Doogie Howser, J.D.

Doogie Howser, J.D.
Earlier in the month, a story came out in the Orange County Register about a nineteen-year-old college graduate who will soon be attending Northwestern law school. While perhaps not quite as young as Kate, we’ve seen a smattering of twenty year olds taking the LSAT on their way to an early J.D. In our youth-smitten culture, the reaction to these youngsters is typically awe tinged with envy. “You’re going to law school at 20? Wow; you must be smart.”

For most of these students, the truth is that they’re fairly smart, but no more so than any other average middle-class educated bright kid who took an AP Geography class. We’re all fairly familiar with the depressing fact that the American educational system isn’t that great and it’s not all that difficult to skip grades, attend honors programs, and go to college early. But just because you can, does that mean you should?

First, let’s posit a difference between true genius and the educational system sucking. Our girl in the OC sounds like she might actually have a talent for reading and retention that’s above most “normal” people, as opposed to the many grade schoolers bright enough to learn fractions in fourth grade instead of the sixth. For her, going to college early might be an important way to challenge herself. (Though one does wonder about that 3.5 from UCSD, but whatever).

But for others who graduate from college at 18 with a ho-hum GPA, it’s not clear what the advantage is. In terms of law school applications, your LSAT score and GPA are commonly touted as the most important factors. But the personal statement is the biggest piece of your qualitative application and it’s not clear how much cache “I went to school young” possesses on the personal statement. In fact, when we speak to admissions counselors, we find that many of them are searching for interesting life experiences to make up a class with a diversity of backgrounds. While being young may fit that criteria, it’s not clear that it’s enough, by itself, to justify going to law school so early alone when going to the Peace Corps or starting a non-profit may fit the criteria as well if not better.

Then there’s the additional concern about being mature enough to go. For many, law school is more about balancing stress than true intellectual stimulation. It’s not clear that a 19-year-old is psychologically equipped to withstand the humiliation that can come with the Socratic method, the stress of competition that attends curved grading, and the mounds of reading that are given for no clear purpose other than perhaps to see how one deals with too much reading.

We often tell our students to take a year off before law school. A year long deferral is relatively easy to come by and can help you to understand whether or not the legal profession really is for you. Given that we don’t even think that people who are 22 are ready to go to law school, of course we’re distrustful that it’s a good choice at 20. Are you really in that much of a rush to grow up?

4 Responses

  1. Josh says:

    What might be even more confusing is how a 19 year-old was accepted into Northwestern, a law school known for emphasizing the importance of an applicant’s work experience. (They even offer conditional acceptances contingent upon an applicant’s completion of one year spent in the work force).

  2. UCLAftw says:

    I’m 17. I’m taking the LSAT in September and hope to apply for next year. It’s exactly like you said…[public] high school sucks. I tested out and started college. When it comes to applications, younger applications are definitely at a disadvantage. But then again, most law schools focus primarily on GPA and LSAT score. More pressure to do well to make up for lack of experience. I respect the fact that many people wish to take time off in order to figure out what kind of law they wish to pursue or whether law school is even the path for them. However, there are some of us who already have our minds made up. A year off would mean a harder time transitioning back into the school-mode of learning and memorizing.

  3. JT says:

    Hi UCLAftw,
    I think it’s a good thing that you know your chosen profession. But I would encourage you to at least consider deferring a year before law school.

    Part of this is because it’s typically easier to defer before going to law school than on the other end. This is because there is a timeline for obtaining jobs (on campus interviews your first year, followed by summer internships, then a job offer contingent on passing the bar). Most law firms won’t notice a deferral before school but may notice if you’re not on their normal hiring track.

    And don’t forget that you’re only young once! Getting back into the hang of school may not be as much of a regret as looking back and realizing you never took the time off to go backpacking through Europe, or to save the whales, or to write the great American novel…

    Whatever your decision, good luck!

  4. Mary Anna says:

    This article makes a lot of good points and I agree that our educational system is pretty sucky. But this article also seems to suggest that age determines one’s maturity and/or experience (whether it be work experience or “life” experience). With that, I beg to differ.

    At first glance many people would not deem me qualified for law school. For one, I just recently turned 20 years old and am completing my last quarter at my university. Like you mentioned, I was able to do so because of AP classes but also by completing overload units (29 during the school year and 26 during the summer). It’s true that taking a lot of units MAY compromise my GPA. But that’s not always the case since I have managed to get straight A’s and make it on the Dean’s List… while building my work experience and adding several internships to it. This crazy schedule is not one completely of choice, but one of necessity. My point is, people who are graduating early deserve a lot more credit that this article mentions.

    Many people choose to take their time through college and in deciding whether law school is the right choice for them. But for those who choose otherwise, assumptions shouldn’t be made.

    Being 30 years old doesn’t automatically mean that someone is wise or mature or experienced. And vice versa.

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