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alt="pre-law student walking into a college classroom"
Photographer: javier trueba | Source: Unsplash

What does it mean to be pre-law? Who can be pre-law? What should pre-law students be thinking about in high school? How can pre-law students stand out during the college application process? What kinds of college programs should pre-law look for?

Have you considered law as a potential career path, but aren’t sure what you should do now to prepare? Read on to learn about what “pre-law” means, how to stand out in your college applications, and how to identify the right programs for you!

What is pre-law?

Students who plan to attend medical, dental, or veterinary school often have a set list of required classes they need to fulfill in order to even apply to post-baccalaureate programs. Law school is also an intensive graduate program, but it does not have these same specific requirements. So, while “pre-med” corresponds to a particular list of classes and is a more formal designation, “pre-law” is more of an informal self-identifier. Students who plan to attend law school can graduate with any major and still be qualified to apply.

However, it’s still a good idea to think carefully about the classes you take so that you can develop the skills you need to succeed on the LSAT (the standardized test for law school admissions) and in your law classes.

Some important skills for law school include reading comprehension, writing, research, logic, and critical thinking. You can develop these skills in all kinds of classes! Popular “pre-law” majors include English, government/political science, history, or philosophy. However, these are far from the only options.

Since almost every area of life is affected by laws, you can enter law school with any major—whether mechanical engineering, music, biology, or education! These “non-traditional” pre-law majors can even help you stand out on your application or direct you towards a specialized area of law.

What should pre-law students be thinking about in high school? How can I stand out in the college application process?

Many people apply to college with plans to attend law school but without being quite sure what that will look like. Additionally, while law may be a popular intended career, it can be grueling. For this reason, it’s critical to determine if you will really enjoy law well before you actually start law school.

In order to stand out as a pre-law student, it’s helpful to demonstrate experience with legal work and/or a deep engagement with a particular area of law or advocacy. This way, you can show your Admissions Officers that your interest in law extends beyond the theoretical and into your real-world experiences.

Although many legal internships are only available to current law students, there are still many options for you as a high school student.

Most importantly, smaller, local law firms tend to be more amenable to hiring high school and college students for summer jobs or internships. If there is a small firm in your area, consider reaching out to see if they have any opportunities. If they don’t, at the very least you’ll have made a connection with someone in the legal field, and they can give you some helpful advice about their experience.

Besides working in a law firm, there are several other areas where you can get a sense of whether law is the right career for you.

It can be helpful to think about what areas of law interest you.

Many aspiring lawyers enjoy working in government or in politics. Interning with your local or state government can be a great way to get experience in this area. Members of Congress also have local offices in their states and districts where competition for internships among college students tends to be lighter. These can be great places to get experience as a high school student.

If you’re interested in civil rights law or public service, you may also look for opportunities working or volunteering for nonprofits or other advocacy groups. Finally, if you can’t pursue an internship or summer job, you can also get some experience doing legal-style writing and argument through clubs such as Mock Trial or Model UN.

What college programs should I look for?

Sadly, simply majoring in an undergraduate pre-law program isn’t the end; you’ll still need to actually apply to law school during your senior year or after you graduate.

You do not need to attend law school right after your college graduation. In fact, many successful attorneys work for a few years between undergrad and law school. However, the things you’re involved in during college will still be critical components of your application, particularly in your personal statements and letters of recommendation.

Aside from looking for classes that will let you develop those key skills for law school, there are a few other programs and features that you should keep your eye on.

First, see if you can participate in research or other projects with law professors or other professors who research legal topics during college.

For example, at Georgetown University, students can get involved in the Prisons and Justice Initiative, which works on issues like mass incarceration, recidivism, and wrongful conviction. A program like this can give you real-world experience and help you demonstrate a deep commitment to law and justice.

Additionally, close work with professors can help you secure meaningful letters of recommendation.

Aside from specialized programs, you can also think about double majoring or pursuing a joint BA/MA program.

The first reason for this is that some areas of law require subject matter expertise in a specific field. Take patent law, for instance; you generally need at least a bachelor’s degree level of education in the science, technology, or engineering field you want to work on.

For example, if you got a degree in electrical engineering, you could become a patent attorney who focuses on patents related to electrical engineering. You don’t necessarily need to double major—you could simply do one major in electrical engineering. However, if you also have a strong interest in one of the more classic pre-law majors, it can be a great way to combine both interests.

Joint BA/MA programs also give you a chance to demonstrate research interests in a particular field and develop deeper connections with professors. For example, if you were to complete a joint BA/MA in history, you could write a more lengthy master’s thesis on a legal history topic related to the field of law you hope to practice.

Programs like these can show that you are actively engaged in law and also illustrate that you can handle tough academic work.

Learning additional languages is another useful way to spend your undergraduate career.

For fields of law that work with international actors, such as business or immigration law, knowing an additional language can be an invaluable skill that will help set you apart from your peers.

Final Thoughts

Finally, it’s important to note that college is expensive, and so is law school. As you look for undergraduate programs that will prepare you to be successful in law school and in your eventual career, it’s also worth paying attention to opportunities for financial aid, paid internships or work-study positions related to the field of law as well as other opportunities to defray the cost of attendance. Consider working with a financial counselor to get a sense of the debt with which you’ll leave undergrad and law school and make a plan for tackling it.

This informational essay was written by Brynlee Emery, Georgetown ‘19. If you want to get help with your college applications from Brynlee or other CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expertsregister with CollegeAdvisor.com today.