Do All Law Students Go Straight From College to Law School?
No. It is very common for undergraduates to assume that they should plan to go straight to law school after graduating from college. In fact, only approximately one-third of law students nationwide go straight from college to law school. That means two-thirds, a decisive majority, take some amount of time between college and law school.
What Do People Do Between College and Law School?
Anything you can imagine. There is no right or wrong path to pursue. Most people work, but you don’t necessarily need to work in a law-related job. Think about the time between college and law school as your last opportunity to confirm that law is the right career for you.
1. Work in a Non-Legal Job
If you are trying to decide between law and another career, consider working a year or two in the other career field to help you make that decision. Non-legal jobs can also be helpful for people who are sure that law is right for them. For example, if you are interested in corporate law, consider working in a business-related position. If you are interested in environmental law, consider an environmental non-profit. That experience will help you better understand the issues faced by your future clients.
2. Work in a Law-Related Job
Working in a law-related position can also be valuable to the extent that it helps you confirm that law school is right for you. Working as a paralegal or legal assistant can also help you learn more about the legal profession and make professional connections that could benefit you in law school or later in your career. To be clear, working in a law-related position will not give you an advantage in the law school admissions process. Law schools do not prefer law-related professional experience over other types of professional experience. You should instead consider law-related positions for the personal and long-term professional benefits that you would gain.
3. Volunteer With a Service Organization
Many people choose to pursue service opportunities in well-respected national and international programs such as Teach for America, the Peace Corps, Americorps, and other similar options. While these opportunities are rarely directly law-related, they offer excellent opportunities to develop skills relevant to law school. Law schools appreciate and value the positive benefits that these programs offer to their members.
Alternatively, volunteering locally is also a valuable use of your time. Volunteer positions often allow you to develop skills relevant to law school, and substantive volunteer experience demonstrates a commitment to service.
4. Graduate School Work
A small number of people attend graduate school before applying to law school. For example, people who have been awarded nationally competitive scholarships/fellowships like a Rhodes, Marshall or Fulbright pursue graduate level work before attending law school. Similarly, it’s not unusual for people interested in a specific area of law, such as intellectual property law, to pursue a graduate degree before attending law school.
5. Anything Else!
Law schools understand that the time between college and law school may be the last opportunity that you have before retirement to do something just for you. They won’t hold it against you if you choose to do something unusual before law school. A UW graduate recently moved to Colorado to be a ski instructor for a year before attending law school. Other people have chosen to travel the world for an extended period before law school. While this isn’t necessarily a common path, it is the right fit for some people, and it won’t hurt you in the application process.
Won’t It Be Too Difficult To Get Back Into School Mode After Working?
This is a common concern among pre-law students, but it is not a good reason to go straight to law school. You should not attend law school if your drive to be an attorney isn’t strong enough to motivate you to return to law school after a brief interval away from school.
Who Should Consider Taking Time Off?
The decision whether or not to take time between college and law school is a personal one. It is your responsibility to weigh the relevant factors and determine whether or not it is in your best interest to go straight to law school.
For example, it might not be in your best interest to go straight to law school if:
- You aren’t yet sure that law school is right for you. Law school is a significant investment of your time and money. Take as much time as necessary to make sure that you are making the right career choice for you.
- Your GPA isn’t as strong as it needs to be at the end of junior year. If you plan to go straight to law school, you should apply in the fall of your senior year. That means that the GPA you will report is your cumulative GPA as it stands at the end of the summer following your junior year. If you had a tough semester or two of grades at some point during college, it may be in your best interest to use your senior year to get your GPA as high as possible and then apply to law school.
- You don’t have strong relationships with professors or TAs by the end of junior year. Ideally, you should try to develop strong relationships with two professors/TAs who can submit letters of recommendation on your behalf. To apply during the fall of your senior year, you would need to have those relationships in place by the end of junior year. That can be difficult in a school as large as UW-Madison, so it may be in your best interest to use your senior year to develop those relationships.
- You have difficulty finding time to prepare for the LSAT while you’re a student. In an ideal world, people intending to go straight to law school would take the LSAT for the first time no later than June between junior and senior year. It’s also common to take the October LSAT during senior year. Many students find it difficult to balance the preparation for these LSATs with their schoolwork, student jobs/internships, involvement, and other interests. In that case, it may be in your best interest to wait to take the LSAT until your preparation for it can be a priority.
- You want time to recharge before the intense experience of law school. There is nothing wrong with wanting to take a breather between college and law school. Law school is an incredibly intense experience that is the gateway to what can be an incredibly intense career. Taking a break from schooling might be in your best interest if you are feeling burnt out at the end of college.
Do Law Schools Prefer Applicants Who Have Taken Time Off?
Law schools do not categorically prefer applicants who take time versus those who go straight to law school. However, law schools do prefer for each applicant to carefully evaluate whether it would be in his or her best interest to wait to apply to law school. In many cases, taking time between college and law school can give you time to strengthen your applications, which is in both your best interest and the law school’s best interest. Law schools also prefer for applicants to take sufficient time to confirm that law school is the right career choice for them.
It is important to note that Northwestern Law does generally prefer that applicants take time between college and law school to gain professional experience before applying. In accordance with the school’s “strong emphasis on enrolling students with work experience, 91% [of last year’s first year class] possess at least one year of post-undergraduate experience.”