Following are frequently asked pre-law questions. A great way to get your individual questions answered is to attend a workshop or meet with an advisor one-on-one.
No specific major is required for law school. Because there's no Pre-Law major and no specific major is required, many students wonder “What should I be studying to prepare myself?” A good way to address this question is by reviewing what the American Bar Association recommends for students preparing for legal education. Use this resource to help you assess which skills you're already developing through your major and which ones you can improve by taking other coursework.
The best major is one that suits your strengths, involves a great deal of reading and writing, and challenges you to build critical thinking skills. We have worked with successful Pre-Law students from every major on campus, from Art Education to Music to History to Marketing to Electrical Engineering, and everything in between. You really CAN major in anything and go to law school!
If law school is your goal, then regardless of the major you choose, you should:
- Improve your study skills, organization, and discipline—you will need them in law school.
- Keep a careful eye on your GPA. You must do well academically in whichever major you choose to be a competitive law school applicant.
- Challenge yourself by taking a wide range of interesting coursework.
- Move up to upper-level courses by your junior year. Law schools want to see applicants with rigorous academic backgrounds, and taking lots of 100 level courses as an upperclass student does not establish this.
- Work on your writing as much as possible. You will need those skills in law school.
- Improve oral communication skills by giving presentations, speaking in class, leading discussions.
- Read a wide variety of material inside and outside of the classroom.
We talk about majors extensively in our Pre-Law 101 workshops. For a more in-depth discussion, review the Preparing for Law School section of our Pre-Law Handbook.
The University of Illinois created a grade replacement policy in fall 2010. This policy allows students who meet certain criteria to retake a course and replace the original grade with the new grade. (For information about grade replacement at Illinois, review our Student Code). Note that although your Illinois GPA will "replace" the first grade with the replacement grade, the LSAC GPA will include both grades.
Here's an example. Let’s say Mike took Math 220 (5 credits) at Illinois in fall 2017 and got a D+. He decides to retake the course in spring 2018, gets approval for grade replacement from his department, and earns a C in the course this time. Mike’s Illinois GPA would only calculate the C from the second Math 220. But when Mike applies to law school, his LSAC-generated GPA would include both the original D+ and the C. Both grades will be seen and included.
A low grade cannot be hidden from a law school admissions dean by retaking the class. They'll still see that low grade and incorporate it into your overall GPA. Therefore, most students would be better off taking a different class that suits their strengths rather than retaking a class that they found very difficult. Unless you need the class credit for your major or minor, or you need to understand the material because it's a foundation for other required courses, Pre-Law students are generally better off not re-taking a course in which they have performed poorly.
Of course, there are always exceptions. It's important to speak with your academic advisor about the pros and cons of retaking a course so that he or she can help you understand all relevant factors. Visit this blog post for more discussion of grade replacement and a helpful Q&A.
First, it's important to know that the LSAC will recalculate your GPA when applying to law school. Click here for an overview of that process.
If an Illinois student took a class for credit/no credit and received credit, then that class will appear on his/her transcript but will not be included in the calculation of the LSAC-generated GPA. Law schools can still see that you took the class and got credit.
If an Illinois student took a class for credit/no credit and received no credit, then the LSAC will count this as an F and will factor it into the LSAC-generated GPA accordingly. It does not matter that the University of Illinois excludes the "no credit" result in your Illinois GPA.
For law school purposes, it's fine to take one or two classes credit/no credit as long as you earn credit. However, more than a couple of classes taken this way can make a law school dean wonder if a student is trying to slack off by not having to work for an actual grade. Remember that you want to demonstrate to a law school that you can perform well in a rigorous, challenging academic environment.
Law school admission is generally competitive and very dependent on the quality of the applicant pool in any given year. For this reason, it depends.
The good news is that our 2018 law school applicant data show that Illinois student and alumni law school applicants are accepted to law school at rates far above the national acceptance rate for applicants.
86 percent of Illini law school applicants were accepted to law school in 2018, compared to the national average of 72%. (For even more applicant data visit our resources page for instructions on how to visit our Compass page.)
