Preparing for Law School: Advice for the Pre-Law Student
Probably the most frequently asked question by students interested in law school is “what is the best major for preparing for law school?” One of the best features of a pre-law education is that there are absolutely no specific course requirements you must take in college. A pre-law student, quite simply, is someone who defines him or herself as such. Law is a very broad and diverse profession: the careers of those trained in the law call for widely differing skills, so law schools do not generally recommend any particular major. In most cases, the basic requirements for admission to law school are 1) completion of the bachelor’s degree, 2) a competitive undergraduate grade point average (GPA) and, 3) a competitive score on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT). Many other personal factors are considered, as well, such as demonstration of leadership abilities, community service, and exposure to the field.
While no one major is preferred, students should choose coursework which helps them develop the skills needed to be successful in law school and the legal profession. Courses that contribute to a well-rounded education will also help you acquire the skills you will need in law school. You should choose courses that require significant amounts of reading, writing, analysis, and oral discussion. Frequently recommended subjects include English literature, creative writing, government, history, economics, philosophy, and public academic discipline in which you have an interest and in which you can maintain a high GPA. Nothing will help you gain admission to law school more than evidence of an academic career that shows excellence, challenge, and diversity. Keep in mind that undergraduate GPA is one of the key factors used in the law school admission process. A strong record in a major you enjoy will serve you better than a mediocre record in a major that someone told you was the best for preparing for law school. Take challenging courses you want to take and do well in them!
Another consideration when deciding on a major is having an alternative plan. What will you do with a major if you change your mind and decide not to go to law school, or if you are not accepted into law school? These are things you need to think about during your planning.
Courses to Consider
In a nutshell, the skills you will need in law school and beyond include language skills, such as writing, oral communication, and reading comprehension and critical thinking skills. In addition to language and critical thinking skills, lawyers need to have a strong understanding of and interest in societal institutions and the individuals they affect. The following information may be helpful when choosing a course of study.
Writing skills: Choose courses that overtly assist with writing development. Certainly other upper level humanities courses, especially philosophy courses (excluding logic), that involve essay exams and analytical term papers will also be useful.
Oral communication skills: These courses are actual performance courses that will assist in the development of your public speaking skills.
Reading and Oral Comprehension: Choose upper level humanities courses that require a great deal of reading and writing, upper level English, history, philosophy, and government courses.
Critical thinking skills: Take courses that focus on logic and analytical reasoning. Courses in mathematics, physical sciences, economics, philosophy, foreign languages, and English help students develop quantitative and verbal reasoning skills. Really, any philosophy course you take will help you develop analytical and critical thinking skills.
Understanding Societal Institutions: To obtain an understanding of public systems and why people behave the way they do, appropriate courses would include those in psychology and sociology, and the study of human culture in courses such as anthropology, English, history, philosophy, government, women’s studies, and African American Studies, to name a few. There are many courses offered at USC that will help you in this area.
Do not plan, however, to learn the law as an undergraduate. That’s what law school is for! It’s a good idea to use these courses to test the waters, to see if you enjoy them. It also may familiarize you with law terms and research. In addition, a number of sources recommend introductory courses in business subjects, such as economics and accounting, to familiarize students with terms and principles relating to business and government.
Aside from GPA and LSAT scores, law schools consider a variety of factors in making admission decisions. Some of those things are:
- Campus and community involvement
- Leadership activities
- Work experience
- Military service
- Your state of residency
- Improvement in your grades
- The college you attended
- Difficulties you have overcome
- Your written personal statement
- Anything that makes you stand out
Law schools do look at conduct records, criminal records, and the like. Since lawyers are held to such high ethical standards, potential lawyers need to be sure they will meet the character and fitness standards of a law school admissions committee and ultimately, the Bar. If you have indeed been found responsible for a conduct code violation at your school or guilty of a criminal offense, you need to be absolutely truthful about it on your application. Fraud in the application process is a serious offense.
Since lawyers are frequently involved in community service activities, law schools look for individuals who are committed to using their time and education to benefit others as well as themselves. Activities can help you develop organizational and leadership skills, which are highly desirable. Work experience may also be considered positively. Students who have had to work a significant amount to support their education have demonstrated persistence in the face of hardship, a desirable characteristic for a would-be lawyer. Those who have used their summers or taken part-time positions to get some experience in the legal field will have a realistic view of the profession, another potentially positive factor in an application.
When the time comes to actually apply, your personal statement is the part of the law school application that allows you to describe yourself to an admissions committee in your own terms, to best distinguish yourself from the rest of the crowd. It is particularly important because most law schools do not include formal interviews as part of their admissions process. You might want to think of your personal statement as your interview, the time to sell yourself and explain what makes you uniquely qualified to enter law school. The personal statement should not be a reiteration of your application; it should be able to stand on its own two feet as a compelling document. To find out more about writing an effective personal statement, consult the publications in the OPPA, contact the Writing Center, or visit the library.
Tying It All Together
Whew! That is a lot of information. Remember, achieving a good balance of activities and experiences while maintaining a strong GPA in a solid curriculum will provide you an excellent education base from which to pursue law school or a variety of other opportunities.
The Office of Pre-professional Advising is here to assist you. As you can see by the number of important factors in a law school application, it’s never too soon to start. You need to be thinking about courses that will benefit you, and becoming involved in campus activities and community service, and about getting to know your professors the very first year you are on the USC campus.
Visit our office to learn more about LSAT preparation materials, factors to consider when choosing a law school, careers in law, and other information not detailed in this booklet. We have a large array of publications and information available for your use.