Associate Dean and Dean of Admissions, USC Gould School of Law
In our 16th installment of our 224 part series “Better Know A Dean,” we sat down with Chloe Reid, Associate Dean and Dean of Admissions at USC School of Law.
Dean serves as the chief admission officer for the law school, which includes oversight for admissions and financial aid for first year students. Prior to joining USC Law. in 2006, Dean Reid served as Director of Admissions and Associate Dean for Student Affairs at Whittier Law School and as Assistant Director-Council Affairs for the Law School Admission Council. She also served as Executive Dean (chief operating officer) at Antioch University, where she was appointed Interim President for a year and a half.
AD: Thanks for agreeing to sit down with us Dean Reid.
CR: It’s my pleasure, I’m glad I was able to find the time – I’m right in the middle of our recruiting season, so you have caught me between trips!
AD: Okay, well then I won’t waste and of your time and get right down to business.
CR: I appreciate that!
AD: USC has a reputation of being a very collegial place. In fact, on your website Dean Rasmussen states, “collegiality, rather than competition, is the defining characteristic of our community.” As you know, at many schools the stiff competition for top jobs can turn even the most mild-manner law student into a cutthroat who finds himself cutting pages out of books in the library. How is USC able to maintain civility – especially during a down economy when top jobs are scarce and the competition for grades is so heated?
CR: Clearly, the small size of our entering class — around 210 — gives us the distinct advantage of creating a culture of collegiality. This is educationally and philosophically important to us as well as to the profession. Being able to get along well “in the sandbox” is a quality that lawyers must possess. I think it is fair to say that our admissions process does a terrific job in identifying and selecting candidates who exhibit collegiality. We scour the personal statement and the letters of recommendation to determine how a candidate might “fit” into our community. We understand we are not magicians, and can’t predict how everyone will react once in the class. However, we know that if most members of the class share this characteristic and philosophy, they will create a classroom environment that is friendly, respectful and professional, which they will carry over the Bar.
AD: USC stresses that its “Trojan Family Connections” offer its law students access to an alumni network that will help them both pre- and post-graduation. Does the system work in the reverse? I mean are legacies offered any preferences during the admissions process?
CR: Legacies are not granted any type of preference in the admissions process. In fact, it comes as a surprise to many when they learn that we don’t even ask the question on our admissions application. I believe that once you ask the question of candidates, an expectation of something special is created. All candidates are put through the same rigorous selection process.
AD: The Frank Rothman Scholarship sounds like a wonderful opportunity to attend USC Law on a 3-year, full ride scholarship. Your website says that applications for the scholarship are accepted by invitation only. Can you give our readers a little insight into the invitation process including what factors you consider when deciding whether to extend an invitation and how many of last year’s 6,500 applicants were invited to apply for the scholarship?
CR: The Frank Rothman Scholarship is by far the law school’s most prestigious scholarship awarded to an entering student. The scholarship not only includes a full tuition and fees award, it also guarantees employment at the preeminent law firm, Skadden Arps, the summer after the first year of law school. About half of the past recipients have gone on to work full-time with the firm after graduation. Selection is rigorous. If you look at the profiles of past students, you would be hard pressed to find a common thread, none other than all were very passionate, hard-working, driven, ambitious, and accomplished as evidenced by their resumes.
What do we look for? Without a doubt all the previous characteristics just mentioned are considered, but we also look for students who will be leaders in their chosen area of practice, as was Frank Rothman. While Mr. Rothman was extremely accomplished in the entertainment field, we are not necessarily looking for someone who wants to go into entertainment.
How do we select candidates to apply? In addition, to selecting candidates who have already applied to the law school program, we utilize the Candidate Referral Service through LSAC to select students who fall within our profile group. Test scores and undergraduate GPAs are the primary pre-selection criteria we use when inviting candidates to apply. We typically invite about 1000 candidates to apply. For fall 2010, we had about 350 candidates submit an application. The application requires candidates to write a one to two page essay and submit an resume. Essays are reviewed by a committee of admissions staff, faculty, current Rothman scholars and members of the Rothman family. In late March, four finalists are flown to Los Angeles for a one-day interview. A finalist is named by April 15. It is an extremely rigorous and exciting process.
