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Psychology major for prospective law school student

soulofheaven8soulofheaven8 556 replies18 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 574 Member
edited March 2011 in Law School
I am currently a freshman at Columbia University and am leaning toward majoring in psychology. How is psychology perceived in terms of law school admissions? What is the general sentiment toward psychology? Would it be a "hard" major or "easy" major?

Psychology at Columbia is graded on a similar curve as the sciences courses (not humanities), although I don't really know what the significance of that is.
edited March 2011
13 replies
Post edited by soulofheaven8 on
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Replies to: Psychology major for prospective law school student

  • concerneddadconcerneddad 1591 replies143 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,734 Senior Member
    IMHO, you undergrad major is less important than you ability to communicate. Having been in practice for 20 years, I have still to figure out why so many students think polisci is the way to go. I have yet to have a single case in 20 years that even remotely touches upon a political question.

    Do you write? Do you write well? Can you read critically? These are the skills that are required for success in the law.
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  • soulofheaven8soulofheaven8 556 replies18 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 574 Member
    Thank you.

    To what extent to you think psychology will address the skills you mentioned above?
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  • concerneddadconcerneddad 1591 replies143 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1,734 Senior Member
    To the extent that psy, like many social sciences, are based upon theory rather than inalienable truths, it will give you some ability to understand the competing lines of reasoning that case law can represent. For example, most U.S. Supreme Court cases are not unanimous decisions, and each concurring or dissenting opinion can espouse its own theory or rationale for reaching the conclusion that it does. Thus, coming from a discipline that values such arguments can be an aid. I came from an anthropology background that also had many competing theories.

    As far as writing skills, it would just depend on the partiuclar instructor and what assignments they had out. I did not have a lot of undergrad writing experience and was somewaht handicapped upon entering law school. But, I got lucky, had a great reseach and writing prof., and became an appellate attorney who writes for a living.
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  • sakkysakky 14563 replies196 discussions- Posts: 14,759 Senior Member
    While I can't comment on how the grades in psychology might be curved, I think it is unlikely that psychology as a whole is as difficult as the hard sciences at Columbia. That might be due to the caliber of the students in psychology (weaker students effectively means an easier curve), or whatnot. But the point is, you must agree, you are going to find few students at Columbia who say that they originally wanted to study psychology, but it was just too difficult, so now they're majoring in chemistry or physics. It would be far more likely for you to find the reverse situation (Columbia students who came in wanting to study physics but found it to be too difficult, so now they're in psychology).

    I don't really like saying this, but what I would advocate as far as law school admissions goes, your best major goes is one where you have the best chance of getting high grades. That usually boils down to what you are good at and what happens to be easily graded (without much work) at your school. The hardest part about law school is getting admitted in the first place. So you gotta do what you gotta do to maximize your chances of admission, and to do that means getting high grades, and if that means cherry-picking a whole bunch of easy classes, so be it. Does it really help you if you take classes that boost your writing and analytical skills if by doing so you end up with a bunch of bad grades that prevent you from getting admitted to law school in the first place? Your first priority should be getting admitted. It sounds sad and cynical, but that is the game of law school admissions.
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  • soulofheaven8soulofheaven8 556 replies18 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 574 Member
    I tend to agree.

    Do you think that by majoring in psychology and not having writing/reading as a focus will somewhat hurt my chances of doing well on the LSAT? I understand that the LSAT is supposedly an aptitude test and not an achievements test, and some has likened the LSAT to be an elongated version of the verbal section of the SAT. Assuming that one got an 800 on his SAT verbal and his reading/writing skills do not "rust" while in college, how good of a predictor is SAT verbal score for LSAT score?
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  • soulofheaven8soulofheaven8 556 replies18 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 574 Member
    also, exactly how important are extracurriculars? undergrad admissions tend to place much emphasis on EC, how different is law school admissions in that regard?
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  • sakkysakky 14563 replies196 discussions- Posts: 14,759 Senior Member
    Law school admissions are less concerned about EC's than is undergrad admission. However you should still have EC's, particularly if you want to get admitted into an elite program. Having a 'hook' is important, but not as important as it was in undergrad admission.

    Your LSAT score is your LSAT score and there really isn't a whole lot you can do to change it. It is rather highly correlated with your SAT-verbal.
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  • ariesathenaariesathena 5072 replies16 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 5,088 Senior Member
    Just something to mention: GPA and LSAT are of paramount importance in law school admissions. Schools will consider them differnently - some like to see the high LSAT, others are more GPA focused. Then, they consider other things, in no particular order:
    *major
    *school
    *graduate work
    *work experience
    *essay
    *recommendations

    I really don't think that law school admissions are anything like undergrad. I don't think that they'll say, "oh, she's a psych major, let's take her above the poli sci major" or "she's a psych major, let's take the philosophy major instead." My guess is that most majors are lumped together - psych is a good major, not killer hard but not a joke. It'll be considered the same way things like English or French or history would be.

