. And now, speaking of Ambien and scotch, it's time to get home to the kids.


GKY said:

This is a brilliant posting - very much enjoyed reading it. Dean: what do you think of law schools moving toward the business school model - requiring a few years of work experience?

October 25, 2010 5:29 PM

Tatem said:

I love that you posted this video. I completely wanted to post it on my pre-law listserv!

October 28, 2010 5:10 PM

Amy Jasper said:

Quite the reality check, but still hilarious.

November 27, 2010 6:39 AM

asha said:

@GKY: Actually, some schools have moved toward the business school model, and overtly prefer students who have been out a few years. We don't have a preference either way, though I've stated elsewhere that on average, students who have been out tend to have more reflective and thoughtful reasons for going to law school than people going straight through. Also, there is a growing trend from applicants who are choosing to wait to apply—only about 20% of our class came in straight from undergrad, and the rest were out for one year or more.

December 5, 2010 2:53 PM

Zach said:

Thank you for posting this series! I only decided to apply to law school over the summer, and between then and last week, I spent most of my energies at my job and preparing for the LSAT. I'm embarrassed to say that it's only now that I've made time to get the rest of my applications together. I really appreciate the insider's perspective you offer. Reading your posts has been a good jump-start on the writing process, and because of them I think I'll still be able to formulate a more effective statement.

One question I wanted to ask is where it might be appropriate to describe the challenges I've faced in the application process itself. I am an American living in Beijing; I graduated from college in 2007. While I believe I have sound reasons for applying to law school, I have not had ready access to people who could mentor or advise me about the process. I understand that a personal statement about these inconveniences would probably sound more whiny than anything else and in any case, I plan to write about another topic. However, I still think aspects of my situation merit consideration. Do you have any suggestions?

December 20, 2010 10:36 PM

asha said:

@ Zach: If there are logistical issues you have faced while living abroad that have impacted parts of your application, then I would include that in a short addendum. I would strongly suggest that you focus your P.S. on your substantive reasons for being interested in law school.

Also, don't worry about the timing of your application—as I've noted elsewhere, applying later doesn't impact your chances in our admissions process.

Good luck and happy holidays!

December 23, 2010 11:14 AM

Péru said:

Sigh. The "application industrial complex" (for lack of a better word) is tiring. In my opinion, the insane requirements to get accepted to schools represents an enormous waste of human resources. Think about it, you have thousands of brilliant people exerting all of their intellectual effort studying their hearts out for LSATs, spending hours upon hours refining their PS, volunteering for a line on the resume, etc.

How about this as an application process: assign the first month (or two) of readings and assignments, have the students turn them in and grade them. Accept the top X% and you'll have them in already prepared as well as help weed out the ones who are able but don't actually enjoy law school (the latter being a substantial part I would say, but rarely drop out due to the massive sunk cost that is the application process).

June 30, 2011 7:01 PM