By Ben Feuer, photo by Wonderferret

Hey there, dummy!

Just kidding! As everybody knows, grades and intelligence don't necessarily correlate. That said, if your current goal is to attend a good four-year college, then the whole ‘grades’ thing?  Yeah. It’s gonna factor in.

Fortunately, we've been helping academic ne’er-do-wells right their ships since 1995. There are no magic wands to wave here, and no quick fixes. However, if you’re willing to put in the work, you can definitely find yourself standing on your dream campus in a year or so.

This guide is designed for students who want to go directly into competitive four year schools out of high school. However, there are a number of other options for you to consider as well, including —

• Entering a trade school or joining a professional union
• Taking a gap year
• Enrolling in a two year private or community college with the intention of transferring
• Attending a school with relatively low selectivity, such as a relatively obscure liberal arts college or a non-flagship state school
• Being LeBron James

Each of these options is going to be right for some of you and wrong for others. You (possibly with some professional guidance) are going to have to figure out what works best.

PERFORM A SELF ASSESSMENT


The first step you have to take in any college application is performing a realistic self-assessment. In other words, who the heck are you? And I don’t mean your name, rank or serial number, I mean how should you be seen in comparison to other students like you? What makes you stand out? What have you been up to on the planet that is revolutionary and game changing?

What are your strengths?  Your razor-sharp wit?  Your faith?  Your encyclopedic awareness of The Big Bang Theory?  Overcoming tough obstacles in your personal background to get where you are today?  Are you a savant, brilliant at a few things and terrible at everything else?  Are you a reformed mega-jock now looking to score an academic touchdown?

Now look at your weaknesses. Where did you get your worst grades, and why? Details matter. If you struggled in advanced-level courses, that’s a very different matter from struggling in remedial Algebra. This is the kind of information you’ll address in your so-called supplemental essay, which usually goes in the additional information field, or is uploaded as a separate file.

Get tested for any potential disorders, such as learning disabilities and autism spectrum. This kind of hard evidence can help explain to schools why you struggled so mightily.

BUILD A TARGET SCHOOL LIST

Be smart and realistic about this. Apply to a wide range of colleges — eight’s a good rule of thumb.  Seek out a range of possible partners, from reach schools to safeties. Choose places that you think might respond to your story and your candidacy. Are they a good match in subject matter, goals, faith, ethnicity, geography?  Would they have some reason to value you more highly than other schools?  What about satellite campuses of schools you like, or schools that offer exchanges with schools you like?

Whenever possible, build relationships with professors and administrators. Especially at small schools, this can sometimes make a big difference with borderline candidates.

PROVIDE ALTERNATE EVIDENCE

Believe me, colleges find your transcripts even more boring than you do. The average admissions officer considers a transcript for 30 seconds. 30 seconds. That’s barely the length of a Budweiser spot.

So no one is going over your history with a fine toothed comb. They’re looking for standout highs and lows (A+’s and Ds) and considering where, when and how they were earned. Then they’re making a snap judgement. Can he compete academically with everybody else at my school, or will he be overwhelmed and drop out?

If you have a weak GPA, you need to show that you can stand on an equal academic footing, or at least come close. How? Here are some of the best ways.

• High test scores — ACT, SAT, AP
• Summer school — A’s from quality colleges
• Testing for professional programs, or admission to other selective academic programs

BACK UP YOUR STORY

So hopefully, by now, you know what kind of candidate you are, where your strengths lie and how you’d like to be seen. The trickiest part is finding an elegant way to present this information, showing rather than telling the school who you are.

People judge you by your results and your actions, as well as by the opinions of others they trust. That’s why schools weigh extracurricular activities so heavily. If you’re a subpar student, then you’d better have some really impressive results to draw on from outside the classroom. That doesn’t mean you need to have acted on Broadway or founded a startup. It can simply mean that you grew your chess club from four members to fifteen, or created a template for delivering the school’s morning announcements that is still in use today.

