We are continuing our chats with admissions deans at major law schools. (Last spring, we talked to Sara Zearfoss, who leads admissions at the University of Michigan Law School.) Today, we're getting the inside scoop from Edward Tom (below), dean of admissions at University of California at Berkeley School of Law.
Let's cut to the question everyone wants to know: Is it
a lot easier now to get into Berkeley? Put in another way: How much have applications
dropped for the incoming class?
Applications shrank by 3 percent. At the peak of the recession we got 8,000 applications. This year we got 6,000. There's been a three year slide nationwide.
Are you digging deeper into the waiting list?
A bit deeper. Some years we've only taken five [from the wait list]. This year, we will probably take more than 50. There is more competition for the the best candidates. You know, it's like a Pachinko machine where you don't know which of the balls on the top will land.
Are you seeing a real decline in the quality of applicants?
The number of people with the strongest GPAs and LSAT scores remains the same. We lost applicants more at the bottom or lower part of the pool.
That sounds counter-intuitive. I would think weaker ones would
be jumping into the pool if there's less competition to get into law
Some of those applicants disappeared this year because they think that Berkeley is so [academically] strenuous and so expensive. The cost of education has gone up dramatically, and people are very concerned. Also you have all that bad press about [the difficulty] of getting a job.
I know bloggers like me are the culprits. In any case, the odds must be better than ever for getting into a good school.
The next few years are the time to apply because the applicant pool is declining. But my biggest piece of advice is make sure you want to go to law school.
Assuming you do, why pick Berkeley?
Because it is the Disneyland of law schools. Our curriculum is so wide that we have something for everybody. We have very low levels of neurotic people—that’s borne out by comments of alums and students. Students are bright but don’t have attitudes. [Our grading system consists of] high honors, honors, and pass—and that alone creates a system without class rankings or GPAs. We have 13 law reviews, 12 of which you can walk onto. No one is chosen on the basis of grades.
Wow. That sounds almost like utopia—very Berkeleyesque. What do you look for in this kind of environment?
We have a four-page personal statement. I'm looking for their voice. LSATs and GPAs only go so far. We have a holistic process. What's important is intellectual curiosity, drive, creativity, courage. Our goal is to give people the opportunity to become leaders and policy makers.
Do you feel a lot more pressure to find the right candidate these days?
I don't think it's tougher; I think it's getting back to normal. When I began here 30 years ago, the typical pool was 3,000 to 5,000 applicants. Then it peaked in the nineties. The pressure gets ugly because U.S. News & World Report's rankings are in the background. But Berkeley always has a strong sense of place in society.
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