Cody Christensen chose the University of Kansas because it offered a rare opportunity: the chance to get both his bachelor's and Juris Doctor degrees in six years.
The current freshman will spend three years knocking out required classes as a political science major. Christensen's fourth year will include law classes that will also be used as electives to fulfill remaining credit requirements for his bachelor's degree.
Completing the degrees in six years, instead of the usual seven, will have multiple benefits, he says.
"There's the economic benefit of saving a year's tuition in college," says Christensen, a member of the inaugural class for University of Kansas' Legal Education Accelerated Degree Program. Another benefit of doing the program, he says, is meeting other students who are passionate about law.
"It's the best of both worlds," he says.
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Kansas is one of a few schools that allow students to complete undergraduate and law school in six years. The American Bar Association does not keep count, but legal education experts say fewer than 20 schools in the United States could give students this option.
The University of Denver is accepting applications now for its new six-year program, as is the law school at Suffolk University in Massachusetts. Suffolk offers two paths through partner schools for students interested in a dual degree. St. Thomas University in Florida also allows students to get their bachelor's and J.D. degrees quickly.
These programs move at a grueling pace, and that's not for everyone, experts say.
"This is for people who really are quite confident that this is the career path that they want," says Lumen Mulligan, co-director of the University of Kansas program. "It is a little less flexible than another course of study."
Prospective college students considering an accelerated program should review several factors before committing.
1. Admittance criteria: Many of these programs conditionally accept students with high SAT or ACT scores and grade point averages. After students begin college, they take the LSAT typically before completing their junior year and must score high on that test as well.
At University of Denver, students must score one point above the median LSAT for the prior year's law class and have a GPA that is 0.1 above the prior year's class, says Iain Davis, the assistant dean of admissions and student financial management at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law.
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"We don't want to be inundated with applications from people that aren't just going to make that mark," he says. "Our expectation is they will be high achieving students."
Other schools have similar requirements. At University of Kansas, for example, students must have at least a 3.5 grade point average and ACT score of 26. On the LSAT they must score at least a 157 out of a possible 180 points.
At Suffolk University, students starting the dual-degree track as freshmen need an almost perfect academic record. "We're looking at students that have an A average coming out of high school," says Camille Nelson, the school's dean.
2. Size: Few high school seniors will be certain about their professional careers and ready to pursue them, experts say. Many school leaders don't plan for these programs to be large.
"On average, we probably enroll one student every other year through our program," Douglas Ray, dean of the law school at St. Thomas University, said via email.
At University of Denver, Davis anticipates only a handful of students will enter its new program.
Christensen's program at University of Kansas has about 15 students. Seeing his program peers may not always come easy. During his freshman year, there are less coordinated meeting times for the group.
"It's only coincidence if we have classes with one another," he says.
3. Program structure: Some schools have a special curriculum for students forgoing the traditional four-year undergraduate experience to go to law school early; others permit students to have more choice in which classes they take leading up to law school.