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All Roads to a J.D. Begin with Al Watson

For two and a half decades and counting, the road to earning a J.D. from the University of Cincinnati College of Law has been running through Al Watson. After all, Watson, currently the Senior Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions and Financial Aid, has played a major role in the College admitting strong, diverse classes annually, since his hiring in 1986.

After spending four-and-a-half years in undergraduate admissions at Wittenberg University, a liberal arts college in Springfield, Ohio, Watson was hired by then-dean Tom Gerety, and is currently in his 26th year with the College of Law. 

With 30 years and counting of admissions experience, following his days as an undergraduate and graduate student, Watson joked that he “never left college.”

“I attended Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and then completed a master’s degree in a college administration field; then I went back to a liberal arts college in a recruiting function and now I work at a major university in admissions at a law school,” Watson said.

Landing His First Recruiting Job

The South Haven, Mich., native was a double major in political science and business at Hope before he pursued a master’s degree in college student personnel at Bowling Green State University.

Upon graduating from Bowling Green, Watson found the job at Wittenberg, where he spent a lot of time recruiting on the East Coast, as well as in Cleveland – the latter being part of a region that Watson and the admissions staff target fairly heavily today. 

Eventually, Watson married and moved to the Cincinnati area, where his wife, Diane – currently a human resources executive with U.S. Bank – had been since they met at Bowling Green.  

When Watson landed at the College of Law, there “wasn’t a lot of strategic, formalized recruiting that was taking place,” he said. “So I was hired as the admissions director in ’86 to really formalize a lot of our enrollment management activities and improve our recruiting in order to grow our national standing,” Watson said.

How the Admissions Office Works

For most of his tenure with the College, Watson was somewhat of a “one man band,” doing “a lot of everything.” Since the arrival of Dean Lou Bilionis, the admissions staff has grown, however, with John Stiles currently serving as the Associate Director of Admissions.

Another major change Watson has seen in recent years is the development of the electronic application, allowing the admissions staff to avoid the previously “tedious process” of individually entering each application into the computer system. “I’m able to really concentrate a bit more on strategy, because things have changed a lot in terms of admissions,” Watson said. 

The admissions process at the College of Law, like at other schools, is a cyclical process, beginning in the fall when Watson spends much of his time on the road talking to pre-law groups, attending law fairs at undergraduate universities and colleges, and hosting some on campus events.

Since the late fall and into the early winter, Watson and the admissions committee – made up of a faculty member, usually Professor Bert Lockwood, and two subcommittees of faculty and law students – have been reading files from prospective students.

In the late winter and into the early spring, Watson will dedicate a large portion of his time to awarding scholarships and working with admitted students on their financial aid packages. Also during the spring, Watson will continue meeting with students in person, in addition to making and receiving phone calls, and assisting in communicating with prospective students through mail and e-mail.

“I think every year is a new challenge and we try to put forward the very best, most diverse entering class that we can do each year,” Watson said.

Expanding UC Law's Outreach

Since 2009, Watson and Mina Jefferson, the College’s Assistant Dean and Director of the Center for Professional Development, have been co-directing the Cincinnati Law and Leadership Institute (LLI) for high school students during the summer. LLI is a state-wide diversity initiative started several years ago by the Supreme Court of Ohio to improve Ohio’s law school applicant profiles in the future, Watson said.

Like any other position, Watson’s role as director of admissions is not without challenges. He highlighted three, in particular: the City of Cincinnati not being “as well-known as maybe we would hope”; resources, especially as it relates to the amount of scholarship money that can be currently offered; and rankings.

“Our ranking has been consistent,” Watson said. “Certainly being in the top 50 or so is not bad, but many of the applicants that we’re admitting – our top portion – they are being admitted to top 25 or so schools. Applicants do pay a lot of attention to rankings, (so) that can be a challenge.”

Outside of his work at the College, Watson is an avid golfer. The Fort Thomas, Ky., resident is in a group that plays fairly regularly on Friday afternoons. Watson also gets to a local gym “pretty regularly,” enjoys reading and follows college sports (especially college football) in his time away from UC and the golf course.

Of course, Watson truly enjoys his time at the College of Law and that has not changed since 1986.

“Being able to recruit and get to know a generation of UC law students has been amazing,” Watson said. “With the College of Law’s tradition, size and location we have a unique place in legal education. I am very thankful for the many positive memories!”

In addition to his wife, Diane, the Watson family includes their children, Catherine, a fourth-year business co-op student at UC, and Ben, a second-year student at the University of Kentucky, as well as dogs Duke and Lucy.