    I really believe that, unless you are talking either extreme in difficulty (like engin. being overly hard or communications being quite easy), your major won't matter. Really, it won't. The most important thing about it is how much you like it. If you enjoy the material in psych more than in poli sci, you'll do better in it. You'll be able to get better recommendations from professors, probably be more willing to do a thesis - all of which will look great on your application to law school.

    Just my take - but, as a 1L, I've met people who majored in almost everything, from the most common poli sci, to others like math, English, theatre, a bunch of other engineers, journalism, history, foreign languages.

    I completely agree with concernedDad - being able to write coherently is incredibly important. I would advise you to take technical writing courses if they are offered. Some people might disagree, but I think that, while research papers in the humanities are good, technical writing is much more like legal writing. It is sharp, clear, highly structured, and is designed to communicate information concisely. I've done both long seminar papers and technical writing (reports and proposals for my company as well as a technical writing course undergrad), and found the technical writing to be much better training for law school.

    Psych might have a similar structure if you do something like neuro psych research and then report on it. Check into that - because if you can learn to write in a clear, non-flowery style, you'll be better off in law school.
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  • soulofheaven8soulofheaven8 556 replies18 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 574 Member
    AriesAthena, you mentioned that undergraduate school attended is something that they take into consideration. How much of an impact does that have? I remember reading on another thread that law schools would rather take a 4.0 student from a mediocre school than a 3.0 student from MIT. Let's say I graduate Columbia with a 3.4/3.5, all else being equal, how would I measure up against a student from an average school who is sporting a 3.8/3.9?

    Also, how much of a benefit do they give to their own undergrads? I.e. is Columbia Law School more likely to admit someone who attended Columbia for undergrad if two applicants are similar? I know Law Schools like to say that they don't give preferential treatment to their own undergrads, but really how true is that?
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  • ariesathenaariesathena 5072 replies16 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 5,088 Senior Member
    Aaackkk... I'll try to answer, but I'm not an expert on specifics.

    Most law schools do straight GPA, with some measure of how you performed relative to everyone else in your class who applies to law school. Generally, schools develop an index: your GPA times a certain number plus your LSAT times a certain number. Some will subsitute class rank. They then put all the apps in order, and pretty much read from the top down and the bottom up (admitting and rejecting, respectively). I know that Penn does a slightly different twist: they take your class rank, your LSAT, and the average LSAT of the kids applying from your school, and use a formula to give you an index number. This obviously benefits people who go to better schools.

    That said, to answer your question, it really depends on the school. Unless you are talking Harvard, Yale, or Stanford, a 3.5 is a great GPA and fine for law school. It won't help you out at Columbia, but it won't hurt you.

    Regarding whether there is a benefit to undergrads from that school: it really depends on the school. I know that for NYU, there is no benefit at all - the law school is in a different league from undergrad. For Emory, I think there is a huge benefit to having gone there undergrad.
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  • emsibdnemsibdn 762 replies52 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 814 Member
    A Psych major shouldn't hurt you. If you have analytical skills, and good writing skills, and of course, high LSAT and GPA, you should be fine.
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  • sakkysakky 14563 replies196 discussions- Posts: 14,759 Senior Member
    Just for point of reference, let's look at UCBerkeley prelaws who got into Columbia Law. In the year 2003, the average such Berkeley prelaw who got admitted to Columbia Law had a average GPA of 3.76.

    http://career.berkeley.edu/Law/lawStats.stm#school
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  • PsychPhDPsychPhD 1 replies0 discussionsRegistered User Posts: 1 New Member
    Hello everyone. I attended the University of Minnesota, received my M.S in clinical psychology with an MD track. When I finished, I was accepted to Northwestern Law School, and I later received my dual PhD/MD/JD degree. Due to the programs focus in medical and legal ethics, in addition to submitting the LSAT scores, Northwestern also required GRE scores. In my opinion if the law school you are attending accepts dual entrance exams, you will be better off taking the GRE tests, if your scores are high, they will increase your chances of being admitted with a higher standing than the students who only completed the LSAT. In this case the undergraduate GPA and graduate GPA were not as crucial, the focus was mainly on the entrance exams.
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