Choosing an Undergraduate College is your first step. There are more than three thousand accredited universities and colleges. They vary in quality and reputation, ranging from world-famous schools like Harvard and Swarthmore to local schools unknown outside of a small region. There are many advantages in being a graduate of a distinguished school. But the time when it was necessary to graduated from Harvard to go to Harvard Law School is long over. For the purpose of getting into law school, where you went to college is much less important that how well you did there.
All accredited colleges and universities are now much more alike than they are different. Most now offer the standard liberal arts and business subjects that law schools want to see on your transcript. They hire their full-time faculty members from the same few graduate schools; these teachers all organize their subjects in the same ways and use the same textbooks. Compare the descriptions of the courses required for a political science major in various college catalogs. All of them--Hometown State as well as Harvard--require thirty or so semester hours of work in courses with titles like American Government, international relations, political philosophy and public law.
Being from an unusual background may actually help. Law schools have learned that the most fertile educational climate exists when the students come from diverse backgrounds and bring divers experiences to their studies. Securing a diversified student body is an important secondary goal at all national law schools. Regional schools that are trying to improve their reputations stress it even more.
Regional diversity has become an important indicator of quality in a law school. Drake proudly advertises that its 1991 freshman class "is drawn from nearly half the states." The University of Dayton Law School reports that graduates of more than 100 undergraduate schools are represented in its freshman class of 176, and the University of the Pacific's McGeorge School of Law counts graduates of more than 160 universities in its freshman class of 330. Lewis and Clark Law University's Northwestern School of Law enrolls 701 students from more than 230 universities.
That's not to say that all undergraduate colleges are equal. Some are known to be especially good at pre-professional placement, while others provide superior prelaw preparation. You've probably heard rumors that law schools have equivalency formulas: a Be earned at prestigious college X is worth as much as an A on your transcript if that A comes from second-rate college Y.
It doesn't work quite that way. True, law school administrators tend to view more favorably graduates of schools from which the law school has gotten good students in the past, or of schools with reputations for good prelaw preparation. Rollins graduates have a strong history of success in many prestigious law schools. A list of the law schools in which recent Rollins graduates have enrolled is provided on the "Law Schools" page.
The advantage of the better schools is chiefly indirect: Because they provide smaller classes, more knowledgeable and concerned faculty members, and like-minded and well-motivated fellow students they make it easier for you to work hard and get the good grades that law schools require. If you attend a big state university, where there are crowded classes and long lines in front of every professor's office door, you'll need to be more motivated and more of a self-starter in order to do well.
What majors will best prepare me for law school?
There is no best major, but there are some rules of thumb to follow. First and foremost, your major should be interesting to you. Yours should be a course of study that will be useful even if you don't go to law school. Many prelaw students choose political science as their major, but just as common are majors such as history, psychology, English and philosophy. Many science-related majors also choose to pursue legal education in hopes of applying their knowledge to such quickly growing fields as medical and environmental law.
What undergraduate classes will prepare me for law school?
Select undergraduate courses that develop or increase your analytical, reasoning and communication (oral and written) skills. A very large part of both law school and the legal profession involves reading and writing. The more able you are to understand what you read and how to accurately and effectively communicate your thoughts, the better you will do. Consider classes in philosophy, logic, math, economics, history, English and political science for analysis and reasoning, as well as writing. Communications and theater classes will help with oral communication skills. Acting classes will help you feel more comfortable when presenting your arguments and ideas to others.
"Business" classes also may be very helpful. A great deal of legal activity occurs in business. Classes in economics and accounting will introduce terminology used in business transactions. You will probably want to take any prelaw- or law-oriented classes your university may offer to get a feel for law school and to prepare for legal academic pursuits. You can pick up legal terminology in law school, but becoming familiar with it beforehand will smooth the transition. Finally, take classes that challenge you. If you do not enjoy the challenge of difficult and complicated material requiring hours of possibly boring reading, the law school may not be for you. Your Rollins College prelaw advisor can help you plan your course selections.
Some factors to take into consideration when deciding where to go to law school include:
Reputation, location, tuition, placement rate, legal journals, library resources and computer labs. In the end, the best way to determine if a school is right for you is to visit it. If at all possible, attend an open house or set up a tour with the admissions office. Another great source of information is a school's students. Law students can tell you about what to expect academically in the first year. While you are visiting, be perceptive of the atmosphere, not only at the school, but in the surrounding area as well. Choose a geographic area, which suits your personality in order to make transitions smooth. Some students feel comfortable in a large metropolitan area, while others prefer picturesque college campuses. Another consideration is employment opportunities in the region, as you may want to work after your first year. Take into account the kinds of classes and student organizations the law school offers. Remember that you will never be able to understand the personality of a school strictly through objective statistical analysis.
Visit the pre-law advising site for more information.