It’s back-to-school season, which means a lot of students contemplating their majors and looking to the future. For many, this means thinking about law school.
Getting into law school can be a tough and competitive business. Schools are looking for candidates who come highly recommended and boast high GPAs and LSAT test scores, a broad range of interests, above-par writing and analytical skills and great organizational and research skills. To give yourself a shot at getting into the school of your choice, it’s best to begin the process as early as possible.
Though most colleges don’t require undergrads to declare a major until the start of their junior year, it’s never too early to start enrolling in courses that will help give you an advantage in the application process.
The majority of law school applicants come from a few particular majors: English, philosophy and political science. However, no major will preclude an applicant from getting into law school. In fact, studying something unusual for a law student, like technology or science, could be helpful later on in your career if you choose to focus on an area of law that requires specific knowledge. It could also set you apart from other applicants.
The best strategy for getting into law school is to design a curriculum that will keep you engaged. Remember, your GPA will be one of the main determining factors for admittance. If you enjoy the sciences, for example, and can obtain high grades, then it’s OK to take those classes. Basically, your freshman year should be about getting your footing in college and getting a lot of your general education requirements out of the way. Work hard, study hard and keep your GPA up.
By your sophomore year, you’ll be working on finishing up your general education classes. If you have room in your schedule for electives, it would be a good idea to hone your writing and analytical reasoning skills. Lawyers need to have strong persuasive and argumentative writing aptitude. They also need to have a wide base of general knowledge and history, and they need to have keen research proficiency. Make an appointment with an academic advisor at your college and find out which classes your college offers that will help you broaden your knowledge and proficiency in these areas.
This is also the time when you’ll need to begin thinking about the Law School Admittance Test, or LSAT. The LSAT is an exam that law schools use to evaluate how prepared a student is. Your score on the LSAT can be the determining factor between getting into a top-tier program or one that is further down the list.
The test itself focuses on logical and analytical reasoning, as well as writing skills, and is quite rigorous. Scores can range between 120-180, where 150 is the average score. Anything over a 170 is considered excellent, but is also very difficult to achieve, so you’ll want to begin preparing for it early on.
By late sophomore year, set aside some time to take a practice exam or two. Evaluate any potential weaknesses and start allocating time to work on improving any areas that are lacking. It would also be a good idea to enroll in more courses that will help you address any problem areas.
While law school admittance focuses heavily on GPAs and LSAT scores, colleges are also looking to have a well-rounded student body. One of the best ways to set yourself apart from other applicants in the pool is to make certain that you enter the process with a wealth of outside experience. This means forgoing summers sitting next to the pool and focusing on internships, jobs and volunteer experiences that will be valuable as a part of your application. You might want to consider doing page work at a law firm to get a good feel for how a law office functions.
Your junior year will be when you need to kick the law school application process into high gear. Generally, by your junior year you’ll have finished up your general education requirements, and you’ll be taking upper-level undergraduate classes. These classes tend to be smaller, more focused and involve a lot more one-on-one time with professors.
Remember, one of the requirements for law school applications are recommendations from previous professors and professionals. Colleges want to hear from people who have worked with you closely, who have a strong sense of your strengths and who can speak to your work ethic and personality. You’ll want to make certain that you are properly developing these types of relationships with professors on campus so that when it comes time to ask for letters of recommendation, they’ll both remember you and have nice things to say.
This is also a great time to work on finding a law mentor. This could be a law professor on campus, or perhaps a lawyer out in your community.
“Applying to law school is an intense process on purpose,” said Carl Jaeckel, an attorney with Morgan & Morgan. “That’s because law school is three of the most rigorous years anyone will ever go through.”
Find someone who has been through the process and check in with him or her to make certain that you are staying on track and haven’t missed any steps. Developing a strong relationship with a law professional will also be beneficial when it comes time to choose a specialization in law school.
The summer following your junior year, you’ll need to begin preparing for your LSAT. Set aside time each day to take practice exams, study, and work on improving your scores.
Finally, you’ll also want to research law schools. Because schools can be quite competitive, and the odds of getting in can vary from year to year, you’ll want to make certain that you compile a list of around 15 schools that you can apply to. Don’t only choose the top-tier law schools, however; you’ll want to make certain that you’re choosing programs where you’ll have a good shot at admittance, so choose some colleges that have test score and GPA requirements that are comparable to your own.
By your senior year, you’ll be finishing up the requirements for your major. If you are planning to apply to law school directly after you finish your undergraduate, you’ll want to take your LSAT in September of your senior year in order to give you time if you find that you want to retake the exam. Your score on the exam will give you an idea of which colleges you’ll have a shot at getting into.
You’ll also need to ask for your letters of recommendation. Send an email to your prospective recommenders and make certain that you are very clear about what you require. Remember, you’re asking for a favor, so make it as easy for your potential recommender as possible. Professors can be busy and won’t necessarily get to writing your recommendations immediately, so don’t wait until the last minute. Occasionally, a potential recommender might say no, either because they don’t have the time or because they’ve already written too many recommendations, so have an idea of other people you can ask in a worst-case scenario.
One of the last elements you’ll need to prepare for your law school application is your personal statement. Give yourself at least a month to work on it. Remember, this is the first impression law schools will have of you as an applicant, and it gives you the chance to stand out as an individual and not just a set of scores and figures. Think about why you’re drawn to the school and what you have to offer both the profession and the law school. Find people who you trust to read through your statement and work on polishing it up.
Keep in mind that a lot of people don’t get accepted into their law school of choice the first time around. If you don’t get accepted anywhere, don’t panic. Though it is assuredly disappointing, it doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong with you, that you’re a bad candidate for law school, or that you’ll never get accepted anywhere. It just means that you need to improve on a few things before you try again.
If your LSAT scores can be raised, keep studying and prepare to take the exam again. You might also want to consider taking an LSAT prep class. Also, re-evaluate the schools that you applied to and determine if maybe you overlooked some schools that might be a better fit.
Finally, work on developing yourself as a potential candidate for law school. This is also sage advice if you decide not to apply to law schools directly following your undergrad. Law schools are looking for well-rounded candidates, so really think about how you can go about broadening your life experience.
Consider working as a paralegal for a year or two so you can demonstrate your commitment to the law field. Not only will that experience look great on future applications, but you’ll also be able to reconfirm that law is the right choice for you. Look for volunteering opportunities that will highlight your commitment to community development.
Whatever you choose, make certain that it is something that keeps you engaged and working towards your goal. When you’re ready to reapply, make certain that your personal statement reflects how these experiences have shaped you into a strong candidate for law school, and why they should choose you over a recent graduate.
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