Something they don’t tell you when you register for the LSAT is that if you change your mind, you only get 25% of the $200 USD registration fee back. Maybe this is a premonition, a primary example of poor legal acumen, or maybe it’s an honest mistake, but either way I’ve built myself an unfortunate trap.
Back in February, when I was still able to be in the same room as my classmates, I decided I’d take the LSAT over the summer because I was facing probable unemployment; I didn’t have any tangible career aspirations, and I like to read. I knew that being a lawyer– at least, going to law school– involved a lot of reading. I figured that taking the LSAT was the first step in becoming a career-oriented woman, a member of the class of 2021 with a goal, a lady with a plan! We love women, especially women who have plans!
It was nice having something to tell my friends: “No one wants to employ me yet, but just wait ‘til I’m in law school.” It had the high-gloss finish of togetherness that I craved, though at my core I knew I was lying. Many of my friends had secured employment long before classes were cancelled, the death knell that commenced the hiring freeze for summer interns. In this way, being sent home had sealed my fate– I’d write the LSAT and prepare my application, ready to return in September with a concrete idea of what my future held.
Unlike the MCAT (the other standardized test that has tormented my peers) the LSAT doesn’t require you to spend several months learning new material, whereas to succeed in the former, there is a strict right answer based on information that is quantifiably and scientifically true. There are three sections: Logical Reasoning, Analytical Reasoning (also called Logic Games), and Reading Comprehension. Each section is built to test a specific skill, let it be reasoning, critical thinking, or reading abilities. I registered for LSAT without knowing most of this information. I had three months, no job, and was stuck at home (I also have neither a car nor my G2 so I literally could not leave my house).
I find it extremely difficult to lie to myself for an extended period of time. My friends know best that I like toying with the idea of potential careers after reading about them in a book or a magazine article. As an example, I recently read John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and briefly considered becoming a CSIS agent. (Now that it’s written in this article, there’s no fucking way I can ever be a CSIS agent.) It’s easy for me to be temporarily convinced that a certain profession is my vocation, but only for a few days. My interest waxes and wanes in conjunction with my temporal proximity to when I read the article; give it a couple days, and I’ll no longer want to be a Christie’s auctioneer, a Michelin guide inspector, nor an Arctic expeditioner. But I always eventually gravitated towards being a lawyer because it seemed like a convenient and attainable way to gain money and respect. It wasn’t something I desperately wanted to achieve in life, but it was a career it seemed like I could tolerate.
I needed a band-aid solution to the problem I was battling on two fronts: first, my looming unemployment, and second, my inability to pick a career path that would both ensure financial security as well as impress my peers. Taking the LSAT seemed to solve this problem. When you tell people that you’re writing the LSAT, people actually listened to what you had to say. They ask you questions. It’s a very different reaction than when you have nothing to share about your own career prospects, as the threat of being thrust into the real world materializes ever more clearly as graduation approaches. For someone who, against better judgement, cares greatly about what others think of her, it seemed like my problem was solved.
To my credit, I came very close to successfully convincing myself that being a lawyer was my calling. I had imposed some sort of direction to my life, my family was happy I was no longer moping around the house, whining about my inability to commit to a career. All was well– I had three months until my test date, what was the rush in starting now? A week or two passed, and I told myself the same thing: I have so much time, why start now? A month later: why start now? I kept up the ruse for long enough before I came to terms with the root of my procrastination– I have absolutely no interest in being a lawyer. It lacks everything I want from my profession: dynamism, novelty, a personal life.
In mid-July, I FaceTimed a couple of friends, both of whom were scheduled to write the MCAT later in the summer. As I joined the call, one of my friends was in the middle of cancelling her MCAT registration, holding up her credit card as she leaned in close to her screen. When I asked my other friend about how her studying was going, she told me that she’d cancelled hers too. So, I thought, it was possible, I could just quit and get the money back! Apart from my immediate family, I hadn’t told very many people that I’d was gonna write the LSAT anyway, only a handful of friends, so I thought I could let this little phase of mine slip away quietly.
I figured that the regulations for cancelling the MCAT and the LSAT were relatively the same, both exams served the essentially the same purpose, but for wildly different people. Turns out, you get a full refund of a whole $320 USD when you cancel the MCAT. There’s little to no penalty for registering except for any potential time wasted on studying and the money spent on prep books, the latter of which you could probably pass off to another unsuspecting victim on Facebook Marketplace for a slightly discounted price (new books, gently used!!!).
As the July heat dissipated and summer slowly started to drain away, I googled, how to cancel LSAT, only to find that the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) doesn’t really do refunds. If you fill out the refund request form in time, they throw you a $50 and keep the rest for… I literally have no idea. I was angry. What kind of sick, twisted, capitalist instrument would just eat up your cash like a faulty vending machine? Who the fuck did they think they were? Now, with a month to go before my exam, I had a new plan: I would write the LSAT, I would do well, and I definitely was not going to law school. I dropped another $65 on a prep book, found as many online practice exam PDFs I could find (which was not many, their people are ruthless), and got to work.
