If undergrads have to major in a hard science to get into medical school, then those pursuing law school would need a law-related major, right? Surprisingly, the answer is no according to the American Bar Association as the legal profession is open to a wide degree of diversity within its ranks.
This is good news for students who declared their major before deciding on law school, but for those still deciding on a major, the lack of guidance on the best pre-law majors can be frustrating. That's why it's important to remember that, even without an established trajectory into law school, there are ways to prepare yourself in any major you pursue.
Using the Past as a Guide
If you need some reference points to help determine a pre-law major, past application statistics might yield some answers. The Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), along with administering the Law School Admissions Test, also manages the application process for most law schools. Because of this, it compiles a wealth of information about law school applicants.
For the 2015-16 school year, LSAC's data shows a rather diverse spread of pre-law majors. While most applicants hailed from a political science background (18 percent), a vast majority were spread out among other majors. The next highest ranked majors, at five percent each, were:
- Criminal justice;
- Psychology; and
What may be even more relevant, however, are statistics showing the actual acceptance rates of applicants by major. After all, this could indicate majors that do a better job of getting students ready for law school. While nearly 82 percent of applicants majoring in political science in 2015 were admitted to law school, they were outranked by acceptance rates in the following majors:
- Inter-American Relations: 100 percent (Note: this is from a pool of 7 applicants)
- Nuclear Engineering: 92 percent
- Marine Studies: 92 percent
- Classics: 90 percent
- Environmental Sciences: 89 percent
These numbers may be deceptively high due to the smaller number of applicants from those fields, but it's still interesting to note and begs the question: Are there certain skills, knowledge and experience that can be developed across disciplines to prepare an undergraduate for law school?
Building Legal Skills In Any Major
Looking at the list above, you might be asking yourself how studying nuclear engineering could possibly prepare you for law school. Well, given that many law schools look for a diversity of undergraduate majors and backgrounds, a nuclear scientist brings a lot to the table. Along with the ability to decipher DNA evidence, law students with backgrounds in hard sciences are also attractive hires for intellectual property firms after graduation.
A background in the hard sciences builds an impressive base of technical knowledge, but other majors can also foster skills in preparation for law school. The ability to write clearly and persuasively, for example, can be developed in a wide range of majors. Also helpful is a background in research methods, which hones your ability to compare and weigh evidence, essential skills for the legal practice. Other areas of proficiency that can be developed across different majors include skills related to time management and interpersonal relations.
The Metrics That Matter
Another reason why the substance of your major may not matter during the law school admissions process has to do with the metrics law schools use to evaluate applicants. The top two gatekeeper metrics, undoubtedly, are your LSAT score and your undergraduate GPA.
When choosing a major, consider one in which you can excel. A strong GPA can help get you to the next stage where law schools try to determine what you're made of and what you'll bring to the profession. Along with academic accolades, admissions committees look to extracurricular activities to see whether you exhibit such qualities as:
- A willingness to advocate for others;
- An appreciation of diversity;
- An ethical code;
- Resiliency/tenacity (nothing quite tops the story of the 1L hero who fought off a burglar trying to steal his laptop with his class notes);
- Leadership potential; and
- A sense of volunteerism.
Many of these personality dimensions can reveal themselves in any discipline, so it's not unusual to have professors outside of government departments to write recommendation letters addressing these qualities and weighing in on your fitness for law school.
Going Beyond the Best Pre-Law Majors
As you make preparations for law school, along with choosing the right major, there are a number of other steps you can take to shine up your application. FindLaw's attorneys have stood in your shoes and are happy to share information, resources and tips for success. Learn more by sticking with FindLaw for Law Students.