There are several things that can cause students to freak out when applying to law school. Some students worry about the relative “prestige” of their undergraduate institution and how schools will view that during the admissions process. Some have concerns about their choice of major, letters of recommendation, or that one C they got freshman year. Then there are the students that took the test cold and worry about what that looks like on their application. P.S. don’t take the LSAT cold. The list goes on endlessly.
For most students, the fears are unfounded. They are simply a by-product of a stressful admissions process where you nitpick everything about yourself and your file. However, for others, there are blemishes that are founded and need to be addressed and explained. That’s where addenda come in. Let’s start with the basics.
What is an Addendum
An addendum (plural: addenda) is a document, written by the applicant, explaining a negative in their application. It is usually brief in length and is an attachment to the application. By brief, we mean no more than one page long, typically only one to two paragraphs. Students usually write addenda to explain one of the following.
- Issues with your LSAT record. Examples include a very low LSAT score, multiple absences/cancellations, or an unusually high jump in scores from one administration to another.
- Issues with your GPA. For example, a very low GPA, a semester with sub-par grades in an otherwise great transcript, a rash of failed or withdrawn classes, etc.
- Issues with “character and fitness.” On that section of the application, you can explain a number of things:
- Interruption in your academic career.
- Academic disciplinary actions.
- Academic probations and/or expulsions.
- Criminal issues such as felonies, misdemeanors, arrests, or convictions.
- Dishonorable discharges from the armed forces.
How to Make an Effective Addendum
- Write carefully. Tone and word choice are incredibly important when writing an addendum. You’re essentially asking the Admissions Committee to ignore or disregard very important parts of the application. You can easily end up sounding as if you’re groveling. Or worse yet, you can end up sounding whiny, arrogant, irresponsible, immature, lacking in good judgment, or lacking self-awareness. It needs to convey information without boring or offending those reading it.Keep it short. There is absolutely no need to write an addendum that is longer than your personal statement. When addenda start breaking the 250-word barrier, you run the risk of rambling and creating more problems than you’re explaining.
- Don’t tell the admissions officers how to do their job. They know how to interpret LSAT scores and transcripts. The Admissions Committee will know how to interpret what you give them and will understand that it’s a supplement to your file.
- Keep it drama-free. Overselling the case or overstating the flaws tends to remove any seriousness from the addendum. This renders it useless for the purposes of explaining the flaw. You’re not trying to tug at heartstrings or solicit pity, so veer away from dramatic language.
- Stick to the facts. Don’t provide unnecessary information. Aside from increasing the length of the document, unnecessary details can also detract from the message you are seeking to convey.
- No flights of fancy. Addenda are different from the personal statement in that there is no element of creative writing in them. This is simply an explanation and a presentation of circumstances. There is no need to refer to stomach upsets as “exploding fireworks” or a migraine headache as “skull-splitting agony.” You may think it adds flair, but all it does is add unnecessary verbiage.
Final Things to Remember
Understand an addendum is not an excuse. What you’re providing to the Committee is additional information to consider during the evaluation of an application. Present the facts clearly, discuss the lessons you learned, and what you’re doing to ensure the negative doesn’t happen again. Excuses are just that—excuses. They have no place in an addendum. It’s important to remember that the purpose of the addendum is to explain, but not excuse, the negative in the application. Unless the circumstances were incredibly unusual and compelling, chances are pretty good that you are at least partially to blame for whatever the negative in your application happens to be. Don’t try to hoodwink the AdComs. They’ve seen enough of these addenda that they’ll see right through you! And they won’t be happy that you tried to shirk your part in the situation.
Another word of advice, never go “addendum-happy.” You do not need to explain why your GPA is a 3.72 instead of a 3.73, or why your LSAT score went down a single point on a retake. You don’t need to address every tiny detail that you are not pleased with! You need to discuss the glaring issues, not the minutia that is only noticeable to you. Submitting 12 different addenda makes you look slightly crazy, not thorough. You’re likely to exhaust and annoy whoever is reading your app, which is not something you want to do.
Perhaps most importantly, don’t forget that your personal statement is not an addendum. Use the personal statement for what it’s meant for! These allow you to present great or unusual qualities, beliefs, and experiences in a positive light. Don’t use it to explain inconsistencies in your application.
Not everyone needs to use an addendum. If there isn’t anything negative to address, don’t feel the need to create an issue or find something to explain. Instead, consider yourself one of the lucky ones! As for those of you who do have issues to explain—keep the tips above in mind. Be judicious in your use of addenda and you’ll minimize the negatives and enhance your application