Tips for First Generation Law Students
- Student Tips
For first-generation law students, the path isn't easy. What's a first-generation student? Broadly defined, first-generation students are those whose parents or legal guardians have not completed bachelors degrees--they're the first in their families to attend a four-year school and graduate.
The biggest challenges facing many first-generation college students include financial, academic, and social ones that their peers do not face.
First-generation law students comprise an even more specialized group--they're the first in their families to earn a high school diploma, go to college, and attend law school.
Law schools recognize that not all of their applicants come from long lineages of family lawyers and several have programs in place to help them transition.
For example, Yale Law School's First Generation Professionals group's sole purpose is to help first-generation students. University of California's Gould School of Law has a similar program.
Let's take a closer look at five strategies for success for first-generation law students:
1. Embrace the challenges
If you're a first-generation student, you can't depend on your family to understand exactly what you're experiencing--and that's ok. You might feel like you have no idea how to prepare, or what to expect in law school.
You may not know the process for applying, how to prepare for the LSAT, what to expect from it, or how to maximize your application, like with a diversity statement.
As a first-generation law student, you're on your own closing the "readiness gap" that you feel.
How do you do that? You need to know where to get information by searching for answers yourself.
Where is that, you ask? Your undergraduate advisor should be able to point you in the right direction. If not, check out your campuses office of career planning services. Make an appointment with a career counselor and get some help preparing to apply--information about the LSAT, getting letters of recommendation, how to write the essay, why you should write a diversity statement, and generally what you can expect.
If your campus has a first-generation professionals group, join it. If you've already graduated, reach out and get some guidance.
It's all up to you. Embrace it and move forward, one step at a time.
2. Work hard
You need to work harder than you ever have. How? By working smart. Don't understand something? Take the time to figure it out.
One pro-tip? Create a study calendar and stick to it. If you need help making one, talk to a trusted advisor or mentor.
As a first-year lawyer, you'll work even harder. The attitudes and practices that you develop now will serve you well.
Be diligent, respectful, and kind to yourself--and never be afraid to ask for help when you need it.
Recommended reading: How to study in law school?
3. Find scholarships and support programs
Some law schools have first-generation professionals groups and others integrate their support for first-generation law students into their admissions processes.
At the New York University School of Law, first-generation law school students can earn full-tuition through a special scholarship program that requires a one page essay.
At the University of California Berkeley School of Law, students can apply for financial support that covers tuition and fees by sending the general application, a supplemental essay, and a few other pieces.
Some schools--and even private foundations and companies--offer scholarships for first-generation students, too.
The trick? You need to ask. Scholarships don't just land in your lap. The best place to ask? Your student services or career office.
If you can't get the information that you need, run careful internet searches for scholarships. US News and World Report's scholarship guide is a good place to start.
4. Learn about student loans
Learn everything you possibly can about student loans. Read all the fine print. Understand your financial commitments.
Why? The last thing you want or need is hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt after all of that hard work.
As a first-generation student, you cannot rely on your family for advice because they've never been through this process. While you can ask them for help, they may not know.
Know this: student loans are not an investment. Student loans are money that you need to pay back. It's debt, it has interest, and you have to pay it back.
One tip? Don't listen to any advice that sounds too simplistic, or makes it sound like debt is no big deal.
You need to understand everything you're getting into and start thinking about how you're going to repay the loan now, while you're still in school.
5. Don't give up
It's a lot. Don't let yourself feel defeated or scared. You belong where you are--you've worked hard and you're not afraid.
It's ok to let yourself feel overwhelmed by all of it as long as you know you're in the right place and that you have resources and people around to help you.
Measure your success by tracking your progress. You'll have highs and lows. Remind yourself frequently how you got to where you are--and where you want to go.
You'll get there.
Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.