Never, Never, Never

When Churchill said, "Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy" the alternative was that there was--well--actually there was no alternative. Britain was going through something of a rough patch in 1941: incessant bombings, food shortages, boys being slaughtered on the battle fields in Europe, and an uncertain future. Although it seemed unlikely that the country could long endure, to give in was not an available option.

I met a young woman in my office recently who has, in my professional judgment, the right idea about never giving up, but didn't read the part about "except to... good sense."

"Monique" wants to attend Syracuse University Law School near where she grew up. She applied, submitting her personal statement (essay), transcript, recommendations, and test scores. And she was rejected.

As it happens, law school admissions is a straight forward process: undergraduate G.P.A. (grade point average) and LSAT (Law School Admission Test) are the two most important factors in the decision. Monique's gpa is above the mean for Syracuse--she has a 3.5, well above the Syracuse average of 3.3--but her LSAT score is below the mean. The average score for successful Syracuse Law School applicants is a 155*; Monique scored a 148 the second time she took the test, up from a 146 the first time, but still not good enough to be admitted to Syracuse Law.

Monique took a year off after being graduated from the University of Delaware to focus on preparing for the LSAT. She took private lessons, then signed up for the Stanley Kaplan LSAT Review Course. When her scores on the practice tests didn't improve, she took twenty more hours of private lessons--this time from a different private tutor--then paid over two thousand more dollars to the Princeton Review for more group classes. Her scores on the previously administered exams had still not gone over 148 so she paid for yet more lessons. Although her score has not improved, she has managed to pretty much perfect an incipient anxiety disorder. After a year of study, she is now so nervous that the mere mention on the LSAT allows her to break out in tears.

She has invested hundreds and hundreds of hours and thousands and thousands of dollars on test preparation. It's enough. If her score were going to improve, it already would have.

"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again" is good advice for many endeavors--sky diving not being one of them. And for Monique, the solution is obvious. She should stop trying to improve her score on the LSAT.

She should go to law school somewhere other than Syracuse.

There are dozens of law schools who will smile on her application. This is a lovely young woman. She wants to do public interest law. She wants to be an advocate for children. I would like for her to be a lawyer. She'll do good things for her community.

But only if she can get past the issue of wanting to attend Syracuse, because it's a "good" law school.

Monique, like Groucho Marx before her, does not want to "belong to any club that would have a person like me as a member."

For me, Monique's law school situation is indicative of how too many young women in our culture view themselves: My nose is too big; I'll have surgery to make my nose smaller. My boobs are too small; I'll have surgery to make my boobs bigger. Everything about the way I look is wrong. If only I looked differently, then I'd be happier. If only I were someone else.

Body image issues are crushing many of our young women. Can cognitive ability issues be far behind?

I have a 148 on the LSAT. If only I had a 153, then I'd be happy.

And don't think these issues are only for students whose scores are a little below average. I worked with a student applying--successfully as it turned out--to Yale Law School who was distraught because her LSAT score was "only" in the 97th percentile. "Yale Law School students have an average LSAT score in the 98th percentile," she wailed.

My advice for the Moniques of our culture is as simple and straight forward as is the admissions process: apply to a law school where you will be admitted. Be happy in your own skin. Love yourself for who you are.

Langston Hughes said, "Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly." But Monique needs to let go of her Syracuse dream and go become a lawyer somewhere else. Giving up on a small part of the dream--law school at Syracuse--will allow her to have the bigger part of her dream--being a lawyer advocating for our children.

That dream--helping children--is a dream worth never, never, never giving up on.

* Not that anyone could possibly care, but here is more information about the LSAT: scores range from 120 to 180; the average is 150. For Syracuse Law School, the 25th to 75th percentile range last year was from 153 - 157. This means that a quarter of successful applicants had scores above 157 and that a quarter of successful applicants had scores below 153. Monique was not one of these.

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