Law School v. Grad School
April 5, 2006 3:26 PM   Subscribe

I want to acquire a law degree for the best value (in terms of quality and cost). How much will earning a masters degree first enhance my qualification to a prestigious school? The second question I have is how much a masters degree will enhance my qualification for scholarships? There is no question that a masters would make me a better law student and enhance my education; however, I am wondering whether the financial investment in grad school is worth it for what I want to accomplish.

As I was working on my distinction, one of my professors told me that I would be a prime candidate for grad school. A few days later I recieved an email from a friend who was in law school who suggested grad school as well. He mentioned that by going to grad school, I would get big scholarships from prestigious law schools.

I am currently an undergraduate at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, majoring Political Science and English with a Communications minor. I expect to carry a 3.5-3.65 GPA, at graduation. I will graduate after 5 years in May of '07. I will be roughly $25,000 in debt after my undergraduate is completed. Its my primary goal to get a law degree.

*This is assuming I do well on my LSAT, a score of 165+.

Thanks for your suggestions.
posted by j-urb to Education (16 answers total)
IANAL but I am active in the legal community, On first blush I would think concentrating on your undergrad performance and securing an outstanding LSAT are most important. I am not aware that a graduate degree will increase the probability of admission to a prestigious law school and richer rewards. It does not mean that it won't I just have never heard that, unless you are trying to clean up undergraduate performance dproblems. Why not focus on a top rate LSAT (which is quite important) and apply to the schools you want. You can always go to grad school if things do not work out.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:51 PM on April 5, 2006

Best answer: Why not apply to both law schools and masters programs, see where you get accepted, and then make a decision? It will be a bit of a pain to take both the LSAT and GRE, but not that big of a deal.

The main reason I say this is because if you're only interested in the MA to help with getting into law school, you should first get a "baseline" reading of what schools will take you without the MA. Maybe you'll like one of those schools enough that you'll just drop the MA idea.

There is no question that a masters would make me a better law student and enhance my education.

This is probably less true than you think. Being 2 years older and more mature will help you do better in law school, but the actual knowledge you gain the MA program will probably not do a whole lot for you. IMO, working for 2 years would be more valuable than a MA program, from a strict get-better-grades perspective (not from a become-a-better-educated person perspective).

Also, if you're really fired up about an MA, consider a joint MA-JD program.
posted by Mid at 3:51 PM on April 5, 2006

I'd look into the specific schools you wish to apply to and see how they look at applications. I applied to law school after finishing my MA and was rejected from every school (this was in Canada). When I enquired as to what happened, most schools told me that they get so many applications, they just plug your GPA and your LSAT score into a formula and anyone above a certain number has their application looked at, the rest are pretty much bypassed (so no one actually saw that I had an MA from a great school). With your decent GPA and a good LSAT score I imagine your application would be looked at without a problem, so a graduate degree may help you at this point. Also, a one year graduate degree is a great thing to have under your belt if you decide halfway in that law school isn't for you.
posted by meerkatty at 3:54 PM on April 5, 2006

Law school scholarships are dicey and you don't want more debt. The masters really isn't going to help you practice law. You should get an education to help you practice law. My M.A. helped me exactly zero. I got in and worked my butt off. Now, back to this brief . . .
posted by Ironmouth at 4:05 PM on April 5, 2006

First off, what particular type of masters degree do you plan to pursue -- that is, if you even take that route. If you want study for your masters in say, business, for example, there are many law schools who offer dual degree program. Law schools vary as to which types of dual degrees they offer and these are by no means limited to just your average JD/MBA.

If you go to any law school's website you should easily find this type of information. I suggest a dual degree because you can save both time and money. That is, most dual degrees are completed in a total of four years -- that is, three years for law school and one for masters (including, I think, one or two summers). This gets you out of school one year earlier and, presumably, in a little less debt. Another bonus is one more year you will be earning money, rather than paying tuition.
posted by orangeshoe at 4:06 PM on April 5, 2006

I might add one more thing. Do not assume high scores on the LSAT. I know many brilliant (and I mean very, very smart) people who could not for their lives even break a 160. It comes easy to some, and not at all to others. And a 165 + is much rarer than it may seem.

It is not something you should assume you will do well on based on other standardized test scores. It simply does not correlate.
posted by orangeshoe at 4:08 PM on April 5, 2006

Many (most?) law schools are more interested in work experience than graduate degrees. My suggestion: Spend your efforts on getting a good job and work for 2 or 3 years.
posted by jaysus chris at 5:06 PM on April 5, 2006

If you really want a MA, go and get it, and pay for it yourself. Then, go work for a law firm as a technical advisor within your MA field (presuming that it is technical). Many law firms that hire technical advisors (like mine) pay for law school. I think that's the best deal.

Ditto the brilliant=high LSAT assumption. My best friend is truly brilliant, and graduated law school with a 4.0. She got 149 on her LSAT. In fact, the person first in my own class had a 152. I, on the other hand, did far better, but did not graduate law school with anything remotely near a 4.0. SMART != 165+LSAT
posted by MeetMegan at 5:34 PM on April 5, 2006

On a side note, make sure that being a lawyer is really what you want to do as a career. I deal with lawyers and articling students all the time, and I'm not sure that many law students really know what they're getting into. Getting a part-time job at a law firm (doing photocopies or whatever) would be a good way to get a feel for what lawyers do on a day-to-day basis. There's no sense finding out after putting the time and effort into law school, that you don't want to be a lawyer.
posted by gwenzel at 6:30 PM on April 5, 2006

Here's a third for the 165 mark not equaling smart.

