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Northwestern Law Introduces Deferred Conditional Acceptances:
Paul Caron has the scoop. Apparently, Northwestern is issuing about 15-25 of these letters every year: The letters tell 1L applicants that they have been turned down for 1L admission but that they will be admitted as transfers if they can achieve a particular GPA or class rank at another school. The goal being, presumably, to get students who they want but who have low numbers that might hurt the school's US News ranking if they enrolled as 1Ls.
Steve:
I understand why the lower-tier law schools are irked, but realistically, it's not as though no one would ever think of transferring but for this relatively small-scale practice. It's not nearly as aggressive as if, say, the top schools obtained lists of all the high achievers at the second-tier schools and sent them recruiting letters, and surely a school is well within its rights to let an applicant know that they just barely missed the cut. It seems to me that what the lower-tier schools are complaining about is simply that top schools admit transfers at all.
12.29.2008 3:31pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Two of my high school classmates were accepted to Cornell as undergrads under similar terms, though one only had to complete a single semester elsewhere (he went to a local community college) and the other had to complete a full year. They both performed well at the other schools and were admitted as transfers.

Until now, I had never heard of any other school -- undergrad, graduate or professional -- admitting students this way.
12.29.2008 3:44pm
SassyHats:
Is there any limit to how poor a school you can attend for your 1L year? I'm sure I could have been top of the class at Oklahoma City Law School, but it's also somewhere around the bottom of the rankings. Would that matter to Northwestern? Should they include a provision requiring that you attend a Tier-1 or Tier-2 school and not a T-3 or T-4?
12.29.2008 3:45pm
Steve:
I'm sure I could have been top of the class at Oklahoma City Law School, but it's also somewhere around the bottom of the rankings.

In my experience as a hiring partner, the top couple of people at even the most mediocre law school are still worth hiring, so if you really could run the table at OKCLS then Northwestern probably isn't making that bad a bet. I guess I wonder, as an empirical matter, how many applicants would actually make the strategic decision you suggest.
12.29.2008 3:53pm
geoff manne (mail):
I received a similar offer from Yale when I applied to law school—15 years ago.
12.29.2008 3:57pm
Dave N (mail):
Transferring undergraduate makes sense. Barack Obama's college degree says "Columbia University" not "Columbia University by way of Occidental College." And being a Columbia graduate probably was more impressive for the Harvard Admissions Committee than a degree from Occidental would have been.

But I have never quite seen the utility of transfering law schools--unless one has an overriding ambition to work for BigLaw. At least in my professional circle, our respective law schools are seldom mentioned and I am not particularly impressed by the one or two attorneys I know who went to "prestigious" schools.
12.29.2008 4:02pm
jab:
I had a friend who was admitted to Harvard undergrad back in 1988 under similar terms... actually, he didn't have to even attend another school to transfer... he was just asked to work/volunteer for a year and enter the following year (1989) as a freshman.
12.29.2008 4:04pm
Cornellian (mail):

But I have never quite seen the utility of transfering law schools--unless one has an overriding ambition to work for BigLaw.


At my law school, so far as I could tell, the large majority of the class aspired to work for BigLaw. They didn't have any illusions about what that was like, or the long term prospects, but for people with big student loans, BigLaw money is very good for the few years you can stand to do it.
12.29.2008 4:18pm
loki13 (mail):

Is there any limit to how poor a school you can attend for your 1L year? I'm sure I could have been top of the class at Oklahoma City Law School, but it's also somewhere around the bottom of the rankings. Would that matter to Northwestern? Should they include a provision requiring that you attend a Tier-1 or Tier-2 school and not a T-3 or T-4?


This would be an example of a bad bet. Assuming that the student body (as a whole) is of a lower caliber --whatever that means-- at a T3/4 school than, say a T1 or 2, it does not follow that the top students at a T3/4 or of a lower caliber. If the top 5% of the students are of an incredibly high caliber, and chose to go there not for the prestige but for other reasons (location, scholarships etc.), then you could end up competing against high-caliber students who are the better than the median of the T1 schools, not getting your desired spot, and graduating with a worse degree than if you had chosen the T2 school to begin with.

My limited experience is that can be true. It is said that the most vicious competition occurs at the lowest ranked schools- it's wisest not to get stuck in that.
12.29.2008 4:24pm
chi-town law student (mail):
Northwestern has approached legacy and other special interest admission candidates in this vein for quite some time (at least under Dean Van Zandt). It was not uncommon for their admissions office and alumni relations and development office to make conditional offers while working with alumni and other donors who might want to get one of their kids or family friends admitted. While this is a practice that is likely common to some extent at most schools, has Northwestern made a shift to making these offers to all admission candidates who might not meet Northwestern's high admission requirements? If so, it would be a welcome development because such an approach would diminish, while still maintaining some, legacy and special interest influence in the admission process. This would likely benefit those candidates from lower socio-economic backgrounds.
12.29.2008 4:48pm
BRS (mail):
Is there any limit to how poor a school you can attend for your 1L year? I'm sure I could have been top of the class at Oklahoma City Law School, but it's also somewhere around the bottom of the rankings. Would that matter to Northwestern? Should they include a provision requiring that you attend a Tier-1 or Tier-2 school and not a T-3 or T-4?

