If you’re a rising college senior (or obsessively planning freshman) thinking about going to law school, you might want to consider taking time off before starting law school and diving straight into three more years of intimidatingly mysterious academia.
I’m a rising senior, and let me tell you – I’m afraid. Even though I’m going to try and tell you taking time off can be a logical, deliberately selected move for the future of your career, I’m really just shaking in my boots and trying to put off a confrontation with my perceived destiny. But at the same time, most top 14 law schools actively encourage prospective students to take time off, and at this point the vast majority of their matriculated student bodies took at least one year off before entering law school. So those facts count for something, right? RIGHT? Anyway, this is one terrified undergrad’s system of deciding to take time off to another.
First off, let’s explore whether you fit the script of “Unsure Undergrad #5,760,342”:
- Are you completely, 100 percent, no doubt in your mind sure that you want to be a lawyer? Are you committed to the time, money, and bitterly nauseating stress law school might inflict on your infantile, undergraduate body, soul, and wallet? I’m not trying to deter you from eventually going to law school, but I think it’s good to be realistic: law school is going to be TOUGH.
- Do you know which city you want to study in? And live in after college? And potentially form a career in based on connections made in law school? Because where you study can greatly affect where you end up practicing. Taking time off could be a great opportunity to experience living in a city you’ve always wanted to explore for longer than a visit. New York? San Francisco? Companies in every city need interns to do nothing important for at least a summer!
- Can you think of jobs you might want to explore other than being a lawyer? Your interests will play a huge role in deciding which type of law to study and eventually practice, so it’s probably a good idea to figure out which ones are worth exploring.
- Do you have a personal goal that won’t necessarily be accomplished in law school? Have you always wanted to learn a certain language or trade? Yearned to travel? Missed your family a little too much in college and want to spend some time with them? It seems like the “real world” doesn’t really cater to whimsical aspirations unless you put a ridiculous amount of effort into making the universe bend to your will, so these goals could be tricky to accomplish once you’re deep in school work and jobs.
It’s also good to remember that admissions teams look at applications holistically. Your LSAT scores and GPA are certainly the most important factors of your application, but taking some time to get work experience or accomplish a personal goal can help shape YOU. A well rounded, self-assured person will find it easier to overcome challenges in law school, and the experiences you have during your time off could provide interesting material for your law school essays. Personal experiences, whether they are explicitly work experience or otherwise, are an opportunity to show growth, which admissions teams can undoubtedly appreciate. That being said, it’s probably not a good idea to do something just because it looks good. You should do something that you choose because you think it will contribute to who you are and to your personal goals.
If you still have no idea what you would do if you decided to take time off, here are a few more ideas (with hyperlinks!):
Apply to Fellowships
If your admissions office is anywhere near as deeply obsessed with fellowships as mine, you’ve probably rejected all mentioning of “Fulbright” or “Watson” out of your periphery with vigorous force. But just in case you haven’t been subject to such cruel propaganda, I’m here to tell you that they are actually awesome! For example, the Fulbright Award offers opportunities to teach, study or research in almost any country you can think of and provides a comfortable stipend. Last year, a student from my university was awarded a research grant to the Philippines. She plans to study government labor migration policies and “hope(s) to examine ways in which government agencies advocate for Filipinos who encounter poor treatment while working overseas, and investigate how accountability measures could be established to promote better working conditions for migrant workers in the future”. Pomona College has a great Fellowship Directory if you are interested in researching other great fellowships that specialize in research, teaching, education, public service, etc.
It seems like a lot of young people are hesitant to travel because they think it is expensive, but there are boundless ways to minimize the costs associated with having the time of your life. I love these two organizations: WWOOF and Workaway. WWOOF stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms and connects backpackers/travelers with organic farms through an impressively extensive online database. In exchange for around four hours of work per day, travelers are given free room and board for an average minimum of 1.5 weeks. Volunteers often have the opportunity to stay much longer if they like. A similar organization is called Workaway. It works in almost exactly the same way, except instead of only having the option to work on organic farms, travelers can choose to work for a limitless slew of businesses and cooperatives. Both of these options offer a unique opportunity to genuinely experience culture and immerse yourself in a completely new lifestyle.
Learn a new language
This, ladies and gentlemen, will be my glorified procrastination of choice. I want to become the last person in Southern California to learn Spanish, sue me. One option to jumpstart an education in what the US State Department dubs “critical needs” languages is their Critical Languages Scholarship. This scholarship funds a summer of extremely intensive immersive study in languages such as Arabic, Russian, Hindi and Mandarin (as well as 10 others). Alternatively, there are lots of public and private organizations which will actually pay young people to teach English in other countries, even if said young people have no current knowledge of the local language. Spanish? North American Language and Culture Assistants in Spain. Japanese? Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. These programs often allow for a good amount of free time as well, which could be an opportunity to pad your income and/or pursue another passion.
In all, taking time off isn’t going to hurt your application as long as you use your time to the fullest. If you just don’t feel completely ready yet, a year or two of adventure could be just what you need to get on whatever track is right for you.
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Other helpful pre-1L posts:
- Pre-1L Summer Checklist
- The People You Will Meet in Law School
- Want to Get Good Law School Grades? Become a Self-Starter
- How to Think Like a Successful Law Student
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