How to select majors, minors, and classes: A Guide for Pre-Law Students

I don't know (Good Luck Charlie) | I DON'T EVEN KNOW | image tagged in i don't know good luck charlie | made w/ Imgflip meme maker

The eternal question for both incoming and continuing pre-law students is: What major/minor/classes should I take? 

Students really can major in ANYTHING and be successful in law school, but you must be a strong student in whatever you choose. Law schools don’t require any particular undergraduate major, and the American Bar Association lists skills and values, rather than particular courses, that law schools are looking for in a candidate.

You really can major in anything–but you must create an academic record of success and you should build the skills recommended for law school. Read on for what that means.

BUILDING AN ACADEMIC RECORD OF SUCCESS

Law schools want to know that applicants have demonstrated success in the classroom so that they can predict your success as you transition to much harder work in law school. A record of academic success in general means that you’ve done well, taken challenging courses, are intellectually curious, and possess certain academic skills (more on that below).

Law schools vary considerably in what they consider a “strong” record of success. Check the median GPA of the law schools that interest you here…you’ll see that the median may be anywhere from a 3.3 to a 4.0 at any particular law school. To be a strong candidate for that school, ideally you would be at the GPA median or higher.

But a GPA isn’t the whole story. Law schools also want to see that you’ve challenged yourself by taking upper level classes when appropriate, taking a rigorous (but not crazy) courseload, and taking a variety of coursework.

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 easier 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. (Example: History and Chemistry represent two different skill sets. As long as the overall GPA is still strong.)

Consider changing majors, especially if you are not able to achieve mostly As and some Bs in your coursework. Getting Cs (or below) is a sign of concern that should make a pre-law student carefully consider their choices.

Do not make course selections for these reasons:

  • I heard from a friend/roommate/sibling/the internet that this class was easy;
  • I only wanted classes on Tues/Thurs so I just picked what I could get into on those days;
  • I only wanted afternoon classes so I didn’t even consider anything in the morning;
  • I 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. If you must work a lot to support your education, then do your absolute best to perfect your time management skills, which will set you up well for law school and practicing law! And definitely tell law schools how much you were working during undergrad in your application so that they appreciate your balancing skills.

BUILDING ACADEMIC AND PERSONAL SKILLS FOR LAW SCHOOL

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.

Build important personal and study skills. Right now you are building 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. Utilize campus resources like tutoring, the Writers Workshop, the Counseling Center, and the many workshops and programs about building these skills. Not sure where to look? Ask your academic advisor.

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.

Twitter Linkedin Digg Delicious Reddit Stumbleupon Tumblr Posterous Email