So, you are one of the few who knew as early as high school that you wanted to join the legal profession. But before you start thinking ahead to the law school admission test (LSAT) and other boxes to check in the law school application process, you'll have to choose what to focus your undergrad studies on.
Choosing a pre-law major or legal studies track is surely the best way to prepare for law school and beyond, right? The answer to this question is a little more complicated than it may seem.
What Do Law School Admissions Look For?
Your law school application is one of your first challenges on the road to becoming an attorney. During the admissions process, your undergraduate degree is likely to be more relevant than it will be at any other stage of your legal career.
It's reasonable to assume a pre-law undergraduate major is valuable, especially if your prospective law school offers a pre-law undergraduate degree. And many pre-law tracks provide students with the help of pre-law advisors, which can be hugely beneficial. However, pre-law students may find more benefits when they choose a different major.
The American Bar Association "does not recommend any undergraduate majors or group of courses to prepare for legal education." And although the ABA falls short of saying that a pre-law bachelor's degree shouldn't be pursued, they also stress that the legal field values the diversity of viewpoints and opinions that arise from a law student population made up of a variety of educational backgrounds.
Furthermore, studies have shown that those with pre-law undergraduate degrees frequently have lower acceptance rates than students who majored in subjects such as history, philosophy, and the arts.
What Skills Are Valuable to Law Schools?
Rather than focusing on the actual study of law, a student wondering whether they should major in pre-law should consider whether the coursework in another major might help them develop some of the core skills lawyers need, such as:
- Reading comprehension
- Critical thinking
- Oral communication or debate
- Writing skills
- Analytical skills
- Reasoning skills
These skills might be developed in a wide variety of undergraduate majors, including English and political science. Many liberal arts majors provide a good foundation for law school.
Benefits of Non-Legal Undergraduate Degrees
If you decide against a pre-law program, you'll need to find another major to pursue. As the ABA suggests, your best bet is to pursue your interests so that you make the most of your undergraduate education. Your choice of a course of study will likely also direct your future career as an attorney.
Some degrees can help create unique opportunities in your legal career. An undergraduate degree in social sciences or psychology, for example, may be an asset for someone intending to practice law in the nonprofit or public service context. Business majors have a background that is well-suited for civil litigation or corporate law. An undergraduate degree in science is practically a prerequisite for some patent and intellectual property practices.
According to the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), some of the most popular majors amongst those who apply to law school include:
- Political Science
- Criminal Justice
- Business Administration
If there isn't a subject that immediately appeals to you, most colleges provide educational and career counselors that can help you organize your options and determine a course of study that will meet your needs.
A Final Caveat
Regardless of the foregoing, you may still wish to pursue a major in pre-law. That's fine, and there is no reason why this decision would harm your plans to proceed to law school. However, making the decision should be a choice you make out of your own interest and passion, not because you feel it will improve your chances of admission to law school.
It's also important to keep in mind that your undergraduate major is not the only thing a person reviewing your law school application will consider. Your GPA and LSAT score are also important (many would argue more important), as well as your internships and extracurricular activities outside of your coursework. Seek out mentors who can help prepare you and provide letters of recommendation.
Learn More About Preparing for Law School
Choosing an undergraduate degree is just the first of many decisions you'll make on your path to a legal career. Along the way, you'll have lots of questions, and we're here to help find the answers. Check in with FindLaw's Law Students section regularly for advice about choosing a law school, getting admitted, law school exams, the bar, and more.