K-JD or Take Time Off Before Law School?

Law School Expert Blog

Should I take time off before law school?

When people first ask me this question, I think they usually mean, “Will law schools like me better if I take a year or two off before applying?” If your grades need to show another year of improvement and/or you need more time to prepare for the LSAT, waiting a year can absolutely benefit your admission chances. However, grades and LSAT being equal, there is no clear preference for an applicant who takes time off and one who goes to law school straight from college. Even Northwestern Law, which spends a lot of time discussing the value of work experience in applicants, takes people straight out of college. However, post-graduation endeavors add to your application and expertise. Completing a fellowship, attaining an impressive graduate degree, or gaining experience in a sophisticated career adds to your other achievements significantly, especially at top law schools. Yale Law School reports on its website that, for the Class of 2026, only 12 percent were admitted directly from college.[1]

Some of the benefits to taking time off include:

  1. The chance to show an upward trend in grades;
  2. Saving money for law school;
  3. Deciding what you want to do with your life/career;
  4. Taking classes and/or having jobs that will garner positive
  5. letters of recommendation;
  6. Gaining experiences that can help you when you apply for positions during law school;
  7. Developing the work ethic necessary to excel in law school and in the legal profession;
  8. Teaching you a lot about areas of law you might enjoy, the lifestyle you hope to create for yourself, and what’s important to you in a work environment, and
  9. Obtaining expertise that will enable meaningful contributions and add to the distinction of the entering class.

And, let’s be honest, sometimes you just need a break. You may not get another chance in life to travel, live abroad, teach, volunteer, etc.

If you’re planning to take a year or two off before going to law school, here are some suggestions for you:

  1. Obtain academic letters of recommendation before you graduate and have them sent to LSAC, where they can be stored. Professors may not remember you as clearly in a year or two or may change jobs and be hard to track down.
  2. If your reason for waiting a year is to gain work experience to boost your application, keep in mind that you won’t have much work experience to speak of by the time you apply: if you apply in the fall, you’ll only have a couple of months of work under your belt. While there are definitely reasons to wait until the next cycle to apply (LSAT preparation, having your senior year grades count toward your UGPA, being sure of your decision to pursue law, and/or to save money before law school), gaining work experience isn’t one of them because you won’t have time to gain significant experience unless you take at least two years off before going to law school.
  3. It can make sense to take on a job that has a two-year commitment to gain more significant experience. Some typical post-college, prelaw school programs require this — for example, Teach For America or a paralegal program at a legal organization. You may decide to work in a law firm to be sure you want to move into the profession and/or to demonstrate interest in law.
  4. You may want to use time after graduation to explore other professions. If there is anything else that would make you happy in life, now is the time to explore it, not when you’re knee-deep in civil procedure as a 1L. Whether it’s consulting, investment banking, teaching, or working in marketing, policy, development, politics, or the nonprofit world, there is value in exploring other options, both from a personal fulfillment perspective and in terms of bringing experience and diversity to your candidacy as a law student.
  5. If you have difficulty finding a professional-level job, take the job you need and consider volunteering. It doesn’t have to be law-related, as long as it’s something you’re passionate about.
  6. I generally do not recommend obtaining a paralegal certificate to demonstrate good grades in the courses or interest in law; the payoff is just not worth the price. You’re better off working in a law firm and learning on the ground.
  7. You may choose to complete a one-year master’s program in an area of interest during this time. Be sure you would complete the program prior to starting law school.
  8. Consider taking the LSAT before you begin your post-graduate employment. Once you’re working full-time and out of the habit of studying, it can be more difficult to give the test the time and attention it deserves.

Advice for College Graduates:

  1. Think about how you’re going to manage the time it will take to prepare for the LSAT and apply to law school, and how you will manage your work and personal responsibilities. It’s important not to underestimate the effort. If you are working full time or caring for children, you may only have five to ten hours each week to prepare for the LSAT, so you will need more than three months to prepare — you may even need nine months or a year. And, if it’s been a long time since you’ve taken a standardized test and/or if you typically struggle with standardized exams, you’ll want to give yourself additional time to get ready. Often, older applicants feel a great hurry to start law school as soon as possible, but the opportunities you will have regarding what law school you can get into and whether you will be competitive for scholarships will depend on your LSAT score, especially if your college performance was unimpressive.
  2. If you suspect that an undiagnosed learning disability was a reason for subpar academic performance or standardized test scores, invest in psychological evaluation so that you can obtain accommodations for the LSAT.
  3. One challenge that older applicants often face is obtaining letters of recommendation. You may want to begin reaching out to former professors from college or graduate school and/or former employers. If you are working but not comfortable letting your employer know that you are thinking of leaving, then you will need to be creative about people who will be qualified to write about your academic and/or professional abilities. You may need to add a volunteer position or audit a class to add to the list of potential recommenders. This would be especially helpful for a stay-at-home parent who is applying to law school. (See Chapter X for more on letters of recommendation.)
  4. In addition to budgeting time, you’ll need to budget your financial resources. LSAT preparation and applications (and admission consulting!) add up quickly, and that’s before you think about saving money for law school itself. Traveling to visit schools (especially after admission, when you’re deciding where to attend) should be part of your budget as well.
  5. If you’re still deciding whether these efforts will be worth the sacrifices involved, think deeply about the impact on your career and potential earnings after law school. Research your prospective career and modify your expectations accordingly. Older applicants face a different set of issues when deciding whether a law career is feasible given their family demands, financial situation, and the age at which they hope to retire. The expense of attending law school is an even bigger deterrent for those who have fewer working years ahead of them, and some career options may be less attractive to older people — for example, being a first-year associate at a large law firm, where billing expectations are high and it takes longer to assume meaningful responsibility for cases. It may be more attractive to be a solo practitioner, to work for the government, or to join a smaller firm. But, in most cases, the salary range is lower. It may not be worth taking out $150,000 in student loans at age 47.

[1] https://law.yale.edu/admissions/profiles-statistics

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