Assistant Dean for Admissions
Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law
Dean Saleh has been involved in law school admissions for approximately eight years. After starting his admissions career at Brooklyn Law School in 2012, Dean Saleh joined Villanova Law in 2015.
What are your best tips for asking for an application fee waiver?
At Villanova Law, we are dedicated to eliminating as many financial barriers as possible from the law school admissions process. Given the ever-increasing costs to apply to law school, Villanova has waived its application fee to reduce the financial burden imposed upon students. This is one of many ways in which we seek to improve the pipeline to the legal profession.
Honestly, what is “yield protection” and does it really exist?
Like most answers in law school, it depends. While yield protection may be a part of the decision-making processes at some schools, it is not a practice that is used at Villanova Law. Some candidates may believe that their test scores and cumulative grade point average guarantee them a seat in a law school's entering class, but those numbers are just two components that start a discussion for a larger conversation about admission.
At Villanova Law, the threshold for admission is not just if a candidate can perform well in the classroom and go on to pass the bar exam. If that were the case, we would be admitting a much larger portion of our applicant pool, and, in turn, enrolling a much larger class.
However, at Villanova, we are committed to finding students who display leadership potential and writing ability, are engaged in their undergraduate institutions and communities, demonstrate a strong work ethic and time management skills, and plan to be involved during their three years of law school.
As such, there may be students who show great potential through their GPAs and LSAT scores, but do not measure up in other important areas that we evaluate. Just as we admit many candidates who fall below our 25th percentiles, we deny or waitlist candidates who fall above our 75th percentiles. At Villanova Law, this is not to ensure selectivity, but to preserve our sense of community.
Understanding that all schools may have different procedures, but generally, if an applicant doesn’t get accepted to a school when they applied ED, do they automatically get rolled over to regular decision or is it possible that you can be rejected directly from ED?
At Villanova Law, applicants who apply to our binding Early Decision program have been and can be outright denied. If the Admissions Committee believes that a candidate would not be successful or a good fit at Villanova, and that no new information (i.e. test scores, updated transcript or resume, etc.) presented later in the admissions cycle would sway that decision, a candidate may be denied directly from Early Decision and not be rolled over to Regular Review.
While ED candidates may be rolled over to Regular Review if not offered outright admission, the process certainly isn't guaranteed or automatic.
Understanding that all schools may have different procedures, but generally, what is the latest you would recommend a student taking the LSAT if they wanted to apply to law school during a given admissions cycle?
Again, it depends upon the law schools to which a prospective student is applying. The last LSAT Villanova Law will consider is the March administration; however, we recommend that students apply prior to February 1, if possible. Rolling admissions is implemented at the majority of law schools across the country.
As such, law schools begin admitting candidates in the fall and will continue throughout the summer until their entering classes are finalized. Therefore, students place themselves in a stronger position for admission and financial aid consideration if they apply "earlier" in the cycle. The concept of "earlier" will differ from law school to law school, but for Villanova, "earlier" means before February 1.
Will K-JDs need to submit to LSAC another copy of their transcript after the fall semester and/or spring semester of their senior year? And, be honest, how much does a POST-admission GPA really matter to an admissions committee?
Regardless of where a candidate is admitted and decides to enroll, the American Bar Association (ABA) requires all students to submit a final official transcript to LSAC and/or the law school where the student enrolls.
This final transcript must contain the date in which the applicant's undergraduate degree was conferred. As for the question regarding the importance of a post-admission decrease or increase in GPA, this will come as no surprise, but it depends. If a school awards merit-based aid using a grid system (i.e. X LSAT score and Y GPA earns you Z scholarship money), then an increase in GPA could warrant scholarship reconsideration.
While I have personally never heard of a law school rescinding an admission offer to a first-year candidate after a large drop in their GPA, I do know that some schools include language in their offers of admission that requires a student maintain comparable grades. This practice is rare for first-year applicants, but more common for transfer applicants applying after one semester of grades.
The Law School Application
When reviewing an applicant's file, where do you typically start and what part do you tend to spend the most time (and why)?
