Sarah Zearfoss has read every application to the University Law School since March 2001, when she became of assistant dean for admissions.

Jessica Boullion

A 1992 Law School alum, Zearfoss said she was too anxious to sleep for four months after taking on the demanding position. At first, she didn’t quite know what her job required. Today she’s figured it out, and even if she does find time to sleep, she spends many of her waking hours tirelessly poring over applications – employing a work ethic she credits to her Michigan education.

Here, Zearfoss breaks down the path of an application, advises potential applicants on what not to do and explains why the Law School will survive the affirmative action ban.

-This great guy I know heard my LSAT score and said, “I’ll bet you have a chance of getting into Michigan.” Being on the East Coast, I didn’t even know what Michigan was.

-Once we receive an application, it gets put in its own file. The readers in the office get a stack of files each week, and after they make comments on each application, I take them home. I can make a quick decision on about one-fourth of the applications. But the vast majority of applications take longer. It’s sort of like shopping; I need to come back to it, think about it.

-Students panic when they hear that my decision on their application can take between five minutes and several weeks. But I’ve looked at 40,000 applications. I’m really good at picking out the top ones.

-There are so many weird applications. One guy wrote around the edge of the application, “you are the only school for me.” And applicants love to send in gimmicks. For example, we’ll get a basketball and the implication is, “the ball’s in your court.” My staff gets really frustrated because basketballs are pretty hard to file away.

-The dean of admissions at Bryn Mawr College wrote a personal note on my acceptance letter. I remember feeling so good about that. I write a little note on each law school acceptance because I’m invested by the time I’m ready to make an offer. I can’t stop now because everyone knows I do it.

-The number of applications we’ve received so far this year from black students is exactly the same number it was one year ago today.

-In the coming years there will be fewer minority students at this school. But Prop 2 won’t have the same dramatic effect it did at Berkeley and UCLA. This is because Michigan is one of the few schools that uses the LSAT as is intended – as a guideline, not a cut off.

I would advise students not to jump into law school because they don’t have any pre-med requirements completed. You have to want to read, write, work hard and have a conscience. Your clients won’t know if you don’t work as hard as you can, but I think being a lazy lawyer means leading a very unsatisfactory life.

My best very general piece of advice for any applicant is to step back and look at your application materials as if you didn’t know yourself. Have you portrayed yourself in the best possible light? Is everything about your history as clear as you want it to be? Does the writing sound like your voice, truly, or more like the voice of a thesaurus? Getting some distance and trying to objectively evaluate your submissions is a great trick for making sure you’ve included all the necessary information and presented it in a way that will be appealing.

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