What First-Generation Law Applicants Should Know

In the rarefied setting of a university, it can be easy to take college education for granted. First-generation students, whose parents did not attend or graduate college, may feel self-conscious or off balance when their peers seem to have an easier time navigating campus life and career options.

In recent years, law schools have become more sensitive to the financial, academic and social challenges faced by first-generation students. They have partnered with nonprofits to expand resources and programs to level the playing field for first-generation students.

These resources range from dedicated scholarships to peer support groups. Some resources are even available as well to “first-generation professionals,” students whose parents received undergraduate degrees but not graduate or professional degrees.

[Read: Advice for Aspiring Lawyers About Diversity in Law School.]

Law school applicants who are first-generation students should consider the following advice to minimize unnecessary hurdles on their path to a legal career:

— Find available resources early.

— Disclose your parents’ education.

— Explain your background in your essays.

— Identify campuses that support first-generation students.

Find Available Resources Early

Many prelaw programs for first-generation students are most helpful early on, when applicants face uncertainty and challenges managing LSAT preparation and application timelines. It would be a shame to learn about these opportunities late in the process.

Furthermore, the most intensive programs that benefit first-generation applicants, like the Legal Education Access Pipeline in Southern California, have an application process. To reap the full benefits of this fellowship program, applicants must apply in September a year before they intend to apply to law school.

Disclose Your Parents’ Education

Ironically, many law school applicants who are first-generation students neglect to emphasize this context on their application. Some may be unaware that it matters, perhaps because they come from communities where higher education is less common. Others may see their parents’ limited education as a source of shame.

Law schools value first-generation students. The challenges they’ve overcome demonstrate traits essential to success in law school and legal practice, like resourcefulness, self-awareness and self-discipline.

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

If a law school application asks you about your parents’ education level, answer honestly. Whether your parents earned a whole alphabet of degrees or never finished high school, your answer will not be held against you. Rather, revealing your first-generation status helps contextualize your achievements and might open doors to helpful resources.

Explain Your Background in Your Essays

Understandably, many first-generation students want to focus on their own qualifications rather than those of their parents. They may even have heard that law school admissions officers don’t want to hear a “sob story.” Such oversimplified advice is frequently given in online discussion forums, which applicants should approach with skepticism.

Surely, a melodramatic application essay about every misfortune in an applicant’s life would come across poorly, as would a conceited and boastful essay. The trick is to strike a more balanced tone by explaining how these circumstances have shaped you.

In your personal statement or optional diversity statement, provide context for how your first-generation status impacted your life. Focus on the facts and avoid self-pity and defensiveness.

[Read: Write Cohesive Law School Personal, Diversity Statements.]

Identify Campuses That Support First-Generation Students

Many law schools provide their own dedicated resources for first-generation students.

For example, the AnBryce Scholarship Program at the New York University School of Law and the Berkeley Law Opportunity Scholarship program at the University of California–Berkeley School of Law provide full-tuition funding for qualified first-generation professional and college applicants, respectively, who submit a brief supplemental essay with their application.

Other law schools offer programs that provide peer mentorship, networking opportunities and training seminars, like the C. David Molina First Generation Professionals Program of the University of Southern California’s Gould School of Law, the King Hall’s First Generation Advocates program at the University of California–Davis School of Law and the First Generation Students Program of New England Law Boston law school.

Other campuses have first-generation law student associations for mutual support, including Yale Law School, the University of Georgia School of Law and the Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-Kent) College of Law.

First-generation students are often used to finding their own way, but there’s no need to feel alone in your journey to law school. Research online or consult a prelaw adviser to learn more about available resources and support networks.

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What First-Generation Law Applicants Should Know originally appeared on usnews.com

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