Undergrad to Law School

I am currently a senior in high school making my decision on where to go to undergrad school. I have not committed, but I am pretty sure I will go to Gonzaga. I recognize that it is not an insanely prestigious university. I am interested in law and I think there is a good chance I will end up going to law school after undergrad. I was wondering if there is any chance of getting accepted to a top five law school after attending a not-so-prestigious university for undergraduate. I know that GPA and LSAT are huge factors so assuming I am able to maintain a high GPA and get a good score on the LSAT, do I still have a good shot of acceptance to a prestigious law school? I was also wondering if there is anything I should specifically focus on throughout undergrad in order to raise my chances. I plan on participating in Mock Trial and maybe debate as well as finding internships that relate to law. Any comments or advice are greatly appreciated.

Absolutely. I am a lawyer and also teach at Duke Law School. Gonzaga is a fine school. Just work hard, major in something rigorous and present the best application you can. Also, don’t be afraid to go “down the list” for law school, particularly if those schools offer merit aid. Law school is not worth $300k in debt.


Plan to work for a couple of years after UG. If you look at the top law schools the % of students coming straight through is shrinking steadily. Only 8% of the new crop of Yale Law students (Harvard 28%, Stanford 35%) came straight through from UG. That time gives you a multitude of benefits, including work experience that can help you discern more clearly what you want to do (and also yield good LoRs), and LSAT study time w/o impacting your GPA.

ps, 100% agree on the debt thing

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It’s 18% for Harvard and

I couldn’t find the stats for Stanford, but it’s likely lower than Harvard’s.

That having been said, ds graduated recently from a top 6 as a KJD (kindergarten to law degree aka someone who didn’t take a break after college). He “might” have had better law school and post-law school options if he had taken time to work, but he knew he wanted to go to law school and be a lawyer. He didn’t have any other aspirations.

I know the advice and trend is to take a few years off to work. Do you think it would harm me if I don’t?

Here’s my situation. I’m employed as a paralegal aid in “Big Law” - I’m a rising junior at Tufts. I’ve been working since I began college. I spent my first two years in litigation with some work in corporate. Starting next week I will be working in corporate and training in research.

I will have a full 4 years of work experience by the time I finish college with LOR’s. Do you think I’m ok to go directly into LS. Looking top 14. GPA 3.98 and prepping for LSAT now.


Law schools prefer students who worked post-college because of the experience, judgment, and self-knowledge/understanding that can bring. If a student develops those during undergrad, because of their particular path, that can be one way to demonstrate to Admissions that a KJD student would thrive in law school. Writing a personal statement which highlights that sort of growth, teamwork, judgment, self-reflection, could help.

Law school is so very different from undergrad, and that is why having time to work, get knocked around a bit, work for difficult bosses, face challenges etc., can be helpful preparation for law school. Law school classes – typically – have no interim performance markers, there is a single, anonymous exam which is 100% of the course grade. Exams are not just testing knowledge of the subject, in fact, the assumption is that students know the material. Exams test a student’s ability to problem solve using the knowledge of the subject matter. I heard a podcast describe law school exams in this way – imagine you took a course in early U.S. history – early settlers etc. In a college course, you’d be tested on the content, maybe analyze some original texts etc. In a law school exam, you’d be asked, “ok, assume the early settlers landed on Planet x, analyze what would happen.”

Since students need to be self-directed to do the reading, outline etc., law schools wants students who have the maturity to succeed in that kind of environment. Finding ways to talk about that in your personal statement, and have recommenders who can comment on that as well, can make that case for admission.


Thank you so much for your thoughtful response. Great to have that perspective!!

  1. don’t hijack other people’s threads

  2. unless you are taking 8+ years to do UG, or you are working a 50 hour+ week and keeping a 3.98 as a full-time student at Tufts*, you won’t have a “full 4 years of work experience” when you graduate- you will have 4 years of part-time work.

  3. but yes, some of the benefits of the time in between will accrue to your having the exposure to a Big Law practice. As @bouders pointed out, it’s not that nobody goes straight through! it is just that the nature of the competition changes as the balance shifts from what students who have gone straight through can offer in an application to what applicants who have more experience can offer.

