Grads favored as Law admits

One in four, maybe more. One in three, could be me. One in six, could end up at Yale Law.

Getting into the top law school in the country is a difficult feat, but graduates of Yale College are finding the task a little bit easier. Eighty-six of the Law School’s 600 current students are Yale alumni, and school administrators said they look more kindly at alumni because Yale is a familiar brand. Many of the current law students also said they were involved in some way with the Law School as undergraduates at Yale, which may have helped them get their foot in the door.

The Law School Admissions Office sees applications from many Yale College alums each year. Last year, 198 alumni applied to law school.
Christopher Young
The Law School Admissions Office sees applications from many Yale College alums each year. Last year, 198 alumni applied to law school.

Last year, 198 Yale undergraduates and alumni — one-sixth of a typical undergraduate class — applied for admission to Yale Law School. The acceptance rate for Yale College alums was at least 11 percent, compared to about 6 percent for general applicants. But this preference also extends to other elite schools, particularly Harvard, which is the second most-represented college at Yale Law and whose alums saw the same acceptance rate as Yale’s. The numbers do not include students who were accepted but deferred for a year or rejected the offer.

Yale Law School Director of Admissions Craig Janecek acknowledged that the acceptance rate for Yale and Harvard students is significantly higher than the acceptance rate for the general pool. He declined to release the average LSAT and GPA data for Yale and Harvard alums, citing a concern for “potential misunderstanding” of the data if it were compared to the 3.91 median GPA and 173 LSAT score for the general pool last year.

Law School Dean Harold Koh said Yale undergraduates are the finest in the country, so it is not surprising that they would be among the finest law students. He said Yale alums may have a natural edge in the admissions process.

“The fact recommendations may come from Yale University faculty members is probably a plus,” Koh said. “Also, the fact that the Yale activities the applicants pursue are well known to fellow members of our community is probably a plus.”

Assistant admissions dean Asha Rangappa LAW ’00 said Yale undergraduates apply to the law school in large numbers because the location is not as much of a deterrent for Yale students as it is for outside students who may have negative perceptions of the city.

“I think there’s a huge factor with location, as we see a hesitation in choosing Yale [among non-alumni] when there’s also New York City or Cambridge,” she said.

She agreed with Koh that Yale alums may have a leg up because of the faculty’s familiarity with Yale’s undergraduate programs.

“The professors have an idea for the caliber of Yale students and it may be easier to evaluate academic credentials of Yale students,” Rangappa said. “Plus, it’s a top school.”

But she said there are no quotas for the number of Yalies they can accept each year. The Law School is making an effort to increase institutional diversity, she said, and 84 colleges are represented among students this year.

Alan Murphy LAW ’08, who did his undergraduate work at Stanford, said while there are certainly a large number of highly qualified applicants from Harvard and Yale, he is not sure whether this disproportion reflects the quality of students or a systematic bias. But he points to a trend among graduate programs to favor applicants from outside their own undergraduate programs.

“Ph.D. programs are known to prefer candidates who went to other institutions because they think [alumni] should be exposed to new methods and forms of instructions in the same discipline,” Murphy said. “I don’t get the sense that law school functions the same way because there’s no pre-law undergraduate major at most top universities.”

Although Joshua Johnson ’06 LAW ’09 said he thinks there is a slight advantage for Yale alumni applying to the Law School, once they get in, they are not very different from students that come from other institutions.

As an undergraduate, Johnson took Akhil Amar’s “Constitutional Law” and a philosophy of law course. Johnson also knew many law students, he said, and other Yale alumni now studying at the law school also had close relationships with the program as undergraduates.

“I knew a lot of people who had relationships with Dean Koh and some people who had faculty connections,” Johnson said.

In addition, the Liman Undergraduate Summer Fellowship offers funding to Yale College students who pursue summer internships in public interest law. Sarah Chang ’05 LAW ’09 and Johnson both received the fellowship as juniors.

But Baolu Lan ’06 LAW ’09 said she thinks it is actually harder to get into Yale Law as a Yale College alumnus because Yale applicants, who are often some of the country’s strongest students, are competing against each other. But she said there are ways applicants can substantially increase their chances.

“If you work as a research assistant for a law faculty member or take a law school course in which you do very well, developing [such] meaningful relationships with a law professor can strengthen your candidacy,” she said.

Once they arrive at the law school, Yale College graduates may have an easier time getting involved in student organizations as law students. Alicyn Cooley ’05 LAW ’08 said Yale alums are disproportionately represented in top Law School organizations such as the Yale Law Journal, Moot Court, Yale Law Democrats and the American Constitutional Society.

“All the Yalies [at the Law School] I know are actively involved,” she said.

Michael Helbing ’08, who was an undergraduate at Penn State, said Yale alums are very involved once they get in because they have a better idea of how the University works. Coming from a public school, he said, he was very intimidated by the admissions process.

“It’s a daunting process, and I didn’t expect to get in at all,” Helbing said.

At the same time, he said he thinks being an alumnus of a state school, where he was a chemical engineering major, may have helped his admission because he adds to the diversity of the school.

“I don’t think you need an extra hook coming from a state school, but you need strong numbers,” Helbing said.

But even if Yale students have a better-than-average chance of getting in to Yale Law School, the prospect of an additional three years in New Haven may make it a less attractive option for some alumni.

Chang said she had second thoughts about returning to New Haven.

“I actually seriously considered moving to Cambridge,” she said.

But Cooley said while her friends have been giving her a hard time about staying in New Haven, the location is a definite perk because she can keep in contact with friends at Yale and she knows her way around town — and Sterling Memorial Library.

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