AD: Can you give us a few examples of past recipients’ credentials so prospective applicants can judge whether they can expect to be in the running?
CR: I think prospects can take a look at our website and view the profiles of past recipients. All came to us with varied backgrounds and experiences. So, there isn’t a typical profile of a Rothman Scholar.
CR: Our relationship with Skadden is extraordinary in that they trust us and our selection process unequivocally. They do not participate in any part of the selection process.
AD: Are there any conditions placed on Rothman Scholarship recipients to maintain certain academic standing during their three years at USC?
CR: Rothman scholars are treated no differently than other scholarship recipients of the law school. Our scholarship program does not place an academic standing requirement on any student. We find that for the most part students will work hard academically out of a sense of duty, obligation and gratitude toward their Trojan donors.
AD: According to your website, 79 of 220 matriculating students in the class of 2013 came from three undergraduate schools: UCLA (28), UC Berkeley (28) and USC (23). What is it about students from these three undergraduate institutions that they make up such a huge percentage (35%) of your 1L class?
CR: Naturally, students will always apply to schools that are within their geographic region. It just so happens that statistically speaking both UCLA and UC Berkeley are among the largest undergraduate feeder schools to law schools nationally. Our proximity to the UCLA campus makes us an easy choice for many Bruins. And, of course our own undergraduate Trojans know the value of a USC degree. Therefore, many apply to us as well.
AD: The fall is your busy season and you spend a lot of time traveling to recruiting events all over the country. Is there etiquette you recommend for prospective applicants seeking out admissions officers at these events?
CR: I would recommend that they do a little bit of research on the school before they come to an event. When we visit colleges and universities, we go with a couple of objectives in mind. First, we want to introduce the law school to prospects who may not know much about USC or Los Angeles. Secondly, our goal is to identify and recruit candidates who we believe will be good matches for the school. We’re looking for a class that is diverse, unique and interesting. So, we like to engage and get to know a little more about them. Our hope is that the candidate will have done some research about us before the event, so we can have a meaningful dialogue about areas of the law school that they want to learn more about. We also expect that candidates will think about how they want to portray themselves in a five-minute conversation.
AD: Have you ever had an applicant hurt their admissions chances because you remembered meeting them personally at a recruiting event?
CR: I can’t recall a specific person at a recruiting event, but certainly can recall someone who visited the law school for whom we questioned the right fit with our institution.
AD: Do you want to expand on that and dish some dirt on what not to do?
CR: [Laughing] Ummmm, not really — I don’t really want to go there. I think it’s enough to say that when an applicant visits a law school to see if the campus is a right fit for him or her, the applicant must also understand that any administrators they meet with — especially those in the Admissions Office — may be doing the same thing in reverse. We might use a visit as an informal opportunity to meet an applicant and see if he or she would assimilate well into the school. As I mentioned earlier, we place a premium on collegiality here at USC, so you definitely want to make a good impression with anyone you come into contact with during your visit.
AD: You’ve mentioned on USC’s website that you take a holistic approach to reviewing an application. Can you walk our readers through the application process at USC and, specifically, how much weight you place on the main components of an application: UGPA, LSAT, the personal statement and letters of recommendation?
CR: With more than 6,500 applications to consider for a class of about 210 students, competition is at a premium. But, let me begin by stating that we truly read each and every file.
Numerical indicators (UGPA and LSAT) are important in our process and are initially used to help us “sort” files for review. But as I tell candidates, we need more than what I would affectionately call “brains and geeks” in the class. Candidates come in all different sizes, shapes, colors, and with different opinions, attitudes, experiences and accomplishments. We strive to have all of that reflected in the class, and that requires us to drill down into candidates’ files.
The personal statement becomes the vehicle we use to shape the class. A well-written and carefully executed personal statement can sometimes be a tipping factor. Don’t forget to give us the answer to the obvious question. Tell us why you want to go to law school. It may seem obvious to you, but it doesn’t always come out as clearly to us.
Letters of recommendation are also important because they give us a glimpse at your judgment, personality and ambition. Who writes a letter on your behalf, and what they write about you, tells us who you are.
