Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid , Penn Law
This is the seventh installment of our 224 part series, Better Know A Dean. Today we posted our interview with Renee Post, Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid at Penn Law — The Fightin’ Penn Law’s!
Dean Post has been the Associate Dean for Admissions and Financial Aid at the Law School since 2007. Prior to that, she served as both Associate Director and Director of Penn Law’s Admissions Office and was a consultant for a national admissions consulting company. Dean Post earned her M.S.Ed. at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and her B.A. from the University of Pittsburgh. She currently is serving on the Finance and Legal Affairs Committee of the Law School Admissions Council. She has been a panelist on countless admissions panels including Access to Higher Education, Financing a Legal Education, and Retention Issues in Higher Education.
AD: I know that this is your busy season so I really appreciate you taking the time to answer questions that might be of interest to prospective applicants.
RP: I’m happy to do it.
AD: Last year, Penn Law awarded grants and scholarships to almost 40% of its 1L class. What process do students need to go through to receive scholarship/grant consideration? What factors do you consider when awarding scholarships?
RP: Penn offers both need-based grants and merit-based scholarships. Penn Law has a very generous need-based aid program that meets 100% of a student’s identified need. Students who want to be considered for need-based grants must complete the Need Access Application and the FAFSA for Penn to determine eligibility. For merit-based scholarships, we nominate students based on their admissions applications. Nominees are chosen primarily on their academic credentials, but we also consider non-academic factors such as leadership, community service, extra-curricular involvement, and work experience. Nominees may be asked to submit additional essays.
AD: Penn Law describes itself as “THE leader in cross-disciplinary legal education.” Can you explain exactly what that means to your students and how your approach may differ from other schools at the top of the first tier?
RP: Penn Law recognizes that as the world becomes increasingly complex, the boundaries of traditional legal issues tend to blur. Our students are savvy – they seek out exposure across disciplines because they know that it will prepare them to tackle the difficult and complicated issues they’ll encounter in their careers. For example, many Penn Law students enroll in joint-degree or certificate programs. Students may also choose to take up to four classes toward their JD at other schools in the University. Even within the traditional legal curriculum, students easily gain cross-disciplinary exposure. With 70% of Penn Law faculty holding advanced degrees in fields in addition to law – including 50% with a PhD in that additional field – it’s nearly impossible for Penn students not to learn the law from multiple perspectives.
AD: Your school has a reputation of remarkable collegiality among its students. How does Penn foster a non-competitive environment, especially in these difficult economic times when so much is riding on students’ grades?
RP: We are very deliberate about making Penn Law a collegial place. The Law School does not class-rank students; we assign interview slots during on-campus recruiting by lottery, not grades; we limit each year’s class size to just 250 students, so professors know their students and students know each other; all faculty, students and staff are located in four buildings whose intersections form an interior courtyard. Equally important, our collegiality is sustained by our students, who self-select to study the law where the support they receive is as great as the challenges they will confront.
AD: Once accepted, what is the biggest surprise Penn students encounter in law school — what are most students truly not expecting from the law school experience?
RP: Penn Law students consistently mention how surprised they are by the culture at the Law School. The Law School is academically rigorous and intense, as many would expect, but what really strikes new students is that it’s also collaborative and collegial. This is a rare combination, and it makes Penn a great place to study law.
AD: Take us through Penn’s admissions review process. How does Penn evaluate a candidate’s undergraduate GPA, LSAT score report, personal statement, letters of recommendation, and other relevant factors?
RP: Outside of our Early Decision program, we review applications based on the order they are completed. Every file is read by at least two members of the Admissions Committee. Often, a file is sent for a third, and even a fourth, read. While academic excellence is important in the evaluation process, we consider each application holistically. We do not apply numeric cutoffs for the LSAT or GPA. Instead, we read each individual file, including letters of recommendation, personal statement, supplemental essay(s), and resume, to gain a full picture of each applicant.
AD: If your son or daughter was applying to law school, what advice would you give him or her about choosing a law school?
RP: Visit the schools to which you plan to apply. Academic reputation and career prospects are two vital elements when selecting a law school, but too often applicants overlook school “fit”. It is important for applicants to think about the size of the school, the student body and school culture, and the geographic location. Can they envision themselves there for the next three years? If applicants are not able to visit the schools, they should conduct extensive research – both through the internet and by talking with members of the legal profession.
AD: How much weight do you place on an applicant’s LSAT score?
RP: An applicant’s LSAT score is one factor among many that we consider in making an admissions decision. Since we look at the LSAT score in the context of the particular application, the importance of the score varies according to the nature of each application. Penn Law does not apply a numeric cutoff for the LSAT or use an index number to sort or otherwise evaluate applicants.
