Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, UCLA Law
Dean of Admissions & Financial Aid, UCLA Law
Rob Schwartz joined the UCLA School of Law in October 2006, after serving for 11 years as the Dean of Admissions at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law of Yeshiva University. A 1992 magna cum laude graduate of Cardozo Law, he practiced for several years before entering the law school admissions profession. Rob has been an active member of the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), serving on several committees including the Services and Programs Committee, the Annual Meeting and Educational Conference Committee and the New Admissions Personnel Workshop Committee.
AD: Thanks for agreeing to answer my questions today.
RS: Not a problem. I’m happy to do it.
AD: So, how’s the traffic in Los Angeles?
RS: Ummm, the usual… I think.
AD: Do you find that your students have adapted to LA traffic?
RS: I guess so, but I don’t understand what you’re getting at.
AD: Well, according to AboveTheLaw.com, UCLA students may be specially equipped to handle the mean streets of LA.
RS: [Laughing] Oh, c’mon, not that!
AD: [Editor’s Note: For those who have not yet heard about this story, AboveTheLaw.com reported in the summer of 2010 about an email that UCLA law students received from UCLA Law’s administration about a short-term, $12-an-hour job opportunity for any interested student to chauffeur an entertainment lawyer (and UCLA Law alum) to and from his appointments in LA.]
[Laughing] So, what was that all about? Do you want to clear the air?
RS: Sure. The first point I’d like to make is that email was sent to our students by our Alumni Affairs office. It wasn’t a career position that was being advertised by the Career Services Office. The purpose of the email was to help out an alumnus and, at the same time, provide an opportunity for a current student with an interest in entertainment law to get to know this individual who has a very successful practice at a large firm here in Los Angeles.
The second point is that one of the big advantages of UCLA Law’s entertainment Law program is our many alumni who practice in that field. For current law students to have access to these folks–whether it’s through mentoring receptions that we have, our mock interview night or, in this case, driving someone around town and really getting to know him — this type of access is really something that’s special. Personally, I was surprised to see AboveTheLaw’s take on that email, because I think it was a good networking opportunity for an interested student. I know that the student who was ultimately selected was very happy to have had that introduction — certainly not for the money, but simply for the networking opportunity.
AD: Well, AboveTheLaw’s MO has always been to put a snarky, negative slant on almost any story and then run with it. [Laughing] That’s what makes ATL such a guilty pleasure for law students and attorneys!
RS: They are trying to put a certain spin on it — things are so bad in the hiring market that UCLA Law students are taking work as chauffeurs — but c’mon, that’s just silly. Certainly, nobody was forcing our students to apply for, or take, the job and, as I said, one student really was very happy for the opportunity.
AD: Alright, let’s put all the gossip aside and talk about early decision applicants. UCLA Law’s early decision deadline was November 15th. How many applications did you guys receive?
RS: We received about 280 applications.
AD: And how many folks did you admit, hold, or deny?
AD: You admitted 30?
AD: Okay. And did the rest get held and placed in the regular applicant pool.
RS: No, I would say about 30 were held and the rest, unfortunately, were not admitted to the law school and that was the end of the admissions process for them.
AD: UCLA Law’s ED program is binding, correct?
RS: It is.
AD: So once an ED applicant gets accepted, they must withdraw their applications from other schools?
RS: That’s what we ask them to do, yes.
AD: Okay. And do you find the people do that?
RS: Yes, I do think that the overwhelming majority of people we admit comply with the terms of the Early Decision contract. Every now and then a particular circumstance comes up where there is a legitimate reason not to have the decision be a binding one — you know, God forbid, when somebody is sick or a serious personal situation develops — and, of course, in those situations we make special accommodations. But the point of a binding early decision process is that applicants will withdraw their applications from other law schools because UCLA Law is their first choice and where they want to go to law school.
AD: How large a class does UCLA Law want for the 2010-11 admissions cycle?
RS: 320 students, which is pretty consistent with the last few years.
AD: Is 10% (or 30 students) a pretty standard yield from your early decision process?