AD: What if an applicant comes down with a severe case of senioritis and does not perform up to their academic potential during their senior year. Could a below par senior year negatively impact an applicants chances of admission at USC?
CR: It definitely can negatively impact an admission decision. Your CAS report will typically include grades from the fall semester of the senior year. Of course, if something unusual occurred that would explain the poor grades (illness, family problems, etc.), we wouldn’t necessarily count that against them. However, if grades plummet and there is no explanation, the candidate can most certainly expect a delayed decision, as the file will go to the faculty admissions committee for further review.
AD: So there is a faculty admissions committee as well? How does this differ from the regular admissions committee – or is there any difference?
CR: There is no difference. Our Admissions Committee is comprised of faculty and one current student. All are voting members. The Committee reviews a small portion of the applicant pool (about 15%).
AD: When reviewing an application how much attention do you pay to the LSAT writing sample? Given all the other parts of the application, how much does the writing sample really tell you about applicants’ abilities?
CR: Unlike what some of the testing preparatory courses advise candidates, we actually review the writing sample. We understand that this is a timed writing assessment and we therefore don’t expect brilliance. However, we do expect that candidates will adhere to the instructions and will do their very best in terms of a formulating a reasonable response. We look particularly at sentences structure, grammar and spelling in the answer.
Candidates need to be respectful of all aspects of the application process, including the writing sample. Doodling, drawing pictures, and writing notes to the file reader on the essay question all demonstrate a lack of maturity, which clearly works against the candidate.
AD: Looking beyond the numbers, what is your process for determining who will be make a good fit into the USC community?
CR: We give considerable weight to the personal statement, the resume, and the letters of recommendation. What the candidates say about themselves and what others say about them are critical to our assessment. In addition, we want people to come here because they truly want to be at USC. Therefore, we also consider the level of interest the candidate shows towards the school. A visit to the law school or a conversation with one of our student ambassadors also demonstrates how a candidate fits with the school.
AD: Since you also have financial aid responsibilities for incoming students at USC, I would be remiss in not asking you what are the common financial pitfalls that applicants need to avoid?
CR: Applicants should avoid starting law school with any significant consumer debt, including auto loans, credit card debts and any other debt, which will require continuing monthly payments while the student is in school. The school cannot include such consumer debt in the cost of attendance and the student may find it difficult to continue to make these payments, which could result in the student’s credit being affected. This, in turn, could cause the student to not qualify for certain student loans for the second year of law school.
Applicants should check their credit reports early to ensure that there are no errors or issues, which need to be resolved. They should recognize the value of a strong credit history and avoid decisions, which may harm their credit.
Applicants should expect to “live like a student” while in law school, especially if relying on significant student loan assistance. Set up budget and stick to it and think carefully about all purchase and financial decisions. Since interest is being charged on student loans, the cost of the spending decision will end up being much higher than just the initial purchase price.
AD: Are there any steps that students need to consider now, at the beginning of the applications process, which will make a huge difference in terms of financing their legal education once they are ultimately accepted?
CR: Sure, in addition to financial aid in the form of scholarships or grants for use at a particular law school, there are plenty of outside scholarships that can be used anywhere, regardless of where the candidate ultimately decides to enroll. These outside scholarships usually have application deadlines in the early spring, so it’s important that an applicant hunt down these scholarship opportunities in the fall so that he or she can submit a timely application.
CR: [Laughing] Sure, I did see your Law School Scholarship Finder and it certainly looks like a great resource. I’d also recommend FastWeb.com, FinAid.org and the ABA has a site with numerous links for minority students. Between those scholarship databases, you should have pretty good coverage of the outside scholarship opportunities available to law students.
AD: Law school comes with a very high price tag with respect to tuition, but also in terms of opportunity costs. If your son or daughter was thinking about law school, what research/factors would you insist they consider to first make sure that law is the right career choice for them and, second, that they choose the school that is right for them?
