Course Selection for Pre-Law Students: Part 2

We previously shared a list of possible Spring 2018 courses of interest to pre-law students (click here to see that post). What else should you know about building your semester schedule? Here are several tips and suggestions to help pre-law students make the most of your upcoming semesters.

Students really can major in ANYTHING and be successful in law school, but you must be a strong student in whatever you choose. 

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.

Do not make course selections for these reasons:

  • A friend/roommate/sibling/parent said the 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.

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.

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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Spring 2018 Course Options for Pre-Law Students: Part 1

This is Part 1 of a 2 part series on course selections for pre-law students. This post will present many different course options to consider. 

As you know, students in ANY major can attend law school, and there are NO specifically required courses for pre-law undergrads. Law schools do not require any particular major or coursework. However, given an interest in law, here are some spring courses that pre-law students may find particularly helpful and interesting. These courses are only suggestions and are not requirements. 

Some of these courses have prerequisites;  check Course Explorer and speak to your academic advisor about the best courses for you.

ACE 240: Personal Financial Planning. Understanding financial instruments, records, and tax implications is critical for nearly all lawyers.

BTW 263: Writing in the Disciplines teaches very practical writing skills for aspiring professionals.

Community Health 101: Introduction to Public Health is a good option for those interested in pursuing healthcare law. (See posted restrictions.)

Communication courses are helpful, as all lawyers must demonstrate strong oral and written communication skills. Here are some examples of helpful courses:

  • CMN 101: Public Speaking (this is a prereq for most upper level CMN courses)
  • CMN 211: Business Communication
  • CMN 220: Communicating Public Policy
  • CMN 321: Strategies of Persuasion
  • CMN 323: Argumentation

ENGL 310: Unprotected Speech. Description from the instructor:

This semester, we will study the workings of our language through the lens of protected and unprotected speech and writing: what we can say without fear of legal consequences, and what we can’t. Starting with the murderous attacks on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and the recent clash between the First and Second Amendments in Charlottesville, and free-speech issues at Yale, Berkeley, Missouri, and the U of I, as well as other campuses, we’ll look at the history of censorship, speech bans, and government surveillance of speech. We’ll see how the boundaries between permitted and banned speech shift over time and with context; how advances in technology change the border between public speech and private speech; whether speech codes are desirable or indefensible; and how the concept of intellectual property informs and limits what we can do with our words, and with the words of others.

All readings will be available on line. Students will be asked to write several short papers on the topics covered, and to participate in a moot court on a current free-speech court case.

ENGL 360: Environmental Writing for students interested in environmental law.

HDFS 120: Intro to Family Studies and SW 200: Intro to Social Work. Both of these courses may be of interest to students who want to be advocates for families and juveniles.

INFO 303: Writing Across Media, a skill that all legal careers integrate and value.

LAW 199:The Judicial System. Enrollment in this class, which meets on Fridays from   1-4 pm, is limited to 12 students. Here are course details and application procedures directly from the course instructor:

The purpose of the class is to take a deep dive into the criminal justice system.  Every other week we go off campus to visit state and federal judges, prosecutors, public defenders, legal aid lawyers, and other legal professionals.   We learn what they do, how they do it, and what is both challenging and rewarding about their jobs.  We also observe court proceedings, and see what happens in state and federal courts.

On the alternate weeks, we gather in the College of Law classroom to review the textbook content, take short quizzes, discuss prior visits, and prepare for upcoming visits.  We also ponder the social and legal inequalities that pervade the justice system through movie clips describing cases of particular noteworthiness.  In short, we work to become familiar with the justice system and the people who support it, and we think about the many challenges it must address.

If you are interested in applying, please prepare a document with the following information:

1) Your name and email address;
2) Why this course interests you;
3) What you hope to learn during the semester; and
4) How you will manage your schedule so that you will be available Friday afternoons for our class meetings and field trips.

Please bring a paper copy of your application document–by October 27–to the College of Law, Room 338  (for our Undergraduate Studies Coordinator, Ellen Rund).  If no one is in the office, you may slip the application under the door.  (Documents often come to us that way.) Students will be contacted the following week with offers of admission. 

NRES 102: Intro to Natural Resources and Environmental Science would be a helpful course for students interested in pursuing environmental law.

Philosophy options include:

  • PHIL 102: Logic & Reasoning. Especially helpful for students who have yet to take the LSAT, as two sections of the LSAT are based on Logical Reasoning.
  • PHIL 104/105: Intro to Ethics.  Basic exploration of ethics, including the relationship between social morality and the law.
  • PHIL 436: Philosophy of Law and the State. Explores broad philosophical legal issues.

Political Science options to gain a foundational understanding of our legal system and its role within broader political structures include:

  • PS 220/321: Intro to Public Policy/Principles of Public Policy
  • PS 301/302: US Constitution I &II are both helpful primers for law school
  • PS 303/313: The US Congress/Congress and Foreign Policy
  • PS 280: Intro to International Relations

PSYC 341: Advanced Community Projects. Gaining experience with clients in a human services context can build client-related skills as well as introducing students to the legal needs of a community or a specific population.