RS: Actually, this year we have had a higher than normal number of admits coming through our early decision program. We really don’t have a quota. The number of ED students we admit is simply a function of the quality of the ED applicant pool. If there is a particularly strong ED applicant pool, we’re going to admit more students. At the same time, the admissions committee doesn’t want to “hold” people unnecessarily if they think they are not going to be competitive during the regular admissions process. That’s why we flat out rejected approximately 220 students who applied early decision — so they can now make other plans.
AD: From an applicant’s perspective, is there a benefit to applying through the binding early decision process?
RS: Well, I think there are two different answers to that question. One relates to the nature of early decisions generally, and the other relates to the size of our regular applicant pool versus the size of our ED applicant pool.
With regard to early decision, there are a number of things to consider. If UCLA Law School is someone’s first choice–definitively, hands down their first choice–then there is no reason in my mind why they should not apply to us through the binding early decision program. Now, I worry that the statistics I just gave might cause somebody in that situation not to apply through the early decision process, but that should not be the case. We regularly counsel individual applicants about their chances of admission through the early decision process. If an applicant knows that UCLA Law is their first choice, and they apply through early decision and are denied admission, they should know that the admissions committee was confident that they also would not have been admitted through the regular admissions process. You won’t suffer some sort of penalty by applying early, that’s for sure. Does that make sense?
AD: Yes, it does. So how would you counsel a student? Could an applicant simply call you ahead of time and sort of give you a “sneak peak” and see what you have to say?
RS: Absolutely, they can talk to me about their qualifications and I will give them a sense of their chances. But regardless of what I say, if they apply earlier and they are not admitted, then they would not have been admitted through the regular process either. I think that’s important to clear up, because if you just look at the ED admissions statistics, you might be afraid to apply.
The other thing for people to consider when applying early is that if you apply early and you are waitlisted, the fact that you applied early will be a (positive) factor that we’ll consider when we comb through the waitlist during the spring and summer.
Now, there are disadvantages to applying early to any school that has a binding early admissions program. The main disadvantages are that the applicant forfeits the ability to hear from other law schools and — most importantly — receive scholarship offers from other schools. If you’re applying through a binding early decision program, you really need to be convinced that the school to which you apply is your #1 choice, no matter what.
AD: I never considered the waitlist point — that ED applicants have indicated to you that UCLA is their first choice and that may eventually help them get in off the waitlist later in the process.
AD: So when you say that early decision applicants are “held,” are they really on a waiting list or do they just go into the regular admissions pool?
RS: Those applicants are not thrown into the regular applicant pool, they are placed on our waitlist. So, those 30 or so applicants who were not admitted or denied in December are currently on our waitlist.
AD: Interesting, so during this ED cycle, approximately 30 people were accepted, 30 people were put on the waitlist, and the other 220 early decision applicants were outright rejected.
AD: I guess those statistics certainly do seem a little bit scary, but if you are going to get in, then you are going to get in and you’re better off knowing that early rather than later.
RS: One additional point to consider is that the ED applicant pool is much, much smaller than the regular applicant pool. I can say with some confidence that many of the applicants admitted to UCLA Law through the early decision process may not have been admitted through the regular process. This is because the early decision pool is smaller and, as a result, it’s easier to stand out among the other applicants. So that’s another reason why someone who is 100% certain that UCLA is their first choice may want to submit to the binding early decision process.
AD: Okay. So the people, the 30 people who are admitted, some of those folks had numbers that might have put them at risk in the regular admissions school?
RS: Absolutely, and it’s not just their numbers. It’s that they’re in a pool of 280 applicants versus a pool of 7,000 to 8,000 — those are very different pools.
AD: That’s interesting. I never thought of that.
RS: Not many people do. Again, it just goes back to it being a no-brainer that you should apply early decision if UCLA Law is your first choice. If you are able to make that decision in your mind–and that’s a very big decision itself — then you should simply apply early decision and see what happens.
AD: Okay, let’s talk about applying during the regular admissions process. Is there an advantage to applying earlier in the cycle rather than later?
RS: You know, generally applicants are encouraged to apply early but doing so will not significantly impact their odds of being admitted. We make decisions on a “modified” rolling basis, not a strictly rolling basis. Applying early does not guarantee that you will receive a decision from us earlier. A candidate who applies later in the cycle will not necessarily be at a disadvantage.