Choose and use your recommenders strategically. Of course, you want people who are very familiar with your work and your personality, but you also want people who are naturally sympathetic to an underdog story. The type of recommender who will fight harder for you because you overcame adversity others didn’t have to face.

ODDS AND ENDS

There is at least one other very important factor to consider — money. Many schools are willing to take on subpar students, as long as they’re prepared to pay full freight.  That’s a lot of cash, so think carefully before reaching for that top tier school. Be sure that you’re going to get good value for your dollar.

Academic reachers should always apply regular decision rather than early decision. That way, you’ll be faced with a talent pool that more closely resembles you.

Have questions? Of course you do. Fortunately, we’re just an email or a call away!

 

By David Thomas, Photo by Tim Green

A surprising number of our medical school candidates at Forster Thomas ask me for a priority list when they’re first thinking of applying. Which is more important, great grades or lab experience? Should I focus on securing my recommenders or turning in my AMCAS early? This question, and it never fails to leave me scratching my head. To me, it’s like asking, “Are hands less or more important than feet,” or “Which eye do you value the most, your left or your right?” 

Try to picture your application as a pie -- apple, to be specific. There are many, many slices: grades are one, recommenders another. You can’t prioritize one layer of your pie. It all needs to get baked together into one perfectly delicious whole. If one piece is tangy and another is sweet, even if they’re both tasty on their own, you have a problem.  Admissions isn’t going to simply eat around the bad part.

Recently, I got a phone call from a client, Sasha. She was in tears, because she didn’t know how she could go to her shadow-ship AND complete her paper. She wanted my permission to slack on one of them, and was wondering which one to phone in. What I told Sasha was cut-throat, but true.

If she couldn’t figure out how to do both – AMAZINGLY -- she wouldn’t survive medical school. 

Trying to prioritize different parts of your application is another way of looking for shortcuts. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but they don’t exist. Not in this game. So man (or woman) up and stop wasting energy on trying to rank your responsibilities. Instead, refocus that energy on kicking butt everywhere.

By the way, if you need someone to kick your butt FOR YOU and keep you focused on your goals, that's kind of my specialty. Reach out to me and let me know the details of your situation, and I can tell you if I'm a good fit for your needs.




One of the most nerve-wracking parts of the medical school application process is choosing and contacting recommenders. Unless you’re Gordon Gekko or Cersei Lannister, you don’t really go through life thinking about how best to spend emotional capital you’ve built up with your profs. But remember that every single doctor working today had to go through what you’re going through now. If they can do it, so can you.

***

So assuming you’re popular enough to have several academic recommenders to choose from, who should you approach first? While the go-to formula here is two science professors and one humanities, your first concern, always, has to be the strength of the friendship. In other words, your best ally is, very literally, your best ally in this process.  If you are superhuman and rocked all of your sciences and all your profs love you, then go with one physical science, one life science and one humanities prof.

If you’re not buddy-buddy with a professor yet—start creating that relationship, now. Sit in front, ask questions, show up for office hours. Make it easy on yourself by choosing a subject that already interests you.  Keep an eye out for profs you know when you’re walking around campus—don’t be all millennial and bury your face in your Angry Birds. That’s not how you get a job, or get ahead, even in 2016.

But let’s say you can’t do any of this. Let’s say your teacher is the invisible man. You can still be fine. Just pick the subjects you did best in, and the teachers you had twice instead of once, or saw for office hours a couple more times. Do the best job you can do. That includes listening to your instincts. If someone feels wrong, they are wrong.

THINGS THAT CAN HAPPEN, AND WHAT TO DO ABOUT THEM

If it’s getting close to your target date and your professor hasn’t submitted her letter, don’t be shy. Send a polite reminder. Remember, she has about one million priorities that rank above you, so you need to be persistent. You are the driver of your application process. Don’t give up the wheel to a bystander.

