Choosing between a Full or Part-Time Law Program

Choosing between a Full or Part-Time Law ProgramGuest writer Zoila Sanchez is back to talk about deciding between a full-time or part-time law school program.

One of the most exciting aspects of applying to law school is getting down to the specifics such as the kind of program—part-time or full-time studies. There are important things to consider when selecting the right option for you.

Questions to ask yourself may include:

Do I Have a Timeframe?

Your timeline is an important consideration when choosing between full or part-time studies. Are you on a strict timeline to graduate with a J.D. in three years or are you flexible? Be sure to inquire into the duration of the program you are considering. Additionally, there may be opportunities that would affect your timeline. A semester internship or a fellowship may have limited offerings or requirements that could impact your plans. For instance, a public interest fellowship could be open to full-time students only and require you to take the bar exam before you graduate. Such a program is a major time commitment which may not be an option for you depending on your circumstances.

Is the Program Accredited?

Currently, the American Bar Association (ABA) has accredited and approved 199 institutions and programs that grant a J.D. degree. These schools include private, public, and independent institutions. It is important to be current on the status of the school or program you are considering. Additionally, you can find a list of ABA-approved law schools with approved part-time programs.

Schools can quickly change from unaccredited status to closed, or have suddenly merged, or be acquired by another school.

In addition, accredited ABA programs are required to disclose information such as employment data and bar passage rates. These may be of special interest to you because the law programs are costly both in terms of time, as well as finances. It is important to learn about the percentage of students that find legal work after graduation and the annual outcomes of bar passage because these are crucial to your future employment after you graduate.

Do I Prefer Distance Education?

The pandemic opened the doors for law programs to design remote or hybrid programs that blend in-person and remote classes. More recently, many schools have adopted ABA accredited and approved distance education or online law programs. If you are self-motivated and flexible, then you may lean toward an online program. However, also consider the drawbacks. You might need the in-person interaction for your learning style. Another consideration is how earning a J.D. degree in a distance education program would limit your ability to sit for the bar in some states. It is important that you contact the state board of bar examiner in the state(s) in which you are interested in being admitted and find out what limitations, if any, distance education will have on your ability to sit for the bar exam.

Does the Program Meet my Needs?

Not every full or part-time program will suit your needs. Be sure to do your research. Examples of areas you may want to explore include:

Class schedule: Class schedules can vary depending on whether you are a full-time or part-time student. For example, some part-time programs offer courses throughout the day and evening, some only stick to evening schedules and others do not offer courses past the afternoon. Schedules are an important consideration especially of you are a commuter or working.

Courses: Certain classes may have limited offerings. Be sure to check on which classes you will have access to based on your program. For example, certain classes may only be offered certain days of the week or are only offered during the spring or summer session. The last thing you want is to join a program you wanted to attend solely for its health law concentration, only to find out that you aren’t able to attend the classes.

Switching Programs: Read the student handbook or find out from student advising or admissions about what steps are required to switch from full-time to part-time studies or vice versa. In my case, I was originally admitted as a part-time student. My student handbook provided that students must wait a full year before transferring over to full-time. I was able to switch over without waiting a full year because I made the change before the semester officially began.

Cost: Familiarize yourself with the costs of attending part-time versus full-time. As an applicant, you can arrange to meet with a financial aid advisor to discuss the cost of the program(s) you are interested in. Take the opportunity to get the full picture. Be sure to ask about fellowships and scholarships you may qualify for based on your legal interests and qualifications. Knowing this information as early on as possible can position you to make great choices for your legal education.

Resources: Learn about resources that are offered to students and which may be limited depending on the program you select. For example, is the library or computer lab available when you are attending class? This is important as you may need access to a quiet space to read your textbooks and review notes. Other examples include access to printing services, student services including academic advising, and the career center.

Making a commitment to study full or part-time is a major decision. When you prepare by researching and reaching out to schools, you will equip yourself with the necessary information to make the best decision you can for your legal education.


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About Zoila Sanchez

During law school, she served as a Legal Clerk with the federal government at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Counsel to the Inspector General in Washington, DC. Currently, she works for a health and business law firm. She enjoys spending down time mentoring students sitting for the bar exam through the American Bar Association Council on Legal Education Opportunity program and taking it easy with her three poodles.

Ms. Sanchez holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Stony Brook University, a Master of Public Health from the University of Arizona and Juris Doctor from Hofstra University.

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