How to Explain an Unusual College Major in Your Law School Application
To protect the vulnerable and fight for justice: that is the ambition of many a promising student when they choose to follow a career in law. But before the heroics (and the often-unglamorous nitty-gritty of practicing law) comes the small detail of getting your law degree. Students in the United States need to go to law school if they want to practice law. And they first need to graduate from a four-year college degree to be eligible for law school. This is known as 'pre-law'. The good news is you are eligible with any four-year degree. “Whatever major you select,” states the American Bar Association, “you are encouraged to pursue an area of study that interests and challenges you, while taking advantage of opportunities to develop your research and writing skills.” Here are some examples of how students can leverage different college majors to their advantage during the application process.
- Student Tips
In fact, career advisors suggest that it is better to major in anything but law for your pre-law degree. Recruiters don’t see the pre-law major as a challenging program and not many top schools offer it as a major. Instead, law schools like to see applicants with a well-rounded education, an interesting specialism, and good grades. For example, if you have good grades for your chemistry major, you have proven yourself to be smart and dedicated – and could be an excellent match for a law career in the drug industry.
What to say in your personal statement
Still, if your pre-law major doesn’t scream 'ambitious law student', it is important to think about how to present your case in your personal statement and, hopefully, interview. Start by cross-examining yourself. Why, exactly, have you moved from sports science, art, or furniture design towards law? Was it part of your master plan, or was the change in direction motivated by an event in your life or wider society?
Using your answers to these questions, you can begin to construct a (honest) narrative about your academic path. Keep it professional-sounding, and identify unexpected advantages that your pre-law degree adds to your potential. For example, you might hope to specialize in a particular type of law or industry, or have greater-than-average experience in deep research or team-building.
Before you get carried away with your life story, keep in mind what it is that law schools are actually looking for in your application. Admissions officers want to see that you are highly-motivated, not just towards your study and career but towards your school and cohort. What extracurricular activities did you do during pre-law? How do they relate to your switch from a non-law major to law school? (Top tip: law school admissions officers prefer students who are high-achievers in a small number of activities to those who have tried a bit of everything.)
Highlight your achievements, mention facts and figures, and tie it all into your overarching narrative. The panel will want to see how you have changed and developed through your academic career and how you have dealt with the challenges you've met. And if your choice of pre-law major really sets you apart from your contemporaries, make it a feature – your USP.
Recommended reading: How to choose a Law school?
How to angle your college major for law school admission
Law schools want strong but academically diverse students. Some have demonstrated this in recent years by opening up eligibility to students with GREs as well as LSATs -- a move to encourage more STEM majors to enter law. However, you still need to help recruiters to understand just why your education makes you such a strong law candidate. You can use your personal statement or, if appropriate, an addendum to connect your past experiences with your understanding of what a law degree and career entails. Describe how your undergraduate major changed you as a person and how it relates to your values and passions.
Here are some examples of how students can leverage different college majors to their advantage during the application process.
Classics and philosophy graduates tend to be among those with the highest grades when applying to law school. Humanities topics such as these and English tend to be long-term strategies. It may be more lucrative in the short-term to major in a subject with a well-defined career path, but liberal arts education creates versatile, adaptable adults who thrive in their careers in the long run.
The critical skills and moral reasoning that you pick up along the way will be priceless when you are studying and practicing law. An English major is “very useful to go to law school, graduate school, and to obtain a wide variety of jobs beyond graduation,” explains DePauw University professor Andrea Sununu. “Companies always tell us they want students who know how to write and think critically.”
This is a sentiment echoed by the American Bar Association: “Preparation for legal education should include substantial experience at close reading and critical analysis of complex textual material, for much of what you will do as a law student and lawyer involves careful reading and comprehension of judicial opinions, statutes, documents, and other written materials.”
Journalism majors have a better rate of success than pre-law majors when applying for law school. Journalists and lawyers share a similar toolkit. Your research needs to be meticulous. Your written and spoken communication skills need to be first-rate. You need to be persuasive, have a thick skin, and have a dogged determination to get to the truth.
To be fascinated by journalism is to be fascinated by people. Your journalism major demonstrates you have appropriate interests for pursuing a law degree – but you’ll still need a strong LSAT score to do the talking.
Lacy Griffith Andrews is assistant commonwealth attorney for the 29th judicial circuit of Kentucky. Previously, she has practiced with an insurance defense firm, and as a public defender. Andrews credits her communications major for boosting her confidence at law school.
“You learn the basics of communication,” says Andrews. “How to ask questions, how to deal with difficult situations, and how to present yourself in any given situation. Once you have those basics (and they are essential!) you’re prepared for anything.”
Express your skillset in such terms when applying to law school as a communications graduate, and you will dispel any concerns an admissions officer might have about your educational background.
You shouldn't see any college major as a drawback to applying to law school or studying for a LLB. If you are passionate about studying law and your reasons are genuine, your degree, even if you consider it left-field, can only help you stand out in the crowd. So figure out why it makes you a special candidate and start writing that personal statement!
The same stands if you’re still considering what pre-law subject to take. As the American Bar Association themselves state, the best pre-law degree is one that you will find both challenging and rewarding. Studying criminal justice or pre-law as a major will not boost your chances of acceptance. Instead, work on being a good student, an involved member of your academic community, and the type of informed and well-rounded human being you would expect to find practicing law...