‘Typical Law School Applicant’ Is a Myth

Lawyers tend to err on the side of caution, and the legal profession is notoriously resistant to change. Perhaps that’s one reason why many people have a strong mental image of a “typical lawyer” — a pale older man with a briefcase and a suit who looks like he hatched out of a dinosaur egg.

When many aspiring lawyers picture a “typical law school applicant,” they imagine a younger version of the same guy — perhaps his son — who always knew he’d be a lawyer, worked at a law firm every summer and relaxes by reading tax law rulings and coaching mock trial tournaments.

The persistence of such stereotypes leads many law school applicants to believe that that their personal, academic or professional background makes them an outlier. Not only are such beliefs discouraging, but they also cause applicants to portray themselves in ways that sound overly defensive, insecure or even self-absorbed.

The Facts About Diversity in Law School

While there are reasonable disagreements about how to make legal education fairer and more inclusive, law schools are hardly stuck in the 1950s. Law students are more varied and diverse than generally assumed.

[Read: Advice for Aspiring Lawyers About Diversity in Law School.]

For example, women have outnumbered men among incoming law students since 2016. They constituted 57.4% of incoming students in 2021, according to data collected by the American Bar Association and Law School Admission Council. The same data showed that 34.7% of incoming law students in 2021 self-reported as students of color, including 10% Black and African American and 12.3% Hispanic and Latinx.

In recent years, admissions offices have become increasingly sensitive to the challenges faced by underrepresented applicants and first-generation applicants, and new opportunities have arisen to support them.

Unusual Applicants Are Appreciated

Gender, race and ethnicity are not the only lenses to view diversity. Applicants may feel like outliers because of the path they took to law school.

Whether you are an older applicant, veteran, athlete or performing artist, it’s safe to assume that admissions officers have read more similar applications than you may imagine.

[Read: Advice for Veterans Applying to Law School]

It is true that the most popular majors among law applicants are social sciences and humanities. A 2014 study found that the most popular major among 2013 applicants was political science, whose majors made up 21.3% of all applicants, followed by English at 6.1%, psychology at 5.7% and history at 5.5%.

However, this is likely due more to applicant self-selection than the preferences of admissions officers. After all, the same study found that classics majors had the highest grade point averages and LSAT scores, while other top-performing majors included mathematics, philosophy, economics and art history. Law schools appreciate applicants with backgrounds in science and technology or other analytical fields.

[READ: What Underrepresented Law School Applicants Should Know.]

Even applicants with unusual backgrounds in the arts or skilled trades can win over law school admissions officers by showing how their former careers set them up for success in the legal field.

Don’t Overexplain Yourself

Too many applicants waste ink in their personal statements and optional essays overexplaining common issues, like switching majors, feeling lost or alienated as an adolescent, grappling with their identity and beliefs, or taking years to settle on a legal career path. They become so focused on how they break the mold that they fail to consider that law schools are not looking for prefabricated lawyers.

Rather than justifying the path you’ve taken, or distinguishing yourself from other applicants, show what you bring to the table. Law schools may not be seeking “typical” applicants, but they are looking to build a balanced class composed of students who differ widely but share qualities that will help them succeed.

More from U.S. News

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‘Typical Law School Applicant’ Is a Myth originally appeared on usnews.com

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