Prospective law students often wonder if they should take time off between finishing their undergraduate work and applying to law school. While there is no one size fits all answer, the trend shows that many law schools are expecting and even rewarding students who take at least a brief interlude prior to starting school. Within the class of 2019, the majority of matriculants among the most competitive law schools did report a gap prior to starting law school; among the top ten ranked law schools by U.S. News and World Report, the percentages of incoming classes showed that between 60 and 80 percent of incoming students took at least one year off. Harvard and Yale were among the highest percentages at 80 and 82 percent respectively.
While, it isn’t necessary for all students to take a gap year, it can be a beneficial use of time for the following types of applicants:
- Those with a general interest in the study of law, but without experience in the day-to-day operations of a law firm and/or those who do not yet feel comfortable selecting a career path within the legal industry
- Those who have a passion they would like to pursue, who can spend some time in the field to confirm law school is the right next step to help them achieve their goals
- Those who need to enhance the competitiveness of their application with additional experiences and insight into their future goals
- Those who may benefit from a year of earnings prior to taking on the financial burden of law school
- Those interested in working at a firm post- law school, as prior work experience can be looked upon quite favorably by hiring managers
For prospective students who do wish to take a gap year, there are many jobs and activities that may improve their resume, provide clarity, and ultimately bolster their candidacy in the application process. We’ve listed a few ideas below:
- Management consulting/investment banking: If a future applicant has a passion for business and hope to work in corporate law, they can increase their understanding of the work by spending time at a consulting or investment banking group.
- Policy analysis/research: With an interest in constitutional or immigration law, working directly in this space can provide them experience with relevant stakeholders, as well as the eventual ability to speak to their future goals more specifically within their law school application. It may also help them more strategically select law school programs that will best position them to do the work they love.
- Non-profit work: If they have identified an interest in public interest law or just in gaining professional skills quickly, working for a non-profit organization could be a sound next step. Typically, nonprofits have lean workforces and, as a result, even recent college graduates are asked to work outside their comfort zone to acquire new skills. Further, it is important to note that some organizations like Teach for America have relationships and scholarship programs with select law schools.
- Paralegal/legal assistant/legal administrator: For those interested in learning more about working within a law firm, this type of experience will broaden a candidate’s understanding of the day-to-day life of a lawyer and will also likely show meaningful commitment to both law schools and future legal recruiters.
While it isn’t necessary to take a gap-year between undergraduate and law school, if you do, it is of vital importance to spend your time thoughtfully and productively. It may seem appealing, in those months after college, to solely focus on LSAT and application preparations. But remember, admissions committees will be looking very closely. Meaningful and productive work will help you to construct a narrative that will bolster your story as an applicant and positively contribute to the dynamic of your law school class.