Are STEM and Law Studies the Perfect Fit?
- Student Tips
Political science. History. English. Psychology. Criminal justice. What do these five courses of study have in common with each other? They claim perennial spots on the list of most common majors among law school applicants. However, what many people fail to realize is that focusing on these areas during the undergraduate years doesn’t necessarily mean the inside track to getting into the law schools of their dreams. Why? Because fields like physics, computer science, mathematics and biology have historically exhibited higher rates of acceptance than many majors considered to fall into the “pre-law” category.
Why are students with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) backgrounds in such great demand? Let’s take a closer look.
The Technology Takeover
Technology has changed the face of society over the past 50, 25 and even 10 years. And while scientific advancement is vital to innovation, it is also accompanied by many difficult issues related to how it’s developed, commercialized and ultimately put to use. From self-driving cars to human embryonic stem cell research, these discoveries promise progress while simultaneously generating unprecedented ethical and legal issues. Students with the ability to understand the ins and outs of complicated technologies are best positioned to navigate these challenges as they arise.
Browse Technology law programs
It’s not exactly a surprise that law schools are responding by bumping STEM studies students to the top of their lists. Consider the case of Harvard Law School, which began actively recruiting STEM applicants in 2012. That first year, STEM students made up eight percent of the entering class. Figures have since soared into the double digits due to the establishment of attracting STEM students as an ongoing priority.
As clinical professor Christopher T. Bavitz told The Harvard Crimson, “There are a lot of reasons why people with tech backgrounds can do well in the law,” he said. “A lot of law practice is explaining complicated concepts to people...and people with science and tech backgrounds do that well. I think they’re great analytical thinkers in ways that kind of map on to the thinking lawyers do.”
Worried that you’ll be wasting your STEM background by choosing a career in law? The truth is that the vast majority of students with STEM degrees end up in other occupations -- in no small part due to the fact that their knowledge and skills are so sought-after across a breadth and depth of industries to the point where they’re on route to becoming “universal degrees.”
Setting Yourself Apart with STEM
While studying in a STEM field may draw the eyes of admissions officers, it’s not on its own a golden ticket to law school admissions. Why? Because these fields are notoriously rigorous, which can have a detrimental impact on your GPA and LSAT scores. It’s important to keep in mind that admissions committees are ultimately looking for stellar students, regardless of your major.
However, many law schools are even starting to make concessions in this area in the hopes of enticing more students to apply. Says Harvard Law School’s chief admissions officer Jessica L. Soban, “We’re helping applicants to understand that we understand that a GPA in a STEM major often looks different than one for a humanities major. There tend to be different curves for those classes, and therefore an overall GPA may look different.”
This doesn’t mean law schools will accept STEM students who aren’t up to the task, but it does mean a strong application package can mitigate grades which reflect the tough grading curves often found in STEM studies.
Beyond the Juris Doctor
But you don’t need to devote three years to law school to gain access to essential knowledge, either. In response to the needs of a changing society, many schools are debuting new one-year Masters of Science in Law programs aimed at giving students with STEM backgrounds foundational knowledge in law and business.
These programs -- which are specifically tailored to today’s marketplace -- offer students an overview of law basics, as well as providing insight into specific challenges related to science and technology, such as dealing with patent trolls and telecoms regulation.
And while Masters of Science in Law programs don’t qualify students to practice law, they do convey the information needed to navigate a tech-centric business world -- particularly for those employed by startups or with entrepreneurial interests.
The ultimate takeaway? Choosing a STEM major just to get into law school or choosing to apply to law school simply because you have a STEM degree is unlikely to be a strategy for success. However, fusing a passion-fueled STEM background with demonstrated interest in legal issues can lead to both law school entry and a fulfilling career.
Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.