We notify applicants of our decisions between January and late April, and various factors determine when a particular applicant is actually going to hear from us. So, I guess, my advice is apply when you feel you are most prepared to apply.
AD: Alright. So let’s talk a little bit about the economics of law school. It seems that this has become a particularly hot topic in the last year or so. Mainstream media outlets like the New York Times have written long pieces on the pros and cons of attending law school as an investment, and particularly on the need to earn strong grades in order to ensure that investment pays off. UCLA’s tuition, like the tuition for UC Hastings Law, another California state school, is pushing $40,000 for in-state students and $50,000 for out-of-state students. Compare that to a state school like the University of Georgia School of Law (whose Admissions Dean, Paul Rollins, I interviewed recently), where the tuition is $14,000 per year. What’s a good reason to come to UCLA Law at these price points?
RS: Well, there are a lot of good reasons to go to any law school, including UCLA, and it’s very much an individual decision. I guess the first thing I would say, though, is that we are very proud of the amount of financial aid that we give out — the amount of money that gets awarded to admitted students is very high when compared to other law schools. I am also proud of the fact that a significant chunk of financial aid at UCLA Law is based on need and a significant chunk is based on merit, but both need and merit based aid are available. So no applicant should necessarily be turned off by the price tag initially without first knowing what his or her financial aid package is. That’s point number one.
The second point that I’d like to make is that while you are correct that law school should be viewed as a huge investment, it’s an investment in your future. The law school you attend is an institution that you are going to be carrying with you throughout your career, and you need to think about that when making your decision about where to attend.
The final point I’d make when talking about the economics of getting a law degree is that UCLA will never price itself out of the market. If you look at our tuition and fees and you see $50,000, that’s everything included. Some schools, be they public or private, may list $45,000 as their tuition, but then they also have additional mandatory fees that get you up to the same level that we charge.
AD: So, you’re “all in” price is competitive with what many of your peer schools are charging.
RS: That’s right. At UCLA Law, the figure that we publish as tuition represents our tuition and fees, and a lot of schools publish tuition only and list their fees separately.
Also, when applicants are comparing law schools to decide where to attend, there are so many factors to consider in the analysis. Cost is definitely one factor, and financial aid is another. And then there are lots and lots of “soft factors” for a law school like reputation, location, geographic placement of its graduates and quality of life on and off campus. Basically, UCLA Law is in the same range as a lot of other comparable law schools today, and we are not looking to price ourselves out of that market — there is no question about that.
AD: Given some of the bad press about the perceived value of a legal education during this admissions cycle, are you expecting a downturn in the number of applications you receive?
RS: Yes, and we were experiencing a drop in applications even before the New York Times article. There are a couple of things to observe here. First of all, applications to law schools are down nationally. According to the LSAC, total applicants are down 12.2% and total applications are down 13.4% nationally as of January 7, 2011. UCLA Law’s admissions office is mirroring that trend. But what’s remarkable about UCLA Law is that our applicant pool increased by 50% from 2006 to 2010. During that time, we went from about 5,800 to 8,700 applicants. For three years in a row, we had all-time records in terms of numbers of applicants. When it comes to 2011, we’re still going to have a very large pool, but it’s going to be a little bit more “realistic”, I guess is the word I’d use.
But, even before the Times article came out, I was thinking that we’d see a decline of some amount just because the job market is tougher. I assume we’ll be talking about that later.
AD: Oh yes, I’d love to discuss the current hiring market with you. Yet even with a drop-off in total applicants to UCLA Law, you still fully expect a class size of 320 or more students, roughly the same size as last year?
RS: Yes, that’s our intention.
AD: Okay. So if the overall number of law students who matriculate probably won’t change all that much, then the smaller applicant pool simply means that your admissions process becomes a little less competitive, right?
RS: Exactly. I can only speak for UCLA Law. Having said that, I would be surprised if many law schools around the country reduced their class sizes this year but that’s possible.
