What Is Pre-Law?

"My lifelong dream is to become a lawyer. But I don’t understand the educational path to get there. I mean, I know that I need to get into law school. That much is a given. But they don’t have any prerequisites listed on their websites. And I know I can’t just apply, that I need some kind of a degree. I’m told I have to get into Pre-Law, but I don’t know what that is. Is it a major, or is it something else? I’m a little confused since I don’t see it listed under any course catalogues."

asked by Erin from Billings, MT

Pre-law is not actually a specific major or degree that you can earn. It refers to the requirement that you earn a bachelor’s degree of some sort before you apply for law school. If you do not have a degree, you will not get into law school, since it is a requirement set forth by the American Bar Association for admission. That said, pre-law simply refers to any bachelor’s degree you choose to fulfill this requirement.

As you mentioned, there are no specific courses which are required. The bad news is that open-ended requirement does not give you a lot of guidance. The good news is you can take pretty much anything you want, so long as you feel like it will be useful to you and you are able to explain it to the admissions board.

According to a survey taken in 2001, the most popular majors for pre-law students were political science, history, English, psychology, and criminal justice. Interestingly enough, these were not the five majors with the highest acceptance rates at law schools. Those were physics, philosophy, biology, chemistry, and government science.

What does this tell you? You can choose either a B.A. or B.S. track and get into law school. Most students pursue a B.A. in history, English, or something else that seems logical. But there clearly is an advantage to getting a Bachelor of Science. Law schools take an avid interest in students who have studied physics, biology, and chemistry, perhaps because they are a minority of candidates.

Studying these sciences does give you an edge in law, since criminal investigations often involve scientific evidence, and if you have knowledge in this area, you can more readily interpret that evidence accurately.

The other majors listed also give you distinct advantages though. History majors will know more about past cases and precedent, English majors will be able to aptly phrase their arguments, and political science majors will understand legal theory. You should probably pursue whatever you are most interested in and likeliest to excel in.

So what is pre-law? It’s pretty much whatever you want it to be, as long as it grants you a bachelor’s degree at the end. Figure out what elements of law are most intriguing to you, and then plan your education accordingly. Think about what you will tell the admissions boards, and focus your learning based on your long-term plans.

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