Sometimes your teacher will have a TA write the letter and then sign it. DO NOT have a panic attack. While this is not ideal, if it’s your only choice—go with it. Med schools are clear that they do not want TAs writing recs—BUT it’s a poorly kept secret that this often happens. But we will deny that we ever gave you this advice—just between us.

Once in awhile, a professor will ask you to partly or even completely write your own recommendation. This is extremely uncool, and if you have backup options this may be a good time to approach them. But if you have no choice in the matter, try to do a comprehensive, limited job of it. What the heck does that mean? It means you should send details and evocative stories drawn from your memory of the professor’s class, assignments and office hours. You should describe your best qualities and give detailed examples. You should not, unless explicitly requested, draft a letter. You want as much of your recommender’s voice in there as possible.

***

The recommendation process is a funky blend of academic excellence and social engineering. It’s plenty nerve-wracking, but think of it this way–you’re doing wonders for your bedside manner. If you’re running into trouble with a recommender or you need more detailed advice, reach out to us and we’ll be happy to help.

Article by Kirsten Guenther, Image by Evan Hahn


 

By Susan Clark, photo by Dineshraj Goomany

Now that we know why you want an MFA, we can get into another thorny question -- is now the right time for you to get your MFA?  An MFA program is a professional program.  You need to have a clear direction in your career, as well as a body of work you can stand behind.  Fight the urge to rush into this extremely intense situation if the timing isn’t right.  Make sure you are ready.  Go to grad school to promote yourself, not to find yourself.

Here are some questions you should ask yourself before embarking on your MFA quest.

Am I clear in the direction of my work?  Making art is always an evolution of ideas, but you are about to be buffeted with a myriad of them.  Make sure you are on solid ground with your work before you begin.

Do I have the wherewithal to focus intensely on my work? Get the support of those around you to handle the logistics of life while you spend 20 hours a day working. My son Joey will tell you that it is no fun sitting in a print studio for hours on end while your mother keeps saying, five more minutes, five more minutes.

Am I ready to listen to input and incorporate new ideas?  It made no sense to me that some of my classmates were closed off to the point of view of others.  Half of the benefit of an MFA is in the feedback you receive.

Am I strong enough to shut out strong voices that are wrong for me? Every person brings a different opinion; some people bring so much conviction that it may be difficult to stay on your own track. Being pulled in a direction that is not really you makes it more difficult for you to establish the professional voice that you need to make the most out of the networking opportunities that come in grad school

Do you know the historical context of your work? The influences that surround the Chicago art scene are vastly different from the Bay Area figure painters in San Francisco – Jim Nutt and David Park are drawn to different styles. Knowing how your work relates to where you come from and where you intend to end up can give you a better perspective on your own choices and internal voices.

Do you know how your work fits into the context of the current art world, and the ethos of your school?  Why is your artwork relevant to the current scene? Do you prefer a media siloed program, like Yale, or a purposefully diverse program, like Columbia? Why? I have worked with great conceptual artists who got kicked out of painting programs because they didn’t support their work, and artists who never painted again after going to a school steeped in performance art. No matter how prestigious it is, a program must be right for you.

Are you constantly making and maintaining connections?  Even when you haven't been out of your studio for eighty hours and you're living on Ramen noodles, are you thinking about who you need to check in with? The arts are a networking-driven field! 

If you are looking for a discussion for forum to learn more about the experiences of others, check out this.  If you think you are ready to apply (or if you just have a question or two), drop us a line and we will be happy to help.




Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Derek Gavey

We’ve all done things we’re not proud of in life. Things that, if we could do over again, we would definitely think twice about (or at least once).  In my capacity as an educational consultant, I’ve heard pretty much every story you can imagine. DUIs? Of course. Assault? Been there, done that. Drug convictions, rehab, shoplifting? Yes, yes, and yes.

I’ve seen people with, shall we say, colorful pasts get into their dream law school time and time again. How the heck do we pull it off?

The answer is both simple and complex. Simple, because it’s very easy to understand what you need to do. Complex, because doing it well is a delicate and nuanced process that requires a certain amount of, shall we say, finesse.

