"When I was younger, I would say ‘I would have a seat at that decision-making table.’ And now I've changed that to say, ‘I want to build the table and have people come around and sit there.’ I really shifted my focus from not just wanting to be where the institutions are, but wanting to create where I can."
Arielle Andrews is a third -year law student at Stanford Law School. She graduated from New York University (NYU) and was president of the Black student union. During her tenure, she worked towards increasing the diversity of the campus and was honored as one of the institution's most influential students. At Stanford, she has created a non-profit organization, Lesson Check-in, to help students transition successfully to online/distance learning amid COVIID-19 social distance restrictions. As a servant-leader, she aspires to use her legal career to better her community .
We sat down with Ari to find out about her development as a leader, successful approaches to law school admission, and her perspective on how to remain true to yourself:
My dad was in the Air Force. I grew up living all over the place. I've lived in 14 different places. We traveled the country and the world. And I think that experience of having to adapt, having to leave people and places that I love to go to new things was probably the most influential aspect of my life—something that continues to shape me to this day. I really noticed in college how much that sense of not really feeling like I had a community drove me to create community for others. I was the president of the Black student union for my last two years, which was a cool thing to do in New York because at that time when I took over, that was when the Black Lives Matter movement really started. That was when Eric Garner was happening, and I remember being thrust into that movement as a leader in New York City. It was exciting. We were making connections with people in the city and doing things on our campus, and it was really fun.
When I was younger, I would say ‘I would have a seat at that decision-making table.’ And now I've changed that to say, ‘I want to build the table and have people come around and sit there.’ I really shifted my focus from not just wanting to be where the institutions are, but wanting to create where I can.
What is some advice you can give students who want to make themselves competitive when applying to institutions such as New York University and Stanford Law School?
I think people spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to fit into certain boxes. But I think it’s about trying to figure out yourself and what you're good at. When you maximize your automatic skills or interests, then you’ll get to where you want to go. In high school, I remember my dad wanted me to be in band, but I ended up doing JROTC because I just love that a little bit more. I was great JROTC, and I was always good at school. That's what got me to NYU. But I think what got me to Stanford was that... I was really involved in campus life. I really cared about Black people and them feeling included.
Maybe my GPA is a little lower, but you can clearly see that I was doing things in that time that I was passionate about. With that I was able to make a case for myself. So, when I talk to students now who are like, “Do I need to do Model United Nations?” or even high schoolers are like, “I'm going to follow this path,” I'm like, “No, if you like piano, play piano."
Do whatever it is that you want to do, because that's what's going to get you there. That's what's going to be authentic.
Coming from New York University to now at Stanford Law School, were they any roadblocks and barriers you could advise people to avoid?
In law school and school in general, there are often common paths that are considered what you “need” to do. Law review, for example, is something very prestigious. If you're on a law review, you go on to do everything. All the Supreme Court clerks are on law reviews. I poured my life into this law review application. I was really wanted it, and I didn't get it. And I was so bummed out, and I felt like I would never go on achieve anything in my life. My mom happened to be on the phone when I found out, but she didn't press it because she knew I was freaking out. The next day, she said to me, “Your life has not been checking off the common boxes. You need to think about what it is you do great.” If I were to really assess that, I’m not the best at looking at the fine print. That’s not my strength. I’m a big picture person. I’m a leader. I’m out with the people. I’m someone who is creating. I’m directing. I can solve an issue as far as policy. That’s why I came to law school.
And so for me right now coming into adulthood and remembering that I'm probably not going to me the best lawyer out here. But I can use that legal skill to go and do what's in line with my purpose. I would tell anybody…remember what it is that you bring. Even when you do make it to these places and it seems like everybody else is good at this and you're supposed to be good, you always have to come back to, “What got me here?” What got me to Stanford was not being the person who was the best at doing their homework. It was being the best person out front doing stuff.
Describe your preparation for the LSAT.
I use a program called 7Sage which is an online program where you can self-pace. It is much cheaper than other ones. I always tell people to try it out to see if it works for them. I took the LSAT as senior in college, but one of my mentors told me that I should get work experience ahead of time. That freaked me out, as I planned to go straight through. So, I worked for two years and took the LSAT again because I didn't want to leave anything on the table. The only difference between my two scores was two points, but I honestly think those two points might have mattered.
What does an average week look like for you at Stanford Law School?
The first year is solely about academics. My average week was making sure that my grades were good. I got into Stanford below the LSAT and GPA numbers. Some people think that where you are when you apply to law school is indicative of how you'll perform. That is not the case. I worked really hard, and I saw the results. I was able to perform above average as a first-year law student. I can tell people, it doesn't matter.
I didn't have anybody telling me that. People were telling me, “Well, my numbers were low and my grades weren't good, but I still got a good job.” That's different from, “Your numbers are low, but your grades can still be good and you can also get a good job.” I wanted to hear that the grades could still come through, and I wanted to be a testament. 1L I really focused on that.
2L, I was the co-president of the Black Law Student Association. A lot of days were dealing with that in the mornings and balancing classes. 3L, COVID-19 hit and changed the game for everything. Now my classes start at 5pm, and my days go really late.
What’s next on the horizon for you?
My goal for before 30 is I want to cut checks for the community, distribute financial wealth in some form. I want to be unrestrained in that. Whether that's through the nonprofit, or whether I amass so much wealth at a firm that I'm able to—honestly, that's where I see myself. My goal for my life is not to have a position. I think the next few years for me are building up myself, my own brand, and my own contacts and skills to be able to give that to the world.
What is the ultimate legacy you would like to leave behind?
I've been thinking about this a lot lately. I really think our purpose in life is to lead and create and serve a lot of people. I think it's a spiritual thing for me. Whatever God guided me toward, I want to do that service. That’s the legacy. I want people to see be like, “She served. She was for the people.”