I start each review of an application with the personal statement, which also happens to be where I spend the most time. Starting with the personal statement allows me to form my first impressions about a candidate based on their on words as opposed to their LSAT score or GPA.
Aside from typos, or naming the wrong law school, what are the other two biggest mistakes that far too many students make in their personal statements?
Candidates will sometimes use their personal statements to narrate their work history or academic curriculum in a way that doesn't provide us with additional information that we couldn't already ascertain from their resume or transcript. These personal statements are a missed opportunity for candidates.
They should always seek to provide information that complements and enhances the other components of the application, creating a synergy throughout the application (i.e. the whole is greater than the sum of its parts). The other big mistake is when candidates try to write about too many topics and don't focus or elaborate on anything in particular.
Personal statements are typically 2-3 pages, double-spaced, which is limited real estate to write any essay. Candidates should instead think about one or two takeaway points that they would like the Admissions Committee to learn about them.
The best personal statements I’ve read always contain:
There is no one thing that defines what a good personal statement is or does. The best personal statements are ones that compliment a candidate's resume, reinforce the sentiments of their recommenders, and exhibit a level of authenticity that allows the reader to envision the candidate at their institution.
If a law school has a page limit for their personal statement but does not list a font size min/max, what do you recommend?
Standard Microsoft Word fonts, such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri work fine. For font size, 11pt or 12pt are acceptable.
Name TWO things that all applicants need to consider when asking for a letter of recommendation.
Candidates need to consider the capacity and depth in which the requested recommender knows them. Has this person observed your work product, witnessed your engagement with peers in the classroom or work environment, or known you for long enough to make an adequate assessment of your abilities and potential? If the answer is no to any of these questions, rethink whether that person is someone you want writing your letter of recommendation.
The second thing a candidate should consider is when they are requesting the letter of recommendation. It is important to know that recommenders have lives outside of their work-related roles. They are busy individuals who have multiple responsibilities and may also have many people who are asking them for recommendations.
I recommend candidates give recommenders at least six (6) weeks to write a strong letter of recommendation. Give them the time to write something that is in-depth, nuanced, and speaks to your strengths and positive qualities. The more time you give them, the more time they have to remember all the reasons why they believe you can excel in law school and the legal profession.
If you wouldn't write your personal statement in two weeks, you shouldn't give your recommenders limited time to write a letter that will play an important part in the evaluation of your candidacy.
A resumé is a resumé, however, aside from typos, what are TWO things you've seen included on a resumé that can totally sink an applicant?
The biggest mistake that I see is when a candidate fails to include dates in their resume for various positions - whether they are professional work experiences, involvement in student organizations or team sports, or internships.
The second mistake is when candidates fail provide any bullets or context to the experience (i.e. internship, job, volunteer effort, etc.) they list. On this note, we are not looking for the bullet points to be definitions of what the job is, but rather what you accomplished in the role and specific responsibilities/assignments you had that were meaningful.
Character & Fitness
What is the impact of failing to disclose something on the Character & Fitness section of the application?
It depends on if and when the candidate discloses any relevant information that would have caused them to answer in the affirmative to any Character & Fitness questions. At worst, the Bar could prevent you from attaining a law license.
You could also get your J.D. revoked if a law school determines that they would not have admitted you had they known about the Character & Fitness issue when you applied. If you disclose after your admitted to a law school but before you matriculate, the Admissions Committee could potentially revoke your admission.
These are, of course, some of the more serious penalties for failing to disclose, but it illuminates how important disclosing is in the application process.
What’s your best advice for students wrestling whether to disclose unflattering periods in their past?
Ask an admissions officer at a law school to which you are applying and then err on the side of full disclosure. Your responses to character and fitness questions to which you answered in the affirmative should be concise and direct. Applicants should take responsibility for their actions and provide any and all relevant details pertaining to the issue in question.
The Admissions Review
What is the best way to prepare for an admissions interview, either online or in person?
Candidates should look over their application materials and be prepared to speak in detail regarding any experiences they list in their resume, classes in their transcript or themes in their personal statement. Additionally, it is important to have a clear reason as to why you are applying to law school generally and to that school specifically.
