If you have ever thought about law school, it’s never too early to start preparing. Edward J. Wangler, J.D., Senior Undergraduate Studies Adviser and Pre-Law Adviser with the Division of Undergraduate Studies at Penn State, says the Penn State Pre-Law Advising website is being redesigned with the main theme of EXPLORE, PREPARE, and APPLY and that’s a good motto for students considering attending law school in the future. He also shared a lot of other helpful information about the pre-law process.
When should students start preparing for pre-law?
It’s never too early to begin exploring! In fact, first-and second-year students who wish to use pre-law advising are required to attend a small group advising session where the main focus is on exploratory resources. Some suggestions include the explore law program at Penn State law, law student area of the HUB bookstore where they can examine case books, sitting in on a law school course, and attending several events that are offered year round. My office, although not affiliated with Penn State law, maintains a strong relationship with the law school and encourages students to use it as a resource. The main event is Law School Day held in October where admission officers from several law schools are available to discuss their unique programs and provide literature to prospective students. The goal is to develop realistic expectations of the law school experience and what it means to be an attorney.
Students should also think about forming strong relationships with faculty in anticipation of future letters of recommendation. Participation in class, attending office hours, and getting involved in faculty research are excellent starting points. Penn State also has a few student organizations that host law-related events, namely the Phi Alpha Delta Pre-Law Chapter, the Undergraduate Law Society, Mock Trial Association, and the Multicultural Undergraduate Law Society.
How can they prepare for the application process?
I encourage any student who is interested in a legal education to request to be added to the pre-law listserv. I also encourage students to register with LSAC.org (Law School Admissions Council), which provides a wealth of pre-law resources. Additionally, LSAC is the organization that streamlines the application process. Students have their transcripts, letters of recommendation, and LSAT scores sent directly to them. The CAS (credential assembly service) compiles the documents into law school reports that are forward to law schools upon the school’s request. Students electronically file their applications and pay the app fees directly through this service. Students also have access to all of the admission data for each law school. Additionally, they can examine tuition rates, bar exam passage rates, employment data, and information regarding any unique program or clinical experience the school may offer.
What about academic preparation?
Penn State does not have a prescribed pre-law curriculum. This is consistent with the American Bar Association’s philosophy pertaining to undergraduate preparation. Law schools seek students from diverse majors. There is no single path. Rather, the focus should be on skill development such as critical reading, analytical thinking, strong writing skills, actively listening skills, analytical and problem solving skills. These skills can be acquired in many ways and through various curricula. This site provides more details on preparing for law school. I do maintain a suggested course list that serves a few different purposes on the prelaw website. No course on the list is required and the list is not exhaustive.
What’s the application timeline?
If a student is even contemplating a legal education, then they should examine the pre-law website, especially the application timeline. I also strongly encourage them to schedule an individual appointment where we can discuss their goals, interests, and qualifications. Students approach me for the first time at various stages of the application process, so it’s important for me to ascertain exactly where they are in the process. Third, they should register for an LSAC account on LSAC.org and begin reviewing the information. They should also be working with their academic adviser to ensure they are meeting all graduation requirements.
Applications become available usually in September on LSAC.org. It’s up to the individual school when to open their cycle. This is one reason it’s important for students to research the individual school’s website for relevant dates/deadlines. Applications aren’t usually due until March, April, or May of the following year; however, I recommend applying before Thanksgiving and no later than the New Year. Most schools operate on a modified rolling basis, but they are free to impose their own internal systems and processes.
Is financial aid available?
Financial aid can be tricky, but step one is always the FAFSA. Students who are working on a graduate degree will be considered independent of their parents. Some schools may ask for parental income if the student requests institutional aid. The rule of thumb is apply with FAFSA in early January and work directly with that school’s financial aid office. Many students receive aid in the form of subsidized and unsubsidized federal Stafford loans and/or graduate PLUS loans. Pell grants are not available.
What’s a law school schedule like?
Traditional law schools only offer full-time enrollment. This would be 5 courses a semester for two semesters a year, total of 6 semesters. Summer semesters are optional. Many schools offer part-time programs or night/week programs which would be usually 9 credits a semester year round for 4 years. I believe the only online law school is offered through Kaplan University, and I don’t believe it’s accredited, which means a state bar doesn’t have to accept it has an official law education. It’s up to that jurisdiction.
Is there a typical law school student?
There are some common characteristics of law students. They typically enjoy reading/writing, specifically detailed information and enjoy the challenge of “figuring it out.” They have strong analytical and writing skills and are good communicators. Additionally, they are usually highly organized, able to compartmentalize large amounts of information and retrieve it later, employ good time management skills, and are able to sit and read/study for extended periods of time. They must be able to manage high stress loads and avoid unethical behavior. This pre-law assessment provides several questions to engage students in thinking about their own values/abilities. The pre-law assessment sheet is located toward the bottom under prepare for your appointment.