From The Comments : Double Majors, Switching Majors & Major Life Decisions

Law School Expert Blog

Creative Commons Photo by Nic McPhee.
Creative Commons Photo by Nic McPhee.

Each week, I try to set aside at least an hour or two to personally respond to the dozens (and sometimes hundreds!) of comments my blogs usually get. These comments cover a very wide range of concerns and specific situations, but every once in a while there are a few comments that I think are worth really highlighting because they apply to so many applicants.

This week, many of the comments had questions about the best undergraduate majors for law school, and I can tell many of you are thinking ahead about what will make you a competitive law school applicant. I did respond to both of these comments at the time, but I felt they are also worth exploring in a bit more detail.

Double Majors, Work Experience & Life Experience

1) Will I have any advantage over other applicants because of a double major?
2) How much impact can professional work experience have vs. LSAT/GPA?
3) What age would you recommend starting law school? (I will be graduating college at 23)

1 – The double major by itself doesn’t give you an advantage. Law schools judge majors on the basis of the academic rigor of your major, and how well you perform in that environment. Double majors would likely make a strong impression if you pair two academically rigorous disciplines, especially ones that show writing and analysis. Some majors go together naturally – International Relations and Chinese Studies, for example. This just makes sense, and would be a very impressive combination. Sometimes it can be interesting to have unrelated majors, like biochemistry and math, that are both challenging. It’s more about the major and how well you do in it, not specifically that it is a double major, especially if your grades in one of the majors is significantly lower than the other

2- Work experience can be persuasive to law schools if you’re able to show responsibility, personal development, and a direction that leads specifically to your law school goals. LSAT and GPA are important, but if you are able to show development and work experience, then you can make a strong argument that your LSAT and GPA do not display your skills completely, because you have something else that does demonstrate your skills. However, it’s important to emphasize a sophisticated professional background or significant financial responsibilities that you took on in order to demonstrate maturity sufficient to overcome lower numbers. Not all work experience is equal.

3 – There’s no particular age I recommend – but you have to consider where you are in your personal life and whether law school will be feasible once you have a family, etc. Law school is a full-time job, and then some. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, it’s emotionally difficult, and I have yet to see most people get out of law school without changing at least somewhat. As I talked about in Why Going To Law School Is Worth The Sacrifice, there are costs to law school. If you feel that you are in an emotional and mental space to make the investment, and you have supportive individuals in your life, then it’s worth it.

Switching Undergraduate Majors

I am a former business major but now an elementary education major. I discovered my passion for working with children and helping them succeed to their fullest potential in the middle of college and made the switch. Do you think i can get into a respectable law school with this major? What can i do to better my chances?

There are two big things to keep in mind when you change majors in your undergraduate studies: GPA and reasons.

First, your GPA matters. Switching majors often has an impact on your GPA, so make sure that if you switch, you pay very close attention to keeping your GPA up — or even bringing it up even higher than it was. In more academically rigorous majors, a lower GPA can be explained to an extent, but if you were switching majors to find something you were passionate about, then your grades should demonstrate that passion and aptitude for the subject.

If you switch multiple times you might appear lost – even more lost than you might’ve looked having an unpopular major for law school applicants. I generally believe that if you major in something that you truly find interesting, regardless of whether you think law schools will be impressed, you will be the better student, stronger applicant, and more fulfilled individual. Along these same lines, be careful about choosing a major simply because your parents told you it would be practical. If you’re not well suited for it, and if you don’t feel successful in those classes, then it’s not going to be such a sure bet for a career after all.

What Are You Wondering?

For all of you in undergrad, I hope your finals are going well! Keep those questions coming, and keep in mind that just until January 31st, 2015, you can sign up for the Mad Dash package to get all your questions personally answered.

