By Katie Schellenger, J.D., Director of Legal Professions Advising
So, you think you want to go to law school. If you don’t know which courses to take during your time at F&M, you are not alone. Many pre-law students find themselves at a loss when they are trying to select courses or decide upon a major. Because there is no required coursework for law school – like there is for medical school – pre-law students are often left without much (or any) guidance when selecting their undergraduate courses. Rest assured, if you choose an area of study that interests and challenges you, you will put yourself in a good position for success in law school and beyond. Below are some points to think about as you consider the right academic path for you.
First, let’s think for a minute about what the practice of law entails: lawyers are required to think creatively and critically when faced with different factual scenarios, and are frequently called upon to clearly and persuasively communicate their work in writing. The skills that truly set lawyers apart: the ability to critically read, analyze, and communicate, are skills that a liberal arts education helps you to hone. These skills are also the top of the American Bar Association’s list of core skills and values, which they taut as providing a strong foundation for a legal education. The complete list includes: 1) analytic / problem solving skills, 2) critical reading, 3) writing skills, 4) oral communication / listening abilities, 5) general research skills, 6) task organization / management skills, 7) public service and promotion of justice. Every class you take at F&M will help you to develop at least some of these skills.
Second, let’s think about the areas in which lawyers practice: lawyers are involved in the work of virtually every industry. Indeed, try to think of an area of work or study that is not in some way affected by regulation or other aspects of the law. It’s difficult – if not impossible. In your practice of law, you are likely to encounter and learn about many different industries. Students with specific undergraduate backgrounds sometimes found themselves pulled towards certain practice areas or sought by firms that have more focused practices. For these reasons, law school deans typically encourage applicants to pursue academic areas of personal interest in their undergraduate studies; the added benefit is the diversity that students with varied academic backgrounds bring to discussion in the classroom. The lesson here: be confident choosing coursework that interests you, regardless of the subject.
Finally, a crucial issue with regard to undergraduate academics: performance. The most important aspect of your undergraduate academics to law school admissions committees is not the area of study you pursued, but rather, how you performed. This does not mean that you should choose “easy” courses in order to maintain a high GPA – law schools want to see applicants performing well in challenging courses. The implications of this for course selection are important: when you choose coursework that interests and motivates you, you are more likely to perform well.
Please join us for a more robust discussion of undergraduate academics THIS THURSDAY, February 6th, at 7:00 pm in Stahr Auditorium. Following an introduction by Grant Keener, Senior Director of Admissions at Penn State Law, panels of alumni and faculty representing a variety of different departments will talk about the ways in which their disciplines prepare students for success in law school and beyond. The panel discussions will be followed by a dessert reception where students can talk with alumni and faculty representatives from fifteen different academic departments.