The prep book I bought (for those interested, it’s Mike Kim’s The LSAT Trainer Study Guide) told me that despite all the practice questions I attempt and all the prep books I buy, the best way to ensure success on the LSAT is to deserve it. At first, this notion was comforting in its optimism. I’ve learned there are very few things that adhere to this supposed one-to-one relationship between hard work and success. My degree, more than anything, has reinforced that. I could spend hours reading and absorbing mathematical proofs only to bomb the final exam, leaving my GPA in free fall. But if Mike Kim believed that hard work equated to success on the LSAT, then I was sure I could believe it too.
As I studied, I was reminded of this sentiment every time I got a question wrong– I got it wrong because I didn’t deserve it. This mantra began as a source of motivation– work harder, study for longer, then you’ll deserve it– but quickly transformed into a way for Mike to wash away culpability if his methods didn’t work. He wasn’t responsible for my bad score; if I get a 140, it’s because I don’t deserve it. But how can I deserve something I don’t want? I want to do well as a massive “fuck you” to the LSAC for needlessly draining my money, not because I actually want to practice law.
Like many of my academic decisions, I decided to take the LSAT to “keep my options open”. I came to Queen’s for science instead of arts because it would “keep my options open.” I switched from science to engineering to “keep my options open.” I chose to study mathematics and mechanical engineering to “keep my options open.” Each of these decisions were specifically tailored to improve my chances of being employed sooner, quicker, better than my peers in other faculties, but, obviously, that’s not how things shook out.
The summer before grade 12, I made a last-minute decision to drop chemistry, leaving biology as my only science. This would impede my ability to apply to almost every science program in the country, which was fine with me, because I had no real interest in studying any sort of science in the future. A week before classes started, I found myself in a meeting with the vice-principal of my small ultra-Catholic school and my guidance counselor, who were making the case to keep chemistry in my academic roster. They outlined the point above, their argument amounting to “keep your options open.” Don’t cut yourself off entirely, you may change your mind.
Flash forward several months; it’s February and I’ve gotten into most of the programs I applied to and seriously considered, now, it’s just a matter of choice: arts or science. I’m very anxious (about five months into therapy to help assuage what I can now recognize as mild OCD), sitting again in the vice principal’s office. Since our last conversation, I’ve been swayed away from arts, in favour of supposedly better employment prospects, given my academic aptitude for chemistry and biology. We’re chatting about my upcoming decision, and he’s unconvinced. He asks me to take out my phone– an act entirely unheard of at my extremely strict Catholic school where using your phone on-premises results in both confiscation and detention– and set a reminder to email him on February 9th, 2018, one year from that date, and tell him what courses I was planning on taking in second year. He believed I’d be in political science.
A year later, I wrote to him saying I was planning on transferring into engineering. Probably a very different email than what he’d expected, or maybe not. I think he had a lot more faith in my own convictions than I had– or, maybe, have. Now, I’m here, three years into a degree I never really wanted. Well, it’s not that I never wanted it, but I think there’s two types of wanting here. The first is immediate, dictating simple decisions without worrying about their place in the grand scheme of your life: I want to transfer into engineering, I want a milkshake. The second is stretched and true, it’s an aspiration, there’s longing: I want to be a writer, I want to be a star. Both kinds sometimes require a level of delusion.
There’s something trite about telling someone to follow their dreams. For corporations, it’s a way to profit off the public’s insecurity. Somehow, this yogurt cup, exercise bike, second home, will fulfill you. In the classroom, telling a young student to follow their dreams is frustrating because it never is that simple. In my experience, the only people who can achieve that kind of greatness are those who are rich, those who are lucky, and those who are rich and lucky. And that’s discouraging, if it isn’t too cynical. It’s gross and manipulative, but also, it’s kind of right.
In an effort to be prudent and responsible, I’ve committed deeply to a life I want no part in. Do I regret my decisions? No, not really. I love my friends, and the material I study is interesting and difficult enough not to bore me. There’s a weird high you can get when everyone’s collectively struggling together through a class; it’s a great feeling to know you’re not alone. Keeping my options open has only gotten me so far, stuck in a weird, tangled web that I’m trying hard to escape, but somehow, I keep coming back to convention.
Either way, it seems like I’m destined to be unemployed for the near future. The fear of failure has led me through an awkward, winding path, inscrutable to myself and seemingly ignorant to onlookers. Despite my attempts to have all possible doors open to me at all times, I’m in the exact position I was trying to avoid five years ago in the vice principal’s office.
HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: Vincent Mahé