*if you are that is seriously impressive

    • What does that mean?
  1. I work 25 hours / week during school year. I also work full time on breaks and during the summer.

  • I never claimed to be “that impressive”…I’m just asking for advice on my situation. Looking for different points of view.

Not sure why the snarky response?


“hijacking” a thread is posting a question for yourself on somebody else’s thread - you are meant to start your own thread.

I didn’t mean to imply that you were claiming to be that impressive! truly, any student who could work those kinds of hours and keep up such a high GPA at Tufts would be jaw-droppingly impressive. IMO, working 25 hours / week and keeping that GPA at Tufts is impressive- at 50+ hours I can’t even imagine it.

Sorry it came across as quite so snarky- it wasn’t meant to be.

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My opinion is if you cant get into a T15 law school and want to work for a big firm, you have to graduate near the top of your class and be on Journal or Law Review. If you go to a T10 law school, you’ll have more opportunities even if you dont graduate near the top.

The worst case scenario (for big law and big $) is if you’re an average student at an average law school. At that point, your career options will be more limited.

Start doing logic puzzles for fun.


Wait. What school is this?

I think that’s impressive.


Lets get back to the OP’s question please.

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It sounds as if the ground has shifted a lot in the past thirty years or so. The question no longer is whether Gonzaga can get you into a T10 law school; the question is whether Gonzaga can guide you toward a meaningful enough post-graduate work experience that law schools would find attractive. It also doesn’t hurt to have a little savings set aside for these expensive programs. The business schools were way ahead of the “learned professions” in this regard. Now, brand-new doctors as well as lawyers are older than they used to be.

I wonder if the swing to a higher percent of law students with a few years of work experience is also a function of when students choose to apply vs just the selection process favoring students with some experience. Back in the 80’s when I applied, pretty much the path was studying for the LSAT summer of junior year and applying in the fall of senior. The vast majority of my classmates at law school were straight from undergrad.

Since then a couple of major shifts:

  1. Importance/intensity of summer internships while an undergrad. I worked as a prep cook in the local country club, my college roommate (HLS) worked as a plumber’s assistant. We had plenty of time to prep for the LSAT. My kid was working 50hr+ weeks in an IB internship.

  2. Ratio of the COA at law school relative to expected earnings. It is now about $300k for three years for the top private programs, much of it funded by debt unless the student has deep pocket parents or is lucky to get merit. Even assuming you got a top paying job at Big Law, the ratio of 3 year costs over starting annual gross earnings is about 3/2. It would be 3/1 or worse for other firms. Back in my day, the ratio was less than 1:1 for Big Law and around 3/2 for other jobs, and the absolute amount of debt was manageable. You could make a dent in it with summer and school time jobs.

Number 1 has caused a lot of students to take time off after senior year to better prep for the LSAT’s. We can see from the HLS data linked above about 19% of the admits only took 1 year off. Not saying that studying for the LSAT was the only thing they did, but I suspect most had a “plan”.

Number 2 makes law school a much higher stake investment. Understandably, before you make such in investment, you want to be pretty sure this is what you want to do. Maybe you work in a related field to see if this is a career you want to pursue. Maybe you burnish your resume to be more attractive to a T14, including collecting some good LoR’s. Saving some money also never hurts.


Not a specific school! That’s how a law school podcast described how law school exams are different from typical “knowledge” or “content” type exams. I thought that way of explaining law school exams was helpful – you are presumed to know the material, and are tested on how you apply to it to an unfamiliar set of facts.


very sage advice…

Sometimes I see students on CC talk about a pre-law track. I assume they mean government/history/poly sci.

You can study anything you want and go to law school as long as your grades are good and you score high on the LSAT.

One thing you want to consider is what if you go and then dont want to be a lawyer. What’s your backup plan?

Another consideration is if you want to be a patent attorney, you’ll probably need an undergrad degree in STEM to take the patent bar.

Those are the type of questions you want to think about in choosing your undergrad major.

My wife studied anthropology. I studied accounting/finance. My sister double majored in english/finance and my brother in law was an economics major.

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