How Prelaw Students Should Choose a College

Law school class discussions may be famously heated, but they are meant to spark insight. That is one reason law schools work hard to find students who are thoughtful, respectful and bring a unique perspective to the table.

There is no specific college, program or major that serves as a pipeline to law school. Law students come from a wide range of academic backgrounds, well beyond famous universities or popular majors like political science, history and economics.

College applicants who ultimately plan to apply to law school should look for programs that will challenge them intellectually and support their personal development with opportunities to build critical thinking skills, work alone and with others, and perform at increasingly high levels.

[Read: How to Prepare to Apply to Law School During College]

Additionally, when comparing colleges, students eager to join the legal field may find it worthwhile to consider these specific offerings, checking in each case to see if they have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic:

— Prelaw majors.

— Prelaw resources and special programs.

— Accelerated law programs.

— Programs for underrepresented minority students.

Prelaw Majors

Law-related programs or majors like legal studies, law and society, and criminal justice can be great if they suit your interests. They may expose you to a range of issues in the legal field and give you a chance to build relationships with potential mentors who can provide career advice and write you letters of recommendation.

However, law-related majors will not necessarily improve your chances of law school admission. It’s more important for applicants to take a range of classes to build skills like critical analysis and communication, whether that means literature, social science, philosophy or the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

While some colleges may boast of their prelaw programs, look to the rigor of course offerings rather than the names of the majors to find a college that can prepare you well for law school.

Prelaw Resources and Special Programs

Many colleges now help their students get into law school in concrete and proactive ways, including prelaw societies, advisers, mentorship programs, career fairs and admissions workshops. Before choosing a target school for your undergraduate studies, be sure to ask what resources they offer to law school applicants.

For example, some colleges have special programs, externships or internships for students to get firsthand experience in the study or practice of law. Florida State University‘s longstanding Donald J. Weidner Summer for Undergraduates Program is a rigorous monthlong legal studies program taught by law professors. Cornell University‘s Prelaw Program & Internship in New York City combines a for-credit law course with an internship in a legal office or nonprofit.

Accelerated Law Programs

Several dozen universities offer “3+3” accelerated programs that enable outstanding students to earn both bachelor’s and J.D. degrees in six years. For example, Columbia University‘s Accelerated Interdisciplinary Legal Education Program allows eligible Columbia College, Barnard College, School of Engineering and Applied Science, and General Studies students to enter Columbia Law School after only three years of college.

[READ: How to Show You Are Committed to Law School.]

Likewise, the University of Maryland’s Three-Year Arts/Law Degree program allows select UM–College Park students who have been accepted to the program to graduate in three years and go directly into the University of Baltimore School of Law or the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.

Such accelerated programs typically require students to attend college and law school within the same university system, but there are exceptions. The University of Iowa College of Law‘s 3+3 Program accepts undergraduates from 15 different colleges within the state.

College students can apply to such programs in their junior year, based on their academic record and completion of stringent requirements. It can be helpful for college applicants to know before choosing a college if such options are available at a given school and what qualifications they will need to meet. Such programs are not only prestigious, they save time and money.

Programs for Underrepresented Minority Students

Recognizing the special challenges that face first-generation college students and members of underrepresented minority groups, many universities have launched programs in recent years to assist such students with applying to law school and preparing for a legal career.

[READ: What Underrepresented Law School Applicants Should Know.]

Examples include the King Hall Outreach Program at the University of California–Davis School of Law, the Pre-Law Pipeline Program at the University of Houston Law Center, the Tennessee Institute for Pre-Law Program at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and the Illinois Institute of Technology Chicago-Kent College of Law Pre-Law Undergraduate Scholars Program.

While such programs are generally open to applicants from any college who make it through the selection process, they are good options for applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds to keep in mind when choosing a college.

Even if their heart is set on law school, college applicants should keep their minds open. They may find their passion for law leads them to other fulfilling fields and life pursuits. The road to practicing law in America is long and serpentine, and those who follow it may find themselves venturing in unexpected directions.

More from U.S. News

What Aspiring Lawyers Should Know About Prelaw Majors

4 Tips for High School Students Considering Law School

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