University of Illinois

Preparing for Law School

First Steps

Students frequently ask what the very first steps are when preparing for law school. Quite simply, the first steps are:

  • Choose a major that you enjoy, and which suits your strengths
  • Begin building a strong academic record; and
  • Get involved on campus to develop service and leadership skills

Choosing a Major

Law schools do not require specific “prerequisite” courses in order to admit students. Due to the wide variety of legal subjects and disciplines, students from any major can apply to law school.

For that reason, “Pre-Law” is not a major or a minor—it is an educational goal signifying your intention to pursue postgraduate legal education. Identifying yourself as “Pre-Law” means that, throughout your undergraduate education, you are committed to developing the skills necessary to become a successful law student and a productive member of the legal community. Pre-Law students should strive to develop a strong academic record that demonstrates a broad educational base, regardless of your major.

Therefore, when selecting a major, it is important to consider:

  • Which major suits your strengths? What do you enjoy? You are more likely to create an academic record of demonstrated success by selecting an area of study that suits your strengths.
  • Are you challenging yourself?  Law schools will want to see that you’ve taken challenging coursework that gets progressively more difficult throughout your undergraduate education.
  • Are you succeeding in your current major? If you are academically struggling in your current major (aside from the Gen Eds you are taking), perhaps you should re-evaluate. Remember that undergraduate GPA is a very significant factor for getting into law school. Several semesters in a major that doesn’t suit your strengths will be quite difficult to overcome.
  • Seek assistance when you need it. DO NOT WAIT. If you are having second thoughts about your major, talk to your academic advisor sooner rather than later. Changing majors is best done earlier in your undergraduate career. Your academic advisor can also suggest resources to help you address academic issues, if you are struggling academically.

Course Planning

Because no one major is required for law school, many students wonder: “What should I be studying to prepare myself?” A good way to address this question is by reviewing what the American Bar Association recommends for students preparing for legal education. 

It is recommended that pre-law students carefully review the ABA’s Preparation for Legal Education statement. Use this document to help you assess which skills you are already developing through your major, and which skills you can improve by taking other coursework. This statement suggests that pre-law students develop skills in the following areas:

  • Analytical skills
  • Writing skills
  • Research skills
  • Critical reading skills
  • Oral communication skills

For example, if your major does not require extensive writing and research, select Gen Eds and electives that provide research and writing opportunities. An introductory public speaking course is a good choice for any student considering pre-law to develop better oral communication skills. Talk with your academic advisor about selecting courses to help you improve skills in these areas.

Gaining Leadership Skills/Volunteering

Law schools like to see candidates who can demonstrate leadership skills and who are involved in their communities. The American Bar Association refers in its statement to “the values of serving others and promoting justice”, and it recommends that “those thinking of entering this profession would be well served by having some significant experience, before coming to law school, in which they devoted substantial effort toward assisting others.” (See the ABA’s Preparation for Legal Education statement).

Pre-Law students would be wise to get involved on campus and beyond during their undergraduate years. Select a student organization or volunteer opportunity that interests you!

How to find opportunities:

Suggested Timeline

We have provided a suggested timeline for preparing for law school. This timeline presumes that the pre-law student will attend law school directly after graduation. Please reconsider time frames as they apply to your situation.