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Law Degree

Make sure an institution is accredited before applying to law school.

Being admitted to a law school program is very competitive. [©Jupiter Images, 2010]
©Jupiter Images, 2010
Being admitted to a law school program is very competitive.

Law Degree

Each of the 200 law schools accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) confers a law degree. All but one of these schools confers the Juris Doctorate (J.D.), which is the first law degree. The ABA also approves the U.S. Army's Judge Advocate Generals School, which offers a specialized program beyond the first degree in law to army officers.

Preparing to Pursue a Law Degree

All candidates for law school must earn a four-year undergraduate degree from an accredited college or university. According to the Law School Admission Council, there is no requirement as to the type of degree or major, although history, political science, English, economics, business and philosophy are considered traditional fields of study. The ABA encourages applicants to pursue a field of study that is both interesting and challenging and one that will develop the skills necessary to succeed in law school.

In addition to a bachelors degree, applicants to law school are encouraged to undertake experiences that will help develop the core skills. Skills in problem solving, critical reading, writing, speaking, listening, organization and management are all critical to success in the pursuit of a law degree. Candidates are expected to appreciate the profession in terms of justice and service to others and are encouraged to arrange educational, extracurricular or life experiences that help cultivate that understanding.

All law school applicants must take the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a standardized test that assesses verbal reasoning and reading. Many law schools require a candidate to take the LSAT no later than December prior to the year the student plans to enroll for the fall. The test is offered four times each year.

How to Choose a Law School

To pursue a law degree, the first step is admission to an accredited school. The ABA indentifies five factors when applying to law school:

  • Applicants should make sure that the target schools are accredited by the ABA. There are at least 24 law schools in the U.S. that are not accredited. Graduates from those programs may not take the bar exam.
  • Applicants should apply to schools that are mostly likely to accept them. Candidates can research statistics on accepted students and measure the likelihood of acceptance.
  • Candidates should weigh the benefits and drawbacks of public vs. private institutions.
  • Given the expense of acquiring a law degree, students should consider schools that participate in student loan forgiveness programs.
  • Schools with specialized coursework and clinics afford students an opportunity for real-world work experience before graduation. Exposure to specialized coursework also allows law students to explore possible career choices.


Applying to Law School

Submitting an application to law school is the first step in obtaining a law degree. It is interesting to note that the same standards of truth, accuracy and full disclosure expected of those in the legal profession exist for students entering the admission process. Applicants are expected to fully research and understand the application process as well as the procedures for financial aid. Applicants should also be aware of refund policies and multiple commitment deposit policies.

For most ABA-accredited law schools, applicants use the Law School Data Assembly Data Service (LSDAS). The LSDAS follows a standardized admission process for each law school the candidate wishes to apply to. They compile an applicant's LSAT scores, undergraduate academic record, transcripts and the letters of recommendation that have been processed by the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).

What to Expect From the Admissions Process

Because there are more applicants for law school than there are available seats, the process is competitive. A candidate should check with the school to make sure that all the necessary information has been received and that the file is complete so that the application can proceed through the review process.

Many law schools implement a rolling admission process, which means that they evaluate candidates over the course of several months, starting in the late autumn and continuing through to mid-summer. Applying early may increase a candidate's chances of a favorable decision.

Most law schools have a selection committee that reviews each application and then makes a decision. During the process, applicants who exceed the school's standards for admission are often accepted during the early rounds of selections. By the same token, applicants who do not meet the standards are denied admission.

Financing Law School

The cost depends on the law school, but estimates set the total costs for three years of law school, including tuition, housing, books, transportation and food, somewhere between $120,000 and $150,000. More than 80 percent of law students take educational loans to defray some of the expense.

Financial aid for law students is available in the way of grants, scholarships, private loans and loans backed by the federal government. The rules and regulations regarding financial aid and a school's policies and resources change regularly, so it falls to the student to find out what resources are available and how to go about applying for them.

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