Why is Lycoming's Program unique?
A note from the pre-law advisor, Dr. John M. Whelan, Jr., Professor of Philosophy
Naturally I'm biased, but I believe the Lycoming College Pre-Law Program is unique, and I believe it gives our students an advantage in the highly competitive law school admissions process. Recent graduates have been accepted to law school at UCLA, NYU, Cornell, Georgetown, Vanderbilt, Washington and Lee, Washington U in St. Louis, William and Mary, Penn State Dickinson and Main Campus, Tulane, Villanova, Temple, and the University of Pittsburgh, among many others.
Most law schools reject 50% of their applicants, and the better-known schools reject a much higher percentage. Your grades in college and your score on the Law School Admissions Test, a three-hour exam similar to the verbal and writing sections of the SATs, are the most important factors determining whether you'll be accepted to the law school of your choice.
I'm assuming that students interested in law will do what it takes to achieve good grades. But, Lycoming has a program designed to help you do well on the LSAT, too. Beginning in your freshmen year you'll take a practice LSAT. After we have the results, you and I will build a flexible, individualized, four-year plan of courses and internships designed to enhance your chances for admission to law school.
You'll also be able take practice LSATs your sophomore and junior years, and again, we'll meet after each to refine your plan. In the spring of your junior year, you'll be eligible to take a special mini-course designed to further hone your LSAT skills. When you finally take the LSAT for real, usually in the summer of your junior year, you'll be ready to do your best.
Preparation for law school is more than getting good grades and preparation for the LSAT. And Lycoming pre-law program has more to offer. In your freshmen or sophomore year, as part of the Lycoming College SHARE program, you will be able to work for a month in an area law firm. (A number of firms are located within easy walking distance of the campus.) In your junior year, you'll be eligible to complete a semester-long internship in a law firm, the District Attorney's Office or with Legal Services. Or, spend a semester in Washington DC, as part of Lycoming's Washington Semester.
How do law schools evaluate potential candidates?
The most important credential considered by law school selection committees are the results of your Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). The LSAT is a national exam written in similar style to the verbal and essay sections of the SAT.
The next most important credential is your college transcript and especially your cumulative grade point average.
Not as important, but still meaningful in the final decision are letters of recommendation (best if written by faculty members).
Depending on the law school, other factors carry different weightings like ethnic background, gender, college activities, special interests, distinctive abilities, a personal statement, law related experience, and so forth.
What courses should I take in college?
As was mentioned in preceding pages, there is no prescribed major or set of courses for students seeking entrance to law school.
We advise that you take courses that you enjoy and in which you excel. For example, political science is a popular undergraduate major of current law school students. But if you do better in biology, make biology your major. A high average in biology is much better than a mediocre average in political science.
Also, sign up for courses that will help you do well on the LSAT. The LSAT assesses high level reading ability. Take courses which will require reading books and articles that argue, analyze, criticize, evaluate, interpret, and explain. Become a voracious reader!
Take courses that develop your ability to write. Every law school will ask about your writing ability. Every law school student needs to be able to write clear, effective prose. Too many law school students recognize too late that they should have taken more writing courses.
According to the Pre-Law Committee of the American Bar Association, the following courses are especially valuable for someone considering law school: accounting, public speaking, criminal justice, macro- and microeconomics, critical writing, United States history, pre-calculus or calculus, critical thinking, symbolic logic, contemporary political philosophy, U.S. government and politics, civil rights and liberties, courts and the criminal justice system, criminology, and racial and cultural minorities. This list is not meant to be exclusive and many other courses might prove to be helpful. In fact, any course which emphasizes analytic and problem solving skills, critical reading abilities, or writing and speaking skills will be valuable to someone intending to go to law school.
When and where should I apply to law school?
When should I apply to law school?
During your junior year, obtain at least two, and preferably three letters of recommendation. Register to take the LSAT in June following your junior year or in October of your senior year. Prepare for the LSAT by taking the Lycoming College "LSAT prep course" offered in May or September. Plan a minimum of one month of serious study and LSAT question review as you prepare for the exam.
After you receive the results of the LSAT, you will able to make realistic application plans. I suggest that you apply to at least six schools: two "dream" schools, two where you're certain that you have a solid chance, and two "safety" schools.
Where should I apply?
Check these sites for ideas of where to apply:
How do I get good recommendation letters?
Who shall I ask is an important question. Choose faculty members or administrator supervisors who know something about your ability to write, read, research, analyze problems, argue, and speak in front of groups. Perfunctory letters from "famous" people won't help.
Confidential letters are probably (slightly) better than non-confidential letters. But make sure your potential "recommenders" are able to write a strong letter on your behalf.
Don't assume the faculty member or supervisor knows everything about you. Provide them with information which will help them write a good letter. Make a list. Show them the paper you wrote with the great teacher comments. Remind them about the courses you took. Have a conversation about your plans. Is there anything distinctive about your course work, your experiences, your extracurricular activities, and your interest in law school? Specific details count. It’s what distinguishes you from all of the other candidates with similar GPAs and LSAT scores. Do as much as you can for the person who is recommending you. You want your letter to stand out.
Most important: ask for the recommendation well in advance of the deadline. The people you ask will be busy. Check on progress regularly. Some of the people you may ask will be busy and forgetful. Remember, in the last analysis, it's your responsibility to see that a good letter of recommendation arrives on time.
You will likely be applying to at least six schools. Make sure that you've filled out and organized your packet of forms.
If you think it's appropriate, make a copy of the following and give it to the people who are writing your letters of recommendation.
Writing a helpful letter of recommendation for law school
Virtually all law schools divide their candidates into three groups: clear admits, possible admits, and clear rejects based on LSAT score and GPA (with LSAT score being the more important factor). Your letter can make the difference between acceptance and rejection for candidates in the possible admit category.
Law schools will already have candidates categorized by LSAT and GPA when they read your letter. You can make a good guess about what that categorization is by looking at the Boston University Law School Locator.
Candidates will be helped if letters contain specific, comparative information. Quotes such as "One of the four or five best papers in the last two hundred I've looked at" or "Much more intellectually curious than any student within the last five years," etc.
Candidates will be helped if one can point to something distinctive in their course work, or experiences, or interest in law school: anything that might make them stand out from all of the other candidates with roughly the same GPA and LSAT score.
In some cases, candidates will be helped if one can make a plausible case that their GPA or LSAT score doesn't reflect their true ability: the candidate took much more demanding courses than average; the candidate had a serious medical problem in her sophomore year, etc.
Finally, if as a recommender you know that one of the schools is the candidate's first choice, you should include that information in the letter to that school.
Financing your law education and other helpful sites
Similar to students who apply for undergraduate financial aid, future law students must also complete the FAFSA and usually an in-house law school financial aid form.
Most law schools also offer some scholarships for incoming students. While they are extremely competitive, several Lycoming students have garnered excellent scholarships over the past several years. Students should thoroughly research the financial aid pages of the law schools they are considering and apply for the scholarships for which they may be eligible.
Loans are the most common form of financial aid available for law school; occasionally students may qualify for on-campus jobs.
The following links will take you to info about financial aid.