Northwestern probably assumes (and I think it is a safe bet) that the people who are in the range to get this offer will get into a lower T1 or T2 school, and start off there. I doubt that many people who almost get into Northwestern even apply to T-4 schools. Even if you did have a person who applied to both Northwestern and Oklahoma City, that person probably also applied to OU, SMU, Baylor, KU, etc., and got into one of those schools. Any reasonable person who received this offer would go to a T-1 or T-2 school over a T-4 school, just in case they have a bad day on the Contracts final and don't make the top 10%.
12.29.2008 5:03pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
<i>And being a Columbia graduate probably was more impressive for the Harvard Admissions Committee than a degree from Occidental would have been. </i>

A little. But Occidental's a very, very good school, and I am sure sends a fair number of people to Ivy League grad schools.
12.29.2008 5:50pm
Colorado Libertarian (mail):
"The goal being, presumably, to get students who they want but who have low numbers that might hurt the school's US News ranking if they enrolled as 1Ls."

That's a big presumption, or assumption. Law schools want students who work out. If you are marginal for admission to NU Law based on LSAT and GPA, wouldn't it be helpful to have data from first year someplace else? The more data points, the better. The other fact is that there are a lot of law schools in Chicago below NU (Loyala, Kent, etc). So it makes sense for NU Law to do this where someone is already located in the area.
12.29.2008 6:00pm
Lior:
Colorado Libertarian has it right: admission is an inexact attempt at measurement, and it should be expected that some students who are not admitted are, in fact, good enough to be admitted. Offering these students another chance to prove themselves is a great idea.
12.29.2008 6:13pm
Hoosier:
Why doesn't NU just let deferred admits take their three years at another school? Then have them get a job? If the new JDs get jobs with—say—Jones Day or Sidley Austin, then they retroactively grant them an NU JD, and claim them as placements.

See, you don't have any of that trouble with their lower LSATs, your larger average class size, and all that mess. Another brilliant idea from the heart of Indiana. And they can have it for free!
12.29.2008 6:20pm
Hoosier:
Colorado Libertarian :
"The goal being, presumably, to get students who they want but who have low numbers that might hurt the school's US News ranking if they enrolled as 1Ls."

That's a big presumption, or assumption.


I just see it differently. When I read the first sentences of the post, this is what jumped into my mind as the "obvious" reason. Working at a research U. for the last dozen years, I can promise you that the admin doesn't miss any opportunity to game the USNWR rankings.

Keep in mind the attempt at average SAT manipulation at Baylor. It may be in Texas, but it's the tip of the iceberg.
12.29.2008 6:24pm
AWCWannabe:

At least in my professional circle, our respective law schools are seldom mentioned and I am not particularly impressed by the one or two attorneys I know who went to "prestigious" schools.


The operative phrase is highlighted. In other professional circles, law schools aren't mentioned, though people know if you didn't go to a "prestigious" school, and think less of you because of it, even if only subconsciously. In addition, the connections that you make at Harvard and the like are measurably different from lower ranked schools. For instance, members of a certain HLS class now have a classmate who is the President Elect. Other members of that class are also very impressive. The same isn't true of that year's Cooley grads (assuming Cooley was around then).
12.29.2008 6:34pm
Carolina:
The question is, should a student who is in the top 1-2% of the class at a respectable but midrange law school transfer?

Northwestern seems to think it's obvious they should, but is it really wise to give up a top class rank and professors who will write great letters and work their contacts for you to be a face in the crowd at a better school?
12.29.2008 6:39pm
Houston Lawyer:
I question the entire premise that law school administrators don't have enough information on a student to know whether he will perform. One semester's grades from some random law school won't tell you nearly as much as four years of undergraduate grades plus the LSAT.
12.29.2008 6:42pm
Carolina:
Oh, I neglected to mention one thing: the article doesn't say, but I'd bet dollars to donuts those 15 or 20 applicants who get that letter are people with very high LSAT scores and very low GPAs.

