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V00Jeff

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The answers to all your questions
« on: April 06, 2005, 12:45:10 AM »
Hi.  I'm a college grad that will be heading to Columbia next year.  I've noticed something about this board: most of the posters seem to be asking a varient on the same question: "I know I want to be a lawyer, so what do I need to do before/during college to get into a good law school?"  I thought that I'd try to give my best general answer to this question, and then let other college grads give their answers, so that there's one thread that covers almost all the bases.  So let's go through the big ones:

Choosing a college:

I think the general consensus is that you definitely do not need to be a slave to USNEWS rankings.  Law schools do seem to put some weight in where you go to school, but this is a relatively minor factor when compared with the important things: your LSAT and GPA.  And even when law schools do consider where you went to school, they don't discriminate with too fine a comb.  What I mean by this is that they'll probably think there's a sizeable difference between Harvard and Pacific Western Montana U., but they won't really make much of the difference between Harvard and Dartmouth.  Of course, there is a lot of value in going to a great school besides what it can get you in terms of law school admissions -- you will get a better education, be around more interesting students, have a better network, and have better job prospects if you decide to bail on the lawyer thing or want to work in the real world for a few years before law school.  But I would definitely look for a school that you will be happy with, because you will want to enjoy your college years, and if you are happier, your grades will probably be better too.

Choosing a major: 

Rule number one: don't pick pre-law.  For whatever reason, admissions people at the law schools seem to really look down on this one.  Otherwise, major in something that you're interested in.  The different majors offer different advantages for a pre-law student. Political science, history, and philosophy make you a good writer and give you a good background for some parts of the law.  Sciences will give you a good technical background if you want to go into intellectual property law.  Economics also is a good major, especially if you want to go into business-related law.  But the most important thing with your major is that you pick something that you like.  This will make you more likely to get a good GPA.  Also, though, you want to have a background in a major that interests you, because you will want a background for the field of law that you will eventually choose.  By that I mean: don't major in science if you hate it just because you think it will make you a good intellectual property lawyer; if you hate science, you'll probably hate intellectual property law, too.

Another thing about majors:

The above deals with what the choice of major as it relates to law school admissions.  But let's forget about law school for a second.  As much as you want to be a lawyer, you probably don't really know what being a lawyer entails yet, and there's a good chance that you might end up wanting to do something else with your life, and your major.  This is especially true for people that don't have first-hand experience with legal work and want to go into law because they like Law and Order, think it looks flashy,  or like to argue, etc.     

If I could do college over, I would definitely have made sure that I had at least one major in a field that could lead directly to a real-world job.  I majored in political science, which meant that my only options going out of college were to go to law school, teach, or try to find a job in Washington.  Jobs in Washington are hard to come by (I went to Duke, speak chinese, and graduated with distinction, so it's not like I was a weak candidate either), and teaching does not pay enough to raise a family.  I would strongly recommend majoring in one of the following: biology, economics, computer sciences, math, physics, engineering, or one of the related fields.  These majors will get you good jobs.  Women's studies, sociology, anthropology, and the like won't.  Of course, if you are really interested in these things, then get a double major or a minor.  This is just one piece of advice...you can take it or leave it.

The rest of college:

Find an activity or two that you love, and devote yourself to it.  Try to put yourself in place for some kind of leadership role when you become an upperclassman.  This will look good for your law school app, and it will also give you another set of friends, and generally increase your satisfaction with college.  But don't go crazy -- you don't need to kill yourself.  Enjoy college for what it is.  Make lots of friends, go to lots of parties, spend lots of time just sitting around with the people in your dorm/frat, etc.  You will miss college when you leave, and if you go into a legal career, you will definitely have at least a few years of workaholism.  Enjoy college for what it is...not just as your stepping stone to law school
Attending: Columbia

legends159

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #1 on: April 06, 2005, 07:48:57 PM »
Thank you so much for this advice  ;D

So what do you think are the top 5 mistakes of every college freshman? and what do you think is the biggest NO-NO for those who want to get into a great law school?

I know pledging early in your undergraduate career is a big mistake but what other things should prospective students avoid?

thisis1984

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #2 on: April 06, 2005, 08:03:21 PM »
Thank you so much for this advice  ;D

So what do you think are the top 5 mistakes of every college freshman? and what do you think is the biggest NO-NO for those who want to get into a great law school?

I know pledging early in your undergraduate career is a big mistake but what other things should prospective students avoid?

I think one important thing is getting to know profs.  It's tough to do your first year, but even so, take advantage of visiting professors and TAs (they can be a valuable ally) during their office hours.  Once you get into smaller classes, try to develop a relationship with your professors.  Actively participate in class (not because you're a brownnosing dweeb, but because you have a genuine interest in the subject) and ask them follow up quesitons during their office hours.  You'll have to get a feel for your profs/department, but the profs in my department (at a HUGE state school) LOVED having students come visit them to just shoot the breeze and talk about class, current events, etc.  Try to take seminars.  Ask around if any profs are looking for an undergrad research assistant.

