Lunch with Admissions Director Grace Cleveland

Jenna Goldman '18

For many of us at UVa Law, Grace Applefeld Cleveland was the first person we met as an applicant or admitted student to the Law School. Before joining the Office of Admissions in 2014, Cleveland was a 2009 graduate of UVa Law, and a trademark and copyright associate at Arent Fox in Washington, D.C. 

Photo courtesy of

Photo courtesy of

A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Cleveland majored in Dance and Creative Writing at Northwestern, then worked for four years in marketing and education for dance companies in Chicago before going to law school. Though she loved the mission of the companies and the people she worked with, she began looking for a career that would challenge her intellectually on a daily basis. 

Cleveland’s decision to go to law school was influenced by a legal dispute involving the work of Martha Graham, one of the founders of the modern dance movement. A few years after her death, Graham’s heir sued the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance, claiming rights to all of Graham’s intellectual property. The resolution of this case inspired Cleveland to focus on trademark and copyright law in school.

Cleveland left Arent Fox to clerk for Stephanie A. Gallagher, U.S. magistrate judge for the District of Maryland, then for David C. Norton, U.S. district court judge for the District of South Carolina. While winding down her clerkship and studying for the South Carolina Bar, Cleveland received notice of an opening in the UVa Law Admissions Office. She and her husband Will, a UVa Law classmate who now works as a staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center, began investigating opportunities to return to Charlottesville.

Cleveland fell in love with the school all over again when she came to North Grounds to interview, and credits the Admissions and Financial Aid team with demonstrating that UVa is as supportive and exciting a place to work as it is to go to law school. 

On the first of the three-day South Carolina Bar Exam, Cleveland received the call that she got the job in Admissions. With Will still two days away from his final interview at SELC, Cleveland continued taking the exam. It was only after the third day of the bar that Will officially got word of his offer: The Clevelands were headed back to Charlottesville. 

During our lunch, Cleveland gave us a rare glimpse into the admissions process. Every person who applies to UVa Law has his or her application read at least twice. The first read-through is done by a member of a team of four part-time file readers; all hold J.D.s and three are alums of UVa Law. From there, the readers write a summary of the application and give a recommendation to the Admissions Committee. 

Applications are then divided up and three members of the Admissions team extend interviews to some of the prospective students. Generally, Cleveland takes the first half of the alphabet, but she also likes to speak with applicants with whom she shares commonalities to calm the nerves of the interviewees. Accordingly, she handles the interviews of applicants from Maryland, those applicants who have dance experience, or, as Dean Faulk likes to assign her, applicants with the first name “Grace.” 

After the interview, applicants’ files are returned to the Admissions Committee for a final decision.

Beginning with the 2015 cycle, every person admitted was interviewed by a member of the office. She says this is helpful in determining fit, “There are some students who I was on the fence about when I read their paper application, but then when I interviewed them I knew we had to take them!” The interview policy has allowed the office to get a more “three-dimensional” picture of the applicant. 

When she isn’t reading applications, Cleveland can be found hiking, cooking, and chasing her two-year old son Liam. The Clevelands love Charlottesville’s outdoor and food scenes, and they especially like to sit on the patio at their favorite restaurant, Lampo. 

Cleveland’s biggest piece of advice is for 3L students as they approach their bar study: “There’s going to be a point, maybe around the Fourth of July, when you will start to freak out,” she says, “you might start to doubt yourself and whether you will pass,” but Cleveland encourages students to reach out or stop by the Admissions Office for a pep talk. “We know that you all are really smart people who work really hard,” and Cleveland likes to remind students to think back to their 1L year, or even to when they were studying for the LSAT. “You got through it and you excelled, and you will do the same with the bar.” 

Grace Cleveland should know; it is her job to spot potential.