Making a choice
Selecting a law school is one of the most important decisions you’ll make in your educational journey. According to the University of California Berkley’s Career Center, there are a few steps you should take to start the process. Begin by gathering your information. Do this by attending college fairs, peruse law school websites, and talk with law students, lawyers, or anyone else you may know who’s been through the process. If you find yourself with questions about a specific school or program, reach out directly to that institution.
Make a plan
Before getting started, make yourself a plan of action. Start by connecting with alumni or students of programs you’re interested in. Schedule a virtual coffee date, and ask them questions about the program, their likes, dislikes, as well as internship opportunities provided by the school. If the school is in a different state or region, make sure to ask them about housing, as well as lifestyle in the city. Thinking about location is also important, as this will be the place you’ll start forming connections and networking -- and possibly therefore work in post-graduation too. Keep a list of all your questions and requirements so you can begin matching schools to your needs.
Next, take to the internet and start really digging into the school you’re interested in. Check out their stats, for example, how many students were placed in jobs after graduation? What’s the retention rate in the program? Perhaps most importantly, how many students passed the bar on their first try? These will all be indicators of the overall success of the program, as well as their investment in student success.
Additionally, take some time to look into the program structure. While all law school courses are academically rigorous, making sure the style and structure of classes work for you will help ensure your success. If you have a specific area of law you wish to practice, environmental law for example, you’ll want to investigate schools that offer specialized programs to help hone your skills. Assistant dean of admissions and financial aid Kristen Mercado said she wished she had understood the importance of finding programs with academic diversity. According to Mercado, “the legal profession — and law schools — need science, technology, engineering and math majors (STEM), too.” Being in courses with students with a wide range of backgrounds and skills will only enhance yours, and better prepare you for the workforce.
Finally, make sure to spend some time learning about the general atmosphere of the university itself. How do the students feel about the school? How are the professors with their students? Are they available to them? Do the students seem happy, content, and excited to be there? According to McGill Faculty of Law graduate Jenna Topan, her classmates were a huge part of her experience at law school. She explains, “My classmates were an essential part of my McGill experience. The people I met inspired me to work my hardest, but also embodied so many important qualities, like integrity, generosity, and kindness.” Making sure the people you’re going to surround yourself with are the right people should be part of your consideration. After all, it’s where you’ll be spending the majority of your time for the next several years, so you want to make sure it’s going to be a good fit.
Law school is a financial investment in your future. However, this means when looking at your prospective law school, you’ll want to consider the best return on investment (ROI). Before applying, investigate what types of financial aid packages are offered to students, as well as scholarships, and other financial assistance you may qualify for. When considering cost, make sure you’re considering your cost of living, as holding down a job can be difficult during law school. Some things to consider are tuition, books, and student fees.
While the LSAT has been a traditionally dreaded but required exam for entering law school, if you are not great at standardized tests, not all hope is lost. While a lot of schools do still require an LSAT score as part of the application process, some schools are allowing substitutes. Therefore, you may want to investigate the school’s admissions website to find out if they allow a GMAT or GRE score. These tests, while still standardized, are structured differently, allowing some students to find greater success. In some cases, some law schools waive test scores completely for students with exceptional academic records. Additionally, if you don’t have the best scores or grades, not all hope is lost. Different schools require different levels of academic rigor from their students, so make sure to spend some time investigating what types of GPAs or scores are required for entrance.
While you’re weighing your options, you can start thinking about preparing your application package. This will include collecting your transcripts, a history of your extracurricular activities, letters of recommendation, a resume, entrance essay, and personal statement. As most schools don’t require an in-person interview before accepting a student, this is your chance to put your best foot forward with an admissions committee. Make sure to spend time crafting a personal statement that’s unique to you, your journey to law school, and what you plan to do with your degree. Remember, admissions counselors read a lot of statements, so you want yours to stand out!
Applying to law school is a process, but with thoughtful preparation, there’s no reason why it should be daunting. Remind yourself to stay organized, be on top of timelines, and make careful choices about where you’re going next in life.