The rational conclusion is that such applicants are smart but lazy or smart but spent their undergrad years partying. The question is whether they will buckle down as law students or continue their undergraduate pattern. Accepting them as 2Ls allows Northwestern and other schools to foist the risk off on lesser-ranked schools.
12.29.2008 6:43pm
OrinKerr:
Colorado Libertarian writes:

That's a big presumption, or assumption. Law schools want students who work out. If you are marginal for admission to NU Law based on LSAT and GPA, wouldn't it be helpful to have data from first year someplace else? The more data points, the better. The other fact is that there are a lot of law schools in Chicago below NU (Loyala, Kent, etc). So it makes sense for NU Law to do this where someone is already located in the area.
Two responses. First, no one fails law school anymore. *Everyone* works out unless they decide they want to leave.

Second, presuming that a law school is enacting a new admissions approach to help its US News ranking is a bit like presuming that 17 year old boys are interested in sex. You can come up with all the logical reasons you want that they're not. But if you have some familiarity with them, you know without doubt that they are.
12.29.2008 6:46pm
WASP:
Sounds brilliant to me.
12.29.2008 7:37pm
Paul McKaskle (mail):
Despite what one post says, LSAT and ugpa are not very good indicators of how a specific individual will do (except, perhaps, at the extremes). A majority of applicants with high LSATs will do from OK to well at whatever law school they attend and a few will do poorly. A group with so so LSATs will have some individuals who do well and a much larger number who do not. Even a group with low LSATs will have a handful who do well and probably a larger number who flunk out. So, LSATs are useful to a law school in selecting as many students as possible who will succeed in law school--knowing that some will not. Thus, even though LSAT doesn't say much about a specific student, it is very useful for selecting a strong "group" of students.

A tier one school will almost invariably select the highest LSAT students available (unless there are other adverse factors which can be detected) and so most of its students will do well in an absolute sense (though by necessity, half will be in the lower half of the school's class). But even though tier two or even tier four schools have fewer students with high LSATs, some of their students will do better than the LSAT predicts and if they transfer to a tier one school, they continue to do very well. As a (now retired) teacher at a school which wobbles between tier two and three (depending on the whim of USNews--though the school is well up into the second tier on LSAT scores) I have had many students over the years who were at the top of the first year class and transferred to tier one schools--Boalt, Stanford and Yale among others--and almost always they continue getting top grades (and getting hired by top firms, two of my most recent "tranferees" were hired by Skadden, Arps). I know of another transferee from a tier four school (Golden Gate) who, if Boalt had had class ranking, would have been first in the class! Doing well in the first year of any accredited law school is a much, much, better predictor of success in law school than LSAT or ugpa are. I don't mean to suggest that all lower tier students are as good as tier one students--there are a lot more "losers" at lower tier schools which is to be expected because the student body as a whole has lower LSATs. But, NUs plan for deferred admission is very sound (though I think slightly morally questionable) from a results standpoint.

I question, however, that the plan is a very rational response to the "USNews problem." Any tier one school which wants to bolster the size of the second year class by taking transfers (thus allowing the first year class to be smaller and more "competitive") would do better by admitting transfer students from any accredited school who do extremely well in the first year regardless of LSAT or ugpa.
12.29.2008 8:21pm
Hadur:

I question the entire premise that law school administrators don't have enough information on a student to know whether he will perform. One semester's grades from some random law school won't tell you nearly as much as four years of undergraduate grades plus the LSAT.


I completely disagree. Law school tests a completely different set of skills than college or the LSAT. You can get a high UGPA or LSAT just by being brilliant, but that alone won't cut it in law school.

(And, as somebody who had stellar undergrad grades and a 99th percentile LSAT, but got mediocre grades in law school, I can attest to this personally)
12.29.2008 8:45pm
TerrencePhilip:
The question is, should a student who is in the top 1-2% of the class at a respectable but midrange law school transfer?

Northwestern seems to think it's obvious they should, but is it really wise to give up a top class rank and professors who will write great letters and work their contacts for you to be a face in the crowd at a better school?


Carolina,

that answer is different for everyone, and it depends on what the student wants. If they want to work in Biglaw, academia, or to get a desirable clerkship (assuming it's not locked up after the first year), the answer is a resounding yes. If they are happy in the city or state where their current school is and want to work there after graduation, then no. A connection with a professor could be helpful in getting your first job after graduation, but probably not 5 years after that; whereas your school of degree is a credential that follows you forever, including when you're up for partner somewhere maybe 10 years after law school: Your professor won't be calling the partnership committee to sell them on how good you were in class discussions 13 years ago.

For the student who didn't get in to a top school as a 1L, but blows the doors off the competition in first-year grades at a midrange, transferring is a fantastic second chance at working for the top tier of law firms. There are social disadvantages to being "that guy" who transferred, but who the hell will remember that in 15 years? It's also a little harder to get on with the good firms doing on-campus interviews vs. the people who came to your transferee school as 1Ls; however, keep making good grades and you'll get a good job offer.

