Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Zenterview - Mr. Bennett's Harvard Choice

Now that I've finally made a deposit for a seat in the Harvard Law School class of 2013, I feel comfortable answering some of the same interview questions I've asked other law school applicants.

How would you describe preparing for the LSAT, in three words or less?
Responds to preparation
What methods/classes/tutors did you use to prepare for the LSAT?
I self-prepared for both of my LSATs; the first time with a basic, "I'll take 15-or-so PrepTests" approach.  I was scoring around 175 on my practice exams right before the September 2007 LSAT, so I was unhappy when I ended up with a 172 on the actual test.  I decided to buckle down and work on identifying and fixing my weaknesses, especially my endurance.  On my second LSAT, I scored a 180 after scoring in that range on my practices.  I wrote a post about what I did the week before scoring the 180, which probably had as much to do with the score as my intense prep.
To what schools did you apply, and what factors led you to those law schools?
I applied to a small set of schools: Harvard/Stanford and USC/UCLA, grouped in my tiers of interest. My list was targeted for two reasons.  I knew that I wanted to tack on a joint MBA--which cut out Yale because of its weak school of management--and if I didn't go to the top schools, I wanted to move back to Los Angeles after my two-year Teach For America commitment. I eventually want to work in California, so USC and UCLA also were strong choices for their regional placement opportunities. In addition to Harvard and Stanford having top programs in both law and business, I also have family in the Boston and Bay areas.  Overall, those two were definitely the dream schools.
What "soft factors" do you think helped your application the most?
I'm from Kentucky, which I thought was pretty unique among applicants to top law schools until I met three other admitted students at Harvard who did Teach For America and were from Kentucky.  Weird.

That said, most of the top law schools really love highly selective, service-oriented organizations like Teach For America.  I had two excellent letters of recommendation, one from within TFA and the other from my master's thesis adviser.  I interned with the Innocence Project in the summer of my TFA years.

I think it was more important that I tried to weave a comprehensive story about my experience and goals for a law degree throughout my application. That is, each piece of my application told something new: I mapped out all the characteristics I wanted to highlight and weaknesses I wanted to explain within each part of the application, leaving very little overlap. That overall plan focused my application pieces and helped my recommenders write meaningful material in a single page.
What did you write your law school personal statement about?
My personal statement attempted to link my experience as a Teach For America corps member with my passion for opening access to intellectual property through the Internet.  You can read the whole writing process here, but below is an excerpt:
The potential to equalize the dissemination of and access to knowledge is one reason I joined Teach For America. Imagine if, instead of allowing George to use color on his order of operations worksheet, I had insisted he interact with the handout only in the way I had originally intended all students to use it, as a regimented template for guided notes. If I had treated my intellectual property the way most corporations and artists treat their products, George would have been disenfranchised from the class and his right to learn; my classroom would have had a lesser exemplar for students to reference. Surely the balance should fall more equally between my right to choose how to impart knowledge and my students’ right to seek and apply their learning.
What was the best piece of advice someone gave you during your law school application process?
Apply early in the cycle, but only if your application is ready.

I wish, wish, wish that I had applied earlier in the cycle, but I wasn't 100% sure I wanted to leave teaching until late December.  If at all possible, plan out everything for your application the summer before and submit as soon as everything is ready.
What made Harvard law the best decision for you?
Once I visited during the Harvard Law School admitted applicant program, I knew I would be attending.  I loved the other students, the faculty, the Berkman Center, the campus--especially the upcoming Northwest Corner project--and I'm used to dealing with Northeast winters.  Sigh.

In addition to those Harvard-specific factors, my sister is already attending Harvard Law and my partner will be better able to find a job in academia in Boston than in Palo Alto.  Overall, considering  the integration with the business school, Harvard's reputation around the world, and the personal connections, Harvard was an obvious choice.
What do you want to do immediately after law school? 10 years after?
Right after law school, I'm open to just about any opportunity that will allow me to work on systemic change in policy on the Internet and/or education. That could be anywhere in the world, in the public, private, or non-profit spheres.

I tried to crack into the consulting business and would love to work for McKinsey at some point in my life. I'd love to see Zen of 180 take off and offer the online tools everyone needs to self-prep for the LSAT, especially for Pell grant recipients. In 10 years I want to be working on removing the technological, legal, or political barriers to providing immersion educational curriculum, like in Ender's Game or Star Trek.
How has Teach For America affected your career aspirations?
While conducting all the interviews for Zen of 180, I was struck by how each TFA alumus was ruined for any career where they felt they didn't have a direct link to significant change. After being baptized by fire as a special education teacher, I can't imagine myself ever being content with a desk job. I'll need to be moving around within the problems, experiencing them firsthand, and be able to point to concrete things I've changed.  I don't know if an entry-level position at a Big Law firm would cut it, but that's what summer internships are for.