Help me decide how best to utilize 1-3 years between college and law school.
August 25, 2006 7:55 PM   Subscribe

Law school admissions: help me decide how to best utilize 1-3 years between college and law school.

I'm graduating in December after having taken an unusually long time getting through college, primarily due to a late school/major change (itself prompted by an episode of depression). I'm looking at law school, but will be applying with a mediocre GPA (3.2) and good LSATs (170). I've read that admissions committees weight your GPA less when you've been out of school awhile, and for that and other reasons (a desire to spend some in the real world, student loans) want to take some time off before applying. I'm currently trying to choose among 3 non-mutually-exclusive options, and one factor is what will make a law school app strongest:

1) Tech work. I majored in CS and have an above-average resume for that stuff (though no formal internships).

2) The Peace Corps. I'd love to spend 2.25 years working in the developing world. Everyone former volunteer I've talked to, a group whose number includes some of the coolest people I've ever met, strongly reccomends it. Currently my preferred option.

3) Teaching english abroad, probably Taiwan. A nice way to learn Chinese and make some modest cash while getting enough time to travel, read and do some open-source work.

Again, these aren't mutually exclusive. I'm also considering teaching abroad or working for a year, then doing the Peace Corps.

Any advice? Law school admissions certainly aren't the only factor here- I'd also like to spend time abroad while I can. Also, there's no guarantees, but does it sound like an applicant like myself would stand a decent chance at, say, a top 30 school?

Thanks in advance.
posted by gsteff to Education (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know about law school admissions, but it seems to me that if you're fairly young and unattached (ie, you can move to another country for a couple of years), take advantage. You will be working a 9-to-5, or 7-to-10 as a lawyer, soon enough. Go do something really interesting, see the world; you will get smarter, your life may move in unexpected directions, and if you still want to go to law school in a few years I would guess that's the kind of thing admissions people would be moved by. (That is, count me as a vote against option 1.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:09 PM on August 25, 2006

Any of the three are great options, although I bet 2) or 3) would seem more interesting to a law school admissions committee. Also, depending on what area of law you hope to practice in, the ability to speak Chinese could come in handy. (Are you interested in international law?) Really, though, I think the mere fact of having had life/professional experiences beyond college is an asset when applying to law school, so don't feel limited.

Yes, I think you stand a chance at a top 30 school, especially after a few years of post-college experience.
posted by amro at 8:13 PM on August 25, 2006

Teach for America is also an option (if you're looking for more). It's similar to Peace Corps in terms of the people they're trying to attract and the rate of pay, but it's ... well, teaching K-12 in America. Usually in disadvantaged parts of the country.

Not great pay, obviously, but the people I know who've done it say it's very rewarding and enjoyable, and it would also look good on a law school app.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 8:32 PM on August 25, 2006

One option you haven't considered is getting a masters. In something useful (not an MBA) with a really good GPA and stellar letters of rec.

With a bit of planning and luck you might be able to combine it with travel of work abroad or a regular job.
posted by fshgrl at 9:00 PM on August 25, 2006

admissions committees weight your GPA less when you've been out of school awhile

Yes and no. Most schools still use an indexing system to screen out applicants based on their LSAT and GPA. When selecting candidates for admission after this point, they will look at the whole application and apply a more subjective weighting to the numbers.

Doing what you want to do and what makes you happy will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your life. If you want to do Peace Corps, do Peace Corps. Whether some admissions officer likes that better than Teach for America is so tangential to the process, and so subjective, that you might as well focus on your own ambitions and happiness and then let the chips fall where they may. A 170 LSAT is an excellent baseline for top 30, by the way, and while your GPA will hurt the index, some schools weight LSAT more heavily. If your application clears this threshold, a personal essay focusing on how your post-college years sharpened your ambition and focus would help to mitigate the GPA.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:03 PM on August 25, 2006

You might want to check out, which has been collecting self-reported stats from law school applicants over the past few years. The anecdotal data you find there might help you get a sense of where people with numbers similar to yours have been getting accepted/rejected/waitlisted. Some users also list personal factors such work and life experience, ethnic background, hometown, etc., to help round out the picture of what admissions committees are considering.
posted by Dr. Zira at 9:33 PM on August 25, 2006

Tech work won't help you do anything but make money. Get away from schools for a while. Join the Peace Corps or some less US Government-connected work organization. People you meet will get jobs at interesting places and non-profits that might be right up your alley after you get out of law school.

As for what's going to help you out, not much as far as admissions unless it's a Masters in Economics, International Relations, and so on. Certainly the Peace Corps won't allow them to think you're a slacker.
posted by ontic at 9:54 PM on August 25, 2006

The tech work might help if you claim you want to do some sort of lawyerin' in the future related to that. Most of the people that apply to law school seem to be liberal arts/social sciences type people, and knowing techy stuff might help you get into a school with a good IP program or something. (Assuming you're willing to fake that you're interested in IP as it relates to computers, internet, etc. if you aren't really.)

But those are just my unsubstantiated thoughts.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 12:52 AM on August 26, 2006

Do what you want to do. Don't base your entire life on going to law school-- instead, do what makes you happy, because you might end up doing something completely different, which would utterly moot all of your law school planning.

I got into Michigan with mediocre grades and good LSATs (3.41 and 174 or something like that), BTW, but that was ten years ago so I assume things may have changed. But the only work I did between times was waitress and bartend, so they definitely weren't looking at my work history!

Anyway, I give this advice because a lot of people really don't like being lawyers. Many of the people in my class at Michigan have left the field.

