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Playing in the Mock

20 October, 2009 (09:38) | Growing Up

Ann Althouse (1981)
Ann Althouse, now a law professor at the university of Wisconsin,
studying for her final law exam in 1981. Taken from her blog.

When it comes down to it, there’s always one question that needles me until every thread of thought and belief come unwound: Why?

The past few months, I’ve been slowly wending my way toward grad school. My exact destination has been unclear, but the path to all points is roughly the same. It’s like navigating by Polaris, the North Star; it probably won’t get you to your destination directly, but it’ll get you close enough that it’s hard to get too lost.

Last Friday, I received my LSAT score. This, along with my instant GRE results, ends the studious portion of the process and plants me firmly at the application stage. I’m still not tremendously pleased with my GRE score–thanks mostly to what appears to be over-performing on the math section and under-performing on the verbal, which place my overall score approximately where I expected despite my annoyance–but I overshot my LSAT target by a couple points, leaving me quite enamored with the outcome.

SIDE NOTE: Graduate exams are interesting. The GRE’s verbal section is infinitely harder than the math section, but given that my lackadaisical nature resulting in less than 4 hours of studying for math combined with my complete and total avoidance of math since high school nearly a decade ago, my 770 out of 800 was a complete surprise. Meanwhile, despite my complete and total infatuation with the English language, I found that much of my linguistic tendencies resulted in a skewed understanding of language in which colloquial definition and dictionary meaning were at odds. The LSAT, meanwhile, played up the strategist in me. It’s a test which I not only found to accentuate my strengths as a gamer, but also to be surprisingly enjoyable. If the LSAT is truly indicative of the type of work required by law school, I fully expect to both enjoy and be challenged by the material presented.

My pleasure was short-lived, however.

Upon receipt of my unofficial score, I rushed to tell my parents, who had been gracefully supportive in the months prior. Yet their praise and congratulations were short-lived, and before I could slip in a thank you, they deviated to questions of whether or not law school was a good option for me.

“What are you going to do with a law degree?”

“Do you really want to be a lawyer?”

“I’m sure you’d excel, but would you be happy?”

“Have you even spoken to anyone about what you can do with a law degree?”

“Do you really want to saddle yourself with over a hundred thousand dollars in debt to argue professionally?”

“Have you really thought this through?”

The inquiries continued unabated despite my halfhearted protests and succinctly stonewalling answers. Their questions flustered me not because they were suddenly questioning my prospective path in life, but because I didn’t have a good answer. Each and every poignant quandary they presented me was a variant on my most-hated of rivals: why?

Why law school over a different grad program? Why not education, or journalism, or communication, or even engineering? Why this and why now? And, most dauntingly, why can’t I give a clear answer?

“I’ve heard you talk about teaching on multiple occasions, but I hadn’t heard you mention law until a few months ago,” my friend Amy later pointed out.

As I sat there, pondering the imponderables, I realized that I already knew my answer to every question. Unlike most other situations in which knowing the truth sates my discomfort, this solution only furthered it, especially because of my unwillingness to admit it:

I’m scared.

It’s always been my choice in life to maximize the possibilities. I prefer to leave planning to the last minute and keep flexibility a mainstay in life. I like to reserve the right to change my mind and flip flop as the evidence presents itself. In high school I filled my days with extracurriculars which stole time from school not because I was avoiding work, but because I wanted to try everything. I majored in journalism in college because it allowed me the leeway to change topic day to day if I so chose and yet still remain within the purview of my field. I attempted multiple double degrees and took unnecessary classes in fields I had no intention of completing simply for the joy of education. When I traveled the globe, I created multiple itineraries and kept vague outlines of possibilities so I could always readjust as I saw fit.

Every aspect of my life plan hinged on this idea that I could always change gears if ever I felt uncomfortable.

As the years have dwindled and time has slipped away, that key point in my life in which a definitive path must be taken has drawn near. If I chose education as my field of graduate study, it would lock me in to a singular outcome for the foreseeable future. And while this certainly would not be unenjoyable, it would be limiting, and that, in and of itself, is a daunting prospect for one who seems as commitment-phobic as I do.

