How to Choose Between Applying to Law School, Taking a Gap Year

While business schools expect applicants to gain work experience before they apply, law schools have a more broad-minded outlook.

Law schools tend to seek a balance between older applicants, fairly recent graduates and those coming straight from college, sometimes dubbed “KJD” because of their unbroken academic ascent from Kindergarten to a J.D.

However, as law schools have increasingly emphasized qualitative factors like maturity and employability, applicants with a year or more of work experience have gained an advantage. Some schools now expressly state a preference for applicants who’ve spent time in the real world between college and law school.

Taking a year or two off before law school will always be a personal decision, but it is worth considering from a strategic perspective as well.

Here are five areas to consider as you weigh the potential costs and benefits of taking a gap year or other time off before going to law school:

— Experience.

— Grades.

— Finances.

— Time.

— Rest.

Experience. Young law applicants often claim that they have nothing to write about in their applications, because they haven’t done much yet. They’ve had little opportunity to lead others or take initiative or show courage.

Often, those students are being too defensive or doubtful of themselves. A little prodding prompts fascinating life experiences that reveal some of the personal qualities that law schools look for.

However, a year or two of meaningful work or volunteer experiences may help such applicants clarify their reasons for applying to law school, gain convincing recommendation letters that speak to their abilities outside the classroom and come up with great essay topics.

[Read: 2 Law School Personal Statements That Succeeded.]

Grades. Many college students do best in their senior year, when they’ve finally gained the motivation, confidence and study skills to excel in their chosen field. Applicants still in college will miss the GPA boost of their final grades.

On the flip side, early bloomers who found their groove quickly in college may wish to apply to law school early and enjoy a stress-free final year. They might even consider an accelerated B.A.-J.D. program, which allows students to complete both degrees within six years, or a junior deferral program, which allows applicants to defer admission for two years after college.

Finances. Typically, law school increases potential earnings — and debt. Thus, many applicants want to graduate as soon as possible to earn a professional salary earlier in their career. An early income boost can pay off in the long run, since compound interest increases the value of early savings over time.

[SEE: 17 Ways to Get Financially Ready for Law School.]

On the other hand, applicants who delay law school can start saving up money to offset law school expenses, or to pursue other life goals before taking on law school debt.

If you are interested in a non-legal career or creative pursuit, it’s better to explore it before law school.

It’s hard to keep up a job or creative practice under the stress of law school, and it’s risky to take time after law school when you will have more debt and more trouble joining a law firm outside of the on-campus recruitment process.

So, if ever you want to move to Nashville with a guitar and a dream, a gap year is the time to do it!

Time. Applying to law school is a serious commitment of time and energy, from mastering the LSAT to perfecting personal statements to deciding where to apply.

Few college seniors complain of having too much time on their hands. It may be easier to focus on applications after graduation or during the down time afforded by many entry-level jobs and internships.

Rest. Law school is stressful and rigorous, especially in the first year. Applicants coming straight from college may be most accustomed to the rhythms of academic life, but they also risk burning out.

On the other hand, those who take time off might lose motivation and put off their applications year after year.

[Read: 4 Gap Year Jobs That Prepare Students for Law School]

If you do take time off before applying to law school, be sure to find something meaningful to show for your time. Law schools don’t like to see gaps of more than a few months on your resume.

There is no shame in paying the bills by waiting tables or scooping ice cream or finding temporary work to support the trip of a lifetime. Still, look for relevant part-time opportunities, perhaps as a research assistant for a professor, an administrative assistant at a law office or a volunteer for a political campaign or nonprofit.

Even after you apply to law school, such experiences will bolster your letter of continued interest if you end up on a waitlist. And they may help inform your future career, if you don’t land a record deal on Music Row.

More from U.S. News

4 Gap Year Jobs That Prepare Students for Law School

Choosing the Best Undergraduate Major for Law School

How to Manage LSAT Test Anxiety

How to Choose Between Applying to Law School, Taking a Gap Year originally appeared on

Update 06/26/24: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.

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