AD: How does Penn view multiple LSAT scores — especially if there is a relatively large discrepancy between the two scores?
RP: Our interpretation rests squarely on the shoulders of the applicant. If an applicant provides the Committee with a reasonable explanation for the discrepancy, the Committee is likely to place more consideration on the higher score.
AD: Do you give any preference to applicants who attended Penn undergrad?
RP: No. That said, Penn is an excellent undergraduate institution and students consistently report extremely positive feedback about their experience there. Thus, we see many extraordinary Penn undergraduates apply to and matriculate at the Law School.
AD: What about applicants whose parents might have attended Penn Law? Do legacy candidates receive any special preference?
AD: Do you find one undergraduate major better preparation for law school than another? For instance, many undergraduate institutions offer a Pre-Law major — does Penn look more or less favorably on Pre-Law majors when deciding whether to offer admission?
RP: The major by itself is not as important as the breadth and depth of the undergraduate training and the course progression. Regardless of the major, students should be certain to take a few classes that allow them to develop research and writing skills, which are vital for law school. Penn Law values diversity in its broadest sense. Indeed, this includes academic training.
AD: What are the most common mistakes applicants make on their applications?
RP: In addition to the obvious mistakes such as sending the wrong essay to the wrong school or submitting essays with grammatical or typographical errors, some applicants do not approach their applications holistically. For example, candidates may not address discrepancies in their applications such as poor academic performance during one semester of their undergraduate career, or may vaguely list experience on a resume without explaining it adequately. The applicant should put him or herself in the Admissions Committee’s shoes. Do any discrepancies stand out? If so, be sure to address them. It is important to provide complete answers to any questions the Committee may have about one’s candidacy.
AD: Do you have any advice for students when getting letters of recommendations?
RP: Applicants should provide their recommenders with as much information as possible, such as an academic paper, current resume, and a clear explanation of why they wish to pursue a legal education. Applicants should also think strategically about who they choose to write their letters of recommendation. If applying directly from college or a year or so out of school, candidates should submit at least two letters from faculty members. If a candidate has been out of school for a number of years, professional letters are more helpful. In any event, students should seek out recommenders who know them well and can speak directly to their academic and/or professional skills and strengths. At Penn, we will consider as many as four letters of recommendation in our evaluation process. This allows applicants some flexibility to select recommenders who can speak to different facets of an applicant’s background: academic, professional, or community leadership to name a few.
AD: What does it mean if an applicant is placed on the waitlist, and can you offer any strategies for getting off that list?
RP: Each year Penn Law receives over 6,000 applications for our first-year class of approximately 250 students. We understand that being wait-listed is not the applicant’s first choice, but in recent years we have admitted wait-listed candidates. Applicants who are wait-listed should examine their applications for holes or inconsistencies and supplement their applications where appropriate. Examples include additional letters of recommendation, additional essays, and updated resumes. Candidates should also keep the Committee apprised of their plans as the summer months progress.
AD: Given the current economy, what trends are you seeing in law school applications? Do you expect the upcoming admissions cycle to be particularly heavy?
RP: Applications to Penn Law increased 7% last year. While it is too early in this year’s admissions process to make a definitive forecast, indicators such as a high number of LSAT examinees and increased attendance at recruiting events point to an increase in applications this year.
AD: Do you give “extra credit” to an applicant who tells you that he/she will accept an offer from your school should they receive an offer?
RP: Many applicants make their enthusiasm well-known to the Admissions Committee. This enthusiasm certainly does not guarantee admission, but letting the Committee know a sincere and specific interest in the school never hurts.
AD: Since the admissions process has become so competitive, we’re seeing more and more students transferring — in fact, Penn accepted 29 transfer students in the last cycle. This hasn’t always been the case. Do you have any opinions about why there is such an interest in transferring these days?
RP: Some students cite a change in academic or professional interests; others simply hope to attend a school with a more impressive reputation.
AD: What factors do you consider when deciding whether to accept a transfer student?
RP: We employ the same holistic approach we employ when evaluating first year applications to transfer applications; all factors of the application are reviewed and considered. That said, we place particular emphasis on transfer applicants’ performance in the first year of law school and the strength of the academic program from which they seek to transfer. With that in mind, we require two letters of recommendation, preferably from law school professors. We also look for a well-crafted personal statement outlining a candidate’s reasons for wanting to transfer and a detailed resume, in addition to the usual application components.
AD: Are there any schools that seem to consistently send one or two transfer students to Penn every year?
RP: The schools from which we draw are very diverse and vary year to year.