AD: Do you think that there is a possibility that the applicant pool might be just as competitive even though it’s smaller? That you won’t necessarily have to dig deeper into the LSAT and GPA numbers because you don’t have people waiting for the job market to turn around? In other words, in prior years when the economy was bad the number of people applying to law school increased in part because there were many people who were not serious about law school who applied because they thought it was a good place to wait out three years. This time around, people are reading articles like the one in the Times and are turning around and saying: “I am definitely not going to law school.”
RS: Yes, I absolutely do think that, because usually when the economic times are tougher you know applications to graduate schools increase and at UCLA Law, they have increased by leaps and bounds over the last four years, much more than the national average.
AD: Right. And I am wondering whether they are self-selecting and weeding themselves out to the point that you might have an especially talented applicant pool this year because the pool who remains consists of a higher-than-average number of people who actually want to be lawyers.
RS: Yes. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. I think that those who are applying are still very interested and very serious just like in any year. It’s just that there are slightly fewer this year. But remember, there are still so many more applicants to law schools now than there were during prior recessions. So law school remains a very popular option for many.
AD: One way that cost-conscious applicants can save money is by getting application fee waivers. What are UCLA Law’s numbers on those?
RS: Last year, about 40% of our applicants received a fee waiver.
AD: Wow! 40%, huh?
RS: I know, that’s a significant number.
AD: It sure is.
RS: And there are two types. There are merit-based fee waivers and there are need-based fee waivers. For merit, you don’t have to do anything. We will write to you and invite you to apply. For need-based fee waivers, you simply need to apply and there is a form for that on our website.
AD: For the merit fee waiver, what are the criteria you use?
RS: It’s largely based on grades and test scores.
AD: Has the current economy had a negative fiscal impact on UCLA Law?
RS: Of course we’re being cautious, but UCLA Law is extremely strong financially and nothing that’s happened in the broader economy (or California’s economy) has affected the quality of education we offer here. We are continuing to hire top faculty and offer more classes. That’s one of the advantages of attending a financially stable institution.
AD: Now, getting back to the jobs issue: how are your graduates fairing in this market?
RS: Well, I spoke with the dean of our Career Services Office before our interview. Like everybody else, our graduates have been impacted by the overall economy. For some students, that means it’s taking longer to land their first full-time, permanent position. However, there are definitely others who are easily obtaining positions before they graduate.
I guess the major impact we’ve seen is that graduates have needed to take more initiative to find that first job. Our Career Services Office works hard to help students develop essential networking skills that will enable them to succeed in their job searches and throughout their career. The other jobs-related observation I would make is that we’re seeing the market pick up a bit this year, so that’s an encouraging sign.
AD: Are more firms participating in the on-campus interview process?
AD: In 2009 and 2010, most large law firms scaled way back on hiring by either not having some associate programs or by deferring the start dates for those summer associates they did hire. This has created a real bottleneck which has most greatly hurt the class that graduated in the spring of 2010 — which probably accounts for a lot of the negative press recently.
I am hearing from other law schools that more firms have been on campus this year, and that last year’s drastic cut in hiring might have been an overreaction by firms who wanted to sit back and wait for the economy to pick up. Now that law firms have downsized and scaled back hiring for the last year or two, it sounds like they are again in the mode of hiring. However, I doubt we’ll see the large summer associate classes we saw prior to 2008 for quite a while.
RS: That’s what I am hearing from my career office, too.
AD: Ok. So what separates the folks who you know are having an easier time finding a job from those who are having a tougher time?
RS: I think there several factors that can influence a student’s job prospects, but, clearly, doing well during the first year is so very important because the job interviews for the most selective legal employers take place during the fall semester of the second year. As a result, most employers place a lot of weight on students’ first year grades when deciding who to interview.
Another factor is how well a student interviews given how competitive it is out there. Additionally, performing well in an internship or summer position, as well as getting good references from faculty members can also have a positive impact.
Look, law students have no control over what happens in the overall economy, so instead they should focus their energy into those things they can control: their studies.
AD: If you’re the parent of a son or daughter who’s considering law school, what advice would you give them?
RS: I would want them to give some serious thought about whether the law is truly a passion for them and not simply a career path because they don’t know what else to do after college. There is no doubt in my mind that a legal education is a wonderful opportunity. It is also very expensive and represents a big investment. That said, if you know you want to be a lawyer then going to law school is the only way you can achieve that goal.
