Factors to consider when applying to law school programs
Students eager to pursue a law degree should ponder a decision that may not have crossed their minds: Should they attend law school on a full-time or part-time basis? This decision has a lot of components to consider, and this article helps future lawyers decide which option is best for them.
Consideration #1: Financial status
The cost of law school and student loans are a concern for most law school applicants. On average, public law schools cost approximately $25,000 per year to attend. Private schools cost an average of $45,000 per year. That tuition doesn’t include books, housing, study materials, etc. Scholarships and financial aid are certainly possible, but it’s likely that your schooling will still be fairly pricey.
A common question law students ask is: Can I work during law school?
Though the American Bar Association (ABA) used to limit students’ ability to hold a job while pursuing their law degree, this restriction has largely been lifted. Instead, however, many law schools may impose their own rules as to how much a student can work while attending law school full-time. A common limit is 20 hours per week, but some schools won’t allow work at all.
Though a job can ease your financial stress, the difficulty of law school is undeniable. Working a physically or mentally demanding job could affect your studies and mental health. If finances are a concern, part-time law may be a better fit. You may have less opportunities for scholarships this way, but you can choose your work-school balance.
Consideration #2: Time availability
How urgently do you want to become a lawyer? For people who can’t wait to earn the title “Esquire,” the shortest amount of education time is typically three years. Most law schools are designed around a three year curriculum, and there isn’t much flexibility with trying to graduate in less than that timeframe.
If you attend a part-time law school, you’ll probably be taking less than the 12-15 credit hours per semester. As a result, your program could take 4 or more years to complete. This may or may not matter to you, but it might be worth considering if you aren’t necessarily in a rush.
Consideration #3: School prestige
Though a university’s level of “prestige” is mostly subjective, it’s still a factor to some students. Some law school candidates have their hearts set on the Ivy League or a school that ranks in the top 10 of US News & World Report. Georgetown University is the highest ranking school with a part-time program, but only a handful of the schools in the top 50 have this educational option.
You’ll still be a lawyer no matter where you go to school, however, and the rankings are only one opinion of the schools. If you’re convinced that you need to attend Yale or Harvard, then full-time is the only way to go.
Consideration #4: Internship experience
One of the most important aspects of a full-time law school academic year is that summers are left open for internships. Law firms and public interest organizations have come to expect applications for legal interns during this time, and these interns are given an invaluable opportunity for networking and hands-on training. The internships often lead to jobs after graduations, too, as one survey in 2015 showed that 95% of summer associates were offered full-time positions.
Part-time law students may miss out on these internship experiences if they work full-time without the summer free. If you already have an idea of where you want to work after graduation, such as a family member’s firm or other connection, then you may want to take your time and earn your law degree at your own pace.
Consideration #5: Admissions requirements
A big consideration when it comes to comparing full-time or part-time law school programs is the admissions criteria. Though each school varies, full-time law degree programs tend to have more strict requirements. Thus, your LSAT and undergraduate GPA may matter more to the admissions council reviewers.
Part-time law degree programs still have strict requirements, but less emphasis is placed on your test score and grades. Instead, your professional life and career accomplishments will have an equal or greater weight. As a result, if you didn’t do as well on the LSAT or in college as you would have hoped, think about taking time to build up your resume and CV and then applying to a part-time program.
Consideration #6: Social life
Having an active social life in law school may be a bit of an unrealistic expectation. Nevertheless, there are social events to enjoy and plenty of opportunities to connect with your peers. Even if making friends or going to tailgates aren’t part of your law school goals, having relationships with your peers could have academic benefits. Study groups are common in law school, and sharing advice from upperclassmen, professors and TAs will certainly help you succeed.
Part-time law students are often parents, members of the military and full-time employees. Though these students may still form study groups, the time available to work together is often limited. If you think you would benefit from social activities and studying with peers, a full-time program may be more useful to you. If you don’t mind going it alone or have a robust social life outside of school, then part-time law school shouldn’t be a problem for you.
Consideration #7: Motives for attending law school
For many of the students considering a part-time law degree, the transition to becoming a criminal defense lawyer or personal injury attorney is far from their minds. Instead, the degree is an enhancement for their professional credentials.
For example, a law degree may help advance an employee to the level of an administrator in the medical field, in academia or the business world. With this in mind, full-time immersion into law school may not be necessary. An employee may want to increase their job credentials while attending law school at night or on weekends.
Furthermore, it’s possible for an employer to pay some or all of an employee’s tuition if the employee promises to stay at the company. Thus, if you have a full-time job that would benefit from your pursuit of a law degree, speak to your employer and see if you have any financial options.
Consideration #8: Extracurricular activities
Lastly, if you’re working and need to attend law school part-time, you probably don’t have the time to pursue the time-consuming extracurricular activities that employers love to see. Law review, moot court, law journals and trial team participation are often valued by potential employers.
Though these are definitely ways to get noticed by law firms and other potential employers, there’s no denying that these activities are extremely time-consuming. The activities eat away a good chunk of time for full-time students, let alone parents or working law students. If you think you need these activities to enhance our career prospects, a full-time program is often best.
Both attending law school part-time and full-time has it’s pros and cons. Ultimately, only you can determine which option is realistic and better for your needs, goals and circumstances. You’ll be a lawyer regardless of if you choose a full-time or part-time law degree program, so make the decision that is best for you.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.