Don’t Lie. This one seems like it should be obvious, but many, many people come into the process determined to obscure, obfuscate and lie their way into a highly ethical profession. Don’t be one of those people. Even if you manage to lie your way into school, you’ll face the same exact questions when you pass the bar — that’s why they ask them! Commit to telling the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about your convictions.

Let me be clear — that doesn’t mean you need to dish about incidents that were expunged from your record, or every random moving violation. Answer the questions your schools ask (different schools word them differently). Don’t overshare, don’t undershare.

Own the crime.  Every incident you discuss on your applications must be approached with an attitude of 100 percent responsibility. Schools don’t care if your boyfriend talked you into it. Schools don’t care if it seemed like it was your only option. Schools don’t care if you grew up poor. They want to know that right now, in this stage of your life, you’re prepared to take full responsibility for your actions.

Contrition. What have you done since your incident to show the world how sorry you are? Have you performed community service, or created lasting change in some other area of your life? How has your character been strengthened or changed, and what did you learn?

Another way to look at this section of your essay: you need compensating factors to show the school that, despite the occasional slip-up, you’re basically a responsible and ethical person. Sometimes these factors come from a very different area of your life — your volunteer work with disabled children, or your academic decathelon results. The important thing is that you close the essay by showing another side of yourself.

So that’s the basics of how to answer Character and Fitness questions in your law school applications. Feel like you need more tips? Contact me and I’ll be happy to help!

Monday, March 21, 2016

Why pursue a fine arts MFA?



Article by Susan Clark, Photo by Angie Harms

What are some reasons people go for an MFA?  Some artists say they want an MFA to teach, but that’s not so easy -- thousands of applicants compete for a handful of available college professorships, even in out of the way places. Recently the University of Central Arkansas received nearly a thousand applications for a position to teach drawing.  An MFA can also help to land teaching positions at private schools, but you’d still have a better chance at a K-12 job with a state teaching license. What enables artists to get the good professorships is a thriving career, so some artists go to MFA programs to gain recognition.

Then there is the networking value, both perceived and actual, of a top MFA.  I attended Yale and the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program to improve my ability to connect with those working at a high level that I admired, and hopefully to have them connect with my work. Artists want and need exposure to a broad range of views and a broader network of other artists, critics and collectors.  

But ultimately, we make art because we love it, and we would do anything possible to achieve breakthroughs, including working the midnight shift at the Empire Diner, to afford it. (I was the head waiter there many years ago, before I was a professor and a Forster-Thomas consultant.)  The best reason to get an MFA is to improve as an artist.

If you want to talk to me about your plans to pursue a fine art MFA, hit me up!

 



Monday, March 14, 2016

Why do we work so wrong?

 By Ben Feuer

I spent one day of my last vacation on a powerboat, with friends I barely knew, tearing up and down narrow waterways. I am a writer, and like most of my brethren, I spend my time tangled in thorny problems of my own making, which I hope will prove relevant to the experiences of my audience. But on that day in the boat, once I actually managed to loosen up and forget work, I had a great time — the water was cool and the company enjoyable. We left a Golden Retriever back on the shore who was very sad to see me go and very happy to see me return. Even though we had just met, that mutt already liked me better than a lot of my professional friends (rivals?). Later on, back inside the house, I helped my friends’s two-year-old son, Jack, build a puzzle.


It was simple work. It lacked existential meaning. I’ve never had a more fulfilling afternoon.

***

Ryan Avent’s brilliant, insightful and incredibly sad article, “Why Do We Work So Hard?”, really made me think. I commend both his honesty and his insight, but I think he doesn’t go far enough in acknowleding the implications of what he has observed. It is now painfully clear that the 30-something generation’s break with our parents, our relentless pursuit of career self-fulfillment, has been worse than a waste — it has been a disaster.

