Question: I have a question regarding law school. I am confused about whether to take a year off between college and law school or whether to go straight through without taking time off. Part of me wants to spend a year traveling, but I am afraid that spending a year criss-crossing the globe (or at least Europe) will turn off law schools. The other option is to take a year off before law school but to get a job instead of traveling. What are your thoughts about this confusing topic?
Anna's Answer: Let me start by saying that I jump up and down with excitement when I hear that someone wants to wait before applying to law school. So many college students apply to law school because they don't know what else to do with themselves after they graduate. What a great problem you have -- too many options!
With some exceptions, most law schools will tell you that they don't care in terms of admissions policy if you apply straight out of college or not, but if you have a chance to talk to admissions officers face-to-face, most of them will recommend that you wait before applying if you want to explore something else first. There are a couple of reasons for that.
First, if you really need to get something out of your system (say, you really want to see the Andes before you die), now's your best chance. Once you're on the lawyer track, it becomes very hard to hit pause to do something wild and crazy like hanging out in the Andes for a year.
Second, you'll be a much more interesting applicant if you apply after you've acquired some life experience in the real world. As an applicant, there's no downside to pursuing something interesting and productive after you graduate. You'll still have the benefit of your accomplishments through college, but you'll also have the benefit of all the interesting experiences that follow. From an admissions perspective, it doesn't really matter so much whether you spend that time traveling or working, as long as you're pushing your boundaries, acquiring new skills and learning something about the real world. When you're ready to apply, you'll have that much more to show off. Your risumi will be more interesting, you'll have a wider range of experiences to draw on for your personal statement and overall you'll make a more polished and mature impression. You will also make a much better lawyer down the road. (For those of you so inclined, take note that sitting on your butt for a year becoming the Halo champion on your Xbox won't cut it.)
You'll also fit right in if you take some time off: At Harvard Law School, 64 percent of the Class of 2005 took a year or more off before starting. At Northwestern Law School, over 80 percent of the Class of 2005 has at least one year of work experience and over 60 percent has at least two years' worth. (In fact, Northwestern, one of the more innovative law schools around, has broken from the pack and now states an express preference for work experience: "Long-term, our goal is that all entering students will have at least two years of postcollege work experience, another factor that helps us determine their motivation and ability to thrive in law school and beyond.")
Something else to ponder: In my experience, many of the applicants who apply while they're still in school would love to explore other opportunities before applying to law school but feel pressured by their well-intended but poorly informed parents to apply right away. If you need some ammunition in defending your post-graduation plans, send them this article along with your hugs and kisses.
If you have your own question for Anna Ivey, send her an e-mail.
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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