Priscilla Consolo is a lifelong New Yorker and a lawyer working as an associate in the Litigation Group at a premier international law firm in New York City. She focuses on commercial litigation, securities litigation, and government and regulatory investigations and enforcement.
In May 2016, she graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University College at Lincoln Center earning her Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in History and a minor in Political Science. Priscilla continued her education at New York University School of Law, which she attended on the AnBryce Scholarship, graduating in May 2019.
Last fall, Priscilla published a scholarly article on reforming the admissions system to New York City’s Specialized High Schools in the NYU Law Review, a prestigious academic journal for legal scholarship. In January 2020, she was admitted to the New York State Bar.
We recently caught up with Priscilla to hear more about what she’s been up to since graduating from Fordham. Below you’ll find our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for this publication.
What did you learn about yourself when you came to college that you didn’t think about before?
Prior to college, I thought I was like everyone else. I grew up in a blue-collar, working-class family in southern Brooklyn’s neighborhood of Gravesend, which borders Coney Island. It is a lower-income community, full of ethnic, racial, and religious diversity, including many different immigrant groups. My father, a high school dropout, worked as a trash collector, and while I never had any luxuries growing up, we always had food on the table and a roof over our heads. Many of my classmates experienced extreme poverty and some lived in public housing. As a public school student in New York City, overcrowding and underfunding were the norm. Sometimes, I used textbooks that fell apart. I never was really educated in the fine arts due to continuous budget cuts. That all changed once I went to Fordham. I started hearing people describe me as being a “socioeconomically-disadvantaged,” “underprivileged,” and “first-generation” college student. For the first time in my life, I wasn’t just like everybody else.
What first drew you to the Office of Prestigious Fellowship?
As a freshman, my academic advisor suggested that I contact the Office of Prestigious Fellowships to find out more about the types of awards I should consider applying for in the future. After I scheduled an appointment, I met two advisors from the office and we began discussions about my future aspirations.
I found that in-person meetings with the office’s advisors were extremely helpful, so I highly recommend setting up an appointment even if you do not have a specific fellowship in mind because they can assist you in figuring out your career trajectory and long-term plans based on your interests and goals.
Which award did you end up applying to?
We started preparing for the Truman Foundation Scholarship in the fall of my sophomore year. At the time I chose to apply to the Truman, I wanted to have a career in public service. I had already been working for a New York State Assembly Member for a few years, and I thought I would want to continue on that path.
I was also actively involved in my home community in Brooklyn by organizing grassroots projects and being involved in local politics. During that period in my life, I imagined one day running for elected office. I wanted to serve in government, so the Truman Scholarship seemed like a perfect fit.
What was the application process to Truman like for you?
We spent 18 months preparing. Part of the application was a policy proposal, so I had to craft one and try to explain why my idea would lead to positive societal change. I reached out to professors, as well as two colleagues in government, who provided letters of recommendation.
Once I completed the application, my advisor in the Office of Prestigious Fellowships reviewed the drafts and suggested revisions. Every response had a limited word count, so I had to choose my words wisely–literally–in order to convey the message that I wanted. Once the application itself was finalized, we began preparing for the interview. My advisors organized several mock interviews for me, with the interviewers being various Fordham faculty members.
I know that you were a Truman finalist, but ended up not receiving the award. What was that like for you?
Being rejected for the Truman had to be one of the toughest experiences of my life. I remember receiving the letter in the mail. To have spent over a year and a half preparing for something to then be let down felt like such a huge defeat.
At the time, I was counting on the Truman Scholarship, which would have provided $30,000, to attend graduate school. When I wasn’t awarded the scholarship, I honestly had no idea how I was going to afford to continue my education because I came from a working-class background. I remember thinking that my education was going to end with my Bachelor’s degree and that crushed me. I felt like a failure for weeks.
How did you bounce back from this?
Well one day I was talking to my academic advisor, Dr. Roger Panetta, and at that point I was totally hopeless. It’s difficult coming from a background like mine and not having the privilege of financial support from your parents, which he understood because he came from a similar background himself. I told him I wasn’t going to graduate school, and Dr. Panetta then basically gave me some tough love. He said something along the lines of, “Where you come from should shape who you are, but it should not determine how far you will go.” I started thinking about what I really wanted to do with my life, and I had to decide for myself that I wasn’t going to let anything stop me.
What happened next?
