Cornell University

Preparing for Law School

Admissions committees look at a variety of factors and trends in your academic record in an attempt to predict how you will perform in law school. There is no "prelaw major," and unlike medical school, there are no specific educational requirements for entrance into law school. Your curriculum should provide a diverse background; choose classes that challenge your ability to think and reason logically, that require you to research subjects thoroughly and write extensively, and that sharpen your ability to analyze material. Developing your research and organizational skills as an undergraduate will benefit you in law school.

Developing Skills

The following disciplines can help develop skills that are necessary in law school and will serve a future lawyer well:

  • Social sciences offer insight into human behavior, social processes, and institutions.
  • Courses that give you a better understanding of diverse cultures will help prepare you for a legal career.
  • English and communication courses are forums for improving written and oral expression.
  • Mathematics and philosophy classes provide background in logic and reasoning, as well as problem-solving skills.
  • Physical sciences require systematic analysis of evidence and inductive reasoning.

Law-related classes may allow you to get a feel for law as a general subject, but they neither cover the material in the same depth nor embody the intensity and rigor of law school. Therefore, they are not especially accurate indicators of your ability to succeed in the study of law or whether you will enjoy law school.

Selecting a Major

Choose a major that interests you and double major if you like, but be aware that this is not necessarily a positive factor in the admissions process. Though most law students do not "major" in specific areas–typically specialization occurs in law firms or other legal environments following law school–there are areas of law you may want to prepare for as an undergraduate. For example, if you are considering a career in patent or intellectual property law, you may want to major in engineering or science. Natural resources can provide a good background for environmental law.

Learning one or more languages and taking courses in international studies will help lay the groundwork for a career in international law. Courses in economics, business, and accounting are useful in the areas of corporate and tax law.

Compiling an Impressive Record

A solid GPA, particularly within your major, is expected, but a willingness to go beyond requirements demonstrates an intellectual curiosity that would be advantageous in the study of law. Academic excellence reflects discipline and abilities, though admissions committees will also consider seriously the variety and depth of your coursework as evidence of your interests and motivation. The key to compiling an impressive transcript is to challenge yourself by taking classes at increasingly difficult levels and studying diverse subject areas. Taking courses on a pass/fail basis might encourage you to explore subjects or levels of instruction you might otherwise avoid for fear of a low grade; keep in mind, however, that taking a number of courses pass/fail may be perceived negatively. While grades earned during study abroad may not be calculated into your GPA for law school, admissions committees will see your study abroad transcript.

In general, lecture courses provide a good foundation for further instruction, while seminars allow you to present, discuss, critique, and defend more specific ideas. Seminars also give you the opportunity to interact with faculty. It can be difficult at a large university such as Cornell to identify faculty members who can write detailed and substantive letters of recommendation in support of your application to graduate or professional school. Get to know faculty whom you might later ask for recommendations or evaluations; make yourself stand out as an individual by attending office hours, asking questions in class, and conducting research with faculty.

Other Activities

Law schools will be interested in your extracurricular activities, leadership experience, summer jobs, internships, and public service since they seek well-rounded candidates for admission. Select activities that interest you, not those you think will impress admissions committees. However, do not devote so much time to your activities that you sacrifice your GPA, which is far more important in the admissions process than activities.