High School Students Interested in Law: Building Your Profile Strategically
October 6, 2020
High School Students Interested in Law: Building Your Profile Strategically
You have set your sights on a legal career and now you are wondering what you should do in high school to set yourself up for a strong college program and successful application to a top law school. What activities should you participate in during high school? Are there advanced classes you should focus on or take outside your high school curriculum? What about your college majors, what choices should you make?
The good news is the legal field welcomes students from all different backgrounds but there are some key actions you can take now to make the path to law school smooth and rewarding. To guide you through steps to succeed as high school students interested in law, I have outlined how to best build your profile through strong academics and extracurriculars, as well as how to make the most of your college essay components.
A Challenging Course Load & Standardized Testing
Admissions officers are uniformly looking for students who challenge themselves in their high school curriculum. As high school students interested in law, should select the highest-level courses available in each grade. For example, you should plan to take 2-3 AP courses per year when possible. If your high school does not permit younger students to take advanced courses or has a limited number of such courses, you can look outside the high school curriculum.
Motivated students will take online courses in advanced subjects during the summer. For high school students interested in law, you should choose classes that focus on critical reasoning, writing skills and analytical abilities. History, political science, philosophy and English typically emphasize writing and critical reasoning. Ideally, you will take a course your senior year that will require a significant research paper or project to demonstrate your overall accomplishments. But do not forget about STEM courses either!
21st century lawyers are expected to have at least a basic understanding of physical and biological sciences, so taking science classes and doing well is advisable. Moreover, most competitive colleges will expect you to take four years of science including lab sciences as well as four years of math to include an advanced mathematics class beyond precalculus. Today’s legal practice often involves clients and issues from the scientific research, information technology, and engineering sectors that require lawyers to understand fundamental scientific concepts. Consequently, you should expect to take science courses in college as well, beyond whatever graduation requirements exist.
A successful lawyer is a great communicator, not only in formal writing and in person meetings, but also in informal communication like email, video conferencing, and even messaging. Many high schools offer courses in public speaking or business that require frequent presentations. Including these elective courses in your high school curriculum would be very wise.
As far as standardized testing, high school students interested in law should consider taking two AP exams in History, Economics, English, or Psychology. Alternatively, they can elect to take SAT subject tests in History, Literature or even a foreign language. Plan to take these subject tests around the time of your AP (or IB) exams so that you can prepare for them simultaneously!
While a challenging course load is an important part of demonstrating academic rigor as high school students interested in law, the grades you get in those courses are especially important. Although you don’t have to receive all As and have a flawless record, your transcript should be made up of mostly As. Taking a challenging class isn’t going to benefit your profile if you’re going to struggle and not do well in it.
There’s an important balance that you need to strike with your course load to ensure that you’re pushing yourself, but not too hard. Your guidance counselor can also shed light on what a rigorous schedule looks like for other students at your school. For some, it may mean taking five AP classes while for others, it may mean a few AP courses with some regular classes.
Time management in high school is difficult, but knowing what kind of schedule works for you to succeed in classes goes a long way to helping you achieve strong grades. Pick up some good habits such as maintaining a calendar, prioritizing what’s important, and quitting clubs that aren’t beneficial to help you improve in your classes.
Best Majors for Future Law Students
There is no ideal major that you should have your eyes on as high school students interested in law. Fortunately, law school admissions offices welcome students with a variety of college majors. Common majors include political science, history, economics, and psychology. Nonetheless, science majors and even students in the arts are also encouraged to apply to law school. Consequently, you have the freedom to choose a college major that best suits your interest and talent so long as you have built that solid foundation in research and writing.
Given the flexibility of college majors, high school students interested in law could pursue a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science degree. In addition, many colleges also feature “pre professional” tracks including pre-law. Typically pre-law students do not have a strict set of curricular requirements in their college program and continue to choose their own independent major. The pre-law student may have an extra course or two to focus their studies, or such a program may require students take a certain number of courses in general areas to develop their critical thinking and analytical writing skills. Usually meeting these requirements can be done by taking many different classes.