Let’s start with our sense of accomplishment. Shouldn’t we be proud of our work, of how far we’ve come? Perhaps, but we’re not, because we all know that our elite status we fought so hard for isn’t really ours — it was bought and paid for with privilege, influence and cold hard cash. Lawyers, creative directors, hedge fund managers, app developers and celebrities perch atop arbitrary ‘meritocracies’ based upon equally arbitrary values.  

But at least our work has meaning, Avent argues. At least there’s a reason for us to get up in the morning. Sure, our work means something, but let’s not kid ourselves, if we wanted to make people’s lives better we would have become organic farmers. The value our worlds offer to society is not nearly so great as we like to pretend it is. We overtrained hyperspecialists can spend hours refining a turn of phrase or manipulating an Excel spreadsheet. But does “The World” really operate that much better because we do? Our profits may be mind-boggling, but our social impact is marginal — we are a luxury good, and we’re more buzzworthy to each other than we are worthy of praise.

Which makes it all the more tragic just how many sacrifices we have demanded of ourselves and those around us to make us possible. Because yes, of course, this race doesn’t just hurt us — we, the ‘success stories’, are in fact those least blighted by it. The invisible people in Avent’s narrative, as in most of our lives, are the ones we left behind years ago. The ones who couldn’t ‘keep up’.

***

In this brave new world where all our time is taken up with work and work alone, what happens to our autistic sister-in-law who can’t hold a high-powered job, or possibly any job?  What happens to our poor single mother acquaintance, trying to raise her child?  What about our high school best friend with a couple college DUIs who now can’t afford to buy a house or raise a family? What about our ex-girlfriend who scored eight points too low on the LSAT and now does contract legal work for twenty dollars an hour? What about the people from broken homes, those who were never given a chance to thrive?

How do we justify their total exclusion from our ‘elite’ culture? Do we simply conclude we’re better than these people? Is that why we ignore them? Do we think that we have nothing to learn from them, and that we’re more healthy and secure, intellectually and socially, when they are marginalized?

By making this story about us, aren’t we simply continuing to degrade the very real jobs that need doing all around us?  There are plenty of clever wordsmiths lining up to write blogs — where is the next generation of great teachers, machinists and social workers?

As someone who works with high-powered students destined for all sorts of advanced careers, I have one foot solidly planted in the world of high achievement. As someone whose social life is still influenced by the small New Jersey towns he grew up in, I have always managed to keep one foot outside of it.

From my split perspective, the world Avent and I share is not one we should be proud of. Its values are not driven by the greater good. If anything, it’s shockingly Hobbesian. In our world, the weak conveniently vanish. I have seen friends cut off other friends because they were not perceived to be as professionally successful. I have seen people ‘take off’ and forget where they came from so fast it would make your head spin. Time and time again, I have seen people too busy for their families, their sick relatives, their ailing communities.

Too busy with themselves.

***

It’s clear from his article that Avent knows all this, and yet he offers no solution, and at times wallows in the problem. Anyone with a good heart can sense that we are dismantling everything fundamental, thousands or even millions of years of culture, family, tradition, and replacing it with a vast gray monoculture of identical monkeys scaling narrow ladders of wealth and status. We owe it to ourselves to get off the sidelines and take action, not cheer others’ failure to break free.

So here is my suggestion to those facing the quandary Avent describes —

Step away from the cell phone.

Put it down for a few hours. Let your emails buzz.

Go back to humanity. If your bedroom community is falling, don’t be a drive-by citizen — break a sweat, lift a stone and mend a fence. Do it for an evening a week if that’s all you have time for. Join a local Yahtzee club. Help a poor kid get into college. You might be surprised at the rewards it brings, even if they don’t smell quite as strongly of accomplishment to your ‘friends’.

If we all do it — even if only the best of us do it — our employers, who ‘value’ us so much that we’re afraid that if we leave their sight for a few days we’ll be replaced, will have to reconsider their stance.

