How Law School Applicants Can Prevent Self-Sabotage

Everyone hates the feeling of being judged. Law school admissions officers go out of their way to frame the admissions process as just getting to know candidates and finding the ones who best fit their school. Ultimately, however, admissions decisions will leave some applicants excited or relieved and others disappointed or regretful.

This uncertainty makes applying to law school psychologically stressful. Just as many LSAT test-takers experience test anxiety as their nervous system reacts to the intense pressure of a fast-paced, high-stakes exam, law school applicants will often feel tense and unsure of themselves.

There is no way to avoid these negative reactions as you put your heart and soul into applications and then wait months for decisions that may change the course of your life. And if you think that stress is unbearable, just wait until you are a lawyer dealing with clients with a whole lot more to lose. Talk about being judged!

[READ: The Cardinal Sins of Law School Applications.]

As law school applicants manage these pressures, they must be mindful not to shoot themselves in the foot. Without question, they must avoid major mistakes that come across as careless or overdefensive — like typos, wordiness or making excuses. Moreover, they must be careful to avoid nervous tics that come across poorly. Here are four common examples:

— Negativity

— Oversharing

— Unprofessionalism

— Redundancy


Many law students have a story about a time they felt like a fool in class, only to later learn that their classmates were too preoccupied to notice. No one is as focused on your faults as you fear.

If you have a weak spot on your application, like a low GPA or lack of work experience, try to compensate for it by showing similar skills in other areas. Perhaps your grades were poor, but you have a letter of recommendation affirming your research and writing skills. Or perhaps you never had a job, but your resume lists a wealth of activities and volunteer responsibilities.

[How to Get a Compelling Letter of Recommendation for Law School.]

Resist the urge to overexplain your faults. The more you draw attention to them, the more they will overshadow your strengths. Even worse, you may seem like a perfectionist too fragile to handle feeling like a fool in a law school classroom.


Discretion is a critical legal skill. A good lawyer won’t heedlessly spill a client’s secrets in court or enter a negotiation by admitting the minimum a client will accept.

Likewise, being truthful on your application does not mean getting everything off your chest. If you are explaining a semester of bad grades in college, don’t talk about how much you partied or blew off school. If you had a bad LSAT score, don’t talk about how distracted you were by a dramatic break-up. If your path to law school was circuitous, don’t dwell on other roads not taken or make it sound like you settled for law.

In a law school application, you are advocating for your admission, not defending your whole life. Your task is to speak truthfully about your candidacy. If personal issues got in the way, talk about how you managed them, not their messy details. It is good to include an addendum if you had a disciplinary issue or want to provide context for your transcript or LSAT scores, but keep it brief, forthright and germane.


Law is an exacting and detail-oriented profession. A failure to follow the rules of the application process is an unmissable red flag. Pay close attention to deadlines, word limits, formatting instructions and guidance about letters of recommendation and addenda.

[Read: Do’s, Don’ts of Writing a Law School Application Addendum.]

If you made a mistake on your application, address it simply and promptly. In all communications with the admissions office, be brief, respectful and undemanding. Asking questions already answered online, frequent emails or calls, or overly casual and long-winded queries give the impression of immaturity.


Imagine telling a judge in court that you plan to call 50 character witnesses for your client. Will that look good, or wasteful of others’ time?

Likewise, resist the urge to take up all the space you can on your law school application. Before answering optional essay prompts, or tacking on extra pages to your resume, ask yourself whether you are adding anything new to your application.

The worst example of this self-sabotage is writing a lengthy, unnecessary diversity statement. Almost every applicant feels diverse in some way and has gone through tough and alienating experiences. Not every applicant should write a diversity statement about it. If you find yourself embellishing your family or personal history and trying to make yourself sound “more interesting,” your essay may appear trivial and backfire.

Ultimately, the admissions office will see only what you submit. Your early drafts of your admissions materials may misfire in one of the above ways, but through careful edits and reviews by trusted advisors or experts, ensure your final submission shows you at your best.

More from U.S. News

Law School Admissions Process: A Month-By-Month Guide

How Extracurricular Activities Affect Law School Admissions

How to Explain an Unconventional Background When Applying to Law School

How Law School Applicants Can Prevent Self-Sabotage originally appeared on

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