The Secret

November 8, 2007

Dear Asha,

I have heard that Yale does not have a traditional Admissions Committee, like at most schools. Can you please explain how the admissions process works?


Dear A.D.,

Sure thing. Basically, at Yale, the entire permanent faculty -- over 60 people -- serve as the "Admissions Committee." It works like this. First, I review each file. Files are read in the order they become complete -- in other words, we do not sort by grades or LSATs. At this stage, I am looking for whether you can 1) perform extremely well academically at Yale and 2) make a significant contribution to the composition of the incoming class, in terms of (among other things) experience, perspective, leadership, special skills, and future goals.

We are very fortunate to have many more people who fit the above criteria than we have room for in the incoming class. To this end, I send about 25% of our applicant pool -- close to 1,000 files -- to our faculty "Committees." At this stage, each application is sent, in a stack of about 50 files, to three faculty readers. Each faculty member uses his or her own criteria to rate each file on a scale of 2-4, with 4 being the highest. Each faculty member reads independently -- that is, the faculty member does not know who the other two readers of the file will be and so there is no discussion of the files with other people --and his or her scores are kept confidential from the other readers.

Once the application is circulated through the three readers, we add up the scores in the Admissions Office. All applicants who receive a 12 (straight 4s) and most who receive an 11 (two 4s and a 3) are admitted.

There are roughly 50-80 applicants each year who are "presumptive admits" and who bypass the three reader process. Instead, they are reviewed by myself and a a faculty member who serves as the Chair of the Admissions Committee. These are students who are truly outstanding in every way, not just scores -- again, we are trying to fill the class with interesting and well-rounded students, not just students who can take tests well! It's hard to articulate what places a student into the presumptive admit category, so I'll just borrow Justice Potter Stewart's view: I know it when I see it.

As you can see from our process, we have a very thorough review process, in which each file is read carefully by up to 4 readers. This process, which has been in place for as long as anyone can remember, allows the perspectives of a broad range of people -- not just a select few "admissions" folks -- to determine the depth and diversity of the class, and also gives each faculty member a personal stake in the outcome. The result is the most highly-qualified, interesting, and talented law school classes in the country and a close knit community for all those who come to Yale.

What it means for you, the applicants, is that your chances of getting into YLS are not just based on numbers. In fact, I have had several faculty members tell me that when they read files, they are not as concerned with numbers as they are with some other part of the application: some focus on the personal statement or the 250-word essay, others on the recommendations, and one even swears by the LSAT writing sample (I want to say he was joking, but I'm not actually sure). While this makes it difficult to know "why" someone does or does not get in, it also means that your entire application, not just your scores, mean a lot to us.

So, take the opportunity to shine in every aspect of your application -- there is someone who will notice!

-- Asha

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