Gap Year Before Law School: Pros and Cons to Keep in Mind
April 22, 2019
Gap Year Before Law School: Pros and Cons to Keep in Mind
When I worked in admissions at Harvard and NYU law, prospective students often asked me if they should take a gap year before law school during open office hours and recruitment events. I couldn’t always answer their questions elaborately because the answer isn’t simple. Whether or not you should take one depends entirely on a case-by-case basis: On your financial situation, your LSAT scores, and your psychological readiness. You might make your application even more interesting during a gap year before law school, and that will make you stand out even more! Overall, taking a gap year before law school is becoming more and more common.
Most top law schools have a student body that has taken at least a year off. For recent statistics, Harvard says more than 80% of the most recent incoming JD class has taken a gap year before law school, and more than 60% has at least two years out of school.
While this is becoming a trend, it is important to weigh the pros and cons to ensure that you’re being strategic and taking a strong next step. Here are some of the considerations to help you decide whether or not to take a gap year before law school.
CONS for taking a gap year before law school:
You’re Ready Now
You know you want to go to law school. What’s the point of delaying the inevitable? You might be that person who was hooked on Legally Blonde and Law & Order episodes as a child, won mock trial awards in high school, currently the head of your pre-law fraternity or sorority, and already worked as an intern at a law firm over your summer breaks. If you are absolutely sure this is what you want to do, some candidates might just be ready to get started without taking a gap year before law school, which is fine!
Future Financial Ease
It is incredibly expensive to go to law school. You might as well just get it done with and start earning a salary that is higher than taking a job straight out of college. True – there are certainly scholarships out there. But, law school averages over $49,000 per year for private law schools and $27,591 for in-state students at public law schools. This does not even account for the cost of rent, food and other basic necessities!
Meanwhile, first year associate salaries at major law firms can pay a considerable amount in the $135,000-190,000 range. There is no guarantee of getting this kind of job; it is easier if you are coming from a top ranked law school or in the top of your class. Many lawyers work at small firms or for the government or public interest firms, which do not compensate as well as other kinds of employers. However, if you know what you want, this can be appealing over taking a gap year before law school.
You are afraid that if you don’t go to law school now, you will never end up going. This is a valid concern. However, if it is truly something you are not sure about and have some doubts, it may be best to wait it out a year or two. Law school will still be there down the road.
You Will Not Have As Much Access To Your Professors
It may be easier to get ahold of professors and work with your advising office at college as an undergraduate. If you’re at school, it’s simpler to just go your professor’s office to chat about law school and letters of recommendation, or drop into the career services office if you need help. Letters of recommendation are a very important component of the law school application, so you want to be fresh on your professors’ minds while they write detailed letters supporting you!
Many colleges, due to limited resources, do not assist their alumni with applications to graduate school, so you want to take as much advantage of your resources while you still have them. If you do take a gap year, you’ll want to make a concerted effort to stay connected to professors that can advocate on your behalf. Keep this access to your college network in mind when considering whether or not to take a gap year before law school.
Juggling Work Schedule With Law School Is Not Easy
It can be very challenging as a full-time employee to fit in the LSAT or GRE prep, complete all the application components, and manage deadlines, especially if your job after college is quite demanding. Imagine working 9 to 5, then coming home to study for the LSAT. You’re probably going to fall asleep the second you open your notes! You would be putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Many applicants do this, but ask yourself if you’re ready for this kind of schedule when considering if a gap year before law school is right for you.
PROS for taking a gap year before law school:
You Might be Burned Out
You have been in school for 15 years straight or more. You’ve earned a break! Besides, it’s helpful to have full-time work experience to make connections and get familiar with working in law. Sure, school might be all that you remember so far and know how to do. It is a routine that some find comfort in – go to class, do homework, write papers, get grades. However, it is advantageous to try the working world first and get a sense of what it is like.
Taking the time to step out of an academic setting to a different kind of experience can provide you with a necessary change of pace. That way, when you’re eventually ready to apply to law school, you will be well-rested, refreshed, and stronger than ever!
Work Experience Can Provide a Definite Admissions Edge
Admissions officers value a beefed up resumé. Having sustained, in-depth work experience is more the norm now than a significantly less substantial three-month internship. Besides, law school is expensive. You definitely want to save up money to pay for tuition.
Working may also may help you network, and build connections that can help later when searching for a job after law school. For instance, when I was looking for a job at a law firm, I was recommended by a coworker whose spouse was an attorney there, and I was offered the role after interviewing. Besides, admissions officers appreciate applicants making the informed decision that law school is indeed the right choice for them after going out into the world and gaining a different perspective.
A Different Kind Of Uncertainty
Maybe you are not so sure about law school. This gives you a chance to decide if it is right for you. Law school becomes a default fallback for many students who aren’t sure what they want to do with their lives after graduating college. But getting this degree is an intense and time-consuming process! It is not something you want to do unless you’re actually invested. It’s definitely not something to do when you’re uncertain.
Many years ago, I worked as a paralegal at a national law firm with the intent of applying to law school. I even took the LSAT. However, a number of things happened that made me change my mind. I was excited about trial law, but never got to witness any of our own cases go to trial; so much time was spent in document review instead of a courtroom. I enjoyed the firm culture overall and had fascinating cases, but I missed working in education. However, you might find that by working during your gap year before law school, you still are very interested in law – which can reaffirm your desire to go! Regardless, if you want to apply when you are 25 or 35, law school will still exist as an option.
Have You Always Wanted To Do Something On Your Bucket List?
It’s easier to take a go on a backpacking trip around Europe or try skydiving when you are just out of school and the world is your oyster. Once you’re in law school or your career has set off, you get distracted – there might be a significant other, more career responsibilities, and it’s harder to change your track. A gap year before law school is the perfect opportunity to teach English abroad, or star in a reality TV show than later once you are on a certain career track.
More Time To Study For The LSAT
The LSAT is a very different standardized test than ones you might have taken for undergraduate admissions. Students often need more time to study and retake it in order to get the score that they need. On top of that, the LSAT going digital this summer throws a whole new curveball, and you could need time adjusting to taking a test on a tablet rather than on pen and paper. Having more time off can help you get that number where you need it to be.
Make Up For a Low Undergrad GPA
If you have a low undergrad GPA, sometimes work experience during your gap year before law school can help overcome this.
College is challenging. It may be the first time you’ve lived away from home. It takes time getting used to a new environment, making friends, and figuring out the expectations of college professors. Students may have lower grades for a variety of reasons – you had to work to put yourself through college, partied too much, you were pre-med at first, or you faced a family tragedy. If you have been out of school for a longer time, admissions committees are more likely to overlook low grades, and take into account the things you’ve achieved since graduation.
You may be coming from a disadvantage if you are applying to attend right after college, as admissions officers will want to see even more of your leadership. You will have to stand out even more to be admitted as an undergraduate. Law schools are looking for a class of people from different backgrounds, viewpoints, and experiences, and having more time can help distinguish you.
With all of the pros and cons in mind, I highly recommend that applicants take a year or more off if possible to have a break, get refreshed, and explore the world. A gap year before law school will not hurt you, but it is ultimately your call! It can be a tough choice, but there is no wrong or right answer. You are the one who knows your situation best. Weigh the pros and cons, and make the decision that is right for you!