Law school, on the other hand, leaves as vast a swath of options at its close as I have before I’ve even committed:

  • I could be a judge, clerking at first and working my way up. I would spend days deliberating and studying the nuances of the law, figuring out how these suitably complex constructs of language can be applied through action.
  • I could become a consultant, working for companies or non-profits. I would be able to pick and choose causes that were meaningful to me and argue for their preservation and adoption as tenets of society at large.
  • I could return to journalism with a better understanding of the law. I could write for legal publications, explaining the law and its ramifications in layman’s terms to the public, or consult for television networks as an expert on cases of import.
  • I could become a public defender. As such, I could help stem the unruly arm of the law, which, despite its mutability, is enforced all too often without acknowledgment of mitigating circumstances or false witnesses.
  • I could fall back to teaching, a profession that will always hold high esteem in my eyes, perhaps even leading a debate or mock trial team with my hard-earned degree in high school, or entering a professorship at the post-collegiate level.

There are certainly more options than I care to list here, and ultimately, it’s the wealth of opportunity that attracts me to a law degree as much as my fear of immobility beyond grad school.

I still have a ways to go before I know where I’ll end up. I need to choose what programs to apply to, secure recommendations, and prep my applications. Throughout the process, I will continue to weigh my options and deliberate on my decision. And until the day I check the box securing my matriculation to an esteemed program at my chosen university, I hope to enjoy every fleeting moment of insouciance I can muster.

After all, it’s only the rest of my life.



  • lawschoolpodcaster

    There are lots of things you can do with a law degree, as I'm sure you know.

  • sarahmarin

    Two things:

    1. Well done on math! Don't underestimate your score. I studied for hours upon hours and did quite poorly. Naturally, I don't remember my score as I try to block out the terrible things in life, but I think you shouldn't take your success lightly. As for your verbal, I am surprised you didn't do as well as you would have liked. You can take it again and now that you know where your strengths and weaknesses are, you could do much better.

    2. As for the law degree: I never expected you to ever say that. Journalism or English? Yes. But after I read your job ideas I suppose it could work. Well, the consultant and journalist of law perhaps. That'd be my vote.

    But of course, it is your life, not mine.

  • AceHarmon

    I was surprised and happy with my math score. The morning of the test, I went out to breakfast with my friend Jessie, who spent several years at CU on an engineering degree, and she schooled me on logs and some other advanced math. Though none of it showed up on the GRE, I think a lot of my success had to do with our little session that morning. After that, I went home and thumbed through the appendix of math formulae and tried to memorize all the important ones. Between the two, and adding in the facts that the math section is all basic math as well as the fact that statistically, men generally do better on math, I really shouldn't be discounting my score.

    As far as the verbal section, while I feel I could've done better, I'm realizing that my vocabulary, while advanced, isn't built around the same set of terms the GRE likes to play with. Many of the words I'd recognize in context, but without any, it seems a little absurd. I doubt I'll retake the GRE, as it's cost-prohibitive, but I'm still deliberating on that one.

    Everyone has difficult choices; I should feel lucky that my most difficult choices are as easy as they are.

  • 1izzie

    Congrats on your GRE scores. They sort of parallel my own, where I scored in the top 2% in English, but nowhere near that in math. Which makes going for an MS in CS … quite interesting.

    Anyway, I wanted to take a moment to say that your destination is likely to remain unclear if you use Sirius to navigate due North. Although it is the brightest star in the night sky, it is by no means the North Star. That honor goes to Polaris, which is less than one degree from celestial north. In terms of brightness, Sirius is second only to the sun, while Polaris is 46 more stars behind that. It is a common mistake for people to think that the brightest star in the sky is the North Star, and the perplexity people experience when told otherwise is akin to the reaction of many Christians when told that Christ was a Jew.

    Anyway, I digress.

    Also of some interest is that Polaris is part of Ursa Major while Sirius is part of Canis Major. I mention this to you because of your familial connection to Ursa Major. Papa Bear would not understand if you went looking for him among the dogs….

  • AceHarmon

    I actually have yet to receive my percentile rank for the GRE. Despite my high raw score in math, most signs seem to point toward scoring in approximately the 90th percentile on both math and verbal.

    I've fixed my bad astronomy.

  • 1izzie

    I KNEW I should have just sent you an email for the correction.

    Oh Well.

  • AceHarmon

    I actually have yet to receive my percentile rank for the GRE. Despite my high raw score in math, most signs seem to point toward scoring in approximately the 90th percentile on both math and verbal.

    I've fixed my bad astronomy.

  • 1izzie

    I KNEW I should have just sent you an email for the correction.

    Oh Well.