CR: You’re right. Law school is a huge investment of time and money. Consequently, the decision to attend should not be made lightly. Many who travel down this road will spend as much for a legal education as those who will perhaps spend on purchasing a home or new car. Yet, the big difference is that homebuyers will spend far more time researching and planning for a mortgage than the average law school applicant will on ascertaining the costs of their education. I’m always amazed when, after a week of classes, someone comes knocking on my door requesting to withdraw. I’m initially saddened for them because they’ve had to come to the hard realization that the fantasy they’ve been entertaining for the past year is no longer that. It’s a terrible situation because I probably had no less than 300 people eagerly sitting on a waiting list hoping for a seat to open up before classes began. Since classes have commenced that option is no longer viable and I’m stuck with an empty seat in the class for the remainder of the year. What a shame for everyone. I think though this can be avoided for the most part by proper research and planning.
First and foremost, candidates should become familiar with the justice system and how lawyers are part of the process. In the age of the Internet, there’s no excuse for not knowing what a lawyer does. Simply relying on television shows or movies should be avoided. Secondly, candidates should talk to lawyers and judges about their specialty areas and what their life is like on a typical day.
AD: The average age of students in your 2012 class is 22 years old. Do you place any emphasis on post-undergraduate work experience and how does that usually factor into the admissions equation?
CR: We actively seek candidates who we believe will bring a breadth of life experience that will add to the richness of the classroom dialogue. Traditionally, we have attracted a younger candidate who is straight out of college. However, increasingly more graduates are electing to take a year or so to acquire work experience, which will better equip them with setting career goals once in law school. Candidates who come to law school with an idea about the type of law they would like to explore are more apt to obtain what they want. Focusing on their career path helps to shape their overall law school experience in terms of participation in educational opportunities as well as it keeps them motivated to thrive in the deep waters of legal academia.
AD: Does the type of work matter? For instance would someone who worked in the legal field as a paralegal be treated differently than someone who worked for a non-profit like Teach For America?
CR: No. We view all work experience equally for the most part. Clearly, if someone has worked in the legal field then that helps to demonstrate the student’s interest in law. If a student has not worked in the legal arena, then that will not be considered a negative factor in their candidacy. We would like for our class to be comprised of people with a variety of work experiences including those in the public service field as well as private industry. All experiences add to the breadth and depth of classroom discussions.
AD: What ways do you disseminate that information?
CR: Well, there’s the admitted student section of our website where we post a tremendous amount of data about the previous admissions cycle — our most recent entering class. We also include the most recent employment statistics like where our current 3Ls found summer associate jobs the previous summer, both by firm and by city. And we also post lists of average starting salaries, where the most recent graduating class ended up finding full time employment, etc. Those are just a few examples. Our applicants shouldn’t have to rely on stale data when making their decisions — and they certainly shouldn’t rely on rumor! We try to make sure the most recently compiled information that would be of interest to an applicant is out there — front and center — so that they can make an informed choice about whether to apply to (or attend) our school.
AD: How many transfer applications do you receive every year and how many do you ultimately accept?
CR: For fall 2010 we received more than 200 transfer applications for a transfer class of 20-25 students. We extend approximately 40-45 admission offers.
AD: What factors do you consider when selecting transfer applicants?
CR: All law schools look at one primary factor in considering transfer applicants – first year grades. If a student is able to make it to the top 10% of his/her class, then we believe they will most likely succeed at USC.
In addition to the first year grades, we also look at the reasons a candidate is seeking to transfer. Transferring is extremely competitive and we find that we have many more applicants than seats who will satisfy the first factor of excellent grades. Therefore, looking at their reasons for attending our school as well as how successful they will be in obtaining employment once here. These are other factors we consider.
AD: Do you offer transfer applicants financial aid? How about opportunities for transfer students to write on to one of USC’s journals?
CR: Transfer students are eligible for student loans, but not scholarships. Our school awards its guaranteed scholarship budget to first year students only. Therefore, we rarely have many funds leftover to redistribute to upper-division students.
AD: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today Dean Reid. I know this is your busy season and genuinely appreciate you finding time to answer my questions.
CR: It’s not a problem at all. It’s was actually a nice opportunity to step back and view an activity that I’m very familiar with — the application process — through the eyes of an outsider. I really hope that my answers help applicants make the right choice for them — whichever law school they ultimately attend.