Majors & Coursework

UW-Madison does not offer a pre-law major and law schools do not prefer applicants who have a major that is traditionally seen as a pre-law major. There are no prerequisites for applying to law schools. More importantly, law schools prefer well-rounded applicants and applicants who have explored various academic disciplines during their college careers.

Are you a UW-Madison student or alumni wondering about how the campus’s Spring 2021 Satisfactory Disruption/University Disruption grading option relates to Pre-Law? View CPLA’s guidance: SD/UD Grade Policies & Law School Admissions.

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What majors do law schools prefer?

Law schools do not prefer any particular major or concentration of study. As the American Bar Association has explained:

“Students are admitted to law school from almost every academic discipline. You may choose to major in subjects that are considered to be traditional preparation for law schools, such as history, English, philosophy, political science, economics or business, or you may focus your undergraduate studies in areas as diverse as art, music, science and mathematics, computer science, engineering, nursing or education. Whatever major you select, 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. Taking a broad range of difficult courses from demanding instructors is excellent preparation for legal education” (emphasis added).

So rather than approaching your choice of major from the perspective of “what major do law schools prefer”, instead, take time to consider the range of majors that would best suit your individual strengths and interests. By choosing a major that is right for you, you are more likely to be engaged and to perform well academically. Law schools are looking for applicants who both challenged themselves and also succeeded academically. You will need to find the right balance for you. 

There is one particular law specialty, however, where having a STEM major in particular can be beneficial.  Patent attorneys and patent agents must either have a STEM major or take a set of requirements to sit for the patent bar. Learn more about patent law

Still exploring which majors/certificates or careers may be right for you? The Career Exploration Center (CEC) is a career advising office on campus open to students from all schools and colleges, at any point in your undergraduate career. CEC career advisors specialize in helping you explore your options and provide resources to help you gain exposure to the fields you are interested in.

Visit the CEC

What if I want to switch majors?

Switching out of a major that you have discovered is not the right fit for you personally or academically will not hinder your application to law school in any way, and may help if your grades improve in your new major.

A great resource for students who are considering switching majors is the Cross College Advising Service (CCAS).  This is an advising office open to all students on campus, regardless of major or what school or college you are assigned to.  They specialize in providing academic advising for students who are undecided, undeclared, or navigating a major switch.  They are particularly helpful if you are thinking of switching to a major in a different school or college at UW-Madison, because they are familiar with that process.  You don’t have to be assigned to CCAS to meet with them, and you don’t have to be sure about switching majors.

Visit CCAS

Does completing multiple majors and certificates make me a more competitive law school candidate?

Some students assume that the more majors and certificates they complete, the more likely they are to get into their top choice law school. This is not necessarily true.

There are a variety of holistic factors that go into a law school application, including looking at a candidate’s transcripts, so having difficult courses or a rigorous schedule is one factor that law schools may consider. However, your cumulative undergraduate GPA is going to be weighed more heavily than the number of majors and certificates you complete. If you are double or triple majoring with the sole intent of impressing a law school, you risk overburdening yourself mentally and academically for little to no benefit to your admission chances.

There are lots of great reasons to complete multiple majors and/or certificates, including your parallel plans to law school, or developing more knowledge and experience that will assist you in your intended legal field, but impressing a law school should not be the deciding factor. Your academic advisor(s) are a great resource for you in weighing which majors and certificates to pursue.

Are there any classes I need to take before applying to law school?

There are no specific classes that you need to take before applying to law school (unless you plan to practice patent law). However, the American Bar Association (ABA) does recommend using undergraduate coursework in combination with extracurricular experiences to acquire certain skills and knowledge that can help prepare you for law school. These skills can be developed in any major, by adding thoughtful electives and gaining experience outside of the classroom.