We who have been given every opportunity and every advantage cannot afford to forget the loving families and communities that created us. Once we do, there’s nothing left. Once we do, there’s no going back. it’ll be us versus the disaffected, the Sanders-Trump demographic, and all the data-driven promises of BetterTomorrows(TM) won’t save us.

And we’ll wonder why everyone’s so darn angry all the time.

Coming up with an original and compelling short film idea is one of the most challenging parts of the process. It’s also one of the most important. If you don’t get the concept right, no matter how well you do everything else, you still won’t wind up with a great movie in the end.

I recommend that you begin by ‘scratching’ — appropriating things you like from successful short films, short stories, podcasts, radio plays, you name it. Notice that I’m NOT mentioning feature films or TV shows — why? Because you’re most likely going to appreciate what everyone else appreciates, which will make your short film less original in the end. The second reason is that from a storytelling perspective, features and TV are bad models for short film — the stories they tell are way too complex and involved.

Short film thrives on minimal story — in fact, in many cases, the best short films have almost no story at all.

Hellion - (Official 2012 Sundance Film Festival) from Kat Candler on Vimeo.


As for writing, anyone who knows anything about the subject will tell you this — it’s a process, not an event. Writing is a habit you must form for as long as you intend to be a writer; a habit of walking over to a keyboard and setting words down on screen.

That habit can be as fun (or as horrifying) as you make it. But unless you get into the habit, you won’t get out with a script.

Once you have a draft of your idea, be generous with praise and appreciation for those who take the time to give you feedback. Everybody likes writing original scripts, but almost nobody likes reading them. Listen patiently to the comments you receive and write everything down. Then walk away from the whole thing for a week and do something else. I know, you’re in a hurry to be the next Francis Ford Coppola, but distance will help you make better choices.

So how do you know when you’re finished? 

Simple — you need to be thinking to yourself, wow, there’s no way I can allow this script NOT to become a movie. It’s just that good.

Once you feel that way, it’s time to assemble your team and move on to pre-production, which we’ll learn all about in our next blog.

By Ben Feuer

Short films have been around for as long as film itself.  In the olden days, filmmakers used them as experimental laboratories, places to play with new cinematic techniques and technologies.


Frankenstein Goes to College, an early Edison film


Gertie the Dinosaur, the first keyframe animated film

Today, short films are used as industry ‘calling cards’. Much as a short story can get a novelist ‘discovered’, a fantastic short film can get a filmmaker her first opportunity to direct a feature.


Todd Haynes (Carol) got his start animating barbie dolls

So you’ve decided that you want to join their ranks and make a spectacular, award-winning short film of your own? Slow down, hero. Even before you brainstorm, you’ll want to run though a basic checklist to ensure that you’re ready to create your magnum opus.

• Watch 100 Short Films

This is not an exaggeration nor an approximation. This has, in fact, been scientifically proven to be the precise number of short films one must watch before making a great short.

Okay, that was obviously a complete lie. That said, you should watch at least that many short films before trying to make one. Watch recent festival successes on websites like these … they’ll help you get a sense of what people are looking for. Take notes about what you liked and what you didn’t like.  Keep a record of your favorite shorts and watch them three or four times — figure out how often they cut, how much dialog they use, what style of camerawork they employ.

• Attend a Local Film Festival

Sure, you can also go to film school or haunt your local art house theater (provided you still have one), but attending a film festival is a great way to meet other people who share your interests. Who knows? You might even find a few willing collaborators …

• Examine Your Life

Sure, but for what? What should you be looking for?  What are the stories, issues and themes that matter to you? Did something happen to you that was unusual or particularly interesting that you would like to share with the world?  Do you live in an unusual place, or are you part of a group of unusual people?  Don’t just copy successful filmmakers — think about what makes you stand out!

• Take Stock of Your Resources

How much time do you have? Money? Access to equipment? Willing friends? You’ll need all of these things to make a memorable short film. Figure out what you have plenty of and what you’re a bit short on, and start seeking out the resources you’re going to need.

