If you plan to practice law in the United States, you must earn a law degree and pass the bar exam. While that may seem a long way off for an aspiring lawyer, your journey to your law degree and your dream career starts with your decision in your college and your major in your undergrad years.
There are lots of factors to consider if you one day plan to be a lawyer and want to start your education off right. It's a big decision since the right school can help your chances of getting into your top law program, which can in turn help you land the job you've been thinking about for years.
To help you out, we've compiled a list of the best colleges for pre-law.
What Is Pre-Law?
Pre-Law students are those who have decided in their undergrad careers that they intend to go on to law school. Pre-law is an unofficial track in a lot of schools, as most colleges and universities do not have an official pre-law major. Unlike pre-med, there is no specific required coursework for pre-law students to qualify for law school, and there are very few official undergraduate law degrees.
Pre-law students have a variety of majors, and it's most important that pre-law students demonstrate academic excellence and leadership. Law schools prefer students with majors that also demonstrate a challenging coursework that's heavy in writing, analysis, and critical thinking. Many students who major in the humanities have success in their law school applications and in their academics once they begin their law school coursework.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Pre-Law School
Choosing where you go to college is a big decision no matter what, and you have to remember that where you complete your undergrad can affect your law school applications in certain ways. Law schools do consider where you attended undergrad in terms of academic rigor, and where you attend undergrad can help you build connections and a strong application.
While the schools on this list can help you excel and provide wonderful resources for your law school career, it's important to excel at your school and in your major, both academically and in your social or extracurricular activities. As you research schools, keep in mind that you want to make sure you choose the right school for you that will allow you to get the most out of your education and choose the best pre-law school for you.
Since law schools want students that are academically strong and have analytical skills, you want to pick a school with a strong humanities program where you will become a well-rounded student. Common majors for law school are: political science, history, English, criminal justice, business, philosophy, economics, and other arts and humanities. Law schools love majors that prove you're a critical thinker, and your GPA will be vital for getting into your top law school choices. It is really great in this case to get your bachelor's in something you love and can excel at.
Clubs and Organizations
Most colleges and universities have many student organizations where you can develop and cultivate your interests. Extracurriculars look great on your law school applications, especially if you are a leader of any of those organizations. You can join anything that interests you, but organizations that are well established and are a chapter of a national or international group are helpful because they are recognizable and you may be able to forge connections based on these groups.
Additionally, you should also choose a few organizations and stick with them, instead of joining a lot of groups that you can't balance. This shows commitment, which law schools are looking for in applicants. Law school is tough, and admissions committees want to make sure you're ready for the challenge!
If you're looking for law-based extracurriculars, Phi Alpha Delta is an international fraternity that offers membership to law students and students who are pre-law or planning to attend law school. PAD can help guide students through the law school application process, and help you build connections with fellow law students.
Some of the best pre-law schools are known for being "feeder schools" for top law schools. If your goal is to go to a top-ranked law school, you definitely want to look into the big feeder schools, even if they don't have a pre-law major. Even if it's not a feeder school, there are a lot of schools with amazing reputations and great track records for getting students into law school.
Cost is a huge factor for many college students. While it's exciting to consider going to a top university and it may help your law school application, you may want to think about saving money now so you can attend a more expensive school later.
A state school in your state, or one where you can commute if that's possible, can help lower the cost of your undergrad tuition. A lot of students find it helpful to work hard at a state or local university for undergrad and do well on their LSATs, so they can save money and still attend a top ranked law school.
Should You Actually Major in Pre-Law?
If your university offers a pre-law major, you'll study the legal and criminal justice system, legal philosophy, writing, legal history, and more. You'll gain a thorough understanding of the law, and will develop critical thinking skills.
If you major in pre-law, you will have a better understanding of how law school works, and you may also have an advantage on the LSAT. Being a pre-law major can also help you determine if the law path is right for you before making the commitment to go to law school. Being a pre-law major can also show your dedication to becoming a lawyer, and can help you make connections and get faculty recommendations.
However, pre-law is not a common major for law students, and it's sometimes even seen as an "easy" major, if it's considered a viable major at all. In fact, many of the best pre-law schools don't offer pre-law as a major; students at these schools choose other majors that emphasize strong analytical, reasoning, and critical thinking skills. If you do major in pre-law, it’s important that you do so at an academically rigorous college or university with strong connections to law schools.
Having a major other than pre-law can help you specialize or pick an area of interest for your law career. Generally, most academic advisors do not recommend majoring in pre-law because most law schools want a well-rounded class of people from a wide range of majors. Additionally, if you end up choosing not to go to law school, a pre-law major may make it difficult to establish yourself in a different field.
The Best Pre-Law Schools
Now it's time to take a look at our top picks for the best pre-law schools in the United States.
To assemble this ranking of the best pre-law schools, I gathered schools from a few different law school rankings lists and lists of top schools for undergraduate studies, particularly ones that are strong in humanities. I also considered whether the school has an exceptional pre-law major or is academically strong overall. And because not everyone is looking to get into a top-10 law school, I also included schools of varying prestige, size, public/private status, and in different regions of the US…so there’s something for every law school hopeful in this ranking list!