I’d also want my child to fully understand what taking on those types of student loans really means and research all available outside scholarships in order to decrease their debt load. I would hope they would do all of this in order to get a clear picture of what their finances will look like once they graduate. So, let’s say, for example, that you want to go into public service when you graduate. You should do the research before even applying to law school about scholarships, loan repayment assistance programs, and things like that to make sure you consider every financing opportunity and to understand how you’ll repay your student loans after you graduate.
AD: Alright, let’s talk about the US News & World Report Rankings. UCLA Law is ranked pretty solidly in the Top 16, right?
RS: That’s right. In the most recent rankings released in March 2011, we were tied with Vanderbilt at 16. Last year, we were ranked 15th, and I think for two or three years we have been at that level.
AD: What are your thoughts about how much emphasis applicants should place on the US News Rankings?
RS: Well, like most things, that’s up to each individual. What I would say is that if you want to look at the rankings, then you should look at the methodology that US News uses to create them and then decide whether you agree with their methodology — if the things they measure are important to you.
Clearly, to some extent they are useful. They are useful as a guide, but it would be insane to pick one law school over another just because it’s a small number of spots above another law school. You need to still think a lot about what factors are important to you in choosing a school. Where do you want to work when you get out of law school? Where do you want to live while you are in law school? What sorts of programs might you be interested in that a particular school will have? What kind of financial aid are you getting? We could go on and on. So rankings are a guide, but recognize that it has its flaws as well. Sure, there are probably large differences between schools ranked at the very top of the list on the one hand and those schools ranked at the very bottom on the other hand. But as for small differences in the rankings between individual schools, they probably mean very little.
AD: I agree. If most applicants looked at the US News’ methodology and the data points it measures, they would likely conclude that much of what goes into them is not very relevant to them. One of the things that we at AdmissionsDean.com do is allow students to create their own rankings. Students can go in and choose from more than a dozen data points based on what’s important to them in choosing a law school. So, for instance, if a student wants to rank law schools on the West Coast based on the highest bar passage rates and the lowest class sizes, then they can rank those schools. There are literally hundreds of rankings students can create based on what criteria matter to them.
RS: That’s great. And how long has this feature been available?
AD: We started AdmissionsDean.com in November of 2009 so it’s just over a year.
RS: Okay. That sounds very helpful.
AD: Since you also mentioned outside scholarships before, it’s worth mentioning that another very popular feature of our site is our Law School Scholarship Finder, which presently has more than 400 outside scholarship opportunities valued at over $23 million. Students can use the Scholarship Finder to search for scholarships based on where they live, their substantive interests, the law school they’ll be attending, and their race/background/ethnicity. So it’s a pretty cool function that students seem to really like.
RS: I think I did see that functionality. It seems like a valuable resource for students investigating scholarship opportunities.
AD: Alright, so I am coming to UCLA Law. Where do I live? Venice Beach?
RS: [Laughing] You could — but you’d better get in shape! Seriously, though, students live throughout the West LA area. We have on-campus apartments. They are on the fringe of campus and last year we housed approximately 35-40% of our incoming class. Most students who really want to live there are able to do so, and I encourage anyone who is admitted to let me know right away so that we can get them on the list. We have also just completed a new housing complex very close to the law school and incoming students will be able to occupy this new facility beginning in the fall of 2011.
AD: And if you are willing to brave LA’s traffic, you can live anywhere, right?
RS: Yes. And, you know, many people can live so close. I live four or five miles from the law school. It takes me 15 minutes to commute to work every day. That’s the nice thing about our campus, you can live in a really nice neighborhood that won’t require a long commute during rush-hour traffic every morning. Our campus is in a suburban area of town.
AD: You know, I never been over to UCLA’s campus, but I have only heard fantastic things.
RS: You’ll have to come over! It’s really a nice place, a pleasant place to be.
AD: Alright. Let’s shift gears a little bit and talk about UCLA Law’s application for a bit. Talk to me about the addendum to your applications for criminal or probationary issues.
RS: Well, we ask a lot of questions on our application — probably more than is typical — where people have an opportunity to provide an explanation. In general, if you are talking about a criminal or academic probationary issue, we require an explanation.