29 Responses

  1. I really need some advice from an attorney in regards to legal education, the steps they took, the realities of the legal career that aren’t known to law students, and overall advice on revealing the life of an attorney. This inside would help me greatly decide my next steps because I do not know of any attorneys let alone, I want to make sure that this path i have chosen is what I genuinely want to do verses a mixture of what I think I want and the career path of lawyer the world sees

  2. Please provide a hypothetical situation where an applicant with a low UGPA and a low LSAT score coupled with a ‘sophisticated professional background’ and/or ‘significant financial responsibilities’ is accepted into a top 10 law school. Also, please provide a hypo where an applicant isn’t accepted into a top 10 law school because their professional background wouldn’t offset a low UGPA and LSAT.

    1. Great Question, INeedNewLore.
      Ok, so this past cycle, for example:
      1. I had someone with approx. a 3.4 and 164 accepted at a top 5 school. He was a self-made person, first in his family to go to college. He worked full time as a financial advisor while in college, and took the LSAT multiple times, finally resulting in a 164. Obviously, a 164 is a good score, but generally not good enough for a Top 5.
      2. Not top 10, but top 14: I had a client with a low 150s and 3.0 at an online school get into Georgetown – he had a 20 year career in the navy.
      3. Being a retail manager is an example of someone whose work experience wouldn’t offset a low GPA or LSAT score.

  3. Hi Ann,

    I would send this question to you directly, but I notice from my research that there is not much info out there on the topic of my question. To what extent can you “make up for” a low undergraduate GPA with high graduate-level grades?


    1. Hi Andrea,
      I’m glad you posted this question – sorry it took me a couple of weeks to answer it.

      The factors are this – if your graduate degree is in an academically challenging subject and from a reputable university, that counts for a lot – it shows schools that your academic potential is proven beyond your undergraduate performance. If your graduate grades are recent enough that you have a strong endorsement (LOR) from one of your professors, and if you wrote a thesis and did serious academic level work, then the law schools will absolutely take all of this into consideration. However, it won’t erase bad undergraduate grades, but it will certainly provide a reason to discount them. The key will be whether your LSAT score puts you in range at the schools where you are applying because this will really tell a law school how you will compete with its students.

      Some law schools are more forgiving than others and many will forgive a low LSAT more easily than a low undergraduate GPA.

      I don’t know if this was the news you were hoping for, but I hope it’s helpful.

  4. Hi Ann,
    I graduated with a major in Visual and Media Arts and a minor in Sociology (from a top 10 school in it’s field). I focused many of my classes on intercultural and global relations. Since graduating in ’12 I have worked on a television show focusing on different cultures that is shown on a top network and have also been volunteering as an English tutor for recent immigrants. I am looking to go back to school Fall ’16 for Immigration Law. Would my undergraduate/work experience be beneficial to me? Or would it be looked down upon by schools since I did not take many typically rigorous classes? Is there something I could do to make up for this lack of traditional criteria?
    Thank you!

  5. Hi Ann,

    I graduated with a degree in Political Science from well ranked state school, but my GPA is a disappointing 3.2, due to some bad course decisions early on in college. I am taking the October LSAT. While in undergraduate I worked at a law firm between 24-32 hour/week. I have two questions based on my background and this post. 1) What type of LSAT score would be ideal for me to have a real shot at a T-14 school? 2) And what would be the best way to highlight my work experience (this is not “daddy’s firm” and I have advanced well beyond receptionist/file clerk in the 4 years I have been with the firm)?

    Thank You.

    1. Hi Cam,
      You will want to shoot for an LSAT score at the 75th percentile of the schools you’d like to attend, for sure. Letters of rec from the firm will help you build credibility with your job.

  6. Hi Ann,
    I know you discussed double majors, but what about double/joint degrees? If I have a GPA at or right below the 25th percentile but an LSAT score at the median, could having a double degree make up, in a sense, for the gpa? Would a double degree be marketable, at all, for law schools?


      1. Thanks for the quick response! Would having a double degree be a positive reflection I’m my application at all?

  7. Hi Ann,
    I have a double major in Environmental Science and Political Science. I have done a ton of work with the environment, including creating my university’s environmental club (president all 4 years), creating and running a non-profit organization promoting environmental consciousness in my city, having several papers published on environmental topics, interning with sustainability consulting firms, etc. My question is: Will my obvious passion for the environment hurt me? I’m afraid I will look too homogenous considering my most outstanding accomplishments are all related to the environment.

