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by Anna Ivey | March 10, 2009

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Anna Ivey is a private admissions counselor who works with people applying to the top business schools and law schools. If you have a question for Anna Ivey, send her an e-mail.

Question:
I am currently a sophomore at an Ivy League university, and I am definitely considering law school after graduation. I am an economics and French literature major, and I am particularly interested in pursuing both a J.D. and a Maitrise en Droit (French law degree) at Columbia or Cornell (if I get in!). I am not set on the joint degree but it is something that I am considering. Next year I am seriously considering studying abroad at either the London School of Economics or l'Institut de Sciences-politiques for a full academic year. What do law school admissions counselors think about studying abroad? Would it be more impressive if I stayed at my college and took intensive economic seminars? I know I should do what I want in the end, but I really want to study law, and I can always get my masters at the LSE or Sciences Po after I graduate if going away my junior year would hurt my chances of getting into a top law school. I would appreciate any advice you have to offer. Thank you!

Anna's Answer:
Great question! As a general matter, law school admissions officers would consider spending a year abroad a good thing, particularly at world-class programs like LSE or Sciences Po.

As I've mentioned before in several of my other Ask Anna columns, admissions officers love to see applicants who have ventured outside their comfort zones to gain new experiences. LSE is certainly a wonderful opportunity if you can make it happen, but given your long-term goals, Sciences Po makes even more sense, because it offers the additional benefit of allowing you to master French in its native setting. Near-native fluency in French, not to mention academic French, would serve you very well if you do decide to pursue a Maitrise en Droit. And a year at Sciences Po would also give you enormous credibility with law school admissions officers when you're explaining why you are interested in, and highly qualified for, their different programs in France.

There are some potential downsides, ones that I hadn't really thought about when, as a Columbia undergrad, I spent my junior year abroad at Cambridge. One thing to find out is whether you will receive grades at your program abroad. You should also find out whether and how those grades will be translated for your undergraduate transcript. At my Cambridge program, we received written evaluations for our work but no grades per se, and so my overall GPA did not receive the benefit of a whole year's worth of what I suspect would have been excellent grades if I had stayed at Columbia, nor did my GPA reflect the value of my written Cambridge evaluations. That may or may not be the case with your programs, and it may or may not be a factor for you. It's something to think about if your grades weren't in top form during your first two years in college, because that third year of grades (if you stayed put) might have a dramatic impact on your final GPA.~

One other potential downside is that most people do their most interesting work, and develop the closest rapport with their professors, in their last two years of college rather than the first two. That's something to keep in mind as you explore programs abroad, because European professors and instructors have a completely different approach to recommendations. They tend to write much more staid, matter-of-fact, and understated recommendations, which to an inexperienced eye on this side of the pond will not compare favorably to the typical American recommendation, which tends to be more effusive and is often inflated. Most law school admissions officers, certainly the ones at the top schools, understand this cultural difference and will take that into account if you choose to request recommendations from your program abroad. You can hedge your bets by cultivating good relationships with your professors from your freshman and sophomore years, and make sure to stay in touch with them and keep them updated on your progress while you're away.

And finally, spending your junior year abroad will mean that you'll have to plan ahead even more than you otherwise would for your LSATs. The overseas tests aren't always administered as often as in the United States, and your test prep options and test-taking locations will also be much more limited. It might be a good idea to prepare for the LSAT and take it before you leave the country for your junior year. You can always take it again in October of your senior year if you're not happy with your earlier score.

These sound like exciting opportunities for you, especially given your graduate school plans. Good luck!

Anna Ivey is a private admissions counselor who works with people applying to the top business schools and law schools, as well as the author of The Ivey Guide to Law School Admissions: Straight Advice on Essays, Resumes, Interviews and More. Formerly the Dean of Admissions at the University of Chicago Law School, she has also practiced corporate and entertainment law in Los Angeles. She received her B.A. from Columbia and her J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School, where she served as an editor of The University of Chicago Law Review. To learn more about her admissions counseling, visit annaivey.com.

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