RS: If you are talking about multiple LSAT scores, it’s an optional thing. But we do require applicants to submit an addendum for any criminal or academic probationary issues — and it’s very important that an applicant be open and honest about their past. In many instances, not being open and honest can lead to serious consequences down the line when you are applying for admission for the bar.
AD: That’s right. You have the character and fitness review before you’re admitted to the bar and if you didn’t disclose something you should have disclosed on your application it will definitely come up later on. The last thing you want to have happen is to have someone question whether you purposely concealed something when applying to law school.
RS: Exactly. So it’s really important to be completely honest. It will come out at some point and you’d hate to spend three years in law school, and incur thousands of dollars in debt getting your JD, only to find that you cannot get admitted to the bar for something that was probably not that big of a deal to begin with. In those circumstances, it’s the concealment, not the underlying infraction, which prevents the graduate from gaining admission to the bar.
AD: You mentioned multiple LSATs: when would you write up an addenda for them? More than two or three times? And how do you handle multiple scores — by averaging them or by taking the highest score?
RS: We do put a lot of emphasis on the higher score. The general policy is to consider the highest score, but we definitely take note of all scores. If there is a significant discrepancy between scores, I would advise an applicant to address it on their application. We want to be aware of any factors that adversely or positively impacted their performance on the LSAT. One of the questions on our application specifically asks that, so that would be the place where you can do that.
Look, my general advice about the LSAT is to be very prepared and plan to only take it once. But recognize that since we put a lot of weight on an applicant’s highest score, if you have a bad day or tough circumstances on the day of the test, then, sure, take it again.
AD: How do you view canceled scores?
RS: You know, we don’t have a set policy on canceled scores. I think once is probably fine. If it’s more than that, however, then you should really provide an explanation because the committee might have some concerns about what was going on.
AD: Got it. So let’s talk about your ideal student. Can you give us a quick profile of what you hope to see when you open up an applicant’s file?
RS: Well, I would say that there really is no ideal candidate. The purpose of UCLA Law is to train attorneys who are going to attain high levels of professional excellence, practice law with integrity and exercise civic responsibility. And so the ideal student would have the building blocks in place to achieve those goals. We are going to judge substantially on the traditional measures of academic ability–undergraduate grades and LSAT scores–there’s no question about that. But there are a number of other factors that we consider. We really try to find those attributes that will help us assemble as diverse class as possible.
So, for example, we place a special emphasis on socioeconomic disadvantage in our evaluation. We also consider work experience, career achievement, community or public service, career goals, significant hardships overcome, an applicant’s ability to contribute to one of our specific law school programs and concentrations. We also look for evidence of leadership, any unusual life experiences — basically any factor that indicates the applicant will significantly diversify the student body or otherwise make a distinctive contribution here at UCLA Law and later to the legal profession.
AD: Are those weighted as heavily as the LSAT or GPA?
RS: We really don’t have a formula but I would say that in some instances, yes, these qualities are weighted as heavily or more heavily. If we were just admitting everybody with the highest LSAT scores and GPAs then we could get rid of the admissions committee altogether and select the entire class by simply using a computer. In many cases, people are admitted to UCLA with solid (but certainly not the highest) academic credentials, precisely because of these other factors that I just mentioned.
AD: There has been some discussion that LSAT scores may not be required for admission to an ABA law school. Do you want to comment on that?
RS: I just found out about that recently. There have been no internal discussions here, and I have more questions about that than answers. My assumption is that schools will still continue to use the LSAT to a large degree, but getting rid of the LSAT requirement might result in some schools creating and using an alternative test. Or not. It’s not clear to me how all this would work. As far as I know, the Law School Admission Council has not yet spoken on this issue. It’s an American Bar Association panel that’s reviewing the rules. The article I read said that they are leaning toward recommending an end to the LSAT requirement, but I don’t know if that means that law schools will just do away with requiring the LSAT.
AD: Yeah. I understand that there are already some law schools out there that don’t require an LSAT score for applicants who have attended their undergraduate university. The University of Michigan, for example, received a special waiver from the ABA for its Wolverine Scholar admissions program.
