What is a "Mainstream" applicant?

Most schools don't attempt to define a "mainstream" applicant, one for whom no special consideration will be given. Instead, they define their special consideration categories.  Everyone else is "mainstream" by default. While this approach makes sense to the law school, the applicant may find it helpful to have a starting point.

I generally define the mainstream student demographically as straight, white, middle-class, with parents who were born in this country, from a middle or upper-middle class residential area, under the age of thirty, with no physical, emotional, or financial obstacles which impeded her or his academic performance, and from the same part of the country as most of the law school's applicants.

The socioeconomic profile of the typical law school applicant looks like this. He or she has at least one parent who is a college graduate, and who works at a white collar or professional job. The applicant usually did not need to work during high school or college, except for pocket money. Her or his household chores were limited to the kind of jobs typically associated with students: doing dishes or yard work, baby-sitting, helping with dinner. The typical law school applicant did not have to work full-time during school, take care of an ill or disabled parent, or bear primary responsibility for younger children while all available adults worked.

How does being "mainstream" affect me?

To the extent that you meet this profile, you are a "mainstream" applicant. When the law schools are choosing people to be on their team, they will see nothing interesting about you, and you will be accepted at those schools where your GPA and LSAT themselves are interesting (i.e., at or above median). You can increase your diversity value (and thus lower the numbers you need to get in by a few index points) in two ways:

  • you can apply to a school seeking geographic diversity in a different part of the country;
  • you can find something entirely personal about yourself to tell them in your personal statement that helps set you apart from other applicants.

What will set me apart?

I don't know. The things I'm talking about are "entirely personal," and I don't know you. In my admissions service, I work very hard with mainstream clients to find their diversity. Some examples I have found quite interesting (and effective) are:

  • an Orthodox Jew who learned to accept unorthodox people;
  • an African American who has been active in the NAACP since she was nine;
  • a woman who learned to skydive to overcome her fear of "dangerous" activities;
  • a man who met a mama bear and her two cubs on a trail in Alaska;
  • a small-town boy who wanted to use his law degree to return to his small town and work in the family business;
  • a woman who had been on a research expedition to the South Pole.  

Each of these things added a dimension to the applicant that socioeconomic and demographic factors could not show.

Where do I show these things?

These examples are the kind of things admissions officers mean when they say that a personal statement should show "what makes you unique," or "some personal insight."  The personal statement is the best place to show this diversity to the admissions committee. Such diversity can be worth 2 to 4 index points in the admissions process.

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