Sociology has introduced its Criminology, Law and Society minor. These courses may be helpful for students exploring criminal legal issues and crime in society, such as:

  • SOC 226: Political Sociology
  • SOC 275: Criminology
  • SOC 378: Law and Society

Other courses to explore different areas of law include the following. Some have restrictions; check Course Explorer.

  • ACE 403: Agricultural Law
  • JOUR 311: Media Law
  • RST 354: Legal Aspects of Sport
  • SE 400 Engineering Law
  • GEOG 210: Social & Environmental Issues
  • UP 211: Local Planning, Government and Law

Business classes can provide a helpful foundation for those interested in corporate careers, however, most are restricted to College of Business majors or minors. Some courses will release any leftover seats after a restricted period; check Course Explorer for more details.

  • BADM 300 Legal Environment of Business
  • BADM 303 Principles of Public Policy–also cross-listed as PS 321.
  • BADM 314 Leading Negotiations

Remember that these are only suggestions.  Further, this is not intended to be an exhaustive list. There are many other great courses described in the Course Explorer, some of which have prerequisites but are still open to undergrads. Do your own research and talk with your academic advisor to identify other good options.

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Online Tips for Aspiring Law Students

As a pre-law student, it is important to refine your online etiquette skills and online presence before you go to law school. Here are a few tips for aspiring law students and what you can do now to make sure you are following the do’s and dont’s online.

1.Use your ILLINOIS email account (the one that ends with @illinois.edu) when emailing University staff, professors, and other University officials.

  • However, your University of Illinois email account does expire a few months after you graduate.
  • You should have a back up email that is JUST YOUR NAME.
    • Example: If your name is John Doe, you should have a back up email that is not a University of Illinois email. Some appropriate examples are: jdoe@gmail.com, johndoe1@gmail.com, or john.doe@gmail.com

2. Have a clear subject line. If you title an email “Question” or “Inquiry” that is too general and may not get the attention of the person you are emailing.

  • Example: “Scheduling a Law School Tour at the University of Illinois College of Law” or “Meeting to Discuss Possible Letter of Recommendation” are better examples than “Tour” or “Meeting.”

3. Use the correct TITLE for the person you are emailing. When in doubt, be formal. Address emails using people’s titles (ex. Professor X, Dean X, Mrs. X, Mr. X.)

  • Especially when emailing law school professionals, double check the titles.

4. Introduce yourself when emailing new people at the beginning of the email. Introductions will help your email recipient understand the reason for the email and understand who you are, too.

  • Example: My name is John Doe and I am a sophomore in Political Science. I am emailing you about ___________.

5. Use a signature in your email. Email signatures let the recipient know the easiest way to contact you and provide some background information.

  • Example:

John Doe, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Class of 2021

email: johndoe@illinois.edu

phone: 217-555-5555

6. Get a LinkedIn Account! LinkedIn is a great way to get connected with employers, connect with professionals, and find job and internship opportunities.

  • The Career Center will review your LinkedIn profile and provide feedback for free. Visit their website for more information.
  • Reviews take place on Mondays and Wednesdays 7:00 – 9:00 pm
  • Undergraduate Library, Consultation Corner 1402 W Gregory Drive UrbanaIL
  • For more information, click here.

7. Can’t find the University of Illinois employee, professor or advisor you are looking for? Your first step should be to use the University of Illinois Directory.

8. Think carefully about what is publicly available about you–what is your online media presence on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram? Many employers and graduate schools will do an online search before hiring or admitting you. What are your privacy settings? What pictures are posted? Would you want everyone in the world to have access to those? Unfortunately, bad online decisions can live forever, so make sure you are proactive about what information you share.

 

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Grade Replacement and Law School

It can be confusing how grade replacement works in light of law school applications. This Q&A guide will help to clarify how grade replacement impacts law school applicants. It is critical that pre-law students understand how grade replacement will be viewed by a law school admissions team.

Students: Discuss your particular situation carefully with your academic advisor before making any decisions about re-taking a course!

Q. What is the campus Grade Replacement Policy?

A. You can find the Grade Replacement Policy in the Student Code, §3-309.

Students who meet the qualifications set forth in the Policy may now re-take up to 10 hours of UIUC courses and replace a grade of “C–” or below with the grade received the second time the course was taken. The original grade will no longer be factored in to the UIUC GPA. However, the original grade will still appear on your transcript, and it WILL impact law school applications (more about that below.)

An example to illustrate:

Taylor took Math 220 at UIUC in Fall 2015 and earned a D+. Taylor decides to re-take the course, gets departmental approval for grade replacement, and re-takes Math 220 in Spring 2016. Taylor earns a C in the course this time.

In Taylor’s UIUC GPA, only the C from the Spring 2016 Math 220 will be calculated. However, both grades will appear on the transcript.

Q: How does this impact a law school application?

A: Both Math 220 grades will be factored into the GPA when applying to law schools.

