The Best Undergraduate Courses for Pre-Law Students
The Best Undergraduate Courses for Pre-Law Students
You don't need to be a pre-law major in order to be prepared for law school
Written by: Nancy Rapp, JD/MAT
Your college major matters less than your GPA and LSAT when it comes to law school acceptance. A few undergrad classes, however, will prepare you for the academic rigors ahead.
Many enthusiastic college students have their heart set on attending law school. In order to feel fully “prepared” for the rigors ahead, many undergrads will declare themselves pre-law and try to customize their courses to get a jump start of the legal curriculum.
In reality, there’s no clear course of study for pre-law students, nor is there a specific major. The American Bar Association (ABA) explicitly states on its website:
“The ABA does not recommend any undergraduate majors or group of courses to prepare for a legal education. Students are admitted to law school from almost every academic discipline. You may choose to major in subjects that are considered to be traditional preparation for law school, such as history, English, philosophy, political science, economics or business, or you may focus your undergraduate studies in areas as diverse as art, music, science and mathematics, computer science, engineering, nursing or education.”
Thus, you can and should pursue your academic passions as an undergraduate. In fact, a less law-centered undergraduate degree may actually improve your chances of getting accepted to law school. In 2012, a study by the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) revealed that students with majors such as philosophy, economics and journalism had higher law school acceptance rates the criminal justice and pre-law majors by 20-30%. Rather than focus on a specific law-related major, concentrate on earning a high GPA and top score on the LSAT.
Taking a few classes to prepare a bit academically, however, is a wise decision. Below is our list of the specific classes that will best help college students prepare for law school.
Not everyone attends law school to be a litigator, and many law school candidates have no interest in leading a trial. Nevertheless, law school leaves little opportunity for you to avoid public speaking. The Socratic Method alone requires a law student to feel comfortable presenting in a lecture hall. Furthermore, trial prep courses are often required and moot court or trial team are strong resume boosters. As a result, if speaking in front of a crowd isn’t your thing, you should probably get some practice as an undergrad.
Public speaking and debate courses are among the best legal confidence boosting classes you can take. These courses typically force you to pick a side of an assigned topic and then present your argument to the class. In truth, you can’t get much closer to a trial than that, so it’s a great chance to practice your speaking skills.
If the thought of a public speaking or debate class bores you to tears or you don’t have room in your class schedule, consider performing in a talent show or college play. It’s a more relaxed setting, but still helps prepare you for being the center of attention.
Business courses may be shunned by many pre-law college students as they seem irrelevant at first glance. Many practice areas have nothing to do with business, so you may think you can skip these classes altogether.
It surprises many students to learn then that a large chunk of their law school curriculum is connected to business classes. Contract law is guaranteed to fill 1 or 2 slots in your first year (1L) curriculum, and many law schools require at least one additional business law course. These topics will also appear on the bar exam.
College business courses are a bit more user-friendly than law school courses. Rather than learn a concept by analyzing a case, a college professor and/or your textbook will map out the subject matter for you. As a result, the terminology will be solidified in your head when you need to re-learn this material later in law school. At the very least, you can keep these notes and PowerPoint presentations to use them as a refresher in the future.
Business law is arguably the best pre-law class you can take, but courses on sales and contract law will also benefit you greatly.
Accounting and finance courses won’t necessarily prepare you for law school, but an overview course or 2 in these areas will help you with the real world challenges of student loans, investments and mortgages. These courses will also help should you choose to open your own practice.
Many an English major comes to law school and is horrified to receive a C or lower on their first writing assignment. The indignation is high, and students are quick to blame a professor for their low grade. Legal writing, however, is unlike any collegiate style of writing. It’s a very specific skill, which is why many law schools typically require 1L students to take at least 2 courses devoted to legal research and writing.
Nevertheless, there’s significant value to having taken undergraduate courses in the humanities and social sciences, such as English or History. Law school—and the legal field—require a lot of research and writing. Whether you’re writing a memo to a partner or submitting a motion to a judge, you’ll be combing through legal texts for applicable laws and cases, and then need to compile your findings into one coherent and concise paper.
Though the writing styles and citations will be different, English and History majors will have a leg up on students who may have had less experience with research papers. Science majors also have experience with research and writing, but a free-flowing paper with a decisive theme or argument may stray too far from what these undergrads are used to. Thus, all college students are encourage to take at least one course that culminates in a research paper that presents a theme or argument rather than a summary of findings.
The last suggested courses have to do with the US government itself. History is the suggested department, but these classes vary by university in terms of which department offers them. A class identifying how the government operates is fairly important to understand how laws are passed and the interactions between the Supreme Court and the other branches of government.
The most important course, however, is one that teaches the landmark Constitutional Law courses (Roe v. Wade, Brown v. Board of Education, Bush v. Gore, etc.). Law schools require students to take a one or two-part course discussing Constitutional law, so get the leg up while you can and take this class as an undergrad. Forgetting law school curriculum, knowing these cases is important in any legal setting, so you really can’t go wrong with this course.
There’s no denying law school is tough. As there is no tried and true preparation for it, it will probably feel like a whole new world. Nevertheless, we encourage you to take the courses above and ask the law schools you’re interested in to suggest additional classes for you to take. It won’t guarantee acceptance by talking to the law schools as an undergrad, but at least it’ll put you on their radar!