When should I go to law school?

If you know that you want to attend law school, and you’re eager to begin, then, by all means, apply! However, many applicants feel more confident about their decision to attend law school if they have taken time off, and only about one-third of law students enter directly from college. There are major advantages to waiting a couple of years to apply to law school beyond the obvious one: more time to explore career options and consider whether you want to become a lawyer.

Work experience makes you a more competitive applicant at many schools. For example, former Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow instructed the admissions office to “give extra weight to applicants with experience since college” when she assumed her post in 2009. By 2017, only 19 percent of Harvard Law’s incoming class matriculated directly from college. The Yale admissions office showed a similar preference for prior experience in 2017, with only 16 percent of the class of 2020 matriculating directly from college.

Time off also affords students the opportunity to improve their GPAs and cultivate strong relationships with recommendation-writing professors during their senior year. Students often struggle to adjust to college life, resulting in uncharacteristically low grades during freshman year. A strong senior-year performance can both offset the low grades and provide students with a “positive trajectory” narrative to explain that freshman “C.” Further, students in their final year of college usually have increased access to small seminars in which they can better get to know professors.

Finally, consider that once you go to law school, you’ll likely spend the rest of your career working as a lawyer. Is there anything else you’d like to do first, at least for a little while? In its “Entering Class Profile” of the Class of 2020, Yale Law proudly notes that members include a professional blues guitarist, carillonneur, rock climber, and metalworker, as well as Teach for America, AmeriCorps, and Peace Corps volunteers. Perhaps you’d like to try something along those lines? And as Stanford Law School’s associate dean of admissions Faye Deal said, “Law schools will be around for a long time, but that other thing you’re thinking about might not.”

If I take time off, what should I do?

Consider what you would do if law school were not an option, and spend a few years exploring that field. Do not worry if it is unrelated to law—experience in the legal field is not a prerequisite for admission into a top law school. While working as a paralegal may give you valuable insight into what lawyers do, it will not increase your chances of being admitted into law school any more than a “non-legal” full-time job. In fact, spending time in a non-legal environment can give you a different perspective and may make you more attractive to law schools. As Don Rebstock of Northwestern put it, “[l]aw interacts with the world, so it is better that someone learn about the world (before coming to law school) than work in law.”

If you work before entering law school, don’t obsess over the prestige of your position or its title. Law schools are looking for experiences that demonstrate growth and achievement, regardless of the field. As Josh Rubenstein of Harvard said, “[t]itles and positions are great, but you can find a way to make a difference or contribution in almost any position. Often this comes down to how you view your position or role.”

*Quotes from Richard Montauk, How to Get into the Top Law Schools 13, 194-97 (5th ed. 2011).