Skills that can help you prepare for law school:

  • Analytical/Logical/Problem-Solving Skills (Phil 210 or 211 may help with logic)
  • Critical Reading/Critical Thinking Abilities  (Courses that assign judicial opinions such as Constitutional Law courses can help develop this skill)
  • Writing Skills (Consider taking several courses that require you to produce a significant research paper. You could also take a legal writing class as an undergraduate.)
  • Oral Communication and Listening Abilities (Classes with extensive classroom debate or argument and not just prepared speeches can help develop this skill. You could also look into trying out for an undergraduate Debate, Mock Trial or Moot Court Team.)

How do I know what classes to take?

Once you choose a major that is right for you, you can follow the coursework for that major and look to supplement that coursework with electives that will help prepare you for a law career. Your academic advisor can help you with this, and many departments offer at least one class for undergraduates that deals with law, including:

However, a course does not have to have the word law or legal in the title or description in order to help prepare you for law school. Picture yourself in a future law career. Where are you and what are you doing? Who are your clients? What background knowledge might be helpful? For example, someone who wants to practice corporate law may want to take courses about tax or mergers and acquisitions, but someone who wants to practice juvenile law might want to take courses about child development or courses about child abuse. You absolutely do not need to know for sure what area of law you’d like to practice before applying to law school, but if you have some ideas of types of law you may be interested in, that can be a great place to start!

Many attorneys work with a wide variety of clientele. You may want to know more about race, gender, sexuality, disability, poverty, and mental health. While law school will prepare you for the legal rigors of a law job, there are many real world factors of working with a diverse set of clients that your undergraduate study can be best situated to prepare you for.

Are there any undergraduate classes that can help me prepare for the LSAT?

UW-Madison has two logic classes in the Philosophy Department that could help supplement your prep for the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT): PHIL 210 or PHIL 211. 

Both are challenging classes that could help you develop reasoning skills that could aid you on the LSAT. Keep in mind that these classes won’t guarantee an easy A, so you’ll need to devote some time and attention to study if you choose to take one of these classes.

It is not a requirement to take a logic class before taking the LSAT.  Some test takers learn the fundamentals of logic needed for the exam through a commercial LSAT prep course or self study.  Additionally, some law school applicants may choose to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) instead, where logic is not emphasized.

Learn more about the LSAT & GRE

Are there any undergraduate classes that could help me practice legal writing?

All writing experience prior to law school is helpful. An English major may practice their writing skills in the context of literature courses, a Journalism major may practice investigative writing, and a STEM major may practice writing in a scientific context.  Law schools will see all of that writing practice as beneficial to your application. Sometimes a law school may even ask on the application for you to list courses where you did a significant amount of writing.

However, if you are looking for a class that includes writing practice specifically in a legal context, there is an undergraduate legal writing course that may help build skills. Course options can change from year to year, but ”Legal Writing: From Counseling to Advocacy” has been offered in the past. These courses may not be offered every semester (ex. only offered in the spring).  

You may also wish to look at the descriptions for courses that are focused on law topics to see what kinds of writing might be associated with the course.  Some courses may ask you to analyze case law or draft a memorandum, which are also very helpful legal writing skills to develop.

What if I am thinking of studying abroad?

Studying abroad can be a great experience for pre-law students.  There are a number of study abroad programs to explore that will fit a variety of interests. There may even be an opportunity to study law during a study abroad experience in a country where law school is an undergraduate degree. One example of this is Lancaster University in the UK.

We recommend that you keep in mind that some programs out there may be Non-Approved Study Abroad Programs, and you should understand and carefully consider the implications to you before participating in one of these programs.

The biggest hurdle that pre-law students who study abroad usually face is that second semester of junior year is when most study abroad programs tend to take place.  This is also the most common semester for pre-law students who are going straight to law school to prep for and take the LSAT (Law School Admission Test) or GRE (Graduate Record Examination). It is usually not advisable to plan to study for the exam during your study abroad experience (you don’t want to waste your limited time there on test prep!), so it’s helpful to consult a pre-law advisor to make an alternate plan for when to take the LSAT.  It is common for some students to prep for and take the LSAT before or after going abroad so that is out of the way and they can enjoy the experience.