RS: Right. I think that might be the type of special program where a school might decide not to require an applicant to submit an LSAT score. We’ll see.
AD: Let’s move on to the application review process at UCLA Law. First of all, did you read all 8,700 applications last year?
RS: Oh no! I do oversee the process and sign off on everything before a decision is finalized, but giving each application a thorough read is impossible.
AD: How big is your admissions staff at UCLA Law?
RS: Are you talking about file reviewers or the entire staff?
AD: Just file reviewers.
RS: Well we have, including myself, seven people who review files.
AD: And are they all part of the admissions committee?
RS: Yes, they are. As far as functions go, for some of the staff that’s all they do. But there are many others involved in the admissions process here. Faculty are involved. There is even some student involvement, too.
AD: How do you use students in the process?
RS: We select three students each year who help us review applications. They review a relatively small number because of their other responsibilities, but they are very helpful, especially in cases where the committee may be leaning one way or the other and they provide their input to help us reach a final decision.
AD: Got you. So the process is to have one of the seven reviewers in your office to review an application and make a recommendation either to admit or deny?
AD: And then is that the recommendation sticks or is there an actual committee that passes over that recommendation?
RS: There is a committee that will meet to discuss certain applications, but I would say that’s a very small number out of the total applicant pool. Every file is reviewed by at least two people before a final decision is reached.
AD: How does the faculty get involved? Are they called in on the special cases as well?
RS: Yes. Usually at our request, the faculty is involved but there are some exceptions. Faculty for example, are very involved in the review process for our Epstein Program in Public Interest Law and Policy and for some of the program-specific contributions that we think an applicant might be able to make to the law school. That’s where faculty can be really helpful.
AD: So how does the personal statement fit into your decision process?
RS: It’s one of my favorite parts of the application, because it gives us a chance to hear from the applicant — to hear whatever it is that they want us to know about them. I think an applicant should view a personal statement as an interview. If they were in our position as admissions officers, what would they want us to know? So, obviously, use common sense and submit something that is well written and interesting. Human nature stories can be intriguing but at the same time, applicants should be themselves. Sometimes people try to be a bit too creative.
AD: That dovetails nicely into my next question about the do’s and don’t’s of writing a personal statement. Can you give me an example of an applicant who displayed poor judgment on his or her personal statement?
RS: It’s such commonsense: proofread carefully and be sure to write “UCLA Law” rather than another law school’s name in the personal statement. It sounds silly, but you’d be surprised how many applicants each year don’t proofread and submit sloppy personal statements. In this day of spell-check software, a word may be spelled correctly but it’s not the right word so it’s really important to proofread it very, very carefully. Have others proofread it, too, but ultimately it’s your responsibility because it’s your personal statement.
The other thing I would say about UCLA Law is that we want to know about your ability to make a distinctive contribution here and about your interest in our particular law school. So if I were applying here, I would definitely try to address those things at some point.
AD: So, I take it, you do get your fair share of “… and this is why I want to go to USC School of Law?”
RS: [Laughing] Yes, we certainly do. And that is such a senseless error.
AD: Anything else an applicant should definitely try to do besides demonstrating the contribution they can make to UCLA Law?
RS: Be yourself. Don’t try to be something you are not. Don’t try to rack your brain thinking about something you are going to write about that’s going to be so special. Everybody is unique, so be yourself and if it’s a good fit it will work out. And if it’s not, you just have to accept that.
AD: How about letters of recommendation? How much weight do they carry for you?
RS: Well, again, it’s hard to quantify that, but they are very important. And, as with personal statements, we receive a significant number of letters every year that are not entirely positive and this is something that is so much in the applicants’ control. You have got to obtain a letter from somebody who knows you well and who has seen you demonstrate the skills that you are going to be using at UCLA Law. It really doesn’t matter who writes the letter — a professor or teaching assistant — as long as the writer knows you personally and can speak (hopefully positively) about your abilities. For example, I just read an application the other day where a recommender was a professor who talked about how this particular applicant spends a lot of time talking to other people in class during the lecture.
AD: Not exactly what you want to hear.
RS: Certainly not. The application process ended right there.
AD: Right. You want somebody who is contributing in class, but not someone who’s disruptive.