** ** ** **

Okay! By now, you should have everything you need to get started on your short film!  Next time, we’ll talk about brainstorming the perfect short film concept.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

So you want to be a Supreme Court Justice?

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 Article by Ben Feuer, Photo by Jeff Kubina

So you want to become a Supreme Court Justice, eh? Thinking about assuming the mantle Justice Scalia and others have so proudly worn? Well, hats off to you — it’s a noble profession (most of the time). It’s also the pinnacle of what a lawyer can become in America, unless he’s willing to debase himself enough to enter politics.


It’s easy to understand the appeal. With their lifetime appointments, brilliant clerk teams and challenging cases to evaluate, who wouldn’t want this awesome job? So how do you get to there from here? Make no mistake, it will be a difficult path — but if it’s what you want, don’t let that stop you.

THE BASICS

You’ll have to be a spectacular student. It is very helpful to have an Ivy undergraduate degree (albeit not required). What is required is that you graduate at or near the top of your class. After that, you’ll want to go to law school within two or three years of graduating. Attend Harvard or Yale (Stanford, Columbia and Northwestern have also had recent alums placed on the highest court in the land, but those two schools are your best bet by a long shot). Again, you’ll need to be an outstanding student — graduate at or near the top 10% of your class and make it onto Law Review. Ideally, become the chief editor, but this isn’t a requirement.

Done all that? Good! You’re now officially in the running to become a Supreme Court Justice!

THE NEXT STAGE

After you graduate with your JD, you have a few options.  You don’t have to pursue all of these, but you will certainly want to have at least three of these on your resume by the time you turn fifty to be seriously considered for the highest court in the land.

• Clerk immediately after graduating. Begin with the court of appeals and then make it to the Supreme Court in your second year. This positions you well to transition into government jobs and makes you very attractive to the Supreme Court in the long run, since you already have a good sense of how the court works and have (ghost)written many of their arguments and dissents.

• Enter private practice. While it doesn’t build prestige, it does make you some money and it has a charmingly blue-collar ring to it. It doesn’t necessarily matter that much what kind of private practice you’re doing, as long as you’re building and maintaining the key political connections that will ultimately allow you to get that appointment you’re after.

• Join academia. Five of the nine current justices (counting Scalia, RIP) taught law to undergraduates. Academia allows you to make a name for yourself (and carve out a niche) as a writer and a legal theorist, which makes it very relevant to a job where your opinions are going to be read closely at every law school in America.

• Work in government. Assistant to the US Attorney, Solicitor General, Office of Legal Counsel, and Associate Counsel to the president are some good positions to target for aspiring political operators (and make no mistake, the Supreme Court has highly very political appointment process). You’ll get in front of some of the politicians who are most likely to be making the next choice of who to promote.

• Become a judge.
Getting appointed to the Federal Court of Appeals is a great way to gain visibility and start putting out important opinions with your name on them. It’s also a good way for you to make sure that you actually enjoy being a judge (don’t worry, almost everyone does).

THE NOMINATION PROCESS

Okay, so you’re in that golden age range (remember, presidents like to appoint ‘young’ justices of about 45-50 years of age so that their choice will last for awhile), you’re in good health, you’ve had a dream career and the president’s got his eye on you. What will be the determining factors that lift you above your equally qualified peers?

• Are you diverse?  Adding some color to the court will always be an attractive bonus at this stage of the game.

• Are you moderate?
  Did you ever allow your opinions to venture too far out of the mainstream? If so, they will almost certainly be used against you during the nomination process. Remember, if you’re signing it, keep it bland!

• Are you well-liked?  Again, the Supreme Court is ultimately a political appointment. Attending the right DC cocktail parties and making friends on both sides of the aisle will hopefully be helping you during this stage of a contentious nomination process.

CONGRATULATIONS, YOU MADE IT!

Hope you enjoy wearing long dark robes to work every day!

(and just in case you’re interested in a legal career that’s a little less lofty, we’d be happy to give you some pointers on that too)