What does it mean to be Pre-Law? Part I: Majors

However, being a good lawyer may ultimately depend upon tipping these scales on way or the other. Pre-Law is a designation applied to college students who are completing a bachelor’s degree specifically in preparation to attend Law School. While most universities will not have a formal “Pre-Law” major (although some will), almost every four-year university will offer some type of degree path that may be considered Pre-Law. In fact, almost any degree path may be considered Pre-Law. In this series, we will discuss what is typically required and expected of law school applicants, starting with College Majors.

Very few, if any, law schools will require their applicants to have completed a particular undergraduate degree to be considered for admission. That said, there are common majors among students who aspire to law school. The most common fields of study for Pre-Law students are English, Philosophy, Political Science, and History. While every student’s degree path will be uniquely their own irrespective of major, with your choice of electives and concentration playing a significant role in what your transcript will look like at graduation, you’ll note that these degree paths emphasize particular skills and characteristics that are often associated with being a successful law practitioner:

English majors are known  for being able to read and write well, and are also thoroughly trained in the art of academic research.

Philosophy majors have a strong foundation in logic reasoning and the ability to deal well in the practical understanding and application of abstract concepts.

Political Science majors will be familiar with the intersection of governance and law, particularly in the areas of political ideas, institutions, and behavior.

History majors, much like English majors, are known for their academic scholarship, especially in the areas of gathering, analyzing, and interpreting evidence.

Although the academic disciplines listed above are the most common degree paths associated with Pre-Law, in actuality the undergraduate degrees of 1st year law school students are quite varied, ranging from theology and business administration to physics and electrical engineering. On that note, let’s take a look at what the American Bar Association (ABA) has to say about Pre-Law students and college majors:

ABA Logo

Two pieces of advice from the ABA regarding Pre-Law education: 1) “There is no single path that will prepare you for a legal education.” 2) “The ABA does not recommend any undergraduate majors or group of courses to prepare for a legal education.”

The ABA is responsible for providing accreditation to law schools, and graduating from an accredited law school is a common requirement to even sit for a state’s bar exam – the exam that determines your eligibility to practice law. The ABA sets the academic standards for approved law schools, so their opinion on the topic of undergraduate majors is important. The takeaway here is that you do not necessarily  have to pursue any specific or traditional degree path to prepare yourself for law school. What is important, however, is that you develop skills as an undergraduate that will allow you to succeed as a law school student – the abilities to think critically, read and research, communicate clearly, analyze evidence and develop persuasive arguments on the basis of that evidence, etc. are all vital and necessary traits to succeeding in law school. However, these are skills you can develop through any number of college majors.

From a big picture perspective, if you are planning on applying to law school and trying to determine what college major will be most pursuant to that, take a moment to consider what field of law you would ultimately like to work in and ask yourself what college major will best prepare you for that field.

At the top of this post I mentioned that most universities do not offer a formal “Pre-Law” major, but that some do. Before finishing today’s discussion on What does it mean to be Pre-Law? let’s take a moment to consider this major. After all, if you’re planning on applying to law school, it would make sense to major in “Pre-Law.” Right? Wrong. Here’s why:

According to a US News report based on data provided to US News from the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT, students applying to law school with a “Pre-Law” degree have a statistically lower admission rate than students with traditional or non-traditional academic backgrounds. To quote the article directly,

“While philosophy, economics, and journalism majors were admitted to law school at rates of 82, 79, and 76 percent, respectively, those numbers were much lower for prelaw (61 percent) and criminal justice (52 percent) majors, according to LSAC.”

This article also states that there may be other considerations outside of the choice of major impacting these admission rates, such as GPA. However, some might argue that the curriculum of a prelaw major is derivative and does not adequately prepare students for the rigors of law school and admissions officers are taking this into account when making admission decisions.

While your college major will undoubtedly impact your application to law school, ultimately it is only one aspect of your application. Come back soon for the next part in our What does it mean to be Pre-Law? series, where we will discuss Extracurriculars.

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