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If I am getting my undergraduate degree with plans to move on to law school, should I worry about how "prestigious" my undergraduate degree looks on a law school application?

I am a senior in high school and my interests are fairly wide-ranging. I plan on eventually attending law school, but I am undecided on school I will attend and undergraduate major. I have been thinking about cost, and my ACT scores and GPA would easily fetch me full tuition at a plethora of state schools. However, I have also applied to a lot of selective schools that would probably cost me lots but would give me whatever advantage comes with having the name of that school on my undergraduate degree. I am debating the pros and cons of each option, but I would be curious to know what someone else might think. #lawschool #college

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Kali’s Answer

I’ve worked as a prelaw advisor for college students and I would say that you do want to choose an undergraduate school with a strong academic reputation. That doesn’t necessarily mean a selective private school, as there are a lot of public universities that have solid reputations or do decently in college rankings. If you choose a university that is not as competitive to get into, you may see if they have an Honors College within them that you can also apply to. Those programs are more competitive and academically rigorous.

A prestigious undergraduate institution might give you a bit of an edge in the law school application process, but what will be much more important to law schools than the undergraduate institution you choose is what you do when you get there. You need to get really good grades, particularly if you’re interested in a top ranked law school. You need to take on leadership roles in your activities, pursue internship opportunities, build strong relationships with faculty members who can write you letters of recommendation, and eventually get a good score on your LSAT.

Finances are a really important consideration in this process since law school tends to require taking on quite a bit of debt. If that’s added to a lot of debt from your undergraduate degree, you could be paying off that debt for decades (some lawyers make a lot of money, but many don’t make as much as people often assume). There are a lot of factors to consider when choosing which undergraduate institution is the right fit for you, including research into the extracurricular opportunities made available to you, but choosing a slightly less prestigious institution is not going to prevent you from going to a good law school.
Thank you comment icon This is an excellent answer. I'd just add that there are debt assistance programs for lawyers who work for non-profits, if that's the route you'd want to take. (My sister works as an immigration attorney for a non-profit, and we've discussed this at length, because, Kali's right, she doesn't make much money!) Make sure to talk with your financial adviser from the beginning to work out the best strategy for you. Lynn Wise
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Kristan’s Answer

I don't think the school is the deciding factor when law schools are choosing who to admit. I think a lot of the decision is based upon your LSAT score. That being said, I think the prestige of your school can surely help in the process, but I believe it is what you do at the school such as studying hard, joining clubs, taking a leadership role in said club, or taking a role as a TA for a professor teaching a legal class. Good luck to you!
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Paul’s Answer

Hi Joe,

If money is not a factor, go to the best school in the world.

However, if money IS a factor, go to a school that is affordable and get the best grades possible. There's nothing worse than to graduate from college with a mountain of debt. OK, yes there is......graduating from college with a mountain of debt and with a major you have no interest in pursuing a career with.

Good luck

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Dierdre’s Answer

I think that the notoriety of a school is always impressive especially if you can prove that you have done well there. The notoriety of the school is not more important than how well you do studying the subject.
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Natasha’s Answer

The law school will look at your entire portfolio (academic standing, extracurricular activities, GPA, awards, community contributions, progress made during undergrad studies, test scores, interview and essay) as they make an assessment and decision on admission.
Apply to a variety of law schools (school size, brand/prestige, location, etc) in order to have options when it comes to tuition, scholarships, clerkships, peer network or career path.

While prestige might matter to applicants and graduates, it is not the key factor that will determine your success as a lawyer or how engaging you find the work of a lawyer. Before selecting your JD program, consider what area of law that you hope to focus on (if it's possible to decide that during college) and where you envision yourself practicing law. Where do you plan to take your Bar Exam? Will you be in the public sector (ex: Justice Department) or in private practice (ex: corporate law)?


Best of Luck & Stay Healthy,
Natasha
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