Transitioning to School: What I Wish I KnewDavid Thompson | Communications Outreach Director for Veterans’ Advocates, Washington and Lee University
There were a lot of things that I got wrong or could have done better when I moved from Army Special Operations to law school. I was completely unprepared for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), had a mediocre resume, struggled with writing a personal statement, and failed to take advantage of the resources to help veterans apply to school. Now that I have completed the process, was accepted to a well respected law school, and learned about assistance available, I want to educate other veterans to not repeat my mistakes.
Law admissions counselors do a great job at helping incoming students, but their time is constricted given the number of people that apply to law schools across the United States. While nothing can substitute the valuable insight admissions counselors offer on the particulars of their schools, this article can be used by both incoming students and offered by admissions counselors to help clarify the process and offer valuable insights to transitioning veterans. It can be daunting to tackle the process given the vast amount of resources available to veterans. This article helps organize a few of them by connecting transitioning veterans with those that successfully completed the process.
To help aid and clarify the process, I created a simple acronym that intrinsically resonates with veterans: LEADER. It is not necessary to follow the particular order, but the acronym helps ensure a prospective student hits all the key objectives. Hit each step along the way to avoid my mistakes and be a LEADER.
L: Look at the process holistically.
Admissions counselors have just a few pieces of paper to know all about you. If you repeat information from your resume on your personal statement and someone mentions it in a letter of recommendation, you’re failing to take advantage of each piece of paper. Know what your recommenders will say about you to ensure they portray the type of image you want for yourself. An easy way to do this is to provide your recommenders with notes you want them to highlight. Use each piece of the application process to tell the admissions counselor a unique aspect of how great you really are.
E: Effective test taking — practice, practice, practice.
The LSAT tests one’s ability to think in a particular way. I scored far below my potential because I wasn’t prepared for the test. I had recently redeployed and was set to deploy again before the next round of testing. My recommendation is to take 30 practice tests under legitimate testing conditions, completing 2 to 3 tests per week. After finishing a test, spend the duration of a test (4 to 4.5 hours) for the next day or two reviewing why you got every question right or wrong. There are only so many ways for test-makers to ask the same style of questions, and you will see patterns and discover how to answer them correctly.
A: Action. Take action by getting involved in a group like Veterans4Diplomacy.
I cannot advocate this one strongly enough. Veterans4Diplomacy is one of the best organizations I found during my transition. In addition to giving back to the community, Veterans4Diplomacy helps continue training to develop global leaders by connecting veterans interested in shaping foreign affairs with prestigious fellowships and scholarships. There are many groups like Veterans4Diplomacy; however, it is the one that I know the best and highly recommend to any veteran wanting to work in foreign policy. We all accomplished a lot in our military careers. Having a mentor that recently went through the transition and being connected to a community of global leaders helps us continue on the path of public service.
D: Don’t go it alone. Take advantage of resources like Service2School.
I did not know about this resource but have since become a Law Ambassador. There are other veterans out there—probably at the school you want to attend—that successfully completed the process. Do not spend time struggling to find your own path when someone wants to help guide you along the way. Of course, you still have to put in the time and work, but a mentor can make sure you go about the process wisely.
E: Endorse Yourself.
In the military we are really good at writing about our subordinates during evaluations. We can highlight another person’s successes unlike any other, but we aren’t so good at highlighting ourselves. We do not like talking about our own accomplishments. In special operations, we prefer to blend in without others noticing (apart from the SEALs — have to get jabs in where I can). What helped me write a personal statement successfully was taking what I wanted to say, reviewing 10 to 20 statements of people accepted to various law schools, and then identifying what stood out to me. If things started to blend together after a few personal statements, imagine how they look to an admission counselor reading thousands. In the military if a board reviews 1,000 evaluations, you’d want a strong subordinate’s evaluation to stand out. Why make it any different for yourself? Endorse yourself to stand out.
There is a ton of information on how to write an effective resume. Where veterans have a unique challenge is correlating what we did in the military to what we want to do in the civilian sector. I wanted to highlight all the things that I thought were important, but it made my resume difficult to read and caused the really impressive accomplishments to get lost. Have a friend that is completely disengaged from the military read your resume to see if it makes sense.
For a veteran, being a leader is nothing new, but veterans must learn how to take the things that made us successful in the military and transition them to the civilian world. We view our own unit as a piece of a larger group that operates in an area; we consistently train to succeed in combat; we take action; we have resources to help us succeed; we help subordinates get awards and promotions through effective writing; and, we accomplish a lot. Hit each of these steps along the way to help succeed in law school admissions and be a LEADER.
Author Perspective: Student