Looking for the best degree majors for law school? Spoiler alert: Criminal justice and pre-law are not on the list.
Now that we get that out of the way, here’s the truth and reality. Law school is very academically intensive. It involves a lot of reading, understanding very dense material, plus there is a dose of logic, history, rhetoric (meaning, compelling use of language), writing, research, and critical analysis.
Diversify Your Mind
If you plan on becoming an attorney or a judge, and you are in high school or early in college and thinking about the path to take to ensure the best chance of acceptance into law school, it is not a decision to be taken lightly. And we’re here to help you understand that it’s not always a good idea to have a major in a legal field (like criminal justice) on your way into a legal field as a career.
Some of the best advice we’ve ever had was when we were going through school and considering graduate school, one advisor said that if you get one degree in one field, you really should get an advanced degree in something indirect or tangential to your field. It was never suggested that a student who gets a degree in history should go on and get a master’s degree in Belgian colonial history.
The thought should be in this manner as well. If you already know you want to go through law school and perhaps get a J.D. someday, you will have to think backwards and take the advice of studying something other than law before you get to law school.
Not All Majors are the Same
Staying out of those programs that are directly related to law isn’t just a suggestion, but it stems from research of students in particular majors and their corresponding LSAT scores (more on that later). But we do want to caution that not every non-law major is more acceptable as a prerequisite for law school.
We do provide a hint above about the kinds of majors that seem to be better fits and seem to be the most appealing to law schools and which seem to do well with LSAT test-takers. While many majors can and do work for law school, not all of them do.
What we will provide here are a handful of the best majors for law-school applicants to consider studying in their undergrad work. The key here is not to choose a major just because it’s on this list, but choose it because it is interesting to you and you get a very high GPA. These majors won’t matter if you struggle in the courses.
First, the LSAT Numbers
It is a very interesting list. A recent survey of LSAT test-takers categorized the test-takers by their undergraduate majors and found the majors that seemed to score best on the law-school application exam. What is interesting is that of the 29 majors on the list, the bottom two were … get ready … pre-law and criminal justice. Those were the only law-based majors on the list.
What did better? While prelaw and criminal justice were two of six majors that averaged less than 150 on the exam, some of the ones which did better (with at least 1,000 students in those majors) were marketing, sociology, accounting, liberal arts, finance, journalism, English, history, engineering, philosophy and economics.
Seems like a very disparate range of majors, right? Well, there may be good reason for this. The best lawyers and law-school students are those who have a variety of skills, some of which are tested in various majors. Some are more creative while others are more logical and analytical. A good law student has both sides of the brain working.
A Good Law Student Is …
So what makes a good law student? First, it’s someone who doesn’t back down from a fight, such as a person who is willing to take on a rigorous major and come out successful on the other side. The majors that seem to do best in preparing students for law school are those legitimately rigorous majors that involve much study, intense writing or reading and some analysis.
Lawyers often have to research, understand what they are reading, be able to analyze it and think of ways to use what they learn in their cases. There is often a lot of writing involved, and there is a lot of logical thinking in terms of certain laws that are in place and why and how those laws are applied in each case.
And when you consider what each of these following majors have in common, though they seem disparate, it could make a lot of sense to become a law student if you are studying or considering any of these fields for your undergraduate work.
A ‘Major’ Assist
Now we get to the heart of the matter.
You may ask 10 different people about what the best law-school prep majors are and you may get at least a few different answers, but there may be a general consensus around these following majors., and we can give some reasons why they are looked upon favorably by admissions officers.
Again, to remind you – it’s not just about being in these majors that help; you should also be in the program because you love it and will excel in it. Good grades are important, but so is the passion that you have for the work.
Much of the law is based on history and all of the legal systems that have come before and how laws are written and interpreted and their overall mission of those laws. There can be some good discussion and analysis about how key historic events truly affected civilization and the law, not to mention society as a whole. Sometimes the impact of an event is not as obvious as it seems, and one of the skills of a lawyer is to be able to critically think and analyze precedents to understand what made them precedents and what still needs a legal
This comes down to two of the educational fundamentals – reading and writing. An English major will do a lot of reading of various types of literature and will likely be writing a lot of papers that are meant to show some critical analysis of literature, perhaps even in a compare-contrast nature. Much of law is about critical thinking, logical organization of arguments (which many English papers are) and lots of reading case law and analyzing the rulings and how they might affect the argument you make in your case.
This might be one of the more surprising ones to mention. But philosophy does play into law in a certain respect – knowing opposing arguments. A philosophy major will learn about different philosophers and their worldviews, understand the differences and why they see what they see. This skill can help a philosophy major anticipate what opposing counsel’s arguments will be in a case, and how to counteract that with his or her own information, facts and analysis. A good lawyer is prepared with every possible argument that the opposing side may use, and philosophy majors can be very adept at recognizing those arguments, being then a step ahead in the courtroom and having the advantage.
This is more about critical thinking and finding solutions while analyzing lots of complicated data – maybe more than you might need. Much of what goes on in court cases involves money, so knowing economic systems and how money works in any society can be important, and understanding various monetary and fiscal policies as well as money-based laws and critically analyzing those in terms of the current society and culture can provide some powerful skills for law school. To do well in business or economics study is to recognize problems and find solutions so a market or an economy or a business runs smoothly. That problem-solving ability works well in a court when you look to make a fair resolution to a case.
There are other majors related to these that are also good choices. Do not forget the hard sciences such as physics, math, or engineering, as those logical and analytical skills are in high demand as well. The bottom line is, if you want to pursue a law degree, you should choose a rigorous major that “serious” students tend to study, depending on the reputation of your school. Then, be passionate about that program and plan and expect to do well. The rest will take care of itself.