Conventional wisdom is that career-oriented college majors in fields like business or law enforcement are more marketable and useful than liberal arts majors. But that’s not necessarily true if you’re planning to attend law school.
Law school applicants from certain difficult liberal arts disciplines like mathematics and linguistics tend to achieve stellar LSAT scores and are accepted to law school at a much higher rate than the bulk of their peers with preprofessional majors, where average LSAT scores are lower, according to Law School Admission Council statistics.
For instance, law schools accepted more than 90 percent of linguistics majors who applied for fall 2016 admission, but by contrast, they accepted less than 56 percent of nursing majors who applied in the same admissions cycle.
Law school admissions consultant Anna Ivey, founder of Ivey Consulting, says admissions officers tend to be skeptical of the academic merits of preprofessional majors.
“They tend to be less excited about preprofessional degrees like communications, prelaw, criminology or marketing, which can be considered less rigorous,” says Ivey, a former dean of admissions at the University of Chicago Law School. But she notes an exception to this is prestigious preprofessional programs, like the business undergraduate program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
Because the two law school entrance exams, the LSAT and GRE, test critical thinking skills rather than subject matter expertise, preprofessional majors that emphasize technical skills don’t necessarily prepare students well for these tests, experts warn.
Experts urge college students who are determined to pursue preprofessional majors to take electives in traditional liberal arts disciplines, including the humanities, social sciences, physical sciences and mathematics. They also recommend focusing extra effort on test prep.
[Leverage college majors for law school admission.]
Experts say liberal arts disciplines tend to teach aspiring lawyers the abstract thinking skills they will need to excel both on law school entrance exams and in law school courses. Disciplines like linguistics and the classics emphasize thoughtful interpretation of language, which aids prospective law school students with reading comprehension, experts say. And disciplines like math and science help them hone their reasoning abilities.
Matt Shinners, a senior consultant for the jdMission admissions consulting firm, says philosophy, math and science majors frequently excel on LSAT logic games.
“It is very beneficial to have a section that you have down cold,” says Shinners, also a senior manager of product strategy at the Manhattan Prep company, which coaches LSAT test-takers.
Experts say law school hopefuls should focus on rigorous undergraduate majors they find fascinating and where they have a strong academic aptitude. It is a mistake, experts warn, to choose a major simply because it seems easy, since law school admissions officers consider the difficulty of your courses when evaluating your grades.
An even bigger mistake, Ivey says, is to choose your major based purely on parental advice.
[Focus on three college courses that can strengthen legal skills.]
“I’ve seen a lot of college transcripts that were train wrecks because the students were pushed into certain majors by their parents, and those transcripts are cautionary tales,” she says.
Some experts also urge undergrads to avoid law-related majors.
Philip Benesch, an associate professor of politics and director of the Law and Society program at Lebanon Valley College in Pennsylvania, says he usually advises college students to either stay away from a prelaw or criminal justice major or “be sure to double major in a mainstream liberal arts discipline.”
[Here’s how to plan for law school as an undergraduate.]
David Weinberg, assistant dean of admissions at Tulane University Law School, says undergraduates who plan to become lawyers should take elective courses that complement their college majors. Taking a wide range of college courses, including classes in disparate fields like math and literature, is one way to show law schools that you have a variety of academic talents, he says.
Law school hopefuls should use their academic interests to guide their choice of major, says Kari VanSickle, the admissions director at Brigham Young University’s J. Reuben Clark Law School.
“Students who know that they want to attend law school should not choose their undergraduate majors based on what they believe law admission officers favor,” she says. “Potential law students should follow their passions, curiosities and strengths while always seeking academic excellence.”
Many current law students say choosing a major they enjoyed helped them do well in college and thus enabled them to become an attractive law school applicant.
“Students should pick a major based on what they are interested in doing, no matter what that is,” Miranda Cherkas, a first-year law student at Brigham Young University, said via email.
“I live in an apartment with three other first year law students. I was a political science major, and my roommates majored in musical theater, Asian history, and molecular & cellular biology. We were all great law school applicants because we strove for excellence in our chosen fields, not because we chose those fields just to get into law school.”