In Law School Admissions, STEM Sells

Learn how to leverage your science, technology, engineering, or math background to set yourself apart.

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Five or ten years ago, most law school applicants had majored in the humanities or social sciences, specifically English, philosophy, political science, history, or international relations.

But in recent years, there has been a notable shift, as law schools increasingly recruit applicants with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

[See which high schools are best for math and science.]

This change is a result of the exponential growth in the technology industry, from small startups creating mobile photo and gaming apps to behemoths like Google and Facebook continually changing the landscape of communication with innovations in E-mail, video conferencing, and social media.

With these incredible innovations (as well as those in, for example, biotechnology) comes a growing need for lawyers who understand the technological intricacies of these products and services, as well as the legal issues that can arise from their development, commercialization, and use.

While applicants who have studied science, technology, engineering, and math can more easily differentiate themselves in the law school application process, simply majoring in one of these areas is not enough to guarantee an acceptance to a top law school.

Your LSAT score and GPA are still critical factors, and law school admissions committees do not place as much emphasis as you might think on the difficulty and rigor of an engineering or other science-related major when evaluating your GPA. Only pursue a STEM major if you are truly passionate about the field and are confident that you can excel in it.

[Get admissions information from law school deans.]

Here are three more tips for effectively leveraging your STEM background in the law school admissions process and beyond:

1. Tell your story: In your application essays, relate your academic or professional background in science, technology, engineering, or math to why you decided to pursue law, and demonstrate how you will leverage your STEM expertise in the practice of law.

If you do this effectively, you have an increased chance of getting into law schools that may have been a stretch for you, as this positioning effectively differentiates you from other applicants.

For example, I recently worked with an applicant who had significant academic and work experience in technology. She emphasized her passion for science and its applicability to law in her applications and, as a result, was admitted to Harvard Law School with an LSAT below 165.

[Find out how to prepare for the LSAT.]

2. Choose the right school: If you want to use your science, technology, engineering, or math background in your career as a lawyer, the most relevant subfields of law will likely be patent law and intellectual property (IP) law.

As these areas of the law are highly specialized, you should look for law schools that have strong patent and intellectual property law programs, so you will obtain the best possible education and preparation for your career at the intersection of law and technology.

[Explore the U.S. News rankings of intellectual property law programs.]

3. Prepare properly in college: A good IP program and a strong scientific background will also help to prepare you for the patent bar exam, which you will likely want to take in addition to the regular bar exam after graduation.

The patent bar (officially known as the Examination for Registration to Practice in Patent Cases Before the United States Patent and Trademark Office) is required if you want to be registered as patent attorney. Only patent attorneys are qualified to represent clients in preparing, filing or prosecuting patent applications.

To take the patent bar exam, you have to prove that you "possess the scientific and technical training necessary to provide valuable service to patent applicants," according to the General Requirements Bulletin. One requirement is a bachelor's degree in a "recognized technical subject," including studies in chemistry, biology, computer science, engineering, or physics.

[Peruse the Best Colleges rankings.]

So studying science in college will not only differentiate you in your law school applications, but also support you later in obtaining coveted patent attorney status.

How are you going to tell your science story in your applications? Let me know in the comments, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.