Preparing for Law School
Choosing a Major
One of the most commonly asked questions pre-law students have is do certain majors or specific courses of study improve the chance of getting into law school. The short answer is — no. While many Amherst applicants major in LJST, Political Science and Economics, law schools routinely accept applicants across the full spectrum of majors. They do, however, like to see a combination of strength in one or two major areas, along with a good breadth of other course choices. Law schools choose their students based on evidence of “being able to do well in law school,” which is sometimes interpreted as “being capable of thinking like a lawyer.”
When you’re thinking through which courses to take during your time at Amherst, you should focus on developing a core set of skills, values, knowledge, and experience that will give you a strong foundation for being successful in law school and in your future career in the legal profession.
According to the American Bar Association, pre-law students benefit from taking courses that cover topics such as history, political thought, political systems, basic mathematics and financial skills, and human behavior and social interaction. Ideal coursework also includes those that cultivate an understanding of diverse cultures, world events, and international institutions. Additionally, you should consider taking courses that allow you to develop skills in:
- Problem solving
- Critical reading
- Writing and editing
- Speaking clearly and persuasively
- Listening carefully
- Organizing and managing time efficiently
Maintaining a strong academic record while at Amherst is important when preparing to apply for law school. What does that mean exactly? Earning impressive grades in rigorous and challenging courses will make you competitive for law school. However, one “bad” grade, withdrawing from a course, or deciding to make a course “pass/fail” will not ruin admission prospects. Not even a bad semester or “low” GPA will eliminate chances for becoming a lawyer. Most law schools allow applicants to submit an addendum essay with the rest of their application materials to explain any lapses in their academic records. Also, it is important to remember that other aspects of an applicant’s experience and background (e.g. extracurricular activities, jobs, internships) also factor into admission decisions.
Please refer to the Law School Admission Council’s Interpretive Guide to Undergraduate Grading Systems to learn about how Amherst transcripts are converted for the law school admissions process.
Law schools care about students’ non-academic activities, as well. As part of preparation for the law school admissions process, a student should become actively involved in the things that truly interest them, while making sure not to just casually “dabble” in activities just to beef up a resume. Participating in extracurricular activities also allows a student to gain a skill that will be helpful as a lawyer (i.e. perfecting persuasive speaking through the Debate Team) and/or discover a new reason to become passionate about law (i.e. combating climate change).
Finally, lawyers, no matter their practice area, are committed to upholding the rule of law, a fair and equitable justice system, and providing honest and competent service to others. Therefore, pre-law students should seek out opportunities before submitting law school applications to gain significant experience in public or community service activities. Law schools are interested in seeing “the whole person,” and will appreciate a background which shows depth and commitment to the world around you.
Find extracurricular activities to do on campus, in the Amherst community, and/or while you are away from campus during winter and summer breaks. Even after you graduate, continue to be active outside of your professional commitments.
Jobs and Internships
Like extracurricular activities, jobs and internships can help you to develop foundational skills for a future in the legal profession, explore or discover a potential legal practice area, and/or participate in public service. However, very importantly, completing an internship or being employed during or after your time at Amherst, will allow you to get real-life exposure to the legal field through hands-on work and shadowing. Attending law school is a huge commitment in terms of time, money, and other resources. Taking your time to gain as much experience as you can beforehand will only serve to further strengthen your deliberation process when it comes time to make a decision about applying for law school.
Law schools appreciate applicants who have taken time after graduation to work or pursue another professional experience (commonly referred to as “gap years”) and the majority of any incoming class at a law school is composed of students who have at least 1-2 two years of work experience prior to admission.
Here are some things to consider when seeking professional experiences as a pre-law student:
- There is no single pathway to law school. Law schools routinely admit applicants from all
- Legal-related internships or jobs (i.e. working at a law firm, legal aid society, or government agency) are fantastic opportunities to confirm whether or not a career in law is right for you. BUT, having these experiences on your resume is not a requirement for law school.
- Law doesn’t just happen inside of a law firm or in the courtroom! You can find lawyers across various government agencies at the local, state, and federal level; at nonprofit organizations; working for a company; and doing research at a university or think tank. Be expansive in your search.
- Follow your interest or passion! Interested in criminal justice reform? You could work for a grassroots organization that is lobbying for a state legislature to change its death penalty laws. Want to help entrepreneurs establish their businesses in the future? Finding opportunities at a startup company might be just as meaningful as working at a corporate law firm.
- If you are still deciding between law and another career, you could seek out opportunities in the latter field to explore your interest further. Even if you do ultimately decide to pursue a law degree, having experience in an unrelated field will not put you at a disadvantage.
- Not all post-graduate, professional experience has to take the form of a job. Fellowships like the Fulbright or the Watson and programs like Teach for America or City Year are valuable opportunities in terms of law school preparation, as well.