Law school is notoriously challenging -- both gaining admission into a top school and being successful in its classes. Choosing the right major as an undergraduate student can help to increase your chances of being admitted to the best law schools and to be more successful as a student. Criminal justice is a common undergraduate major for students hoping to attend law school, but experts disagree on whether it's a good choice as a pre-law major.
Skills Needed for Law School
Knowledge of the law is not enough to be successful as a law student or lawyer. The American Bar Association says there are certain skills students should develop in order to be successful. These include being able to analyze material, solve problems, read and think critically, write well, perform thorough research, manage time efficiently, stay organized, and communicate well. The ABA also recommends that students be committed to public service and the promotion of justice in order to succeed. Students can complete a variety of majors in order to attain these skills or can develop them through work experience.
Requirements for Admission
U.S. News & World Report notes that law schools do not require any specific undergraduate major to be admitted, nor do they require the completion of any specific course work. Instead, law schools evaluate students based on their grades, the rigor of their curriculum, their extracurricular activities and other factors. The American Bar Association says it does not recommend any specific route to law school or any specific undergraduate major. Instead, it recommends that students work on building the skills that will help them be successful for admissions. Students are free to choose the major that best aligns with their interests, and they should focus on getting good grades and building critical thinking and writing skills.
Pros of a Criminal Justice Degree
A criminal justice degree does offer many benefits for students who are interested in the major and want to attend law school. Coursework focuses on criminal justice topics, which include an exploration of the law, court proceedings, the corrections system and other aspects of the legal system. In addition to providing an introduction to the law, a degree in criminal justice also includes courses in research and writing, which can help prepare students for the skills that the ABA suggests for success in law school. Statistical analysis, research methodology and writing courses are all typically included in criminal justice degree programs.
Cons of a Criminal Justice Degree
Though research and writing are part of a criminal justice degree, they may not be as prominent as in other degrees. Students may actually benefit more from other undergraduate majors for their law school preparation. Above the Law reported on findings from Professor Michael Nieswiadomy that showed the average LSAT scores by undergraduate major. Those who majored in physics, math, economics, philosophy, international relations and engineering all scored the best on the Law School Admissions Test, with scores ranging from 156 to 160, out of a possible 180. Students who majored in education, business administration, health professions, pre-law and criminal justice all scored the worst, with scores from 146 to 149. Those who majored in criminal justice had an average LSAT score of 146. Therefore, a criminal justice major may not be providing students with the strong analytical or writing skills that they need to succeed in law school.
- Penn State: Course List - Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
- U.S. News & World Report: Future Law Students Should Avoid Prelaw Majors, Some Say
- American Bar Association: Preparing for Law School
- Above the Law: Don't Major in Criminal Justice If You Want to Go to Law School
- LSAT Freedom: What Is the Best Major for Law School?
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