In this post, we discuss the best majors for law school applicants. If you are still in undergrad and you are considering law school, this article will give you a better understanding of which undergraduate majors are the most beneficial for law school admissions, and how your choice of major might effect your law school application.
But First… The Worst Majors for Law School
I want to state an important warning right up front: IF YOUR SCHOOL HAS A PRE-LAW OR CRIMINAL JUSTICE MAJOR, DON’T DO IT. The hard evidence out there is that pre-law and criminal justice majors do worse on the LSAT and have worse outcomes when applying to law school.
According to LSAC, who tracks these things, only 52% of criminal justice majors and 61% pre-law majors were accepted to law school. Compare that with philosophy, economics, and journalism majors, who were admitted to law school at rates of 82, 79, and 76 percent respectively.
Now I agree with other commentators this is likely explained by self-selection. The theory is that poor test takers tend to choose these majors in abundance and this same group would score low on the LSAT even if they chose a different major. Under that theory, it’s not the major itself that’s causing the poor performance, but, no matter the explanation, they are clearly under-performing.
Let’s take a look at a study of LSAT scores by major:
Of those measured, the two majors supposedly tailored towards preparing students for law school have the worst performance on the exam that gets you in law school!
There is no way to say this nicely, but don’t get lumped in with this group if you can help it. I realize there are great students at great schools pursuing these majors (Berkeley for example has a “legal studies” major), but it’s my firm belief that these majors don’t do anything to prepare you for law school that history, English, or political science doesn’t do better.
We also can’t fully discount the possibility that these majors really are worse at preparing you for the LSAT. A known strategy for increasing your LSAT score is doing a lot of dense reading (think The Economist or The Wall Street Journal). English, philosophy, and history majors have you reading and thinking critically about dense material all the time. People also theorize that hard sciences will prepare you well for the LSAT, a topic discussed later in this post.
Further, criminal Justice and pre-law majors typically carry rampant grade inflation, so a law school admissions department might be inclined to discount a good GPA you receive in such a program slightly. Although Ann Levine, a former admissions dean and an expert in these matters, states that these majors wouldn’t cause any bias against you, she does state that you had better not get a low GPA in these majors. This indicates a belief that these are considered easy majors, such that doing great in them won’t be any real credit to you, and doing poorly is an big strike. [UPDATE: Ann just got quoted in Business Insider saying, "Law schools don't consider [the criminal justice major]academically rigorous”, so I guess the gloves are off at least with respect to CJ.]
Grade inflation, and the attendant possibility that your GPA gets discounted slightly, is a problem for most humanities majors, but I would hazard a guess that it is worse for pre-law and criminal studies majors. While any discounting effect is likely to be very small, (law schools care more about your GPA number than where it came from and how you got it) it might effect you on the margins, especially at the very best law schools. Incidentally, I knew no criminal justice or pre-law majors at University of Chicago. The admissions game is all about maximizing your chances wherever possible, and pre-law and criminal studies majors appear to hurt rather than help.
Just so there isn’t confusion, I am not suggesting that anyone avoid classes that deal with legal subjects. If that interests you, go ahead. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that it will prepare you at all for 1L. The main thing that prepares you for law school in my opinion is taking a heavy workload in a dense subject, which brings us to our discussion of the best majors for law school…
The Best Majors for Law School
The matter of picking a good major for law school is a pretty simple. You want a serious subject that interests you and where you think you can obtain a high GPA.
Now what do I mean by a serious subject? I mean one that is challenging and is well-regarded as an area of academic inquiry. This could be anything from English (my major) to Engineering to Philosophy. Generally, if it is a major where you tend to see serious students flock, you are in good stead.
This is important for two reasons. First, more difficult subjects are well-regarded by admissions staff. Though it may surprise some, the hard science majors are particularly in demand at law schools. I think this is partly because they are in short supply and add variety to the class, but more so because these students tend to excel in the law school environment and also are very in demand for employment after receiving a law school education (often for intellectual property law).
Second, dense subjects just prepare you better for the rigors of law school. I noticed that students who did hard majors at rigorous schools had a slight edge in law school because they dealt with the work load better.
On the other hand students from the humanities, such as English, philosophy, or history, get plenty of opportunity to develop critical thinking skills and communication skills that will serve you well in your first year legal writing class, on law school exams, and especially later in the practice of law. Admission staff know that these majors are valuable training and admit them to top law schools in large numbers. Just as an aside, take a logic course in your school’s philosophy department, as it gives you a priceless head start on your LSAT study.
Looking back up at our chart, we see that science majors are crowding the top 15 spots. There as well are humanities majors studying serious traditional areas of academic inquiry. Law school admissions staff are likely to slightly favor students from all these majors over other areas which we see towards the bottom of the list. What’s more, these majors amply prepare you for the rigors of law school.
Don’t forget though, maintaining a good GPA is still key in the admissions game. If you don’t think you are capable of maintaining around a 3.75 in chemistry, perhaps try something else if you wish to keep the most doors open should you apply to law school.
That said, stick with what interests you. Admissions staff look for people that are passionate about what they do and picking a major that you enjoy will make you a more complete person. If chemistry is the one thing that gets you excited to go to school, then do that and forget whether it helps you with law school or not!
Please remember to comment if you have any questions and we will answer them on the double.