How Law School Applicants Can Explain Their College Major

When I told friends and family that I intended to go to law school, several of them asked me why I wasn’t majoring in prelaw. The simple answer was that my school, like most schools in the country, didn’t offer prelaw as a major. Even if it had, I didn’t formulate my plan to apply to law school until my senior year, and by that point switching majors would have been quite challenging.

I ended up with a degree in political science, so my major of choice was never really an issue, but what if you spent three years studying chemistry or premed only to realize your future lies in the law? What if you majored in economics aiming to get into corporate law, only to realize that you’re really interested in becoming a public defender?

[Read: Choose the Right College Major for Law School.]

Having a degree that’s not in one of the classic majors for law school applicants — i.e., political science, philosophy, economics, and humanities in general — isn’t necessarily a disadvantage. As we’ve discussed in the past, there are ways to leverage non-traditional majors to your benefit.

Things get a little trickier when you’re trying to discuss your motivation to go to law school on your personal statement, and that same motivation comes off as incongruous with your choice of major. How can you reconcile the two so that dichotomy to make sense in admission committees’ minds?

First, it’s possible that some major event or experience is what caused you to apply to law school or focus on an area of the law different from the one you had originally planned. If that’s the case, make sure to make that event the focal point of your personal statement. The obvious benefit is that doing so will contextualize your motivation and education for the committee.

More importantly, events that cause a shift in goals and priorities make for a more passionate, engaging and ultimately more compelling personal statement.

[Read: Craft a Captivating Law School Personal Statement.]

A one-track story of how you’ve always wanted to become a prosecutor and make your community safe is nice, but it’s no coincidence that well-written characters in books and movies are constantly evolving. Make yourself that well-rounded individual who had a chance to reflect on his life choices and came out better for it.

Another way to address the perceived inconsistency is in an addendum to your application. While addenda are typically used to discuss GPA, LSAT scores or some disciplinary issue, they can be used to discuss anything in your application that you feel warrants explanation.

To that end, you can craft an addendum acknowledging that your major does not align with your career goals and move on to highlight the unexpected advantages that come with your education.

For example, you can make the argument that — even though you want to focus on intellectual property law — your background in business and economics gave you a solid understanding of risk/reward calculation and experience in leading a team, both qualities highly sought after in the modern legal field.

[Read: Know How to Promote Your Major on Law School Applications.]

Similarly, coming with a science-oriented degree lends you a platform on which to highlight your ability to study technical terms and thrive in a highly competitive environment, which are sure to come in handy both in law school and any area of the law you have your sights set on.

Finally, remember that the personal statement is a part of a wish list, not a binding contract. Once you’re in law school , no one will chase you down saying, “wait, in your personal statement you indicated that you’re interested in corporate law, yet here you are focusing on sports and entertainment. What gives?!”

That is not to say that you need to fabricate your interests and motivation to go to law school, but if you feel like a certain area of the law that you have even the slightest interest in would make for a better personal statement, then feel free to discuss that area in your personal statement. After all, once you’re in law school you’re a blank slate and you’re free to choose whichever path is most appealing to you.

More from U.S. News

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Pull Together Law School Applications Before Year-End

Find a Mentor to Help With Law School Applications

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