Tips for Applying to Law School with a Non-Traditional Background

Tips for Applying to Law School with a Non-Traditional BackgroundThis week we welcome back guest writer Briana Borgolini to talk about how to position yourself in your law school applications when you are not a “traditional” candidate.

Applying to law school can be intimidating for anyone, let alone someone who may have been out of a school setting for a few years, or more. Those who studied something seemingly unrelated to law, or spent a significant period of time working between undergrad and law school may be considered “non-traditional” compared to their counterparts applying directly from undergrad with more traditional pre-law majors. While non-traditional applicants may have to do some extra explaining to convince an admissions committee that they will be a successful law student, there are a number of things that can be done to make the application process a bit easier.

Focus on Telling Your Story

If you’ve been out of school for a significant amount of time, you likely have a whole lot more to explain than those who are applying straight from undergrad. Having a couple years gap (or more) between undergrad and law school will require you to answer two questions for the admission committee – why law school, and why now? Take advantage of the personal statement and other essay portions of applications to demonstrate to the admissions committee that your experience will set you up for success in law school. If your previous education or career doesn’t clearly lead to law school, be sure to show the admissions committee why law school is for you, and why you will succeed there. Your goal should be to connect the dots for the admissions committee – don’t leave them with any questions regarding your decision to go to law school!

Emphasize Your Skillset

Another thing that you should focus on if your background is non-traditional is the unique skillset you’ve developed during your education or career. While your decision to go to law school may look unexpected on paper, you’ve most certainly had the opportunity to cultivate a unique set of skills that can help you excel in law school, and in a legal career. Focus on what your strengths have been in school and in your career, and think about why those might be important to your success moving forward. Be sure to demonstrate that you’ve thought this through, and have identified how your non-traditional background will help you be a successful law student.

Plan Your LSAT Prep Ahead of Time

If you have a full-time job or a family, it’s likely that preparing for the LSAT will be a bit more difficult than if you were still without these responsibilities. For most people, the LSAT will be an exam unlike anything they’ve seen before. Because it is both unique and difficult, ensuring that you build in time to adequately prepare for it is crucial. For many students, the recommended time to prepare is something along the lines of 10-15 hours per week, for several months. If you have commitments in your schedule that do not allow for this amount of time per week, you should consider giving yourself a longer period of time to prepare. In addition, consider what study methods will work best for your schedule. If you have restrictions, taking a traditional and highly structured course may not be the best option, and you may want to consider more flexible options like self-studying. Planning how you will study for the LSAT ahead of time will help you excel while fitting preparation into your busy schedule.

Connect With Recommenders Early

Another challenge for those who have been out of school for a few years may be getting academic letters of recommendation. Many schools prefer to have two or three letters of recommendation as part of your application, and many prefer to have at least one of those be from someone who knows you as a student. If you’ve been out of school and in the workforce for a few years or more, it may have been awhile since you’ve spoken with your previous professors. If this is the case for you, it will likely be in your best interest to reach out early and explain to them your goals, what you’ve been doing since you last spoke with them, and why you are applying to law school now. Reconnecting and sharing this information with them will help them to write you a stronger and more personalized letter of recommendation. The more detailed the letter, the more clearly the admissions committee can see you as a successful student – so be sure to reach out early!

Consider the Financial Impact

If you’ve been in the workforce for at least a few years, you’ve probably become very used to the regular paycheck that comes with having a full-time job. During law school and during 1L in particular, working more than a few hours per week is usually not possible, and in many cases, not allowed. Be sure to consider whether you feel comfortable giving up a salary for student loans. You should also assess how you can modify your lifestyle towards that of a student, rather than a professional. Any adjustments you can make to reduce your cost of living while you’re in school will pay off later, so be sure to take a careful look.

Applying to law school with a non-traditional background can be intimidating. By considering a few things ahead of time, you can prepare yourself for a smooth application process.


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About Briana Borgolini

Briana Borgolini is a law student at Villanova University's Charles Widger School of Law. She received her undergraduate degree from Brown University, where she graduated with her B.A. in Human Biology with Honors. Briana worked in public health research for four years before law school and hopes that her non-traditional perspective can help others navigate the law school and legal career process.

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