Pre-Law: Your Undergraduate Years

Pre-Law Handbook
Your Undergraduate Years

Pre-Law Undergraduate Curriculum

Contrary to the belief of many, there is no standard pre-law curriculum. Law schools are more interested in the quality of your preparation and usually demand superior undergraduate work. Truman’s liberal arts and sciences curriculum provides an excellent background for potential law students. Make the most of your undergraduate years, regardless of what major course of study you choose.

The freedom in selection of courses may be frustrating to some and encouraging to others. While you must make some difficult decisions of your own, you are free to choose a course of study that is specialized, diverse, or both.

Many law schools encourage students to experience a wide range of disciplines. The Association of American Law Schools calls attention to the characteristics of a quality pre-legal education that it believes can lead to success in law school. “That quality of education is concerned with the development in pre-law students of basic skills and insights. It thus involves education for: comprehension and expression in words; critical understanding of the human institutions and values with which the law deals; creative power in thinking.”

These goals are not the result of one particular combination of courses but should be the result of any high quality education. For example, training in English literature and grammar promotes mastery of the lawyer’s most important tool — language. The development of comprehension, writing, and speaking skills is indispensable and can be developed not only in English courses but also in a broad range of courses.

At the same time, one of the most attractive aspects to becoming a lawyer is that you may share in the operation and formation of human institutions and values. Insight into these areas may come from the study of the government through which the law is made and applied. Because our law is based on experience, the study of history is also helpful.

Likewise, economics, statistics, accounting, and computer science are all helpful in the study of law. This is especially true in our highly technical society.

Creative thinking can be cultivated with training in logic, analogy and reasoning. Math and logic courses are often highly recommended as good pre-legal background. Because law is a social science, the study of it is preoccupied with human behavior. Therefore, courses in sociology, psychology, and philosophy are appropriate.

Inevitably, mental flexibility acquired through the mastery of different subjects is ideal for legal training. Unfortunately, this is not realized by choosing only those courses with which you are successful and familiar. Take some chances. You will be forced into some baffling and alien territory in your legal training. Your undergraduate years are the time to prove to yourself and others that you can meet these challenges.

Grades

Grades matter. But in addition to a stropping GPA, schools often consider the rigor of the school and the program in which the grades were achieved. One approach is to scramble to get the easy courses and professors in hopes of gaining admission to law school with a high GPA. Another is to undertake an in-depth and challenging curriculum in hopes of being better prepared academically for law school. Keep in mind that most law schools look for diverse and rigorous undergraduate programs. In evaluating your admission file, they will look beyond a number, your GPA, to see what went into that number, to get a better sense of who you are, and what you offer them.

Internships

Consider an internship in a law office or court. This provides you with a clearer idea of what lawyers do. Law schools know you know what you are getting into.

Extracurricular

Most law schools consider your undergraduate activities, but these activities cannot make up for a low GPA. However, meaningful involvement in an activity demonstrates maturity, motivation and leadership — all positive factors in the admissions process. There should be time in a well-rounded undergraduate career that can be devoted to service, social or community groups. A depth of commitment to one organizations may show more — thing about you than membership in an organization.

Above All

Don’t ruin your undergraduate years by blinding yourself with preparation for law school: Your interests may drastically change. There will be plenty of time in law school for overwork, over-study and to take as many tedious and heavy courses as you like. Don’t pass up the singular opportunity you have in undergraduate school to indulge yourself in art, music, athletics, good literature and good times.

Introduction to the Law

There are several ways to investigate what lies ahead of law students:

  • Take a few of the undergraduate courses on legal subjects, such as Business Law, Constitutional Law, Law and Judicial Process, Philosophy of Law, and International Law. The methodology of the courses will be quite different from law school, but they can serve as introductions into the subject matter.
  • Some law schools offer opportunities during the year for both observation and participation. You should contact schools that you are interested in to see if they offer such opportunities. 

    Compiled By: THE PRE-LAW ADVISORY COMMITTEE Former Editors: Jeff Baxendale, Trish Cope, Allison Dennis, Theresa Mehmert, Bonnie Neuner, Laura Obermeyer, Kerry Walter, Tim Wichmer, Mary Woodburn, Bradley M. Dowd, Scott Spears,  Bill Curtis, and Greg Brenner.