Karen DeMeola
Assistant Dean for Admissions & Student Finance
University of Connecticut School of Law

"Do you see attendance at a public school as placing the applicant at a disadvantage?"

After receiving her undergraduate degree in psychology as well as her JD from UConn, Assistant Dean DeMeola was a civil rights litigator focused primarily on employment discrimination, police brutality, and housing discrimination. She has been the Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Finance since 2003.

Assistant Dean DeMeola has presented on numerous panels, conferences, and symposia on the intersection of race, class, gender, religion, and sexual orientation in the law school admissions process; serves as an adjunct teacher of Critical Identity Theory; and serves as advisor for a number of student groups.

I asked Dean DeMeola to address this question because as an African American, Italian, lesbian, member of a working class family who herself attended a public school (the one she now represents), she is conscious of both the burdens placed on the public school attendee and the obligations of an admissions officer to seek the best students. Karen DeMeola is the Assistant Dean for Admissions and Student Finance. At the University of Connecticut.  Jessica Lynn Hockla & Karen DeMeola of Newington, CT. Married on 11/12/08.
Dean DeMeola and sweetheart Jessica Lynn Hockla were one of the first couples to marry under Connecticut's Gay Marriage Law in 2008.

Dean DeMeola, I know that as a public school administrator, you're aware of the ever-increasing limitations on budgets, both for students and administration.  Public schools with limited elective classes and enormous sections of the basics make it difficult for applicants from state schools to distinguish themselves in either their course selection or their recommendations.  Yet as an admissions officer, your job is to choose applicants with broad course diversity and superior recs. How do you walk this ugly tightrope, knowing that you must sometimes reject applicants with whose limits you sympathize?

Over the past two years institutions, particularly public universities, have been forced to make significant cuts to their operating budgets. This has altered, in some instances drastically, the quality of education -- not only in terms of services provided, but but also the depth and breadth of courses offered.  Students attending these institutions may find themselves without pre-law advisors, in larger class sections, and without the long list of electives previously offered. The same students are presenting transcripts with numerous introductory courses in their final year and have more generic letters of recommendation.

Nonetheless, law school admissions remains an extremely competitive enterprise. It is difficult to overlook weak recommendations and a transcript that appears overloaded with weak courses.

You are correct; I do sympathize, as the limitations imposed are no fault of the applicant. However, students applying to law school are cognizant of the competitive nature of the application process and should not simply throw in the towel on their education. Students who are successful despite the financial situation of their institution do a few things to gain a competitive edge: they

  • tell us (in short detail) the impact the economy has had on their institution in an addendum;
  • supplement their in-class education with significant (not fluff) special research projects and/or independent studies;
  • and they search out sound and meaningful (i.e., real work), experiential learning opportunities.

A letter from a supervisor may make up the shortfall for having a generic faculty recommendation and an A in a significant research project not only earns the A but also a superior recommendation.  

Excellent info! I hadn't thought of most of it. One could also approach a professor asking for an exemption if there's any room in the class. What about recs from extracurricular or community service work? Can they add much to a file, or are they never meaty enough?

Letters of recommendations from extracurricular or community work do tend to be less meaty but in some instances are successful. Students again should be proactive in determining the best person to ask to write on their behalf. For instance, students may ask the volunteer/intern coordinator or the person with the highest status to write a letter of recommendation; however those letters are impersonal and pro forma. The best letters in this category are from the person with whom the student works on a regular basis, someone who has the time and who is willing to write a good letter for the applicant.

Thank you, Dean DeMeola!

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