When students apply to law school, the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) re-calculates the GPA and submits this calculation to law schools. (You can find more information about how the LSAC re-calculates a GPA here: http://www.lsac.org/aboutlsac/policies/transcript-summarization). Basically, applicants will have two GPAs: A UIUC GPA and an LSAC GPA.

This means that law schools will receive both your UIUC GPA and your re-calculated LSAC GPA. Our office has confirmed with the LSAC that they will continue to factor both the original and the second grade for a repeated course into your LSAC GPA, even if you qualified for Grade Replacement, and even if your UIUC GPA does not include the original grade.

In short: Both Math 220 grades will appear on Taylor’s transcript AND both grades will be factored into Taylor’s law school application GPA.

Takeaway: Law school applicants cannot “hide” or remove the original grade from law school admissions, or from their GPA for law school applications.

An example to illustrate: When Taylor applies to law school, the LSAC GPA will factor in both the original D+ AND the C for both of the Math 220 courses. This GPA will be included in the reports sent to each law school to which Taylor applies. The law school will also receive an official UIUC transcript with UIUC GPA.

Q: Should pre-law students ever consider grade replacement?

A: Maybe. Don’t do grade replacement just to improve your GPA for law school application purposes. If your goal is to improve your GPA, you’d be better off taking a class that suits your strengths that is at least the same number of credits as the class you want to replace. You’d have a better chance of doing well and balancing out that low grade.

However, there may be other reasons to go for grade replacement. Two examples: (1) You need to master the material in that course in order to do well in subsequent courses; or (2) you need credit for that specific course to graduate. Talk to the academic advisor in your major to explore if there are other reasons why you should consider retaking.

Questions to consider before making a decision about re-taking a course:

• Do you need the course? Is it required or necessary to master the material for a required sequence?

• Realistically, how much better will you perform in the course a second time?

• Since you cannot “hide” the low grade from law school admissions, might you be better off taking a different course that interests you and suits your strengths?

If you decide to retake the course, carefully and realistically assess what you can do differently this time. What really caused your performance to suffer? What resources can you use this time to improve your grade? Do not assume that exposure to the material a second time will automatically improve your grade–many students get the same grade or only see slight improvement when retaking.

 

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All About Law School Interviews

Many law schools now incorporate some kind of interview process. Here’s what to know and do to prepare.

Know what kind of interviews your law schools offer

  • Research your law schools’ websites to see whether and what kind of interview is offered. We posted a list of known interview types by school over on our Compass page.
  • By invitation only–some law schools like University of Chicago choose to interview applicants by invitation only.
  • Open interviews–Other law schools like Northwestern offer interview slots to all applicants on a first-come, first-served basis. (To schedule an interview visit their interview calendar here. Hurry, because they will fill fast.)
  • Group interviews–Some schools like Georgetown will offer group interviews in selected cities; at this time Georgetown’s interview is also by invitation only.

Preparing for the interview

  • Do your research. You should expect them to ask you “why this law school?” and they will want to hear specific answers. Take a careful look at the school’s website, employment data, and any marketing materials like pamphlets.
    • Do be prepared with specific bullet points about the school that interest you: A particular journal, clinic, externship, or certificate program is a good example.
    • Don’t say general things like “you have a national reputation” or “you’re the best ranked school I can get into.” They want to see that your interest goes beyond their ranking.
  • Carefully review your resume and be prepared to discuss anything on it. Many schools will also ask something like “Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?,” so be prepared to discuss your career interests.
  • Practice. Sign up for a mock interview with Career Services, or have a lawyer/professor/trusted person sit down with you and ask you questions. Think carefully about what you want to say, and how you can best convey it.

At the interview

  • Make eye contact, introduce yourself, and shake hands. (You would be surprised how many people skip this. Seriously.)
  • DO NOT BE LATE under any circumstances. The biggest sign of disrespect to lawyers is wasting their time. Allow yourself plenty of time for parking/traffic/restroom. If you absolutely cannot avoid being late, call the office to let them know.
  • Dress up. This is not a business-casual situation; business formal is best.
  • Engage in small talk. How’s the weather, what a lovely office/view, how is your semester going, etc., is not only socially necessary but also gives the interviewer an idea of how good you are at making people feel comfortable talking with you–a critical skill to be a successful lawyer. This might even be part of the interview itself.
  • Bring questions for the interviewer.  Most interviewers will ask if you have any questions for them. Use the opportunity. Some examples might include:
    • What are the most important qualities in a Law School X student?
    • How would you describe the student body/atmosphere here?
    • What challenges do you see current law students facing?
    • What’s the best advice you have for an aspiring law student?
  • Thank the interviewer for their time. Reiterate your interest.

After the interview

  • Follow up with an email thanking the interviewer for their time.
  • Include something specific that you learned or enjoyed about the interview. Examples:
    • Thank you for your advice about _______________; I found that very insightful.
    • It was reassuring to hear your thoughts on the atmosphere at this school.
    • I appreciate your honesty in addressing the challenges faced by current students.
  • Take the opportunity–again–to reiterate your interest in the school.
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