Tell me what we need to know for pre-law

We are very late to the game as my daughter is a senior who has been very undecided but recently thinks that law school is the direction she wants to go. So, tell me what I need to know for undergrad!
How important is prestige/reputation for undergrad?
What about the importance of prestige/reputation of law schools?
If she has dreams of going to Harvard Law (just an example) should she be looking very closely at feeder schools, or should she not pay attention to that and just select the best fit for her and do her best at that institution?
Is there such a thing as merit money for grad school, or do you really need to emphasize saving money on undergrad?
Are there direct admit programs or accelerated programs she should be researching?

I know kids change their minds all the time, but she’s definitely not a STEM person and this is the first path that she seems really intrigued by so I want to make sure we don’t make any obvious mistakes.

Undergrad prestige is unimportant for law school admission. Any decent school will do, even the state flagship.

Similar for major, any normal academic major will do. She should major in what interests her, whatever she might choose if she ends up not going to law school. “Pre-law” programs are completely unnecessary.

For BigLaw jobs, law school prestige matters very much. When the time comes, she should look at the top 14 law schools (per US News). T14 admission is primarily a numbers game, LSAT and college GPA. She should take LSAT after prep. There are chance calculators on the internet for these two metrics.

Some merit money exists within the T14, though not likely for Harvard. It is worth saving money in undergrad, though also consider “what if” the student changes her mind on law school, what would her alternate path look like - keep those alternate doors open as well.


Not as important as your undergraduate GPA and LSAT score. A kid at SUNY Binghamton with a 3.85 GPA and 170 on the LSAT is in a better position than a kid at Cornell with a 3.65 GPA and 168 on the LSAT.

High undergrad GPA and LSAT scores often translate to significant discounts on you law school tuition. You definitely want to emphasize avoiding a large amount of law school debt.

It’s very important in that the prestige/reputation of the law school you attend has a big impact on your legal employment prospects.


She should choose an undergrad school which is cheap for her (law school is expensive), and she should major in whatever she loves, so that she’ll do well in it. GPA and LSAT are the name of the game. Better to major in something which develops her ability to absorb and analyse large amounts of written material, make well-reasoned conclusions, and express herself well in writing.


Well, maybe yes maybe no; it depends on several factors. For example, where does a person want to practice law – small town, medium-sized city, or megalopolis? Home state or somewhere else? If you want to practice law in your home state, then getting a law degree from your flagship state public university’s law school may be just the thing – and at a relatively reasonable cost. If you go to a top-14 law school, then the cost of that law school education may effectively force you to go to a market – i.e., megalopolis – where you can make the large salary that you will need to repay all those debts from law school (along with paying a high cost of living).

If you have good grades from a reputable (not necessarily “prestigious”) law school, and you have good personal qualities, then you should be able to get a good job as a lawyer.

Also, your daughter need not worry to much about having a specific major as a prerequisite for getting into law school; good writing and analytical skills are going to be more important than any particular major.

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As others have said prestige undergrad or major undergrad do not matter. Go where you can get the highest grades and concentrate on getting a high LSAT score. Several of my son’s fraternity brothers at a state school, that although not highly ranked, provided excellent education for them, are now doing well at T14 law schools! Minimized debt undergrad.

T14 law schools are the most desirable however excellent local big city (not NY, DC, LA, Chicago) firms will hire from the large regional law schools. Example is my husband, a lawyer. He was undergrad chemisty at a good but not great undergrad university and had a chem engineering masters from a state university. He went to a T14 law school. His large firm hires from a lot of the T14 schools but also top grads from the regional law schools.

So depends on what she is looking for. Find a good fit where she will do well and minimizes debt!


Great information, thank you all.

Follow up questions:

Would an undergraduate student at a school have an admissions advantage at that school’s law school? For example, would a Duke grad have an advantage when applying to Duke Law?

We are in NC. My student is trying to talk herself into UNC-CH, which is obviously an amazing school but in my opinion not a good fit for her. She is drawn to smaller schools and strongly prefers discussion-based classes and strong relationships with professors. She is being lured by the cost:reputation, which I totally get. But, if she were to get good merit from a better fit school (her top choices so far are Elon, Rollins and University of San Diego), it sounds like if she came out of those schools as an undergrad with strong grades and did well on the LSAT she would be just as strong of a candidate as if she graduated from UNC?

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All things being equal, going to UNC-CH would probably give your daughter some advantage, but it’s secondary to GPA and LSAT. Also, whatever advantage she might get going to CH is not worth it if it’s a bad fit. As far as whether going to a school undergrad helps you get into the school’s law school, I don’t know.

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She can get all those things at UNC. SHE has to make them happen. Most upper division courses are smaller, every professor is available during office hours. There are lots of ways to make a big school seem smaller.

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This might be a question that you should pose to the UNC-CH law school admissions director. My sense is that it doesn’t matter where your daughter goes to school as an undergraduate, that her grades and LSAT scores (and perhaps NC residency) will be more important for admission to UNC law school; but best ask the people in the law school admissions office.

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