  8. I jumped around a lot in the beginning of my education, and switched colleges a few times. I went through a lot of family trouble that forced me to put my education on the back burner, and now I’m in pursuit of a double major in Philosophy and Economics. Will my double major, along with a high LSAT score and letters of recommendation be enough to out-weigh my inconsistency in my early years? I have quite a few “W”s on my transcript that I’m worried about, but I didn’t really have a choice. Every time I would start my education again, another family tragedy would take place and de-rail me, forcing me to move, or drop my classes, or focus my attention elsewhere. This was a few years ago now, but I still would like some insight due to where I’m at now. Thank you so much!

    1. Paige, you’ll want to explain your history with your transcripts and show why your LSAT score is the better indicator of your ability to succeed at this point in your life.

  9. Hello, I have a 3.9 gpa and am currently a rising junior. I am likely to graduate Summa Cum Laude from a top 100 school. I am stuck on whether I should double major in finance and accounting or just stick with accounting. I plan on attending a top law program but I have only a few academic honor societies on my resume and am planning on joining the pre-law society and a couple of other philanthropic clubs. I have taken a cold lsat (no prep or anything) and received a 155 (mostly due to a poor LG section) My question is, what do you think the best thing I could do to increase my marketability. Is it double majoring, interning at a law firm this fall and maybe joining a few clubs?

    Looking forward to hearing from you.

    1. Tim, Finance and accounting are both great backgrounds for law school admission, especially with your GPA.
      I think it’s a little late to join some clubs just to throw something on your resume. Maybe find something you are passionate about to volunteer with? I hope this helps.

  10. Hi Ann
    Currently I am a freshman in Economics. In 2 years I have to declare either being Economics, business economists or quantitative economics. Which one do you think will be more desirable for Law school?
    Thank you

  11. I am an undergraduate freshman at a top-20 university. I am majoring in Computer Science and completing a minor that deals with social/political theory and law. Although I’m pretty sure I’ll major in Comp Sci, I am on the fence about whether I will stick with it as a career path or instead go to law school and become an attorney. I have enough Advanced Placement (AP) credit from high school that I could graduate in 6 or 7 semesters instead of the standard 8. This would not be that difficult or straining; I would still have time to fit in my minor plus a fair number of electives. And it would save time and tuition. Now, I’ve read rumors that law schools dislike early graduation because 1) it looks like I am “rushing through life” and 2) if I apply during my 3rd year of college, they can only see 2 years of grades, so they have to make a decision about me with less info. Do you think it’s true that law schools disapprove of this? If so, what if I graduate early but work in a tech company for a few years before applying to law school? Would this alleviate any issues? The reason I am asking about this so early is that I need to start planning my course schedule for the upcoming semesters, and this requires knowing how many semesters I plan to spend. I would love to hear your insights!

    1. Hi Sam, I have seen early graduates do well in the admission process, especially when financially motivated to get through college more quickly. The bigger issue is that with a major in Comp Sci and no work experience, law schools will wonder how you can be sure you want to go to law school. Try to collect classes and experiences you can point to that will demonstrate you’ve really explored law as an option.

  12. is a double major in psychology and political science better or a major/minor for law school?

  13. I know that the emphasis of the thread is that a double major doesn’t really hurt, but doesn’t necessarily help compared to LSAT/GPA. I am sill in undergrad right now I have a double major and a minor. I have a 4.0, but I was wondering if having the minor (something I’m passionate about & will focus on in Law School) is worth the stress. I obviously won’t postpone graduation over it, but I was wondering if it is worth the Summer Class/Intersession courses. Thank you!

      1. Hi Ann,

        A student majored in Economics, has a 4.0, a great LSAT, and published a research article in an academic journal. However, he first majored in env sci (one sem) then switched to chemistry (one sem) until he settled on economics. Will the switches affect his admissions to a law school such as Ann Arbor or U Chicago?

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