Consider Benefits, Consequences of Gap Years Between College and Law School

US News

Law schools do not require any prior work experience. However, many applicants take at least one year off after college before matriculating.

I actually took four years off between my undergraduate and JD/MBA studies. Here are some pros and cons of taking time off before attending law school.

Pros:

-- More time for LSAT prep and applications: During college, you spend much of your time studying and writing papers, so finding enough extra time for LSAT preparation and essay writing can be a challenge.

By delaying the law school application process, you can ensure that you devote enough time to your preparation so that you reach your full LSAT score potential and compose the best possible essays, which are critical to winning a spot in your dream school.

[Explore the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings.]

--New essay topics: If you have been struggling to come up with compelling essay topics, you may benefit from gaining more life experience.

For example, doing a service program after college, like education-focused Teach For America and City Year, can give you the specific examples of leadership and overcoming obstacles that will differentiate your essays.

[Find out how to use news to customize your essays.]

-- More savings: If you work for a couple years before law school, you can use that time to save money and lessen the financial burden of law school tuition and living expenses when you enroll.

Entry-level jobs may not always pay particularly well, but any money you can save will definitely help.

[Learn how to negotiate law school financial aid awards.]

-- More perspective: After working for a year or two, you may realize that instead of going into law you actually want to pursue business and obtain an MBA or go into government and obtain an MPA. You may even decide that graduate school is not the right path for you.

Having this extra time to gain real-world work experience after college can give you more perspective and help you decide if law school is truly right for you.

Cons:

--Tough job market: While the economy is in recovery, jobs are still not readily available for all recent college graduates. As a result, finding a fulfilling job with a JD from a top school in three years will likely be easier than finding such a job right out of college.

[Find employers hiring grads from your college.]

If you are already certain that you want to go to law school and you have no specific reason to delay, starting right after college can be beneficial as you can start focusing on your long-term career immediately.

-- Loss of motivation: If you are able to find compelling employment after college, you may lose some of the motivation to go to law school that may have felt strong while you were sitting in political science or philosophy classes in college.

A stable job with regular paychecks often brings with it a comfortable lifestyle. If you enjoy your job and it offers growth opportunity, law school may seem like less of a priority.

-- More time to fill: Law schools prefer not to see substantial gaps in your résumé. If you take time off after college, you will need to fill that time with jobs, volunteer programs, or other activities.

You will need to be as active after graduation as you were during college. Leadership positions you held in college will not be as valuable in your applications a few years later if you have not held similar positions with, for example, nonprofit organizations since then.

-- Loss of momentum: During college, you spend most weekends and nights studying and writing papers. If you start working after college, you may grow used to the opposite schedule of working during the day and having nights and weekends to yourself.

Since your first year law school grades are essential to your professional opportunities after law school, you do not want to falter in the beginning as you are readjusting to an academic lifestyle.

Are you planning on taking time before law school? Let me know in the comments, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.

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