How to Decide Whether To Take A Gap Year Between College and Law School In Light of COVID-19

Whether To Take A Gap Year Between College and Law School In Light of COVID-19This week we hear from guest writer Mihal Ansik to discuss how to handle a gap year in the midst of COVID-19.

In a pre-COVID-19 world, the short answer about whether to take at least a year before law school would have been “Probably.” There are so many benefits to working before going to law school, which we’ve discussed before, including positioning yourself to be a more holistic candidate, building a resumé that tells a story, developing perspective around grades and law school success, creating lasting connections, and contextualizing the law.

However, COVID-19 is not only threatening people’s current employment, but of course, it has put hiring at a standstill for a lot of industries. We know that many places have pretty much suspended their internship programs, and a lot of employers just don’t have the capacity to bring on and train new staff right now as they try to ensure that they’ll even still be in business once we’ve turned the corner on this pandemic.

Because this situation is continuing to unfold, and we’re all in the dark about how it’s going to look from one moment to the next, we can’t offer any definitive “Yes” or “No” answers about anything. The goal here is to raise questions to consider while processing the decision about whether to go to law school right after college in this context.

What Is the Reality of Your Situation?

To begin to assess the decision about whether or not to go straight to law school after college, you first need to ground yourself in the reality of your situation. If you had a gap year in mind, is the kind of work you were planning on doing still available? Is the industry you were interested in exploring still in motion, or has it been stalled by the pandemic? Are there ways to remotely get the experience you were hoping to get, or is that out of the question? Were you planning on traveling or working abroad? Are you able to meet your basic needs, in terms of health, safety, and necessary resources?

Your first priority right now is understandably going to be your health, safety, and meeting your basic needs, as well as those of your loved ones if you’re in the position of needing to support people. Do what makes this possible – which could actually end up meaning going to law school for some of you.

Does Law School Seem Like the More Stable Option Right Now?

Going to law school because you can’t think of anything else to do doesn’t generally yield great results, emotionally, psychologically, financially, and even academically. However, if law school is something you truly wanted to do in the first place, then maybe now is the time to go. It can provide structure amid chaos, and help you move closer to your goals in a time that feels like a collective standstill in a lot of ways.

As we saw during the 2008 recession, for many people who were struggling to find work amid a crisis, attending school actually seemed like the safer bet. So, maybe COVID-19 actually ended up making this decision for you, because trying to find work right now just doesn’t feel accessible, whereas law schools, as far as we know, will continue operating, though probably not as they once did. If you feel like going to law school will help you avoid the uncertainty around the job market altogether right now, then you want to put some thought into what that law school experience is likely to look like. We talk about this in more detail in a podcast episode highlighting considerations for incoming 1L’s, including the current impact on financial aid, housing, travel, and the law school experience itself.

Is Starting 1L Remotely Worth The Investment For You?

Academically, attending school remotely requires knowing yourself in terms of your ability to be accountable to an online system. There’s a lot of self-regulating and discipline that goes into that. You have to be in a space where you can focus, and have easy and constant access to getting online.

Additionally, it requires relinquishing some of the important community building aspect of 1L. While we can hope that law schools will try to compensate for this in some way, there’s just no way to get to know people over Zoom the way you get to know them from sitting next to them in the 1L trenches every day for a year. If what you were hoping for is a far cry from what you’d be getting through remote learning and social distancing, then considering the expense and investment of law school, it could be worth waiting until you are able to attend in the way you had imagined.

Can You Afford To Volunteer?

One area of work that is always in need of more support is the public interest or nonprofit sector. In this particular moment, many people are struggling in ways that feel unprecedented. Furthermore, communities that were struggling to begin with and have historically been hit hardest by crises as a result of structural oppression are experiencing the impacts of this pandemic even more acutely.

Unfortunately, this is also an area where resources are limited, so whether engaging in this sort of work is even possible for you depends very much on, again, the reality of your situation. Few people can make it a year without a steady income. However, if you’re just out of college, haven’t laid down roots in your own place yet, and have the option of moving in with family to ride out this uncertainty – or maybe you already did when schools closed – then this could be a very valuable way to gain experience and connections, as well as do some good while we wait and see what ‘normal’ will look like on the other side of this.

There are lots of benefits to taking time to work before law school, if that’s an option for you. Pandemic or not, these huge life decisions are never a one-size-fits-all approach, and will ultimately depend on what’s best for you.


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About Mihal Ansik

Mihal is a tutor for the Law School Toolbox and Bar Exam Toolbox. Teaching has been integral to Mihal’s work for over a decade. Prior to law school, she led creative workshops and academic classes in prisons, tutored elementary school students struggling with reading comprehension, and spent five years working as a Court Advocate in Brooklyn, NY, where she developed trainings and advocacy tools for incarcerated and system-involved youth.

While at Harvard Law School, Mihal continued incorporating education and mentorship into her law school experience. She was a mentor and team leader with Harvard Defenders, chaired the Community Building Committee for the Prison Legal Assistance Project, and joined a research paper team exploring the context and impact of legal education. Mihal graduated with a Harvard Public Service Venture Fund Fellowship and Berkeley Law Foundation Fellowship, went on to receive an Equal Justice Works Fellowship sponsored by Morrison and Foerster, and currently provides legal services and educational tools to women working to reunify with their children and families after incarceration.

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