Should I Major in Pre-Law?

You are one of the few who know, right from the start, that you intend to pursue a career in the law. So, a major in pre-law, criminology, or another legal subject is surely a way to better prepare yourself for law school and beyond, right? Actually, the answer to this question is a little more complicated than it may seem.

What do Law Schools Want?

One of your first challenges on the road to becoming an attorney involves seeking admission to law schools. At this stage, your undergraduate degree is likely to be more relevant than it will be at any other stage of your legal career. It may seem reasonable to assume that law schools feel that a pre-law undergraduate major is valuable, especially when they are associated with the university that offers a pre-law undergraduate degree; surprisingly this is not at all the case.

A close examination of many law school websites reveals links to a surprising statement by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA "does not recommend any undergraduate majors or group of courses to prepare for legal education." Although the ABA falls short of saying that pre-law undergraduate majors shouldn't be pursued, they also stress that the legal field values the diversity of viewpoints and opinions that arise from a law student population made up of a variety of educational backgrounds.

Furthermore, studies have shown that those with pre-law undergraduate degrees such as criminal justice are frequently admitted to law schools at lower rates than students who majored in subjects such as history, philosophy, and the arts.

Rather than simply focusing on the study of the law, a student wondering whether they should major in pre-law should consider whether another undergraduate degree might help them develop some of the core skills lawyers need, such as:

  • Problem solving;
  • Reading comprehension;
  • Critical analysis;
  • Oral communication or debate;
  • Writing and editing; and
  • Research.

These skills might be developed in a wide variety of undergraduate majors.

Benefits of Non-Legal Undergraduate Degrees

If you decide that the answer to "should I major in pre-law" is a "no" you'll need to find another major to pursue. As the ABA suggests, your best bet is to pursue your interests so that you make the most of your undergraduate education. Your choice of a course of study will likely also direct your future career as an attorney.

Some degrees can help create unique opportunities in your legal career. An undergraduate degree in social sciences or psychology, for example, may be an asset for someone intending to practice law in the nonprofit or public service context. Business majors have a background that is well-suited for civil litigation or corporate law. An undergraduate degree in science is practically a prerequisite for some patent and intellectual property practices.

If there isn't a subject that immediately appeals to you, most colleges provide educational and career counselors that can help you organize your options and determine a course of study that will meet your needs.

A Final Caveat

In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds." Regardless of the foregoing, you may still wish to pursue a major in pre-law. That's fine, and there is no reason why this decision would harm your plans to proceed to law school. However, making the decision should be a choice you make out of your own interest and passion and not because you feel it will improve your chances of admission to law school.

Learn More About Preparing for Law School

Choosing an undergraduate degree is just the first of many decisions you'll make on your path to a legal career. Along the way you'll have lots of questions, and we're here to help find the answers. Check in with FindLaw's Law Students section regularly for advice about choosing a law school, getting admitted, law school exams, the bar, and more.