Also, I advise you to be careful about the "top 30 school" thing. It's easy to get seduced into that, but if you are more interested in public interest law you might want to go to a lower tier school where you'll get grants and better aid overall. Unless you are directly angling for big-firm or business life in NYC or similar I think the top schools may be falling prey to the law of diminishing returns. I certainly regret declining the full ride Iowa offered me (as does my checkbook as I pay my loans every month.)
posted by miss tea at 5:29 AM on August 26, 2006

I don't think you should worry about getting in to a good law school-- I did, with scores worse than yours-- but you should really consider whether you want to go or not. I think too few people who go to law school really consider the consequences of their actions. Unless you are independently wealthy, or have an amazing financial aid or scholarship package, you will graduate with debt that can only be described as "crushing", and this guarantees you will be in something like indentured servitude for at least ten years afterward. Even if you decide that the law sucks (and it does), you will have to keep doing it because otherwise your credit is ruined or worse.

I don't want to be too much of a Debbie Downer, but these are things you have to really consider.
posted by norm at 6:18 AM on August 26, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice all.

miss tea and norm- I'll keep that in mind. Exploring alternative career options is another reason I'm not applying immediately.
posted by gsteff at 7:30 AM on August 26, 2006

Please really, really make sure you want to be a lawyer. Work in a corporate firm for even a month or two as a paralegal (they'll hire you from your LSAT scores I'd bet) and see if you want to do the almost moronic stuff that takes up 80% of their work.

As other people have said, its often the debt that makes intelligent people stay in stultifying work.

ONE CAVEAT: You have a science degree and you can get into patents and patent law -- something that is a bit more substantive and I feel more fulfilling that being on a large litigation case between an industry you can care less about as the lawyers through paper at each other. You are more special here because you can actually sit for the patent bar.

Good luck in what you decide. And, I'd say try your DAMN HARDEST to get into a good school. It's really one of the few not so objective objective indicators that world has to size people up -- the product of the work is largely questionable as to quality -- and its almost more difficult for a young associate to state -- "That case turned because of that brief I wrote!" Why?! Was it not that the law was on your side in the first place? Was it not because the other side might have been unprofessional? Was it because the courts were too smart or too stupid to see you were right/wrong?

In the face of all that, it's nice to always have that top 10 Law School on your resume. But, as stated, the tuition to go to such can make you work in that intellectually stultifying environment in the first place.....AH vicious circle! I'll stop writing here.
posted by narebuc at 8:05 AM on August 26, 2006

I did the Peace Corps between undergrad and law school. I think it helped my application - I think I wrote a great essay, based on my experience, at least - but I'm not sure if it did or not. Plenty of people were in my law school (top 15) who hadn't done much of anything between undergrad and law school.

Now, if you want one of those public interest scholarships - often 1/3 off of tuition, or so - PC can definitely help with that. Also, PC was huge in getting me my summer jobs and my current job (but I was looking exclusively at public interest jobs).

I think you've gotten good advice - do your damndest to get into an excellent law school, do what you want to do in between, and think very seriously about whether you really want to be a lawyer. Law school sucks a lot of the time, and those top schools could land you with about $200,000 in debt, including your living expenses. Which seriously inhibits your ability to change careers if you don't like life as a lawyer, want to leave the country, etc. While I was in law school, I saw a magazine cover about school debt, and it was a picture of a student with a huge ball and chain around his neck, and some comment about the new indentured servants of the world. In a lot of ways I feel trapped by the debt now, although I love my job and I am proud of my degree. I feel incredibly fortunate to have my job, which I find so interesting and rewarding, and I hate to think how I would feel about the debt if I was ambivalent about my job or worse. (This is what I wish someone would have told me before I went to law school.) And loan repayment programs are often a crock, by the way, so I wouldn't count on that if you're going public interest.

As for the Peace Corps - I think if you want to do it, you absolutely should. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and one I feel extremely fortunate to have had, because I can't see myself doing anything like that ever again, life commitments, etc. having taken over. The two caveats I would give you are: (1) plenty of people hate the PC - if you get an invitation, you might want to research people's happiness in the country you're offered, and you can hold out for something else, despite what they tell you - all PC countries are not the same - some host countries are hostile, and some in country PC administrators make life miserable. (2) Depression can be a serious problem for PC volunteers - you feel intense isolation & loneliness for a while, if not the whole time. It was the happiest period of my life so far, but it was incredibly emotional - I felt like my emotions were elevated throughout the entire 2+ years - and I have heard about several people who were quite depressed. I'm sure there are ways you could deal with that, but it's something to think about beforehand.
posted by Amizu at 8:56 AM on August 26, 2006

Response by poster: Cool- Amizu, if you're around, what country did you do your Peace Corps service in, and what kind of work were you doing?
posted by gsteff at 9:42 AM on August 26, 2006

Work for a law firm. That will help you get hired when you get out, a much harder task than actually getting in to law school.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:08 PM on August 26, 2006

I second narebuc and Ironmouth when they say work for a law firm for awhile. I worked IT in a medium-sized Seattle firm and we had a lot of college kids with plans for law school working for us as clerks. There's nothing like seeing real lawyers working close-up. I'm surprised more of the kids weren't discouraged...but then, we had a pretty good group of lawyers.
posted by lhauser at 10:52 PM on August 26, 2006

I like being a lawyer, have a good non-profit job, but that is not exactly typical. If I could do anything over again I would LEARN SPANISH!!! while I was young-ish like you. Peace Corps or another gig in a Spanish-speaking country would be really great, especially if you have any interest in public interest work.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 12:21 AM on August 28, 2006

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