Pre-Law: Everything You Need to Know

What Is Pre-Law? Everything You Need to Know

If you’re interested in a legal career, you may be wondering how to prepare during your undergraduate studies. There’s plenty to consider: What courses should you take? What experience will make you a strong law school applicant? And do you need a pre-law degree?

Students have multiple paths available to get into law school. A pre-law program is just one of many options for prospective law students to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills. Read on for our comprehensive guide, including pre-law majors, typical pre-law requirements, ways to finance law school, and more.

What Is Pre-Law?

So what is pre-law exactly? Pre-law refers to any coursework or program of study geared towards preparing aspiring law students.

Whereas pre-med encompasses a set list of prerequisite courses needed to get into medical schools, such as biology and chemistry, pre-law does not have a uniform structure, nor is it mandatory for admission to law school.

It’s possible to pursue pre-law majors at some colleges, while other schools lack specific pre-law programs. Generally speaking, students in pre-law have some flexibility in selecting their courses and majors.

Pre-law programs can also include professional development, networking events, academic advising, and informational resources to guide and support students interested in legal professions.

Can I Get a Pre-Law Degree?

Not every school with pre-law offers an official pre-law degree, but some do.

Since a bachelor’s degree is required to get into law school, obtaining a pre-law degree might seem like a logical choice for gaining knowledge of the legal system and preparing for law school. Studying for a pre-law degree can also help determine if the legal field is the right fit before paying for law school tuition, which costs $45,844 a year on average.

While not a pre-law degree per say, a number of colleges offer joint degree programs that allow students to combine their bachelor’s and law degrees. Sometimes called 3+3 programs, this path lets qualified students transition into law school after their junior year, thus saving on tuition and time towards receiving both diplomas.

To reiterate, a pre-law degree is not essential to getting into law school. Students can earn different degree types, such as a bachelor’s of arts or science, in a wide range of academic disciplines to prepare for legal education.

Pre-Law Requirements

Pre-law programs vary by institution. Students pursuing a pre-law major or minor may be required to receive approval from an academic advisor, study-specific coursework, and maintain a certain GPA to graduate.

If pre-law is not a degree-granting major at your school, there are likely less requirements to enroll. However, it’s not uncommon to have to take a prerequisite legal course or complete an internship as a pre-law student.

While there aren’t any formal pre-law requirements for admission to law school, there are other necessary steps and qualifications to apply. These typically include:

•  Having a bachelor’s degree (or being on track to completing one)

•  Meeting minimum GPA requirements, if applicable

•  Satisfactory Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) scores (varies by school)

•  A complete application, which may include a personal statement, essays, and recommendation letters

Pre-Law Courses

When choosing what courses to take, it’s important to consider the desired skills and attributes law schools look for. On the whole, it’s recommended that students choose coursework that develops their abilities in reading comprehension, critical thinking, analytical reasoning, logic, and written communication.

Many schools have established pre-law curriculum that students are required or advised to take based on the nature of the program. Typically, this includes a selection of courses across multiple disciplines, such as philosophy, political science, English, and other concentrations in the liberal arts. Taken together, pre-law courses aim to provide a breadth of knowledge and competencies.

If you have an idea of what type of law you want to practice after law school, taking electives or majoring in that subject area in combination with pre-law courses is a useful way to start preparing.

Schools with pre-law programs often offer advising services, which can be a helpful resource to devise an academic plan that puts you on track for your law school goals.

Pre-Law Majors

Pre-law majors often incorporate a mix of social science and humanities courses to develop the skills needed for the LSAT and a legal education.

Although a subset of schools offer a pre-law major, students can ultimately study a wide range of academic disciplines while on the pre-law track. In fact, the American Bar Association does not recommend any specific undergraduate major for students planning to attend law school.

Since students are evaluated heavily on their GPA, it’s a good idea to find a major that you’re genuinely interested in and can excel at. Tacking on a double-major, minor, or honors classes can further demonstrate motivation and commitment to admissions offices.

It may be helpful to consider the academic path other law students have taken. According to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) report for 2020 to 2021 enrollment, these are the ten most popular pre-law majors:

1.   Political Science

2.   Psychology

3.   Criminal Justice

4.   English

5.   Economics

6.   History

7.   Other Arts & Humanities

8.   Philosophy

9.   Sociology

10.   Communications

Recommended: 20 of the Most Popular College Majors

Preparing for Law School

Getting into law school is competitive. According to the American Bar Association, only 69.6% of law school applicants were accepted to at least one law school in 2020.

For many students, studying for the LSAT is a point of stress and anxiety. Many pre-law programs advise students on getting ready for the LSAT and may offer preparatory classes.

If these resources aren’t available on campus, students can choose from online courses or study guides with practice tests to prepare well in advance. It’s worth noting that students may take the LSAT multiple times—three times in a single testing year; five times within the past five years.

When starting the application process, keep in mind that most law school applications carry a fee, usually in the range of $60 to $100. Factoring in law school rankings and how your GPA and LSAT scores compare to a school’s median statistics can help decide where it’s worth applying.

Application fee waivers may be offered to students with considerable financial need or strong qualifications. It’s possible to receive a waiver by meeting early application deadlines or simply requesting one, too.

Financing Law School

Earning a Juris Doctor degree, or a J.D., is an investment in your future. It’s also a major financial decision.

For the 2020-2021 academic year, the average private and public, out-of-state tuition cost $51,268 and $42,143, respectively. Meanwhile, in-state public tuition averaged $29,074 for the same year. Despite the steep sticker price, financing law school is possible by planning and researching your options in advance.

Scholarships and grants

Exploring law school scholarships and grants early on in your search is important, as these funds generally don’t have to be repaid. Law schools are the main source of scholarships, which are usually merit-based. However, other funding opportunities exist for students from underrepresented groups or who are studying a specific legal field.

Work-study programs

Law school is demanding, but some students manage to work part-time to help cover living expenses. Students with financial need may be eligible for work study—a federal financial aid program that provides part-time work, often in community service or a student’s field of study.

Federal or private student loans

Ultimately, many law students finance a portion of their education expenses with federal or private loans. And your school’s financial aid office is responsible for determining the type of loan and amount you qualify for, if any.

Law students can borrow up to $20,500 in federal Direct Unsubsidized Loans annually, but no more than $138,500 overall in subsidized and unsubsidized loans when aggregated with undergraduate loans.

If Direct Unsubsidized Loans are exhausted, students can take out a federal Grad Plus Loan up to the cost of attendance minus other financial aid. To qualify, students must satisfy federal student aid eligibility requirements, be enrolled at least half-time, and not have an adverse credit history.

Private student loans are another option, but without the benefits that come with federal loans, such as income-driven repayment plans or Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Yet, competitive interest rates with private loans could be advantageous for law students eyeing high-paying private-sector jobs.

The Takeaway

Students have plenty of choices in what they study to acquire the skills and knowledge necessary for legal education. Pre-law programs can be a great resource for aspiring lawyers, but completing one isn’t essential for getting into law school.

Getting accepted into law school and making it to graduation three years later are major accomplishments. Tackling law school loans after graduation may be less exciting, but it matters for your financial future.

Refinancing your existing student loans could help you secure a lower interest rate; some private lenders like SoFi offer deferment to qualified borrowers when they go back to school for an advanced degree.

If you’re considering refinancing your student loans, SoFi offers a competitive rate, flexible terms, and no fees.

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Photo credit: iStock/Pixelimage

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