Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Little Things

Life, like baseball, is a game of inches. Tiny differences in performance can have huge consequences down the line. It's nerve-wracking and frustrating--a bad break, coming up on the wrong end of a few more coin-flips than the stats say you should--it adds up.

The motivation factor for this is the more than a few grades on my transcript that fell on the wrong side of toss-up. By and large these aren't bad grades in any meaningful sense--virtually all are either an A- that could have just as easily been an A, or a B+ that could have just as easily been an A-. The problem is that there are far fewer (if any) A's that were in the A- range, or A- where it a B+ would have been just as expected. Maybe I just over-judge my talents, but this is what I mean about being on the wrong end of too many coin-flips. And so it is that I'm wondering whether my ultimate career ambitions will be thwarted because of the upper-level biology course I essentially took by accident (long story) my sophomore year of college.

I'm being silly and melodramatic, of course--a product of coming up on law and grad school applications and all the stress that entails. I'm right in the wheelhouse of all but two, maybe three law schools (and I'm not out of contention for those three either, in my estimation). And on every front but grades, I think I'm doing quite well. I haven't taken my LSATs, but I (used to) test well, so I hope that I can impress there. I've got my article coming out, and I've written a lot for various campus magazines besides. I go to a well-reputed liberal arts college where I'm on track to graduate magna cum laude and with distinction. I won a highly competitive research fellowship. I won an award for my writing. And of course, I have a, er, "world-renowned" blog (obviously, I apologize for excessively tooting my own horn, but if you haven't figured it out I'm trying to shore up some self-confidence here).

The irony is that, as I've said a dozen and a half times before, under normal circumstances I wouldn't care. I was not like this for undergraduate applications. I knew I would get into a good school. And I'm not so much of an elitist or credentialist that I particularly cared if I went to the biggest name brand (anybody--from D.C., anyway--who cares about that isn't going to Carleton, which still elicits a blank stare from most the folks I know here). And so it is with law school--there too, I have no doubt that with my grades and scores and resume I can get into a stellar law school where I will thrive and could go on to have an excellent career as a legal professional. But unfortunately, legal academia, more than any endeavor I've ever pursued, is credential-focused--almost obsessively so. And that might be the root-problem of them all--I'm being forced into a game I neither like nor am experienced at playing.

Okay, this has gone on long enough. I apologize for putting y'all through it. And in six months time, when I've settled on an undoubtedly excellent law or graduate program to attend and am very happy about it, I will let you know, and apologize doubly for all this needless agonizing.


PG said...

I'm sure you'll hear this from many other people, but as someone with MUCH lower undergrad grades than yours (ranging all over the map from a couple A+s to a sprinkling of As, many A-s and B+s, a couple of Cs and even an F for a class in which I never got a term paper done), who got accepted to several good law schools anyway, I'm going to tell you not to worry. You still need to work hard, and I would recommend investing in an LSAT tutor if you take a practice test and find yourself with a weak spot (for me, it was logic games). The LSAT helped me to overcome the bad grades with most schools, though a few (Harvard, Yale) obviously won't even look at an applicant who's so uneven. Face up to the fact right now that you may not get accepted to a couple of schools, and recognize that that's not fatal to your career. You can have a great career as a academic coming out of Chicago even if you didn't get into Yale. I have to admit that for an academic, school name recognition is more important than it would be for a practitioner (if you're in the top 1% of your class at a school that's below the top 50, you're still going to be able to work at highly selective firms and public interest jobs, because to them proven hard work is more important). But it just has to be one of the top schools, and then you just have to either make law review or be the EIC of a specialty journal (and publish in there) to be positioned for your clerkship, which then positions you for your academic career. (I used to think law review was essential for an academic career, but Christine Hurt proved otherwise.)

David Schraub said...

"But it just has to be one of the top schools, and then you just have to either make law review or be the EIC of a specialty journal (and publish in there) to be positioned for your clerkship, which then positions you for your academic career."

Piece of cake!

That being said...thanks. I appreciate it. Every once in awhile I get one of those "I'm going to fail at all my life ambitions and be miserable for all eternity" crackups. They pass. They pass faster when friends put in kind words.