Some schools, such as Fordham University, also offer a combination of a Bachelor degree and law degree (Juris Doctor). . While these combined programs do offer both a BA and JD degree in a shorter time frame like a total of 6 years total instead of 7, there are also serious drawbacks. The undergraduate program of study often is curtailed to fit into this shorter time frame and not always in a beneficial way. Also, attending the same school for both college and law school is not as diverse an educational experience as you could pursue by attending two different schools. So students exploring these programs should carefully weigh the advantages and disadvantages of these combined degrees.
Real Life Experience and Career Exploration
High school students interested in law should find opportunities to pursue internships, mentorships, and volunteer work in organizations that will expose you to real world business, legal practice, or challenging social issues. Perhaps you can find a small role in a legal office helping with transcription, translation, office administration, and basic client communication. Your high school may offer internships and externships working alongside attorneys or other legal professionals, whether in private firms, government, or nonprofit organizations. Seek out and take advantage of these opportunities.
As high school students interested in law, volunteer work is another great way to address issues of social justice while also sharpening your communication skills. Many high school volunteers will work directly with the public in marketing or fundraising campaigns. Other students will write about their activities on blogs and social media for these same organizations, developing clear and concise writing styles. Moreover, many charitable and community-based organizations work with populations like recent immigrants who are facing daunting legal issues. Here is another chance to learn about the real-world operation of law and its impact on people in your community. Colleges highly value service-related projects, and as a prospective “pre-law” student, community service should continue to have an important role in your college life. Take advantage of your summers to build your application profile around activities related to law and social causes.
The extracurriculars that you choose to get involved in during your high school years will provide insight into your interests. Don’t be afraid to dive deep into extracurriculars that excite you. There are some “classic” extracurricular activities typical of high school students interested in law. These would include public speaking and debate, moot court, Model UN, and student government. Incorporating one or two of these activities into your overall high school career makes good sense. But do not overlook the value of other traditional high school extracurricular activities like theater arts, sports, and music. Not only do these activities require excellent teamwork and strong individual performance in a competitive environment, they also show colleges that you are a highly engaged student who can efficiently manage your time and schedules.
The good thing about your extracurricular involvement is that it does not always have to relate to your academic field. Admissions officers appreciate students that have varied interests. The main caveat to this point is consistency, long term involvement, and demonstration of leadership. The longer you have been involved in an activity, the more confidence admissions officers have in your passion and know that it is not something that you’ve suddenly become involved in just to add to your activities list.
Similarly, being a general member of a club should not be where you stop. You should strive to stand out from other high school students interested in law. A great way to do that would be to assume leadership roles, launch your own club, or take an initiative in a project or event which highlights our leadership and management skills.
This tip will be more relevant when you actually begin your college applications, but it’s never too early to start thinking about what you want to communicate in your application essays, especially your Common App personal statement. This is the main essay that will be included in all of your college applications. Generally, your essays will be an opportunity for admissions officers to hear your voice and learn about you through your own words. As someone who is excited about law, you may think that you must write essays on a legal or political topic. In fact, this is very rarely the case because that subject is unlikely to relate to you on a personal level. Remember that your personal statement is about you as an individual, not your opinion or theory on a certain topic.
Other pieces of your application (courses, grades, letters of recommendation, activities) will speak to your interest in the legal field. Your essays will give voice to your identity and what matters to you. Make sure that whatever topic that you choose to write about is something that couldn’t have been written by anyone else. Be true to yourself and pick a topic that conveys your unique story to admissions officers. Even if law is not at all related to the essay, show that you possess qualities that are key in a lawyer such as excellent communication skills, high regard for others, and the ability to understand an issue from multiple points of view.
Later on, probably during the summer before your senior year of college, you will start the process of preparing applications to law schools. At that point, you will have a new essay to consider for the law school applications! This is a very different type of essay, and generally you can find a great deal of information about how to outline and write your law school application essay from your college’s pre-law Advisor and by visiting the admission website of your chosen law schools. For example, the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School’s Admissions Office provides an example of how your college can support you.
Ultimately, the expectations for high school students interested in law are similar to those for every other student applying to top-tier colleges. The difference here will be how much you have developed your analytical and writing skills, and how well you have been able to manage a demanding and challenging high school schedule. Becoming a lawyer will require a lot of hard work and commitment, from applying to colleges, applying to law school, graduating from law school, and passing the multistate bar examination. However, if you know that this is what you want to do, start now, and your transition to rigorous pre-law study will run much more smoothly.
Best of luck!