RS: Yes, exactly. Honestly, most letters are good and range in degree from “doing no harm” to “really excellent.” An applicant should strive for a letter that leans toward the “excellent” end of the scale, but in reality should hope for a personalized letter that gets across the basic points and casts the applicant in a positive light. If you can choose a recommender who can write a letter that goes on for a bit and really goes into detail about what an amazing individual you are, that can have a huge impact — especially in “borderline” cases.
AD: Who is making the determination on scholarships and financial aid?
RS: That’s ultimately my job as Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, working closely with our Director of Financial Aid.
AD: In terms of financial aid, is there anything that students should be doing before they know whether they are admitted to UCLA Law?
RS: You definitely don’t want to wait until you’re admitted to file your FAFSA and to file what we call the Need Access Application, which is what we use to consider you for institutional scholarships. The deadline for that is March 2nd, and it’s very important that people not wait on that.
AD: Got you. Anything else folks should be considering in terms of their debt load, personal finances, things that are going to make life easier when they start paying for law school.
RS: Well, certainly they should make sure that their credit is in good shape because bad credit is a problem if you’re trying to secure loans to pay for law school. Get a copy of your credit report and make sure there is nothing negative on there. If so, take steps to correct it now.
AD: Let’s talk a little bit about transferring to UCLA Law. How many transfer applications and transfer students do you take every year?
RS: Last year we had about 300 applications and 35 transfer students.Last year we had about 300 applications and 35 transfer students.
AD: Wow, really?
AD: Do you think the high number of applications is because UCLA Law is a state school and most of the people looking to transfer are in-state students?
RS: Not necessarily. We have more in-state transfer applicants than out-of-state, but not by a lot.
AD: That’s probably the highest number of transfer applicants at one school that I have heard from any of the admission deans I’ve interviewed. Now, to get roughly 10% of the 300 transfer applicants to enroll at UCLA Law, how many did you have to admit?
RS: Well, we admitted probably 70-75 to enroll 35. So, we admitted about 25% of the applicants who applied for a transfer spot.
AD: What are you looking for in your ideal transfer student?
RS: Well, strong academic performance during the first year at their law school is definitely one of the most important criteria. We are also going to consider the law school they went to, the recommendation letters from the faculty, and the reasons why they want to transfer. Those are also important factors.
AD: Are there good reasons and bad reasons when it comes to transferring?
RS: Hopefully somebody really has done their research and concluded that they really want to finish their legal career at UCLA Law, for whatever reason that might be. There could be a lot of good reasons, it really depends on the applicant seeking the transfer. One good reason is that some personal circumstance may require you to be in Los Angeles. Sometimes there is a particular program UCLA Law has that’s enticing to them. So, hopefully, they have given some thought to it and that transferring would really matter to them. We only want to admit people who really want to be here. Our transfer students are wonderful. They are so happy to be here, so involved in the community and, generally very, very successful.
AD: They are successful once they start at UCLA Law?
RS: Yes. A couple years ago, the Editor-in-Chief of the UCLA Law Review was a transfer student.
AD: Wow! So you leave spots open for them on the UCLA Law Review as well?
AD: Is there a write-on competition for the UCLA Law Review?
RS: Yes, and there’s a special write-on competition for transfer students that’s held during the fall.
AD: When should a transfer applicant apply?
RS: Our transfer application is available online between May 1st and July 5th.
AD: And then the decision comes sometime thereafter?
RS: Yes. It’s really more a function of when their file is complete and when their law school gets their grades into us. Once we have that information, we get a decision out pretty quickly.
AD: Is there a particular set of law schools that are feeder schools for transfer students to UCLA Law?
RS: No, there are so many. We probably enroll transfer students from 25 different law schools.
RS: Last year, there were definitely lots from California law schools but also from law schools located all over the country. It just depends on the year and on people’s personal circumstances. We try to take people from a variety of law schools — we definitely are not looking to fill our transfer class from just 1 or 2 or 3 law schools.
AD: Dean Schwartz, I think I have got it all. Thank you so much for all your time. I’ll let you get back to reviewing applications!
RS: Perfect. Thanks, Don. I really enjoyed our time together.