Updated 10 July 2018

The odds

Only 17% of applicants to read Law at Oxford University are successful. Only 11% of applicants to Harvard Law School are accepted. Thousands of people do not apply because they believe they have no chance.

“The best of the best”

Pity the admissions officer at Harvard or Oxford. There are thousands of applications, and only a few can be admitted.

All of the applicants have good grades or are expected to obtain good grades. Good grades are necessary but are not enough. How does the admissions tutor choose? How does a university or law college select “the best of the best”?

There are tens of thousands of bright people out there, and most are as bright or are brighter than you. You have to show something “extra”.

Have you spent any time in a lawyer’s office? It may be work shadowing, it may be work experience, it might even be paid employment. Anything like this shows commitment to the law over and above what most people can show. It also makes the interview more interesting if you have something to talk about.

Have you done an interesting job or do you have an unusual qualification? I know a woman who is qualified to drive deep sea oil tankers – every job she applies for she lands an interview and the question they always ask is about that qualification.

Are you in a music group, an amateur stage company, or some other interesting activity? Were you MC of an event, promoter of an event, or backstage manager? What instruments do you play, and to what level? Are you a sound engineer?

Have you raised money for charity? How?

Have you raised money for yourself? Are you an entrepreneur? Have you run a business that made money?

Sport is always popular, but some sports are more popular than others. Rugby, American football, ice hockey, wrestling all show a lack of fear of physical confrontation. If you have competed at national level at anything, you are in with a good chance.

Regional tiddlywinks champion does not carry the same weight as chess or athletics but it is better than nothing.

Have you written and published a student newspaper? Did you lead a demonstration against City Hall?

There are a few places which operate positive discrimination, quotas and the like. Even if you fit the criterion, so do lots of other people. So make yourself outstanding!

Make yourself outstanding

Already you can see the difference between an “all star” and an “also ran”. Which are you?

Do you have time to do something about it? Get your parents or school working for you to get face time at lawyers’ offices, company legal departments, the local council or the police department. As many as possible is important.

If you can strum a guitar or bang a drum, set up a pop group. After a month together enter a talent show – it all goes on your resume or curriculum vitae. Then break up because of “artistic differences”.

It may be hard to get into the school team for an important sport. There is nothing to stop you hitting your parents for money for skiing or mountaineering or horse riding or sailing – just so you can say you have done it. This is important in case your interviewer is interested in your sport – he will spot a phony very quickly.

If you are fortunate to have a language other than English – get a paper qualification in it – to show something “extra”.

If you publish a short story or an opinion piece in that language – that really is impressive. Get a friend to read it first, so you do not make a fool of yourself.

Mow the lawn for the little old lady next door – free – whether she wants you to or not!  Do voluntary work with a deprived group for a few months.

Set up a business – but be careful because it is harder than you think to create a business that generates cash.

An application that says “I am a bright nerd” loses. An application that says ” I am bright and I have done this and this and this” is a winner.

If the truth is that you sit in your bedroom playing computer games, the truth is that you will not get into a good school. So do something now!