I decided to pursue my lifelong dream of becoming an attorney and applied to numerous law schools. After being accepted to NYU Law School, I was awarded two scholarships. The first was the Root Tilden Kern Scholarship, which supports students who wish to pursue a public interest legal career. I was also awarded an AnBryce Scholarship, a prize given to first generation graduate or professional school students who belong to socioeconomically disadvantaged backgrounds. Both scholarships provided full-tuition for all three years of law school, but I ultimately accepted the AnBryce Scholarship because it provided exceptional resources, including specialized career counseling, academic support, mentorship opportunities, and a dedicated network of alumni and legal professionals.
Wow! Two scholarships. What do you think made your application so competitive?
Academic performance is only part of the puzzle, so while having a high GPA or standardized test scores are necessary to be seriously considered, I don’t think it really sets applicants apart from one another. I’ve found that it’s really those “soft” factors that can grab the attention of evaluators. I had an extensive track record of public service that was unique for someone my age.
It’s critical to devote sufficient time and effort into the applications themselves. The applications should not be rushed and should be reviewed multiple times by multiple people. It’s also important to receive objective and constructive feedback.
After I was rejected for the Truman, I felt like I had wasted my time during that long application process. But once I started applying to other scholarships again, I realized that the process in fact made me a stronger applicant. The ultimate decisions for any scholarship are made during the interview round, and that is where, as an applicant, you must show in person that you really are the best candidate; it’s no longer about what’s on paper.
Because I had already participated in so many mock interviews for the Truman, when I later applied to law school scholarships, I felt like a veteran interviewer. My answers to questions were much more concise, engaging, and on point. Through all of this practice, I had developed these useful set of skills that allowed me to convey my thoughts effectively.
Hence, I strongly believe my law school scholarship applications were so competitive from my prior experience with the Truman process. Because I was already familiar with the expectations of these scholarship committees, I was able to communicate through my application, and subsequently through my interviews, a narrative which was considered authentic but compelling. I showed these scholarship committees the person I was, am, and wanted to be, and how these programs – through their funding and support networks – would enable me to achieve my goals.
How do you think this process of applying to fellowships translates into your career as a lawyer?
Applying for fellowships, I really developed my interview skills. Prior to the Truman Scholarship process, I never really thought about my interview skills. Working with the advisors in the Office of Prestigious Fellowships, I learned how to think critically about questions quickly, essentially on the spot, and how to craft meaningful answers that give the interviewer a good impression of the type of person I am. This skill became essential when I applied for law school internships and post-graduate legal jobs. Plus, as a litigator, we are expected to communicate persuasively and succinctly, both in writing legal documents and in speaking in court. Litigators need to think on their feet, much like I had to learn to do when I would be interviewed for these scholarships.
Even now, I feel that I can engage in conversation very easily with anyone. It’s an important skill to have as an attorney. That all stems from the interview skills work I did in preparation for my scholarship applications. I know how to relate to people and listen keenly to others. I feel like I connect with other people on a deeper level and that’s proven to be a pivotal skill.
Any other information, tips, or stories that you’d like to share with current or future applicants?
Oftentimes, I think of this famous quote from Michael Jordan, and it provides me with perspective and hope, and it reminds me that giving up should never be an option: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
To reflect on that Michael Jordan quote, I think people tend to see me and others who have accomplishments as never falling short. But that’s not true. I’ve learned over the years that all successful people have failed terribly at some point. As humans, we like to think that everything in life is always going to go perfectly, but then when it doesn’t, we see it as a reason to stop trying. But obstacles should never stop a person from striving to attain their goals.
I’ve faced a lot of hardship and I could have given up so many times. While I came close a couple of times, I ultimately never did. I know it’s easier said than done, but it’s really a skill to teach yourself how to persevere in the face of adversity. I’ve failed as much as I’ve succeeded. In fact, I might have failed more than I’ve succeeded.
I experienced a lot of personal growth through college and law school because whenever adversity knocked me down, I made sure to get right back up. Resilience and fortitude proved to be the most vital skills to my success. Of course, I’ve learned that there will be some people who will doubt your abilities, attempt to hinder your aspirations, or even try to tear you down. But now I know that someone’s inability to see my value doesn’t diminish my worth. Through my trials and tribulations, I learned nothing could stop me. I had to pave my own way and create my own journey. And you can too. You have the power to get through anything. Don’t relinquish that power to anyone. Never surrender, never abdicate, never retreat. Always tell yourself to just keep going.
Edited by Alex Finn-Atkins