How to Prepare to Apply to Law School During College

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.

Hi, I am about to start my sophomore year of college and want to attend law school. When should I start to prepare my law school application? — LH

The law school admissions process can take several months, and most applicants scramble to prepare for the LSAT and put together application materials in time. Clearly, college sophomores who set their sights on law school are already ahead of the game.

How can aspiring lawyers in their first or second year of college best set themselves up for success? Let’s break it down year by year, from first to senior year.

Freshman Year

Law school admissions officers understand that college can be a rough transition from high school. First-year students face challenges finding their place, learning new routines and understanding how to succeed in class. For example, in my first classes with assigned papers, I learned the hard way that my college professors wanted to see a clear thesis statement!

[Read: 5 Traits That Help People Get Into Top Law Schools.]

Law schools tend to be lenient about applicants’ grades in their first couple of college semesters, but missteps are less excusable in later years. So, first-year students should concentrate above all on laying the groundwork for good grades by discovering classes in which they thrive, developing strong study habits and finding helpful mentors and campus resources. They should also explore extracurricular activities to find opportunities for growth and leadership outside of the classroom.

Sophomore Year

Sophomore students should start choosing classes that law schools appreciate, to make sure their transcript includes a range of classes that involve research, critical thinking and analysis.

As their coursework gets harder and their responsibilities increase, sophomores may need to master time management and get selective about where they put their energy. Students who tried out a range of extracurricular activities in their first year should focus on those that provide opportunities for leadership, organization, problem-solving and serving others — all skills that law schools value.

[READ: Learn to Manage Your Time in College.]

Sophomore year is also a time to take internships and professional opportunities seriously. Since law schools like at least one recommendation letter from a supervisor, pursue work that enables you to take on responsibilities, prove yourself and work closely with someone who values your strengths.

If you are dead set on attending a top law school but want some time after college to pursue another interest like teaching or working abroad or graduate studies, consider the junior deferral programs offered by Harvard University and Columbia University law schools in recent years.

Junior Year

Juniors interested in law school need to focus on keeping their grades high. They should look to build relationships with at least one or two professors who could write a strong recommendation letter, by offering research assistance, attending office hours, and participating actively in seminars and smaller classes.

Junior year is a good time to start preparing for the LSAT. Start early to leave plenty of leeway to take the LSAT multiple times if necessary.

[READ:How to Get a Compelling Letter of Recommendation for Law School.]

There are many benefits to setting aside at least four months for part-time LSAT study. First, it is important to leave time to experiment with different study methods. Second, it takes time to master basic techniques before using focused, methodical practice to master the test. Finally, LSAT prep requires complete focus, so it can be hard to keep up when life gets in the way.

Senior Year

Early in the fall, weigh the pros and cons of applying to law school before graduating college. You may decide that a gap year before law school makes sense to boost your GPA, build your resume and gain perspective on your career path.

If you do plan to apply to law school, aim to submit applications early in the cycle, ideally by October, whether or not you decide to apply early decision. The summer before applying, start to secure recommendation letters, brush up your resume and draft a personal statement, because fall is a busy time for students.

Keep your grades high and finish senior year on a strong note, even if you already submitted your applications. If you end up on a waitlist, a higher GPA, additional recommendation letter or new honors or leadership positions can improve your chances of admission.

Two decades of continuous schooling can cause anyone to burn out, so students who go straight from college to law school should use the summer before law school to prepare for the challenges ahead. Take pride in the years of work you put in to secure your spot in law school — the ability to set and achieve long-term goals will serve you well in your legal career.

More from U.S. News

Pros, Cons of Applying to Law School as an Undergrad

How to Build LSAT Skills With Deliberate Practice

Recommendation Letter Tips for Waitlisted Law School Applicants

How to Prepare to Apply to Law School During College originally appeared on usnews.com

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