Let’s say that you’ve just arrived at college – bright-eyed, fresh-faced, bushy-tailed, and all those other hyphenated descriptors of people who haven’t had the enthusiasm hammered out of them yet. You’re thinking that you’d like to go to law school as soon as you’re done with college.* You know that you’ll have to do some fun stuff (like the LSAT!) eventually, but you’re not sure exactly what is involved or when you’ll need to get started.
Fear not, because we’re here to provide you with a handy road map for all four years of college (or five, if you decide to take a victory lap). Here are the things you should be keeping in mind each year:
Ah, freshman year. You’re probably wandering around your campus in large packs with other freshmen, eating too much in the dining halls, drinking a little too much, and relishing not having to tell Mom where you’re going all the time.
By all means, continue doing those things – but don’t let them affect your GPA. It’s very easy to let your GPA slip a little during your freshman year (after all, there was an awesome party the night before your midterms!), but Future You will be highly appreciative if you keep your GPA in good condition this year. After all, it’s one of the most important factors in law school admissions.
Keeping your GPA up continues to be important. You may also be thinking about declaring your major soon, if you haven’t already. (Still not sure what to choose? Check out our discussion of the best majors for law school.)
As you finish up your entry-level classes and your class sizes get smaller, you’ll also want to keep letters of recommendation on your radar – you’re eventually going to need ‘em, and when that time comes, you’ll want to have good relationships with at least a couple professors. If you find that you click with a certain professor this year, start going to office hours and all that other overachiever-type stuff in order to lay the groundwork for a really great letter.
Here’s where things start to get interesting.
First of all, you’ll want to figure out when you’ll be taking the LSAT. Most people planning to go straight from college to law school take the LSAT in June of junior year or October of senior year.
At the end of your junior year, you’ll also want to get your letters of recommendation sorted out. It’s a good idea to ask for letters during the summer before your senior year, since professors tend to have more free time over the summer and are therefore more likely to finish your letter quickly.
Time to apply! Law school admissions are usually on a rolling basis, so it’s a good idea to get your applications completed as early in the cycle as possible. Aiming to have everything (including your LSAT score, personal statement, letters, and everything else) submitted by Thanksgiving is usually a good goal. However, keep in mind that it’s always better to apply later with a higher LSAT score – so if you take the October LSAT and think you can do significantly better by retaking in December, it’s probably worth retaking, even though it means your applications won’t be complete until the end of December at the earliest.
*A note about timing:
This guide assumes that you’re planning on going directly from college to law school, but that’s not the best choice for everyone. In a lot of cases, it can make sense to take a year or two off between law school and college – you’ll get a little break from school, gain some valuable work experience, and you might even be a stronger applicant once you begin applying to law school.
If you’ve decided to take some time off before law school, you’ll still want to do most of the things above while you’re still in college. In particular, you should get letters of recommendation while you’re still in school, since you’ll be fresh in your professors’ memories. LSAC will keep your letters on file for five years (which is how long your LSAC account remains active).
You also may still want to take the LSAT while you’re a college student. For one thing, when you’re in college, your study habits are probably still pretty good – whereas a few years after graduating from college, you may struggle to focus on anything for a longer period of time than an episode of Cosmos. (Or is that just me?) Plus, your schedule in college is probably more flexible than it will be once you’re working full-time, so you may find it easier to squeeze in some time to study for the LSAT.