What is the one thing a student does NOT want to do during their interview?
Applicants should not adopt a casual tone. This is an interview for a professional degree, and professionalism is paramount. Not only are we trying to learn more about you, but we are also using this interview as an opportunity to determine if you would be a fit for our law school and how you would engage with employers.
What are TWO things you hope you leave an admissions interview knowing about the candidate?
How our law school would help them achieve their goals and how the candidate plans to get involved with the law school and broader community during their three years.
What is the best question a candidate ever asked YOU during an admissions interview?
A candidate once asked me why I decided to work at Villanova Law and why I continue to work here.
The Dreaded Waitlist
For waitlisted candidates who would immediately accept an offer of admission, how would you recommend that they convey that enthusiasm with your admissions team (and how often)?
My recommendation for waitlisted candidates is to stay in contact with our admissions team enough that we know your name and your interest but not enough that we want to file a restraining order. In all seriousness, an e-mail or phone call every few weeks is completely fine and acceptable.
Our waitlists can be very large, and when deciding who to select from our waitlist, we are determining who best meets our needs, which can change year to year and week to week.
While a candidate's interest in our law school is important and helpful in our planning, we are selecting candidates based on our perception of their potential for success in the classroom and our community, not their willingness to immediately accept an offer.
When you do go to your waitlist, what piece of information most significantly impacts your decision to extend an offer of admission?
What we look for can change from April to August. Who we admit from the waitlist will depend upon if we have met our admissions targets and enrollment goals. External factors that are beyond a candidate's control can many times dictate these decisions.
Aside from an outright denial of your offer, what is the most frustrating thing a student can do after being offered a spot from the waitlist?
Unresponsiveness or communication silence. After weeks and months of back and forth e-mails and phone calls, declarations of interest, and admissions officers advocating for a candidate's acceptance, it can be disappointing when an applicant ceases all communication with our office.
There are so many hours of work and deliberation that go into these decisions that it can be disheartening when a candidate who is offered a spot after communicating their interest in attending fails to respond to our outreach.
Social Media & Internet Forums
What role, if any, does an applicant’s social media presence play in the admission decision (LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram)?
Any social media that is available to the public may be checked during the admissions review process. Professionalism is paramount in law school and the legal profession. We take great care in enrolling a class that is respectful and mature. While we can't always check social media accounts during the height of the admissions cycle, we are certainly checking a candidate's online presence when deciding who to select from the waitlist.
Do you, or members of your admission team, review Internet forums that discuss the law school admissions process (e.g., r/lawschooladmissions, LawSchoolNumbers) and, if so, what information do you typically learn or seek to learn?
We occasionally review online forums to get a sense on the impressions we are making on candidates and what discussions are taking place surrounding our law school. It is important to note that these anonymous posters represent an incredibly small portion of the applicant pool and their opinions should not be taken as gospel.
If you review internet admissions forums, in your estimation, what percent of the time are references to your law school or the procedures followed in your admission office INACCURATE.
It's hit or miss. They are some posters who are incredibly informed and others who make comments that lack any basis in reality.
Have you ever tried to identify an Internet forum poster in your applicant pool and, if so, were you successful?
Yes and yes.
Visits & Admitted Students Days
If you were a prospective student visiting a law school, name TWO things you would do and/or look out for during the campus tour.
I would pay attention to how students are engaging with one another in the hallways and common spaces. This can give you some insights into the culture and community. I would also see if any professors or staff notice the tour and stop to introduce themselves and welcome you to the law school.
If you were a prospective student visiting a law school, what TWO questions you would ask current students?
(1) What is the law school doing to help prepare you for your desired career path?
(2) What do you like most and least about the law school you attend?
If you were a prospective student visiting a law school, what TWO questions you would ask law school administrators or faculty?
(1) Administrators: How are student concerns and opinions addressed by the Law School Administration and are they factored into the strategic planning and day-to-day decisions that the law school makes?
(2) Faculty: What is your relationship like with students in your classes and how do you assist them outside the classroom?