However, it's important to understand that law school is still a competitive process. Demand for law school seats hasn’t fallen so much that LSAT scores suddenly don’t matter. Whether you'll be accepted to a particular school is dependent upon many factors, including GPA, LSAT score, your academic background, work experience, transferrable skills, strong recommendations, writing ability, and the overall quality of the applicant pool.
Your best resource is to compare yourself to the last entering class by using the Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. Here, you can search by your GPA and estimated or actual LSAT score to estimate your likelihood of admission at a particular law school.
Yes, you really do. This is called character and fitness and all law school and bar exam applicants will be screened this way. Law school applications will ask applicants to disclose any citations, violations of the law (sometimes including traffic tickets), and academic dishonesty or probation. They might also ask other relevant questions about your character. This is partly because they want to know the type of people who will be representing their school for the rest of their lives, and partly because the Board of Admissions to the Bar will thoroughly investigate your character (usually in your second or third year of law school) before allowing you to take the bar exam and become a licensed lawyer. Omission of information is treated the same as a lie. The Board of Admission to the Bar will pull your law school application and compare your answers.
Failure to disclose any citations or tickets you've received (or any other relevant information the questions ask of you) reflects poorly on integrity and judgment, both of which are critical when practicing law. You can be reprimanded by the law school or even denied the privilege of sitting for the bar exam by the Board of Admissions to the Bar. In extreme circumstances, someone's law degree can be revoked or withheld. You've selected a profession that demands respect for our legal system. It's fair that you are asked to demonstrate this to law schools and the Board of Admissions to the Bar.
For an in depth discussion of character and fitness and law school applications, visit our Pre-Law Handbook and click on the "Character and Fitness" tab under Applying to Law School. Read more information about disclosures and misconduct in the admissions process.
In a word, YES! In two: YES, ABSOLUTELY!
In 2018, 71% of Illini law school applicants were alumni (who graduated with their bachelor's degrees 1+ years ago) and 29% of applicants were seniors going directly to law school. This is consistent with nationwide averages, in which the typical law school applicant earned their bachelor's degree 1-3 years ago. This is a relatively recent trend (within about the last 5 years), and may be very different from what your parents or others who attended law school 10+ years ago experienced.
Whether your goal is to gain professional skills, earn money to pay down undergraduate debt, decide whether law school is the right path for you, or pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity such as Teach for America or Peace Corps, taking one or more gap years is extremely common and can be very beneficial to your law school application. Law schools and legal employers value the additional transferrable skills and experience that these applicants bring. Taking a gap year (or more) will not put you "behind" your law school peers...because most of them will also have taken a gap year or more!
For an in depth discussion of gap years before law school, visit our Pre-Law Handbook and click on the Taking a Gap Year tab under "Applying to Law School."
We also host a Taking a Gap Year Panel each spring, during which multiple law students discuss their gap year experiences and how those experiences affected their law school applications. Check our event calendar for more details.
All Illini should be prepared to approach at least 2 academic and 1 non-academic recommendation writer when preparing to apply to law school.
Consider the purpose of the letter: to demonstrate that you have either the academic strengths or the personal qualities that indicate you'll be successful in law school and beyond. For this reason, many law schools express a preference for letters of recommendation from professors (or graduate assistants) who have taught you in college. The key is that your recommenders have been in a position to evaluate your work and assess your intellectual strengths.
If you've been out of college for more than two years, most law schools will understand that it will be difficult for you to track down your old college professors, but it's still a good idea to obtain at least one. We recommend lining up your recommenders before graduating if you expect to apply to law school within the next 2-3 years. Alternatively, if you're in a graduate program, you should consider asking one of your graduate school professors to write a recommendation. If you're employed, consider asking your boss to write a recommendation.
Letters of recommendation from state senators, friends of the family, and judges or lawyers who know you socially are generally not considered to be very helpful due to the obvious bias from the personal relationship.
Click here for a very candid perspective on recommendations from a frequent recommendation writer.
For a very thorough guide with tips for obtaining quality recommendations, explore our Pre-Law Handbook and click on the Applying to Law School section and then the Letters of Recommendation tab.