Both law school and its application process are constantly changing. One of the most pronounced changes in recent decades is the fact that many applicants now have at least one year of work experience. Many law schools proudly note the work experience of their enrolled students as well as what they did between college and law school. A school’s openness toward those who go beyond what the “typical” applicant does is a positive differentiator, but some applicants take this development to mean that they must work between college and law school to be competitive. That is not true! However, there can be times when taking time off between college and law school might be the right move. In this article, we at Stratus walk you through how to make that decision.
Does taking time off actually impact your candidacy?
First, let’s dispel any false theories by considering whether taking time off helps or harms your application—and if so, how. Overall, it helps your application. The only way it could hurt your application is if you did nothing during that time, and your inactivity was not due to something along the lines of a medical or family issue.
It is hard to precisely quantify how much it helps your application, but it will not work miracles. If your LSAT score is 20 points below the school’s median and you have a low GPA, your work experience will not make much of a difference. However, work experience could help you if you are right on the edge of getting into a school.
On the flip side, having no work experience is not going to tank your application. If you are well positioned for the schools of interest to you with regard to your grades and LSAT score, not having work experience is unlikely to make much of a difference.
Are you suffering from burnout?
One reason you might want to take time off is if you are burned out from college. For many people, college is the most fun four years of their lives—but it can entail a lot of work. You generally always have reading, a test, or a paper due. In addition, ambitious students often worry about getting the best grades possible, which can lead to constant stress.
While working does require people to “grow up” more, some of the stressful parts of higher ed go away. Unless something is urgent, you can generally stop working on a project at the end of the workday and then go home for the evening or weekend and not think about it. And although you should always try your best at work, there are no formal grades as there are in school. Therefore, if you produce work worthy of a 90 versus a 92, chances are your boss will be just as happy. If all of this sounds appealing to you, you should consider taking time off.
Should you take time off to study for the LSAT?
Many college students are too busy to prepare for and take the LSAT. Some who do take it either do not have the time to thoroughly study or are unhappy with the score they received. Taking time off between college and law school can provide an opportunity for you to get a strong LSAT score. However, you generally do not want to just stay at home studying, as having no employment history during that period could look bad on your application. But you could work at a position that is strictly 30–40 hours a week and use the outside time to study—and you could invest the money you earn in comprehensive LSAT prep.
What is your financial situation?
College costs a lot of money, and so does law school. Therefore, the idea of racking up student debt for seven years straight might not be appealing. Depending on the job you get after graduation, you might be able to pay off a meaningful amount of debt during the first few years. Alternatively, if you did not incur any student debt from college, working for a few years before enrolling in law school can enable you to proactively pay your tuition or just provide you with funds for expenses such as food and entertainment during law school. Often, if you receive financial aid from law schools, they will require you to contribute what you have saved, so you should keep this in mind if you are considering taking time off for only financial reasons.
Are you a competitive applicant?
As noted earlier, taking time off between college and law school can improve your chances of acceptance depending on what you do during that time. With this in mind, some applicants with low GPAs and/or LSAT scores take time off because they think gaining work experience can compensate for poor stats. Taking time off solely for that reason probably will not get you far. Therefore, you should not do so if you would prefer to go to law school right after college but are waiting to improve your chances.
That being said, a stronger LSAT score will go a long way toward strengthening your application. Therefore, if you have a low GPA along with post-college work experience and a strong LSAT score (that you achieved because you took time off and were able to spend more time studying for it), you could submit a much stronger application than if you had applied during college.
Depending on your life circumstances, you could always apply during your senior year of college. And then if you do not get the law school acceptances you want, you could take time off and apply in a year or two.
Do you have personal issues that could keep you from attending law school?
Many people take time off not because of how it impacts their law school application, but just because life circumstances call for it. Sometimes an applicant is having a child and they need to be with the child and/or provide for the family. Others have something traumatic happen in their life, such as a death in the family, so they do not think they can focus on law school. If you find yourself in one of these situations, do not feel bad about taking time off. No one will judge you, and there will be plenty of people your age in law school who took time off for a myriad of reasons. In situations like these, it is best to play it safe rather than trying to force yourself to go when you are not ready.
What kind of work should you pursue before applying to law school?
Applicants frequently believe they must do legal work between college and law school and/or if they do not do legal work, they are disadvantaged. There is no truth to this. It is great to work in a law-related position after college because doing so can give you some early exposure to the law; it can provide solid connections and help inform you on what kind of law you want to practice. But law schools will not consider such jobs any better or worse than being a research assistant, working in finance, having a service job, or any other type of employment.
The fact that law schools are accepting more students who worked after college has created more flexibility for potential applicants. However, you should not view this trend as a requirement for acceptance. Instead, consider the reasons to take time off and whether any apply to you!
If you would like our advice on whether you should take time off between college and law school, sign up for a free consultation!