Looking for the Best Pre-Law Undergraduate Schools?
The best choice for a college or university to go to if you are considering law school is easy! Go to any good College or University where you can get good grades. As for a major, do what interests you. Law schools, unlike medical schools, do not have rigid pre-set requirements.
First, a word on what this article is talking about: we are not discussing the best places to do “pre-law.” Often, majoring in pre-law is a mistake if you want to go to law school. If your chosen school has a major that is actually called “pre-law,” do not take it thinking that will automatically help you get into law school.
It may, in fact, hurt you: law school admissions boards do not highly respect pre-law as a major. There are a few reasons this may be the case. First, a case could be made that pre-law majors have less interest in expanding yourself as a person beyond the legal field. Second, and most importantly, pre-law courses really don’t do anything to prepare you for law school that a simple English, history, or political science degree can’t do just as well. We have more information on that in our post about the best majors if you plan to attend law school.
The #1 Most Important Factor in law school admissions is the LSAT
While other factors such as where you attend school certainly play a role in law school admissions, the LSAT is by far the biggest single factor in your application. A good LSAT score can erase a lot of weaknesses, even a lowish GPA.
That score changed the entire trajectory of my life. Even a few points on the LSAT can make a significant difference in your success as an applicant.
Selecting a college based merely on a ‘Pre-Law’ major or program would typically be a mistake, so what else should you do? Before rejoining the discussion of where you should go to college, let’s quickly discuss the question of major because it’s often a big part of your decision on where to attend for undergrad.
Picking A Good Undergrad Major if You Want to Go to Law School
According to Wikipedia:
In 2001, the five most common majors of students entering law school were political science, history, English, psychology, and criminal justice. The five majors with the highest acceptance rates were physics, philosophy, biology, chemistry, and government service.
Just because a major is a common choice for future law students, don’t think it is a great one to pick. Criminal Justice is probably one of the worst majors if you are shooting for a top law school. It is not well respected as a serious area of academic inquiry (at least not as it is presented in undergrad). You would be far better off studying philosophy or history if you want to think deeply about crime and punishment.
Anecdotally, I knew no criminal justice or psychology majors at my top-ranked law school, University of Chicago.
Though it may surprise some, law schools like students from the hard sciences a lot, for two reasons: first, they don’t have as many students applying from those disciplines, so it rounds out the class.
Second, those students have an edge in the job market (IP law, for example, which requires a technical degree), so these students help the law school maintain a high employment-upon-graduation rate.
Third, from my observation anyway, they tend to be good law students. English, history, and the like are also suitable majors, as students who went to college for these tend to have good writing and critical thinking skills.
Now that we got the subject of your undergraduate major out of the way let’s consider factors that you should keep in mind when selecting a specific college or university…
Picking the Best College or University to Go to if You Are Interested in Law
What are best undergrad schools to go to if you are considering law school? As I said before, the answer is simple: you want to go to one of the better schools you were accepted to, one where you think you can maintain a high GPA in a serious major.
Undergrad School Reputation
The reputation of the school does not matter as much as you might think because law schools care more about how high your GPA is than where it came from.
I imagine most students thinking ahead to law school assume they should go to the best undergrad school that they got into to boost their chances of getting into a good law school after graduation. All else equal, this is true. However, I want to stress again that this is only true if you can maintain a high GPA.
It may seem unfair, but your GPA is typically far, far more important in the admissions process than the quality of your undergrad institution, so long as your undergraduate school meets a minimum standard of excellence.
Yes, it is better to have a high GPA at a fantastic school, but if you are committed to going to the best law school you can get into, it is more important to make sure you are at a school where you can maintain a very high GPA (3.8+).
For example, a 3.9 GPA from the University of Iowa is likely to open more law school doors than a 3.4 GPA from the University of Chicago. I went to the University of New Hampshire, a good school, but certainly not the shining light of the western world. Although my GPA wasn’t valedictorian material (a 3.73), it was good enough because it’s still in the GPA range top law schools are looking for.
For that reason, future law students might want to avoid undergrad schools like Reed or University of Chicago, where it is tough to get a high GPA unless you are very driven and think you can do well there.
While law schools understand that these are great programs and are exceptionally difficult, they are stuck because they need to be conscious of their USNWR ranking, which means they have to admit a lot of high GPA students.
Is the admissions system maybe a little messed up for the high emphasis it places on numbers? Definitely. However, if you know that going in, you can make it work to your advantage. That said, don’t think that you should just take a 4.0 at some online school such as DeVry. Law schools are only interested in accepting students from schools that they believe can prepare you for the rigors of law school. Any decent state university or better will do.
Looking at the current entering students profile at Yale Law School, you’ll see that while the very best colleges and universities in the country are heavily represented, and there are plenty of students from schools such as UMass Amherst and University of Florida that, though they are excellent schools, are not elite.
However, there is no one from very low ranked institutions. Generally speaking, you want to attend somewhere that shows up on US News’ ranking of the best colleges. Community and junior colleges are okay too, as long as you transfer after a year or so, and so long as they are a good enough program to get you in the kind of schools discussed above.
Again, just make sure you maintain a high GPA throughout. Any graded college course you take will be factored into your GPA when you apply to law school. Luckily, this leaves a lot of excellent schools, as hundreds can adequately prepare you for law school.
The tips mentioned above should give you a basic idea of how to choose an undergrad institution if you are thinking about going to law school afterward. The key points to take away here are that you should do what interests you (unless its criminal justice or pre-law) at a decent school where you think you can get a high GPA.
Choosing The Best School for You
The are plenty of great ways to research the best colleges: Start with the US News and World Report’s Best Colleges and Universities. This well-known guide ranks schools to help you pick reaches, targets, and safeties.
For more information on how law schools make admissions decisions, you may want to consult a book as this is a very complicated subject. Here is some recommended reading to max out your chances of playing the admissions game to the best of your ability: