Harvard Law School is launching a new program that will allow Harvard College juniors to send in law school applications early and hear a decision by the summer between their junior and senior years. Then, if admitted, they’ll have a two-year deferral during which they will gain work experience.
So what do I think? Generally, I think it will be a good thing.
First, after going straight from undergrad to law school myself, I strongly believe most students would benefit from a few years working before heading back to law school. That way, it isn’t a decision made to avoid the real world. Work experience is also invaluable in the search for employment. And the focus that comes from heading to law school with an idea of what you want to get out of it (other than a degree) will only improve a student’s experience.
Second, I’ve seen many people try to prep for law school admissions while working full time. It isn’t pretty. But a lot of people are wary of asking for a deferral, and many schools won’t grant one without an exact plan for what you’re going to do with your time off. Couple this with the fact that most admissions won’t happen until at least December of the senior year, and you have a situation where someone who does want to work for a few years has to spend a lot of time applying to law school when they should be searching for a job. By moving applications back to junior year, HLS can admit students and let them know of the deferral before their senior year, and they can focus that year on finding a job for that two-year deferral.
Third, and finally, senior year should be fun. Taking the stress of law school admissions away is a good thing.
What about the negatives?
First, I don’t think it will have the effect on STEM students that Ms. Soban seems to believe. Junior year tends to have some rather heavy classes (and a bevy of lab work), and adding law school applications on top of that might be a bit much. STEM students also tend to have lower GPAs, and I imagine that this program will have heightened standards until they can gauge the caliber of applicant they get in relation to the rest of the incoming class (so at least two years before they can standardize those numbers).
Second, the program itself comes across as a ploy to get students from Stanford and Yale before they get a chance to apply. Honestly, HLS is coming across as a bit desperate here, trying to hook some of its undergrads before they gain admission to other schools.
Overall, though, I think the deferral part of the program is rock solid, and the early-admissions aspect of it can have the kinks worked out. It’ll certainly be a better program if they open it up to students from all undergrads, though that would be logistically much more difficult.