Frequently Asked Questions about Law School
Should I go to law school?
Many students aspire to careers in the law. Whether or not you decide to go to law school, we hope that this memo provides you with some guidance in making a decision.
How appropriate law school is for you depends mainly on the kind of work you want to do after college. It is a good option for students interested in practicing law; on the other hand, if you are interested in government or policy-making, you should know that many policy-making positions in the public and not-for-profit sectors do not require a law degree. For those, a Master's degree in Public Policy or Public Administration, or an M.B.A., may be more useful. Careers in law involve large amounts of detailed analytical work. While some students find this kind of work satisfying, many find that other kinds of work, in the public or private sector, are more personally rewarding.
In considering law school, it is also important to balance your expected salary against the high cost of attending law school. Students going to law school may need to work full-time for a period in order to save money for this part of their educations.
Should I major in Political Science? What should I major in?
There are two good reasons to major in Political Science if you are serious about law school. First, it is important to take courses that help you to improve your analytic abilities, both in order to get into law school and to do well there. Faculty members in the Political Science Department are committed to improving these kinds of skills. Second, much of political science concerns the context in which law in practiced: how the state and national governments are organized and how power in exercised. At Hunter, a large proportion of students who go to law school majored in Political Science.
However, it is not essential to major in Political Science in order to get into law school. Law schools are more interested in your grades and LSAT scores than in your major. Students considering law school would be best served by choosing majors in which they will do much reading, writing, and thinking about topics that interest them. While Political Science provides much practice in these essential intellectual activities, many other majors in the social sciences and humanities also do so.
What courses should I take?
Law schools prefer students who are broadly educated, not narrow and overspecialized. They want students who have the skills a lawyer needs the most: to be able to study material in new areas, to read carefully and critically, to think logically, to express oneself clearly and cogently. Therefore, good minors include English, Philosophy, History, Economics; coursework in Computer Science and Mathematics is also helpful.
Students should not think that taking courses in "law" will help them get into law school. Law-related courses on a transcript do not impress admissions offices. Instead of loading up your schedule with law courses, take courses which emphasize reading, writing, and careful analysis -- which law-school admissions committees know to be difficult and hence require excellent work.
The best preparation for the LSAT and for law school itself is to take courses that require intense reading and analytical skills, e.g. Political Science courses in political theory or Philosophy courses in logical thinking. Also, students should not take too many 100-level courses, since a transcript loaded with them suggests the student was not taking enough difficult courses.
To get an idea of what law school would be like, students can take courses such as POLSC 238, "The American Legal System," which introduces students to non-commercial law, or a course in business law offered by the Economics Department.
Since law school applications usually require two or more letters of recommendation, it is important to get to know some full-time faculty members well by taking two or more courses from them in different semesters. It is not necessary that these letters be written by Political Science faculty; it is important that the letter-writer know the student well. Also, the higher the rank of the faculty member, the better; adjunct instructors should not be used as references unless no full-time faculty are available to write letters for you.
What else should I do to prepare for the LSAT?
Most students take LSAT-preparation courses, which can be expensive. Sample LSAT questions and test applications are available at the Pre-Professional Office in E812 Hunter East, which has an information packet for students interested in law school.
When should I take the LSAT?
Top-rated (national) law schools have admission application deadlines in February; lower-ranked law schools have deadlines somewhat later, in March and April. The LSAT is typically given in June, October, December, and February. If you take the test relatively early (by October), it is possible to plan a rational strategy for applying in order to gain admission, based on your LSAT scores. The December date is not too late for scores to reach national law schools, but your chances for entry may be compromised. It is best to plan on taking the test only once, since if your score goes down, the law school may be influenced by the lowest score, or at best, it will take the average score.
What are my chances of getting into a top law school?
Law schools differ in their prestige and quality. Top-rated law schools in the East include NYU, Columbia, Harvard, Yale, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. In the Midwest and West, they include Chicago, Michigan, Stanford, and the University of California at Berkeley (Boalt Hall). Lower-rated, but still respectable, law schools in the New York region include St. John's, Brooklyn Law School, New York Law School, and Cardozo Law School.
National law schools typically require at least a 3.6 GPA and a score of 160-165 out of 180 (about the 70th percentile) on the LSAT; lower-rated schools require at least a 3.2 GPA and 150-160 LSAT score. Law schools actively seek minority applicants but are intentionally vague about the precise standards they use in evaluating their candidacies.
It is good practice for students to apply to about 8-10 different law schools, ranging from national law schools to the ones that are easiest to get into. About 8-12 students majoring in Political Science actually apply to law school each year, and most of them get in. Hunter students are admitted to law schools of all types, from Harvard and Yale to lower-rated, local law schools. Many other students consider the option but do not submit applications.
Are there law schools in the New York region where I can pursue public-service law?
Yes. NYU has started a separate Public Service program, which offers a tuition reduction for students who actually go into public service after graduating; this is likely to be very competitive. The CUNY Law School at Queens College also has a major public-service focus and it has overcome its prior problems. Under the leadership of its new Dean, its graduates' pass rate on the bar examination is now near the state's average pass rate. CUNY Law School actively encourages applications from diverse and non-traditional students. Also, Harvard University reimburses the loans of its students who pursue public-service careers; other law schools may have similar programs.
Students should examine law-school catalogs for special types of programs which may be of interest to them.
Where can I get more information and advice?
Especially if students are early in their Hunter careers and do not know much about law school, they can get some useful information about LSATs and applications from the Pre-Professional Office in E812 Hunter East. Once they are juniors, they should see Prof. Volkomer or other members of the Political Science faculty.
For more information, see the guide to law school applications which the Educational Testing Service puts out annually, LSAT/LSDAS Registration and Information Book. Also, the annual Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools, available at the Reference Desk at Wexler Library, is very useful. At the Reference Desk, students may also consult the Student Access Guide to the Best Law Schools and ABA Approved Law Schools.