Hello from Austin Hall! As you may have seen in my last post, I recently joined the HLS J.D. Admissions team as the Assistant Dean and Chief Admissions Officer. This summer, look out for a series of posts introducing our team members to you. Enjoy getting to know them alongside me – you might pick up a few tips along the way. – Kristi
KJ: You’re the Associate Director of Admissions. What does that mean? How is your role in the office unique?
OS: I help ensure that each application is processed and reviewed properly, and that each applicant finds out our decision in a timely matter. We receive applications not only from ACES2, but also updated app materials sent to our office by email or snail mail or your status checker. We actually prefer that applicants use the status checker, since it’s easier for everyone involved and means that your application is updated right away.
I also read and review applications, interview about 300 students each year, sit on the committee, and help admitted students through the decision process. That is my favorite part of my job – it is easy to be convinced by the brand name, but this place means a lot more than the perceived prestige factor. It’s a commitment to three years of your life here, and beyond – a commitment to humility, service, and responsibility. It’s a big step, and I enjoy discussing that with admitted students.
KJ: How many applications did you read or review last year?
OS: That’s hard to measure! I’d estimate that I directly read or reviewed about 1500 applications at some stage in the process.
KJ: You mentioned that you sit on the committee that makes a decision on every application. Can you describe that committee experience?
OS: It’s fun! It’s about advocating for students you have interviewed, and teasing out ideas that may be implicitly mentioned in a personal statement or letter of recommendation but not always clearly articulated. We imagine how each person may contribute to HLS community and the world in general.
KJ: What jumps out at you when you read a personal statement or optional statement, either in a positive or negative way?
OS: The most compelling thing for me is when people articulate why them, why HLS, why now. I look for character. I do not like when applicant assumes they are a shoo-in.
Some general advice: We all have stories, and it is much easier for our committee to understand your story when you are giving us some hints beyond your resume. We can make connections, but it may not be the connections you really want us to make. I want to know who you’re going to be, not just what you will do.
KJ: You also interview applicants. What should applicants know before they interview with you?
OS: I enjoy this work, and I want your interview to be a good experience for you, too. It is fine to show excitement. You don’t need to worry about our interview being a serious, heavy, weighty conversation. It can be something that is more personal and dynamic.
KJ: We always save time at the end of our interviews for questions from the applicant. What is the most interesting question an applicant has asked you?
OS: Sometimes I ask applicants, if you were a fly on the wall, what would you hear from the committee about the pros and cons in your application? One applicant answered that question and then asked, so what are my pros and cons?
KJ: Our team travels across the country during the fall. Where did you travel last year? Any interesting anecdotes or experiences to share?
OS: New York and Kansas City. This year, I’m heading to the Midwest and East Asia.
For me, the highlight of last year was the LatinoJustice PRLDEF Law Day. It was so exciting to see so many people really considering law as a way to make sense of their own lives and to help others in the process. People were very passionate at that event.
KJ: You used to work in admissions at Harvard Divinity School. How does admissions at a law school compare to a divinity school?
OS: Very similar applicants, different tool kits they want to use to arrive at a similar end: creating a more just and merciful world.
KJ: You also attended divinity school. How does your educational background inform your perspective on HLS applicants?
OS: It’s fascinating to see the multiple pathways that people can take to achieve similar feats. Our applicants often discuss political, economic, and social justice, and that is something I care about deeply and personally. It’s exciting to see so many people tackling this work from multiple perspectives. We need both leaders and followers, and this field lends itself to being both at different times. There’s a spirit of stewardship and service inherent in both HLS and HDS.
KJ: You have worked in a variety of positions at Harvard. What do you like about the university?
OS: You are part of something bigger than yourself. You are informed and inspired by the many ghosts that have come through here, and it is humbling to do something worthwhile that you know extends beyond your own lifetime. It’s a centuries-old tradition. I am inheriting it, and passing it on.