That's my advice.  I was fortunate enough to fall in favor with the profs in my department and had a blast.  It's a wonderful feeling when you have to turn down a professors offer to write you a LOR because you already have more than you can submit!

hilljack

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #3 on: April 06, 2005, 10:10:14 PM »
Thank you so much for this advice  ;D

So what do you think are the top 5 mistakes of every college freshman? and what do you think is the biggest NO-NO for those who want to get into a great law school?

I know pledging early in your undergraduate career is a big mistake but what other things should prospective students avoid?

Top five mistakes:
1. Drinking too much
2. Not going to class
3. Taking too many difficult classes
4. Eating crappy food
5. Thinking that a good start is not paramount

Number one NO NO:
Don't cheat or get a felany - these things will kill you, almost anything else can be overcome.

V00Jeff

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #4 on: April 06, 2005, 11:05:16 PM »
I don't think there's much you need to worry about as a freshman, except that, like has already been said, you don't want to do something that will be put on your permanent record.  I would just encourage you to get good grades, participate in activities that interest you, and try to have a good social life.

As for pledging, don't most people usually do it first semester of your freshman year?  At Duke it was different...you had to wait until the second semester.  Whenever you do it, your grades are going to suck.  If you know you want to, you might as well get it over with first semester.  It will be easier to explain crappy grades on your law school app if they come first semester than if they come later.

My personal opinion is that it's better not to join a frat.  Of course, the greek scene varies a lot from school to school.  But I just thought the whole scene got very old after Freshman year. 

Oh wait, I can think of one mistake: don't go crazy at a party and do something dumb that will give you a bad reputation for the rest of your college career.   :)
Attending: Columbia

legends159

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #5 on: April 07, 2005, 02:10:03 PM »
Awesome advice everyone. I wonder if taking classes over the summer would be easier? I know this is true for most high schools since the only people taking the summer classes are people who have failed the class and the teachers dumb everything down because of that.

ace0260

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2005, 03:01:59 AM »
Ok well you discussed the quality/reputation of the undergrad school not being a paramount factor in law school admissions....However, on LSN, almost everyone getting into the T-14 come from Top 30 undergrads

Of course this may be because the caliber of kids at the Top 30 schools is higher, with more ambition etc but I have noticed that kids from outside the Top 30, 40, 50 are put in a back seat...I know most law adcoms wont favor Harvard over Dartmouth or Cornell but there is surely a distinction between Harvard and Boston University (which is still quite a good school)

How much of a distintcion is this...For example, if two applicants had identical credentials, everything the same except for GPA's, who would get in if the Harvard grad had a 3.4 and the BU grad had a 3.65

ace0260

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2005, 03:06:24 AM »
I have another question about undergrads...I am thinking about going to Canada for undergrad...I have heard that University of Toronto and McGill (and possibly UBC) are the only schools in the Great White North whose reputations are known in the States

However, I am most interested in Queen's University, which has the best reputation in Canada

Will Law schools adcom realize that Queen's is a top-notch university or will they see it as just another ordinary university in Canada

Would it be ok if I emailed someone from American law schools and asked them this question? If so, who?

thisis1984

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #8 on: April 10, 2005, 06:09:31 AM »
Ok well you discussed the quality/reputation of the undergrad school not being a paramount factor in law school admissions....However, on LSN, almost everyone getting into the T-14 come from Top 30 undergrads

Of course this may be because the caliber of kids at the Top 30 schools is higher, with more ambition etc but I have noticed that kids from outside the Top 30, 40, 50 are put in a back seat...I know most law adcoms wont favor Harvard over Dartmouth or Cornell but there is surely a distinction between Harvard and Boston University (which is still quite a good school)

How much of a distintcion is this...For example, if two applicants had identical credentials, everything the same except for GPA's, who would get in if the Harvard grad had a 3.4 and the BU grad had a 3.65

I haven't noticed this.
What I have noticed is that a lot of people are puting "Top 50 public" or "Top 30 LAC" which would pretty much include every somewhat decent school in the US.   
I went to a big state and am going to T-14, and law schools themselves say that quality of UG school is a very very minor consideration. 

ace0260

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Re: The answers to all your questions
« Reply #9 on: April 10, 2005, 02:24:48 PM »
Yeah I thought the same thing...but after a while I realized that those who put down "Top 50 Public" really mean they attend a Top 50 school that is public....not a Top 50 Public university, which would be any decent state school in america

For example, someone would put down "Top 50 Public" and their city would be: College Park...you can infer that they attend Univ. Maryland