High school and college students who are interested in becoming lawyers are often left wondering just what they can do to make themselves the most attractive law school applicants out there. Fortunately, the paths leading to law school are plentiful for potential law students. However, it’s important to select pre-law courses that will arm you with the knowledge and skills necessary to succeed in law school. Read on to learn more about what to look for in pre-law courses.
Core Skills and Knowledge
For the majority of students, college is the time to hone the skills that will be immediately put to use in the workforce after graduation. Similarly, potential law students need to acquire the skills during undergrad that will prepare them to succeed during the next phase of their education. The American Bar Association (ABA) suggests that the following skills and experiences can provide undergraduates with a solid foundation to handle the rigors of law school:
- Problem Solving
- Critical Reading
- Writing and Editing
- Oral Communication and Listening
- Organization and Management
- Public Service and Promotion of Justice
- Relationship-building and Collaboration
- Background Knowledge
- Exposure to the Law
There are a variety of ways that potential law students can build these skills before law school. Whether it’s through pre-law courses that teach these skills, extracurricular activities that reinforce these qualities, or part-time and summer jobs that provide unique experiences with the law, attaining the building blocks to be successful in law school can start years before law school even begins.
Picking an Undergraduate Major
Deciding on a major can be a challenge for potential law students. Since the ABA does not offer any recommendations for undergraduate major that will properly prepare students for a legal education, it can be tricky figuring out how to spend four years in college. The ideal college major for undergraduates thinking about law school would be one that parlays the teaching of the the skills mentioned above with a subject area that interests the student enough to allow him or her to obtain the best grade point average possible.
While some colleges offer a “Pre-Law” major, some of the most common majors for students entering law school are political science, English, psychology, philosophy, and criminal justice. Although an undergraduate major generally will not affect a student’s law school application, picking the proper major may be essential for students that are interested in practicing in a specific area of law after law school. For example, students interested in practicing patent law will benefit greatly from an engineering, chemistry, biology, or physics degree.
Writing and Researching Courses
A great deal of a lawyer’s job involves researching and writing. While the research and writing performed by lawyers differs from the papers required by most pre-law courses, becoming proficient at researching and writing early on in college will make the transition to law school much easier.
Acquiring fundamental writing skills is essential to a law student’s success. Classes requiring research papers and other advanced compositions can provide undergrad students with an excellent foundation for the in-depth writing that will be required in law school. Colleges typically offer a wide range of humanities courses that can help students develop their writing and analytical skills. Here are just a few examples:
- Introduction to Political Theory, PLSC 28701 (University of Chicago)
- American Literature I, ENGL-UA 230 (NYU)
- Ethics, PHIL 361 (University of Michigan)
- Social History of the United States, HISTORY 131B (UC Berkeley)
In addition to humanities courses, some colleges even offer pre-law courses in legal research and writing. These courses provide students with an early taste of writing in a structured, legal format as well as doing extensive legal research for law related papers.
Potential law students looking to expand their legal knowledge can usually find legally related courses buried within their school’s course catalog. Pre-law courses like Environmental Law, Constitutional Politics of the First Amendment, and Gender and the Law are commonly offered by colleges across the United States. Here are a few more examples of legal-related courses available to undergraduates:
- Philosophy of Law, 166 (UCLA)
- The Supreme Court and the Civil Rights Movement, AAS 3456 (University of Virginia)
- Agriculture and Natural Resource Law, AEB 4123 (University of Florida)
- Criminal Law in Action, CCJS230 (University of Maryland)
While reading the cases in these courses can provide students with a brief peek into the life of law student, it’s important to remember to take classes that you know you will enjoy. There will be plenty of time in law school to read cases that don’t interest you.
Law schools are looking for students with a diverse education. Choosing courses that help you develop your writing skills and reasoning abilities as well as those that give you a glimpse into the various aspects of a career in law will provide you with an excellent foundation for law school.