And few people stay at their first job forever, so in 3 to 5 years when you're on the lateral market it won't hold you back at all- the prestige of the degree matters a lot more. If you're applying for jobs, "X school from top 10" looks a whole lot better than "Y school from top 50."
12.29.2008 8:51pm
Edward A. Hoffman (mail):
Caroline wrote:
I'd bet dollars to donuts those 15 or 20 applicants who get that letter are people with very high LSAT scores and very low GPAs.
I'd take that bet. Northwestern gets a huge number of applicants, so there are plenty with very high LSAT scores and GPAs just below those of the applicants who get in (and vice versa). Those are the people who barely miss the cut, so they're the ones most likely to be offered deferred admissions.

I should add one advantage this program offers Northwestern compared to traditional transfer admissions. When the school receives transfer applications from these students will know that they are particularly interested in Northwestern and thus more likely than most to accept an offer of admission. The students, meanwhile, will know ahead of time that they will get in and thus will have less reason to try transferring elsewhere. Admissions officers hate having to guess how many of their admitted students will show up in the fall (admit too many and the school will be overburdened; admit too few and either there will be vacancies in the class or you will have to admit some second-choice students off the wait list), and this estimate must be even harder for transfer applicants than for traditional applicants. Removing uncertainty helps both the school and the students.
12.29.2008 9:51pm
Eli Rabett (www):
I think the issue is more how many leave Northwestern after a year. They are probably just trying to refill the class
12.29.2008 11:09pm
theobromophile (www):
This has long been the unofficial practise at many law schools. A few of my waitlist-turned-rejection letters asked me to apply as a transfer.

As a former engineer, this makes a lot of sense to me. Many talented, hard-working engineers and science majors had GPAs that would make their liberal arts counterparts hang their heads in shame, but US News doesn't account for that. More importantly, there is a huge diversity of backgrounds of potential law students that is simply not seen on the undergraduate level, including rigour of curriculum, quality of school, work experience, advanced degrees, and age.

US News aside, it's a move that makes sense. After all, it's not like many (or any, really) applicants have actually taken law courses that are taught with the rigour of law school courses. Why play guessing games?
12.30.2008 12:57am
theobromophile (www):
Ack - I should add: yes, law schools can compare 21-year-old poli sci majors to each other pretty easily, but many promising applicants don't fit that mold. The aforementioned "guessing game" is in predicting how non-traditional applicants will do (either as individuals or as a group) when there is much less information to go on, and no good means of cross-comparison.
12.30.2008 1:01am
David Schwartz (mail):
This is a good example of the law of unintended consequences. If you measure performance by a metric, and make that metric very important, you better make damn sure you pick exactly the right metric. Otherwise, practices that increase the metric but decrease performance will be strongly encouraged.

My favorite example of this is a nuclear reactor that hinged maintenance bonuses on staying within budget each quarter. There were a variety of horrible ways this system was gamed, but the most glaring was this:

Suppose a pump didn't need to be maintained for two months, but this quarter was about to end and you had already missed your budget for this quarter. You will maintain the pump now, causing the next maintenance to be two months earlier than it should be. Similarly, if you were in budget for a quarter, you can bet very little maintenance would be done in the last few weeks if it could possibly be put off.
12.30.2008 3:46am
Carolina:

I'd take that bet. Northwestern gets a huge number of applicants, so there are plenty with very high LSAT scores and GPAs just below those of the applicants who get in (and vice versa). Those are the people who barely miss the cut, so they're the ones most likely to be offered deferred admissions.


You could be right, but I'm talking about people with LSATS above most of NW's class, but with low GPAs. According to NW's website, their 75th percentile LSAT is 172. Those with 175-180 LSATs will be at the very top of the LSAT distribution for the NW class. I still maintain that the great majority of the 15-20 conditional admits will have LSATs in this range coupled with low GPAs.

I don't have the book anymore, but back when I was applying to law school in the late 90s, the ABA put out a book with admission grids for each school. You could see, for example, how many people with 175+ LSATs and GPAa less than 2.75 applied and how many got in. The top schools all had a few handfuls of people like this not admitted.
12.30.2008 2:12pm
WASP:
"But, NUs plan for deferred admission is very sound (though I think slightly morally questionable) from a results standpoint."

I am curious, what is the moral question?
12.31.2008 10:42am
Sarah565 (mail):
Ok, so here is a question: What happens to students with very high GPA's (3.88) from great undergraduate schools (UCB) and very low LSAT's (141)? Can they earn a conditional acceptance, in your opinion, if they had an amazing background and work history? Or are these people good Golden Gate subjects who have to stick it out hoping to transfer to a law school with better job prospects (Boalt)? Just to clarify, these are students who are horrible at the LSAT and realize it after two years of studying where it would not help them to re-take it. All comments are welcomed. Thank you.
1.8.2009 3:42am

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