You need more than good grades..
The law school application process, involved and confusing, has been described by prospective students as 0L, the unofficial first year of law school. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: there are no ‘bad’ law schools in Canada. Unlike the rigid hierarchy among American schools, Canada’s 13 schools offer a wide array of choice, each boasts unique strengths. It is not uncommon for a student to turn down a more widely known and higher ranked school in favor of less reputed school. The selection process involves a plethora of factors: location, academic interests, faculty quality, OCI and articling placements, costs, and quality of life. The ideal law school may not always be initially apparent; in fact, many students find that after substantial research their initial list of top picks changes dramatically.
"Oh, I have a 4.0..."
Come Fall, we offer our extertise in assisting you with your applications as well, charged at the same rate as lessons.
This includes sharing what law schools look for, tips on how to make your application stand out, and proofreading of application letters. You'll gather some of this through informal chatting with your tutor during your lessons, but we're there to help with the the more formal elements of the application --
Nick has seen dozens of his students placed across the country, and he himself was accepted at six of seven schools he applied to. While each school is different, by now I know exactly what they're looking for in your application.
Admissions criteria varies widely across the country, with most schools falling somewhere along the holistic-index spectrum. “Hard” statistics refer to GPA and LSAT scores, while “softs” refer to volunteer work, past employment and life experience.
Many western schools (UBC, UVIC, Manitoba) use a simple index system to assess applicants. Students’ undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores (“hard” statistics) are assigned a weighting–UBC’s is 50/50, UVic’s is 70/30 weighing GPA more heavily. Personal statements and letters of reference are not used to determine admittance in the ‘regular’ category, they are only used for the purposes of awarding scholarships and bursaries.
There’s very little you can do to increase your chances of acceptance at index score schools, apart from rewriting the LSAT. Students can also upgrade or retake undergraduate courses to boost their GPA. Undergirding the index score system is the notion of impartiality: there is no element of human subjectivity that can influence admissions (it’s also much easier and cheaper to assess applicants). While this system discourages some applicants, it’s important to remember that index score schools are not necessarily more difficult to crack. One advantage is that of foresight: applicants can ascertain the previous year’s index score cutoff (usually by calling the school directly) and inquire to ascertain their own score. Though cutoffs vary by year, a student will usually have a pretty good idea whether they’ll be granted an offer. Remember, index score schools usually have special access categories for mature, aboriginal, or otherwise disadvantaged students that exist outside the index score process.
Here's a useful thread if you're wondering how your GPA stacks up with the competition. It also gives you some useful details as to how each school calculates GPA. Yup, they all do it a little bit differently.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are Canada’s holistic schools. Early pioneers in this type of admissions system were Windsor and Calgary, and McGill and Osgoode have moved in this direction in recent years. Holistic schools usually demand letters of reference (Windsor asks for three) and in-depth application packages detailing volunteer work, past employment and life experience. High hard stats do not necessarily guarantee admission without well-thought out and compelling admissions packages. These schools thoroughly assess application packages and set out to determine those innovators and leaders that may have lower raw scores but impressive “softs.” Don’t make the mistake of reviewing the median scores of incoming students to these schools and assume that they are easier to secure entry. Students with impressive hard stats are routinely refused due to unsatisfactory applications.
Most schools fall somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, considering both hard stats and soft extracurriculars. Be sure to ascertain the particular admissions criteria of your specific school; each school has its own intricacies and biases. McGill and Ottawa focus heavily on GPA (though it is recommended for English speakers, the former does not require applicants to write the LSAT). Saskatchewan and Dalhousie give preference to local applicants.
Common sense would dictate that young applicants fresh out of their undergrad may have an advantage at the index score schools, while older applicants with more extensive work experience tend to apply to the holistic schools. Indeed, the average age for incoming first years at the University of Calgary is higher than other schools. However, please take all of this with a large grain of salt: schools actively seek to attain a diverse class with students from all walks of life. A student may shy away from applying to UBC because of a low LSAT score, only to find that he would have been admitted after a good LSAT performance in February.
Apply broadly, leaving plenty of time before deadlines. Though application fees average $100 per school, the luxury of choice in the Spring is invaluable. This is not your undergraduate degree: the more competitive schools only offer admittance to one in six applicants (and these applicants are usually drawn from the cream of the crop of undergraduates). Apply to at least three schools, even if you have a strong preference for one over the other.
When composing your application letters, try to make your submissions stand out. Provide anecdotes of work, life and volunteer experiences that have ignited your passion for the law. Your essays should sound earnest, and demonstrate how you have overcome obstacles and/or disadvantages to achieve substantive results in your life and/or career. Your spelling and grammar must be without error, and your syntax, sentence and paragraph structure should be flawless. Try to avoid politically sensitive topics. Use your imagination: when I applied to McGill and Ottawa, I wrote the last paragraph of my personal statement in French.
OzPrep offers consulting services on applications–including discussing and editing personal statements, billed at our regular rates. You can always ask our tutors to share advice and their own personal experiences–it usually comes up in conversation anyway.
Alphascore provides a useful, up-to-date guide which highlights the particularitites of the Canadian law schools, and what scores you'll need to crack them. Also included are tuition estimates.