Planning guide for new prelaw students

Introduction #

This section provides information on planning for admission to law school, beginning with your first semester in college. "Prelaw" is not an official major, program, or series of courses.  Instead, it merely indicates a possible interest in attending law school at some point after graduation from college.  Unlike health professional schools, there are absolutely no prerequisite courses required for admission to any law school in the country.

When you meet with an academic advisor during New Student Orientation, make sure to mention your interest in attending law school after graduation.  You’ll be subscribed to the HPPLC prelaw mailing list and receive invitations to participate in prelaw events, including the Prelaw Orientation Meeting in the fall. Consult University Division resources for more information on planning for summer orientation. 

Description of the profession #

Lawyers advise and represent individuals, businesses, and government agencies on legal issues and disputes. Also called attorneys, lawyers can act as advocates and/or advisors.

As advocates, they represent one of the parties in criminal or civil matters. If the case goes to trial, they present evidence and argue in support of their client. But many attorneys never set foot in a courtroom. As advisors, lawyers counsel their clients about their legal rights and obligations and suggest courses of action in business and personal matters. All attorneys research the intent of laws and judicial decisions, and apply these factors to the specific circumstances their clients face.

Choosing your degree and major #

You have probably heard that law schools do not have a preferred major, or that your choice of major is not really a factor in law school admissions. This is absolutely true. Law schools are looking for a diverse population of students, and diversity of majors among their applicants is one consideration–they want all points of view represented in class discussions. You’ll be able to work with your assigned academic advisor during freshman year to discover a major and degree that are the best fit for you. Keep in mind that there absolutely does not need to be an obvious connection between your major and law. In a typical year applicants with degrees from literally every college and school at IUB, and from 50+ majors, successfully apply to law schools around the country. Virtually any academic program from IUB can ultimately lead to law school.

What is the “best” major for someone considering law school? In general, the best major is one you truly enjoy, and one in which you can excel (and these two factors are often related). We also recommend you choose a major that will give you options for further study or employment should you change your mind about law school or decide to work for a year or more after graduation and before applying to law school.

The simple fact is that your major per se is a marginal factor in law school admission decisions, if it is considered at all. Majors in the sciences, music, math, or foreign language, just to mention a few non-stereotypical prelaw majors, do quite well in the admissions process.

What is extremely important, however, is the GPA you achieve in whatever major you choose. Do not choose a major because you think it will "look good" to law schools. It's a great GPA – in whatever major – that looks good!

The Explore Programs tool at IU can help you discover your options!

Your course load #

A normal course load for most preprofessional students is 14-16 total credit hours per semester. That means you’ll probably be enrolling in from four to six classes. During New Student Orientation, an academic advisor will help you double-check your options, choose appropriate courses, and plan an appropriate course load in which you’ll be able to be successful. To earn strong grades and succeed in being admitted, most prelaw students need to devote about two hours per week for every credit in which they are enrolled. This means spending about 30 hours per week outside of class studying, going to office hours, and otherwise preparing for class.

Planning your fall course options #

As stated above, no law school in the country has even one required course that you must take as an undergraduate.

The American Bar Association states: “The ABA does not recommend any particular group of undergraduate majors, or courses, that should be taken by those wishing to prepare for legal education; developing such a list is neither possible nor desirable. Taking difficult courses from demanding instructors is the best generic preparation.”

If you are interested in a course with the word “Law” in the title, do not hesitate to take one or several such courses during your undergraduate career. But contrary to popular belief, such courses are not required, and, generally, they will not enhance your chances for admission nor make law school itself any easier. So do not feel compelled to take such courses unless you are genuinely interested in the subject. Law schools will not be looking for such courses on your transcript.

When choosing courses for your first semester, you should follow the instructions for your intended major or for exploratory students. Keep in mind that law schools recommend you take a wide variety of courses from different subject areas. Courses (and majors) in Arts and Humanities (A&H), Social and Historical (S&H) studies, World Cultures and Languages (WCL), and Natural Science and Mathematics (N&M), can all provide skills law schools are looking for in an applicant: analytical, problem-solving, research, writing, and communication skills. All degrees require that you complete courses in a variety of subjects at IUB. One suggestion: if your major does not involve much reading and writing, at least some of your elective courses should.

We suggest you go beyond stated requirements or what you may have been told might “look good” to a law school. Think outside the box, and include courses that genuinely interest you.

Other activities for prelaw students during the first year of college #

As you will soon discover, there are a multitude of activities and student organizations at IU. However, you should be aware that many prelaw students find their first semester taking college-level coursework surprisingly challenging, so don’t feel the urge to overload yourself with multiple extracurricular activities immediately.

Your main focus during the academic year should be on excelling in your studies. Consider becoming involved in extra-curriculars once you have established a strong academic foundation.

You may wish to set up job shadowing with attorneys during your breaks from school so you can explore further your interest in law and confirm whether it’s the path you want to pursue.