Guide to selecting pre-law coursework for Illinois students

Each semester, we post a list of upcoming courses that will help pre-law students develop relevant skills for law school and get a taste of what studying law is like. What else should you know about building your pre-law schedule? This Guide provides several tips and suggestions to help pre-law students make the most of your upcoming semesters.

Pre-Law students really can major in ANYTHING and be successful in law school, but you must be a strong student in whatever you choose. Therefore, carefully consider what major(s) and minor(s) will challenge you but also allow you to demonstrate your academic strengths. Explore all majors and minors on campus here.

What academic skills should you build? Pre-law students must demonstrate strong research, writing, reading, and speaking skills, which can be accomplished both in and out of the classroom. These are the core skills that law schools truly care about, so take a look at your DARS and ask yourself: How many courses have you taken that develop and reflect these skills? Take courses that demonstrate those skills–they can be in any discipline. Popular options include English, History, Political Science, Philosophy, or Communication courses, but don’t feel limited to only those.

Balance academic challenge with success. Law schools want to see students who demonstrate academic success while taking a challenging courseload. Ideally, pre-law students would take an academic course load that is challenging both in terms of rigor and credits while still doing performing well. What does this mean, and how can you achieve it?

  • A challenging but not overwhelming course load suggestion is 15-17 credit hours. (This can vary due to individual factors, and is only a general guideline, not a mandate. Think carefully about the right course load for you.)
  • Be strategic in your course selection. Don’t take your 5 hardest classes in the same semester to get them out of the way. Work with your major advisor to determine how you can distribute those courses throughout your remaining semesters. Likewise, don’t take your 5 easiest classes at the same time–use those to give you some relief from the harder classes each semester.
  • For juniors and seniors–Move up from 1 and 200 level courses to 3 and 400 levels in order to demonstrate an appropriate level of challenge. A good general rule is no more than one 1 or 200 level course per semester for juniors and seniors (unless you must do so to graduate on time). Taking easy classes to pad a GPA is obvious to law school admissions, who know what a challenging semester looks like.

Use your major(s) and minor(s) to complement each other. If you have a major that does not necessarily demonstrate lots of writing or research skills, then selecting a minor or secondary major that does is a smart balance. Unusual combinations of majors/minors can also show a law school someone who is intellectually curious and able to succeed in a wide variety of coursework.

Consider changing majors, especially if you are not able to achieve mostly As and some Bs in your coursework. This is especially important if you struggle academically for more than one semester–it is very challenging to fix a low GPA once obtained.

We recommend that you avoid making course selections for these reasons:

  • A friend/roommate/sibling/parent said the class was easy;
  • I only wanted classes in the afternoons/on Tu/Th/to complement my work schedule so I just picked what I could get into on those days;
  • I just wanted to hurry up and graduate so I took a very demanding overload each semester.

What, then, are good reasons to take a course?

  • It demonstrates the skills that law schools prefer to see;
  • I like the topic and find it interesting or it is required for my major/minor;
  • It fits in well with my remaining coursework in terms of balancing rigor and the ability to do well; and
  • I talked with my academic advisor who agreed it is a good fit for me.

You must prioritize academics if law school is your goal. Don’t get distracted from your goal of law school admission. If being president of a social organization or volunteering too much affects your grades, it’s time to dial back your extracurriculars and rededicate yourself to your role as a student. Law schools will not care that the reason your grades suffered is because you were planning a big fundraiser…that shows them a lack of prioritizing and time management skills.

Build important academic skills. Right now you are building academic skills and habits which you will rely on when you transition to law school, where the work is much harder and infinitely more time consuming than your undergraduate studies. Now is the time to master discipline (not procrastinating), effective note taking, reading comprehension and speed, attention to detail in your writing, citing your work appropriately, giving an effective speech, and managing your time. All of these are skills that you will be expected to bring with you into your law school classroom.

Plan far in advance for study abroad, Illinois in Washington, and taking the LSAT. Most students try to lighten their academic load during the spring of Junior year or during the fall of Senior year while they prep for the LSAT. Studying for the LSAT will take about 10-15 hours per week for 4-6 months. Review upcoming LSAT dates and deadlines here. If you are planning to study abroad or do Illinois in Washington, talk to a pre-law advisor about planning your LSAT options around those.

Monitor your academic performance and seek help. Don’t wait until the last week of class to discover that you are actually not earning an A. Seek help when you need it–this University abounds with programs and services to support your academic endeavors! Start by talking to your TA/Professor and your academic advisor about academic support and tutoring options.

Remember that grade replacement will not help for law school (click here for a refresher), so take the time to carefully consider your best course options and seek help when you need it.

 

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