Saturday, February 24, 2007

Planning Ahead: Thinking About Law School

Have you always known that you wanted to be a lawyer? Or is becoming a lawyer in the back of your mind, something you might eventually consider?

Law school normally takes three years (six semesters) of full-time classes. In order to apply to law school, you must have a four-year degree from an accredited college or university. Law schools mainly look for students who have taken a rigorous track in undergraduate school and have demonstrated good writing and critical-thinking abilities.

Undergraduate Majors
Perhaps the most common misconception about getting into law school is that certain majors are looked upon more favorably than others in the admissions process. Also, since virtually no school has a "prelaw" undergraduate major, many students believe that political science is the prelaw major. Not so. Any rigorous program of study, from anthropology to zoology, is fine. You should major in an area you enjoy, since you'll do better in that subject than in any other. Engineering or physics majors often think that they cannot apply to law school because they lack a liberal arts degree. This is wrong! Law schools are happy to receive applications from engineers, chemists, physics majors or anyone who majored in any of the so-called "hard" sciences.

Course Selection
Undergraduate students often believe that they should take law courses to prepare for law school. By all means, plan to take courses in public law or business law if you are interested in those areas, but don't feel compelled to. In fact, law schools often frown on student records that show lots of courses in law-related areas. They don't want students coming in with preconceived notions about the law.

The best tools to take to law school are the abilities to write and analyze quickly, well, and with economy. If you are a "hard" science major, make sure that you take elective courses that require sufficient writing - for example, philosophy or critical writing. Conversely, liberal arts majors should take courses requiring logical analysis, such as math all the way through calculus or advanced courses in the physical sciences.

Extracurricular Activities
Evidence of extracurricular activities can be important to law school admissions personnel, especially activities that show your commitment to your community or less fortunate individuals. It may be nice that you were on the governing board of your social fraternity, but it says more about you from the law school perspective if you spent your weekends as a research volunteer for the Legal Aid Society or helped fix up the local battered spouse's shelter.

The Deciding Factors
Law school admissions committees generally make their decisions based on two factors: undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores. Most schools convert an applicant's GPA and LSAT score into an index score, a single number that is then used to compare the applicant to the rest of the applicant pool. Some schools require extremely high GPAs and LSATs, while other schools are more flexible in their approach. Typically, the highest-ranked law schools require superior performance in terms of both grades and LSAT scores. So, as with any graduate school, plan on studying hard and getting a high GPA during your undergraduate years.

Thinking ahead to law school? Here are some points to consider:

* Talk to your high school counselor about your academic strengths and weaknesses regarding writing and critical thinking.

* Consider taking advanced-placement courses in literature, writing, journalism or government.

* Think about appropriate weekend and summer jobs, such as volunteering at a legal clinic or working with the underprivileged.

* When selecting your undergraduate school, make sure it offers a broad range of courses that give you flexibility in deciding on graduate school. You might discover that your interests lie in a different field. But remember that even science majors can apply to and get into law school.

* If you are certain you want to pursue law school, consider an undergraduate school that offers some prelaw courses.

* Try to meet and talk with people working in the law field.

* Once you're in college, talk to a prelaw adviser as soon as you realize that you may have an interest in applying to law school. Even your first year of undergraduate school is not too early.

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