Unlike medical school, there are no set academic prerequisites for law school. Few undergraduate programs offer a “prelaw” major.
In recent years, the most common majors for law school applicants are in the social sciences. Political science is the most common, followed by psychology, criminal justice and economics. Humanities majors are the next most common, especially history and English.
Nevertheless, many applicants are accepted with backgrounds in other fields, like philosophy, STEM, communications and performing arts. After all, law schools seek a balanced class. There is no sense in worrying whether your major fits the profile you imagine for a “typical law school applicant.”
If your major is unusual for a law school applicant, here are four ways to present this as a strength:
- Demonstrate the value you can bring to the classroom.
- Show the significance of your work.
- Connect your major to your career goals.
- Resist the urge to justify yourself.
Demonstrate the Value You Can Bring to the Classroom
There’s no substitute for having students who can bring a philosophical lens to discussions of evidence, a musician’s ear to a course in copyright law or technical expertise to a technology law clinic.
So, if your academic work gave you experience in quantitative research methods, or advanced software skills, or cross-cultural communications experience, be sure to highlight such assets in your application.
Show the Significance of Your Work
If your major is technical or relatively unusual, it may be hard for those outside the field to understand the breadth of your achievements. How can a reader compare building a software app to publishing a peer-reviewed economics paper or producing an independent film?
Different elements of your application can provide this helpful context. For example, a recommendation letter from a professor could show how your efforts compare against those of others in your field. A well-written resume or personal statement can show the work that went into your accomplishments.
Connect Your Major to Your Career Goals
Law may touch every area of human activity, but the connection between an academic field and a legal career is not always obvious. While a background in archaeology may seem irrelevant for a law school applicant, it makes a lot of sense combined with a compelling personal statement about a passion for antiquities law or protecting indigenous property claims under Native American law.
This doesn’t mean that your career path must follow directly from your academic background. It’s OK to switch fields. But even if you can’t draw a direct link between your past and your future, explaining how the skills you have acquired will prove useful and help show you are committed to a legal career.
Resist the Urge to Justify Yourself
Connecting your past background to your career goals doesn’t require a detailed accounting of each zig and zag in your academic path. Simplify this complicated story for a reader’s benefit by focusing on crucial insights and turning points.
If a legal career represents a course change from your previous field of work, that pivot can provide a great topic for your personal statement. Generally, this depends on how much time you have invested into your past field. For example, law school applicants who are former premeds usually have fairly self-explanatory transcripts, but a medical professional switching to law should explain this career shift.
Finally, what if you are still in college and contemplating a change in majors?
Since law schools welcome applicants from all majors, the only reason to change majors would be if your new major would be more academically rigorous or would allow you to achieve better grades, a top factor in law school admissions.
Even then, however, note that law school admissions officers understand that some majors have tougher grading standards than others, and they adjust their expectations accordingly. This can also be a great topic for a transcript addendum.
The ability to major in a subject of your choice before law school is one of the unique strengths of the American system of legal education. In your first year of law school, your courses will mostly be predetermined, so use your time in college to choose classes that explore your interests.