Should You Apply to Law School Straight From College?

Years ago, most aspiring lawyers applied to law school in their senior year of college. Older applicants were outliers, and while they were not necessarily disadvantaged, their decision to put off law school may have raised eyebrows.

Expectations have now flipped. Law schools now value work experience and seek students who can demonstrate maturity, professionalism and employable skills.

At most top law schools, somewhere between two-thirds and four-fifths of incoming students have taken at least one year off before law school. To take a couple of extreme examples, in 2023 only 12% of incoming students at Yale Law School in Connecticut and 15% of incoming students in Northwestern University’s Pritzker School of Law in Illinois came straight from college.

Even though it is now less common to apply to law school while in college, it’s still a well-trod path. Some law schools accept many such students, playfully nicknamed “KJD” because of their unbroken academic ascent from kindergarten through their J.D. program.

[Read: What Is a J.D. Degree?]

After all, law schools seek a balanced class in many ways, and that includes age diversity. Precocious younger students bring energy and ambition and are often highly engaged in the campus community.

If you are considering applying to law school as an undergraduate, here are five questions to consider:

— Would applying after your senior year strengthen your candidacy?

— Do you have clear career goals?

— Are you considering deferring admission?

— What are the downsides of applying before you’re ready?

— Is fear driving your decision?

Would Applying After Your Senior Year Strengthen Your Candidacy?

Many undergraduates hit their stride in their senior year. They earn their best grades and stretch their skills through complex academic research projects.

If by the fall of your senior year you have already achieved outstanding grades, built relationships with professors that allow you to secure strong recommendation letters, and gained experience through internships and extracurricular activities, then you’ll be in great shape to apply.

If not, you might consider using your senior year to shore up your candidacy and apply the fall after you graduate.

Do You Have Clear Career Goals?

As a law school applicant, it is unnecessary to have precise plans for after you graduate law school. However, law schools do like to see that you are committed to a legal path, and it can be hard to communicate your interest in law school if you know little about legal practice.

Getting a legal job during your gap year can give you a firsthand experience of the legal world. This will give you plenty of grist for great essays and could also lead to a strong letter of recommendation from your supervisor.

On the other hand, if you have a good sense of what you want to do with your law degree and feel ready to get going, then there is no reason to wait!

[Related:How Many Law Schools Should You Apply To?]

Are You Considering Deferring Admission?

Some applicants apply to law school as undergraduates even if they plan to take time off before law school, figuring that they could always defer admission.

There are a couple risks with this plan. First, law schools typically grant deferrals only to applicants who make a binding commitment to attend. Second, law schools are more reluctant to grant a two-year deferral, which could limit an applicant’s options.

Applicants seeking a two-year deferral might look into junior deferral programs, which allow applicants to secure admission to law school after a set deferral period.

What Are the Downsides of Applying Before You’re Ready?

It is totally reasonable to apply to law school as a senior and weigh your results before deciding whether to reapply in a future year.

However, this can lead to tough life decisions. What if you only get into law schools that you considered safety schools? What if you don’t receive any offers for financial aid?

Such choices can be psychologically difficult. And if you turn down a school and reapply later, they may see you as unlikely to attend.

[READ: When to Expect a Law School Decision.]

Is Fear Driving Your Decision?

Choosing when to apply to law school is a very personal decision, so it’s important to identify the emotional factors at play.

Is your decision driven by the expectations of others, who may have erroneous ideas about law admissions? Are you applying to law school because you’re afraid to look for a job or leave the comfort of a campus environment? Are you afraid that if you don’t apply now, you never will?

On the other hand, are you putting off applying to law school out of misguided perfectionism or unfounded anxieties about taking the leap now?

Such concerns are not necessarily invalid. There is no way to rationally calculate when you should apply to law school. You can never know the full implications of this decision for your life.

Because applying to law school is ultimately a gut decision, exploring your feelings about the decision can help you make a more informed and self-aware strategic choice. This will lead you to the right call for you, which is the best you can do when faced with so much uncertainty.

More from U.S. News

J.D.-MBA Programs: Why and How to Apply

How to Choose a Law School Where Faculty Are Great Teachers

Advice for Teachers Applying to Law School

Should You Apply to Law School Straight From College? originally appeared on

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up