Maximizing Dean Visits: Part I (Or, How to Make a Good Impression on a Dean)

We’ve already hosted one law school dean on campus this semester, and we’ll be hosting several more in the coming months. (Coming up in February: Dean Mitchell from Case Western Reserve and Dean Burns from DePaul. Visit our calendar here for more details on each.) In this post, let’s examine just how students can maximize dean visits. (We will look at how to maximize law school visits in Part 2.)

Students should go to these events. Frankly, I’m shocked that more pre-law students do not take advantage of the opportunity to meet an admissions dean who has come to campus. Why don’t they? Let’s do a brief cost/benefit analysis.

Admission Dean visit to campus
Cost: No money, an hour of your time
Benefit: Making a good impression on the dean can result in admission or scholarship offers. You’ll probably learn something valuable about the law school admissions process, or about the school itself. At the very least, you’ll give the dean a face to associate with your application, making your file more personal than the thousand files of people s/he has never met.

Many students think that attending a law school open house or meeting an admissions dean won’t influence their decision about whether to admit you to their school, or whether to award you a scholarship. In my experience, that is totally wrong. Why?

First, I think many people would be surprised to know how much power an admissions dean has over the final admissions decision. Many deans can make admissions decisions entirely on their own, or override a veto by a committee. I know deans–more than one–who have made an on-the-spot decision to admit an applicant–with a scholarship–while that applicant visited during an open house. Why? Because the dean was impressed by the applicant’s professionalism, passion, and maturity. In other words, a positive personal impression by someone with a lot of power over your admission can weigh heavily in your favor. After all, admissions is a human process–if it were ALL about the numbers, then machines would do it.

Second, many students think that the dean won’t remember meeting them. Not only am I impressed by the memories of admissions professionals, but I know that many take great pains to jot down the names of students they spoke with–sometimes during a conversation and sometimes right afterwards. Several deans have told me that as soon as they leave a meeting with students, they immediately review those students’ applications while their impressions are still fresh. At minimum, most deans will have students sign in and then use that sign-in sheet to see who was interested enough to make the effort to come and meet them. This will be noted in the applicant’s file.

Third, many students think that in a roomful of people, the dean won’t notice them, either for positive reasons or negative ones. By nature and by training, we lawyers are detail oriented and most of us are very observant. Trust me–even if we aren’t saying it, we’re thinking it. Here are some simple but powerful positive observations that deans have shared with me about particular students/applicants after visiting our campus:

  • S/he is very personable/pleasant/mature. How simple is that? Being nice gets noticed. Or, as one dean puts it, nobody wants a jerk in their school.
  • S/he speaks very well. A valued skill for a prospective lawyer.
  • S/he seems to truly care about ________. Examples: The environment, helping children, global security…This signals that the applicant has clearly articulated a passion and has asked insightful questions about a legal career in that area.
  • S/he would be a great fit for our school. This one’s a little harder to pin down, but just as applicants get a “feel” for a school by visiting, deans can get a similar feeling by meeting applicants.

The down side to being observant means that deans also sometimes have negative impressions of students and applicants. Some examples:

  • S/he never made eye contact with me/stared at the floor the whole time. Again, another simple gesture. In a first impression, eye contact demonstrates poise, confidence, and good interpersonal skills…all of which a lawyer needs in order to get and maintain clients.
  • S/he is very intense. This could mean that the person fired a barrage of questions at the dean, instantly name-dropped some “connections” (My uncle’s chiropractor went to your school and he’s writing a recommendation for me…), or shared some outrageous expectations (I deserve a big scholarship!) See above, about nobody wanting a jerk in their school.
  • S/he doesn’t seem to know why this law school is a good fit. Deans always like to ask what interests applicants about their school. Telling a dean that her law school is probably the best you can get into, or that it’s close to where your parents live, is a little insulting. Side note: I have observed applicants saying both of these to a dean. In both cases, the dean mentioned it to me afterwards…and not in a positive way.

While we’re on the subject of first impressions, please let me say that etiquette and dress say a lot about you. Two brief observations:

  • I have personally observed many students interrupt the dean of admissions to ask another question while s/he is speaking. This is extremely disrespectful and rude, and it will without a doubt be noticed and remembered by the dean.
  • No one expects you to show up wearing a tuxedo or bridesmaid gown. But wearing your bar crawl t-shirt, or worse, sweatpants, or much, much worse, pajama pants and slippers (yes, all of these actually happened) to meet a law school dean suggests a serious lack of professional judgment. A popular saying is to “dress for the job you want, not the job you have.” A button-up shirt or sweater and pants is perfectly acceptable and takes no more effort than a t-shirt and jeans. When in doubt, go business casual.

To summarize: Meeting deans of admissions and attending law school visits can actually make a big difference for your application. An admissions dean holds a lot of power over admissions and scholarship decisions, and personal impressions can and will be factored in. Do not make the mistake of thinking that attending these events is not worth your time.

During the visit: Be nice, be pleasant, make eye contact, wear business casual clothes, listen while the dean speaks, and don’t say anything too outrageous within five seconds of meeting the dean. Nothing too taxing, right?

In Part 2, we will examine how students can maximize law school visits.