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Cornell University

Preparing for Law School

There is no "pre-law" major, and unlike medical school, there are no specific educational requirements for entrance into law school. Law schools will try to predict how you will perform in law school by engaging in a holistic review of your application, considering a variety of factors regarding your efforts both inside and outside the classroom.

Choose classes that interest you, challenge your ability to think and reason logically, require you to research subjects thoroughly and write extensively, and sharpen your ability to analyze material. Developing your research and organizational skills as an undergraduate will benefit you in law school. For more information, see the American Bar Association's Preparing for Law School.

Inside the Classroom

Developing Skills

The following disciplines can help develop skills that are necessary in law school and will serve a future lawyer well:

  • Social sciences offer insight into human behavior, social processes, and institutions. Courses that give you a better understanding of diverse cultures help prepare you for a legal career.
  • English and communication courses help you improve your written and oral expression.
  • Mathematics and philosophy classes provide background in logic and reasoning, as well as problem-solving skills.
  • Physical sciences require systematic analysis of evidence and inductive reasoning.
  • Undergraduate law-related classes may allow you to get a feel for law as a general subject. They usually do not cover the material in the same depth or embody the intensity and rigor of law school courses, so they are not especially accurate indicators of your ability to succeed in the study of law or whether you will like law school. 

Selecting a Major

Choose a major that interests and challenges you. If you are interested in the subject matter and are challenged by it, it's more likely that you'll excel and develop important skills. Law students do not typically "major" in specific areas, but you may develop a specialization in law firms or other legal environments following law school. There are areas of law you may want to prepare for as an undergraduate, for example:

  • If you are considering a career in patent or intellectual property law, you may want to major in engineering or science.
  • Natural resources can provide a good background for environmental law.
  • Learning one or more languages and taking courses in international studies will help lay the groundwork for a career in international law.
  • Courses in economics, business, and accounting are especially useful in the areas of corporate and tax law.

Compiling an Impressive Academic Record

Law schools will expect you to achieve a solid GPA, particularly within your major. With strong performance across a variety of subjects, you will demonstrate your intellectual curiosity and ability that would be advantageous in the study of law.

  • Variety and Depth: Admissions committees will give serious consideration to the variety and depth of your coursework as evidence of your interests and motivation.
  • Challenge Yourself. The key to compiling an impressive transcript is to challenge yourself by taking classes at increasingly difficult levels and studying  diverse subject areas.
  • S/U Grading: Taking courses on an S/U basis may encourage you to explore subjects or levels of instruction you might otherwise avoid for fear of a low grade. Keep in mind, however, that taking a number of S/U-graded courses may be perceived negatively.
  • Study Abroad: While grades earned during study abroad or summer sessions elsewhere may not be calculated into your GPA for law school, admissions committees will see your transcripts for study elsewhere.
  • Lectures vs. Seminars: In general, lecture courses provide a good foundation for further instruction, while seminars allow you to present, discuss, critique, and defend more specific ideas.
  • Faculty Relationships: It can be difficult at a large university such as Cornell to identify faculty members who can write detailed and substantive letters of recommendation. Make the effort to develop relationships with faculty to enhance your academic experience. Faculty who know you well can provide better recommendations or evaluations.
    • Stand out as an individual by attending office hours, asking questions in class, and conducting research with faculty. 

Outside the Classroom

Law schools will be interested in your extracurricular activities, leadership experience, summer jobs, internships, and public service, since they seek well-rounded candidates for admission. Engaging vigorously in these activities will help differentiate you from other law-school applicants and will contribute to your personal success and happiness. Pursue activities that interest you, not those you think will impress admissions committees.

  • Seek experiences outside the classroom that help you create evidence of strong written communication, research, and analytical skills. Well-developed collaborative and leadership skills are also important. 
  • Do not devote so much time to your activities that you sacrifice your GPA, which is far more important in the admissions process than activities.