As you approach college graduation, you are probably thinking about what is next on the horizon. A great many students (and you may be one of them) decide that law school is a good idea. If your first thought about becoming a lawyer is that you love true crime TV shows or you enjoy watching news correspondents analyze a political situation, you should probably take pause before filling out those law school applications. Here are a few questions to mull over before you finalize your plan.
Why do I want to go to law school? If your gut response is that going to court looks fun, or you want to make a lot of money, you may want to think twice. The rich lawyers you see on TV or read about in high profile cases are far and few between. For every famous lawyer you hear about, there are literally thousands that are working extremely hard for very little recognition or financial reward. According to the employment data website payscale.com, a private-sector entry level attorney makes under $70,000 per year, and much less for public work. If you factor in the cost of law school, and compare it to getting a one year master’s degree or even getting a job right out of college, it may not make financial sense if money is your main objective.
What do I want to do with a law degree, and do I really need one? Yes, you can forge a great career in policy with a law degree. But there are also master’s degrees that can get you on the same trajectory in a shorter time frame (and with less financial burden). It makes sense to do some leg work on the topics that most interest you, and the different kinds of jobs out there. Use your career center and LinkedIn network to talk to people with different degrees and careers. This can help you sort through the options.
What are my prospects? It is also important to figure out if your future line of work will have opportunities for you. There would be nothing worse than spending three grueling years studying law, only to realize that the job market is saturated. Be sure to check with the career centers of your target law schools to see what the graduate employment rate is. Ask about the percentage of students who graduate with a job offer in hand, how many have one within 6 months, and how many take longer. This is all good information to help you plan ahead.
What is my potential for gaining admission to a highly ranked school? Whether you like it or not there are factors that may preclude you from getting into a top-rated school. Places like Stanford, Harvard and Yale get thousands of applications but can only admit a small percentage. That means that even some of the best students are denied admission. If your GPA and LSAT are not outstanding, you may need to consider lesser known or lower ranked law schools. The good news is there are plenty of excellent law schools that are less competitive. Some of these lesser known schools may be highly regarded in their local region, so you may want to consider going to school in a town that you can see yourself settling down in.
Is it worth it financially? Law school is expensive, upwards of $60,000 or more per year in tuition alone. If you are taking out loans, you may end up with over $200K in debt. You should take a moment to make some calculations about your future financial status if you go to law school. If you go to a shorter (and less expensive) graduate program instead, it may make a big difference.
Should you go straight to law school, or take a break? Deciding to work before entering law school may be a good option. If you choose to take a job in the legal field, there are multiple potential benefits. First and foremost, you will gain hands-on experience in the profession, and you may get some insight as to whether it is a good fit for your future career. You will also get to know lawyers while you work, and they will be wonderful mentors and advisors as you make this important decision. Lastly, a supervisor from a law related job can be a fantastic person to write a letter of recommendation for you.
As author of Untangling the Ivy League, Marc literally wrote the book on gaining admission to highly selective colleges. He earned a BA from Cornell University – where he met AcceptU’s co-founder – and an MBA from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Marc chaired the admissions advisory board; he has also conducted alumni interviews for Cornell for more than fifteen years.