With the fall season upon us, the J.D. Admissions office is hard at work reading files for the 2021–2022 application cycle. We’re sure many of you are similarly beginning to prepare your materials and get organized as well. To that end, the J.D. Admissions team recently came together to offer their thoughts on some underrated and overrated approaches that applicants might take towards their HLS application. We hope you’ll find some of these nuggets useful. This week, we shift our focus to highlight some of the overrated approaches that we recommend applicants avoid as they craft their applications. 

Assistant Director Sam Parker

Overrated: Referencing high school
“Your high school accomplishments factored into your undergraduate admissions decisions, but they won’t factor into your law school admissions decisions. Please do not include your high school or high school activities on your resume or in your personal statement. We want to see what you’ve been up to since college, so be sure to include activities and accomplishments from undergrad on your resume and/or in your personal statement.”

Assistant Director Courtney McMann

Overrated: Overly personal Personal Statements
“Every student comes to law school with a story. We aim to know about the person behind the application through the personal statement, but you should never feel obligated to share difficult parts of your past in order to add a sense of “weight” to your app. If the material is very personal to you and tough to discuss, think about how you can write about it in a nuanced way, without letting it overtake your application.”

Admissions Officer Monique Atkinson

Overrated: Including photos
“Photos – of you, your dog, or even your accolades – do not strengthen your application. We’re very interested in the content you share and who you are – from your hobbies to your recognitions and the experiences that brought you to apply to law school. What’s more, we’ll take your word for it, whether you share that in your statements, your resume, or even an addendum. A photo will only take up valuable space that could be used to elaborate on your story. Our suggestion? Delete it.”

Overrated: Recommendation letters from friends and family
“When a letter from outside the broad categories of a professional or academic reference – for example, a family connection, your middle school soccer coach, your aunt’s best friend (who happens to be a judge) – the usefulness of the information decreases. While these folks may have some insight into who you are as a person, they don’t have relevant insight into your academic ability, your classroom engagement, or even your professional skillsets. Even when they do, we anticipate that personal connections present candidates a bit differently than, say, a former employer, teacher, or research supervisor. Stick to professional and academic letters of recommendation. If you’re not sure whether a recommender fits the categories, there’s a fair likelihood that they don’t.”

Filed in: Inside the Black Box

Contact the J.D. Admissions Office

Website: hls.harvard.edu/jdadmissions

Email: jdadmiss@law.harvard.edu