Our final entry in the “Real Talk” series covers on the holistic admissions process at HLS.

Is there a phrase more often used by admissions professionals than “holistic review?” We haven’t crunched the numbers, but we suspect it’s a term that many applicants have heard before. So what do we mean by this oft-used phrase? Well, at least here in the HLS J.D. Admissions Office, “holistic review” characterizes our approach to assessing your application. We take every piece of your file into account when making our evaluations, and we consider each element within the larger context of the whole application.

Every file, from front to back, is given a thorough read by multiple members of the Admissions Committee. When reviewing your application, there are a few considerations that guide our review. We look to gain insight into your level of preparation for rigorous graduate level study, and to learn about your professional trajectory and accomplishments. We are also keen to better understand what you might bring to the HLS community. To gather this information, we look within and across the various application components.

For example, you might believe that test scores and your undergraduate GPA determine the fate of your application. But building a class is much more complex (and more fulfilling!) than simply weighing GPAs and test scores. We look at the rigor of your curriculum, and how your GPA developed over time. We consider what your reference writers say about you, and we look to aspects of your professional profile that may speak to your academic ability and preparedness for law school. A thorough reading of each piece of your application is the only way to get the full context.

Perhaps you were working while getting your degree or had family obligations. Maybe you struggled in some of your classes early on but really hit your stride after a few semesters. Or a professor speaks directly to the quality of the work or research you did. These are things we really do consider when making our evaluations, and they often elevate what may be considered, on surface level, a “softer” profile. We also see many applications that are the inverse of this example – an applicant with strong academic potential given their academic record and testing may not advance in the application process if there is a lack of maturity or readiness for law school demonstrated through other application components. So when we say there are no GPA or test score cut-offs, we really do mean it – everything is viewed in context.

Filed in: Inside the Black Box

Contact the J.D. Admissions Office

Website: hls.harvard.edu/jdadmissions

Email: jdadmiss@law.harvard.edu