Keep in mind that while there are schools who offer pre-law degrees on this list, they may not be top schools overall since the major is fairly uncommon. You still need to carefully consider whether or not you should actually major in pre-law, and what your goals are for law school.
#1: Harvard College
A traditional feeder school, a Harvard education will undoubtedly give you an advantage in your law school applications, especially with the right grades and LSAT scores. Harvard also has several organizations for pre-law students, including the Harvard Law Society and the Harvard College Black Pre-Law Association. You'll also be able to take advantage of Harvard's alumni network at top schools and law firms.
#2: Yale University
Yale is considered the top law school in the country, and is the 3rd best university overall according to US News and World Report. Though Yale does not have a pre-law major, the school does offer an interdisciplinary track that allows students to create their own major that can give them the skills that law schools seek. The Yale Law School Admission Council also provides undergraduates with pre-law counseling and events throughout the year.
Northwestern is known for academic rigor, and a big school means lots of resources, including their own law school. Northwestern's Legal Studies track can be completed as a major or a minor, and differs from pre-law programs in that it has an interdisciplinary focus and aims to teach students to think critically about the relationship between law and society, and includes everything from psychology to literature to religious studies. It's a well-rounded degree, and the added advantage of being in Chicago means more opportunities for internships.
The University of Maryland has a department dedicated to advising pre-law students, which also connects students with resources and mentors, and works closely with the university's law school. Maryland also has a three year arts/law degree program, in which a student can apply to law school in their third year of undergrad, and be awarded their baccalaureate degree in their first year of law school. College Park is also close to Washington D.C., which can help you with landing an internship.
Georgetown's pre-law advising center offers resources on all things law school, including one-on-one advising, help with applications, and workshops. Additionally, Georgetown's record of academics in the humanities makes it a great place to learn the skills necessary to excel in law school, and its Washington D.C. location means opportunities to have internships and make connections with those working in the legal field or in politics.
NYU is in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world, and certainly offers a ton of opportunities for internships both in the legal industry and beyond. NYU also offers the Lawyer Alumni Mentoring Program, or LAMP, for pre-law students. The school's academics are rigorous overall, and has a strong record in the humanities, particularly English.
Michigan State offers a pre-law major that is also considered a liberal arts degree. The pre-law major aims to introduce students to legal studies while also teaching critical thinking and analytical skills so that pre-law majors are prepared to work in law enforcement, become paralegals, or go into a career in government.
UT Austin's career center hosts one of the largest Law Fairs in the country every year, which allows students to interact with over 100 law school admissions professionals. The career center also hosts panels and workshops, law school application coaching, and more. If you're stuck between majors, these resources can help you decide what is best for you, and what will help you stand out on an application. UT Austin offers many majors in both sciences and humanities, and UT students go on to law school with degrees in numerous fields.
In addition to one of the country's top Criminal Justice programs, FSU has a pre-law advising center that helps students magnify their achievements within their majors, and works closely with the law school. FSU hosts the Donald J. Weidner Summer Program for Legal Studies, a four-week program taught by law professors. Even better: 70% of program attendees have gone on to law school. The program is open to undergraduates from all schools and is competitive.
George Washington University encourages pre-law students to establish themselves as pre-law early on, and take advantage of the many groups, societies, and panels dedicated to that goal. Advisers at GW help you find the law schools that are the best fit for your background and goals, and they tailor your undergrad education to those schools. Additionally, the Washington D.C. location makes for a great spot to score internships.
Nova Southeastern is a little different from the other schools on this list because of its thorough pre-law (legal studies) major that offers an undergraduate law degree. Nova Southeastern is dedicated to helping students prepare for law school by offering a challenging program and a dedicated interest in the humanities. The school's B.S. in Legal Studies major also allows students to take classes in philosophy, history, and more as they work toward their degree.
Ready to climb the legal ladder? Here are your next steps.
Best Colleges for Pre-Law: Next Steps
Getting into law school is no easy feat. Your path to law school may look quite different than someone else's. You certainly don't have to attend a top college or university to get into law school, and you don't have to go to a top law school to be a lawyer. You do, however, have to make sure you study hard for the LSATs and build a strong resume.
Your grades, test scores, extracurriculars, and work experience are all important parts of your law school application, so make sure that for undergrad you choose the major and school that suits you best, where you'll get a well-rounded college experience.
Interested in learning more about the schools listed above? Read our expert guides on how to get into Yale, Northwestern, University of Maryland, Georgetown, New York University, Michigan State, University of Texas - Austin, Florida State University, George Washington, and Nova Southeastern.
Got your sights set on a top tier school? For everything you need to know about getting into the most competitive schools, check out this guide about Harvard and the Ivy League.
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Carrie holds a Bachelors in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College, and is currently pursuing an MFA. She worked in book publishing for several years, and believes that books can open up new worlds. She loves reading, the outdoors, and learning about new things.