I just took the LSAT's twice this past year, and only after studying my ass off could I get a 161.

For more perspective, my score of 154 on the first test was in the 60th percentile, but my second score of 161 was in the 85th.

7 Raw Points = 25 percentile. And, from what I put together, it only goes up from there.
posted by plaidrabbit at 6:30 PM on April 5, 2006


I am skeptical of the proposition that a master's degree will make much difference in your application portfolio for law school, in the typical case.

However, there's an exception---if you went to a crappy undergrad (and UN-Lincoln is not crappy), and got the M.A. from a distinguished university, then maybe the M.A. would add a patina of prestige to your application.

I think it's a huge waste of time and money to get the M.A. Best to go straight to law school, get it over with, and start earning money.

In my law school class, there were a number of people with M.A.'s, and the impression I got was that it did nothing to improve their chances for scholarships. I also get the feeling that M.A.'s don't enhance applications much, either, in the eyes of admissions offices.

If you get a 166, you will be plenty good---no need to spend two years on an M.A. to add a negligible advantage.
posted by jayder at 6:31 PM on April 5, 2006

I think the suggestion to apply to both law schools and grad schools concurrently is a good one. You might get in to the law program on the first try, thus negating the need for grad school.

The LSAT is a pain in the ass. It's question types are pretty much unique in standardized testing and are not similar to anything you've seen in college.

The GRE has much easier content but its format is a pain to deal with. It is a computer adaptive test, so it has all sorts of fun quirks.

Spend all summer working on the tests. Study for the GRE at the beginning of summer (you can schedule the test for whenever you want), then spend the majority of summer studying for the LSAT.
posted by oddman at 7:14 PM on April 5, 2006

I didn't do law school, but I have a lot of friends who did. Here is some input I can give you based on their expeirences. First, consider a joint degree rather than grad school as a doorway to law school. Joint degree programs are pretty cool, because doing both degrees together lets you coordinate the experience better. It also takes less time, and if youre like most people, you;ll be dying to get out after three years of law school anyway. Second, I wouldn't shy away from more presitgious/expensive schools. A., you're going to be a lawyer anyway, so you'll be bank when you get out, B., a lot of the kids at top flight law schools do summers as an associate with a big firm where they earn $25k or so over three months, which helps offset some of the costs anyway, C., some of the big law schools have programs for loan forgiveness if you shell out all that money for law school and then take an oath of poverty in the public sector.

As far as getting a Masters before law school goes, my personal feeling is that doing something interesting in the real world like the Peace Corps or another exchange program would be a better use of your time. It can give you some perspective, some real world experience, and it makes you more interesting, which is good if you're applying to a competitive school. If you've done something really interesting in undergrad (student body president, etc) that helps too. But if not, taking some time after school to become interesting and experienced will help a lot.

Just my 2 cents.
posted by nyterrant at 8:42 PM on April 5, 2006

I'd say take a year off and study for the LSAT. A pretty smart friend of mine bombed the LSAT after taking a couple years off smoking dope and working crappy jobs after collage.

Then he studied his ass off and took the LSAT again.

Now he's at a pretty good law school (top 30 or something like that, I belive) smoking dope.
posted by delmoi at 10:23 PM on April 5, 2006

If you just want a masters because it will enrich your life, you could always get a law degree first, work for a while, and then you'll be able to pay for a masters easily.
posted by delmoi at 10:27 PM on April 5, 2006

I started law school in 2002, after four years of work experience following an extraordinarily undistinguished undergraduate career (a 3.1 gpa with numerous classes having to be taken twice). I wasn't interested in law school while I was an undergrad, and had I applied straight out, I don't think I would have gotten into the vast majority of schools that finally did accept me.

From my understanding, the bulk of admissions decisions are, as mentioned above, made by plugging in a gpa and lsat score and seeing where the candidate falls. You can get general probabilities of where you stand by plugging in your gpa and your expected lsat here. Click on the "LSAC data search" and you should get a decent idea of where you stand (don't think the direct link will work). Realize that law schools are in a ridiculous rankings race, jockeying for position on the next U.S. News report - U.S. news can't quanitify things like interesting work experience or a cool masters degree, or even the "prestige level" of your undergrad school. Instead, it heavily factors in an entering classes undergrad and lsat score, as rough indicators of student body quality - hence, that's what admissions folks tend to focus on.

In regards to a graduate degree, from my understanding grading in most Masters programs is far from rigorous, and I don't believe most law schools factor your graduate gpa when plugging you into the matrix because of this. So, while a Masters might give you something more to discuss in your personal statement, whether or not your personal statement is even read, meaning you're not in the presumptive admit or deny category, will likely be dependent on your undergraduate gpa and your lsat.

So, I think the single most important thing you can do - if you are sure you want to go to a law school - is get as high an lsat as possible. DO NOT, if you can help it, TAKE IT MORE THAN ONCE. Most schools average multiple scores so that's going to water down the higher one that you want the schools to look at.

As for the lsac percentages, to give you an idea, I got into two schools where I supposedly had less than a 25% chance of admission, and was waitlisted by two schools where I had less than a 20% chance of admission. Basically, my lsat was high enough to offset my low gpa, which then allowed me the chance to show off non-quantifiable factors in support of my admission.
posted by buddha9090 at 8:34 AM on April 6, 2006

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