Applying to Law School with a Unique Background

An expert weighs in on readers' questions about law school admissions.

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This is an installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature in the Law Admissions Lowdown blog that answers readers' questions. This week, I will address questions from readers with unique academic backgrounds.

For a chance to be featured next month, E-mail me with a law school admissions question and your profile.

Dear Shawn: I currently work as a research scientist at a university in the Midwest. I completed my Ph.D. in 2005 in biology. I also have two M.A. degrees in different areas of psychology and undergraduate degrees in Economics and Management. In terms of my academic background, which grades would I submit for consideration to LSAC?  

One reason for my interest in law school is the increasingly tight funding situations in academic science, which is grant-based, mostly from the federal government. I have had an interest in law for a while, but have not taken the LSAT. I did take the GRE for graduate school and scored very well. Any chance they would take that score? I appreciate your time and look forward to hearing from you. -Scientist Researching Law School

Dear Scientist Researching Law School: Unfortunately, law schools will not accept the GRE, so you will need to take the LSAT. On the bright side, the process of preparing for the LSAT may give you a better sense of whether law school is right for you, as the test involves using critical reasoning and logic to analyze situations, which is analogous to the work you will do in law school.

[Explore the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings.]

If you have taken the GMAT, given your work experience, you might consider Northwestern University School of Law's Accelerated J.D. program, which allows students to submit the GMAT in lieu of the LSAT.

You should submit transcripts for all of your degrees to LSAC, but law schools will primarily use your undergraduate GPA (all of your grades until you received your first undergraduate degree) to compare you with other applicants. Nevertheless, your master's degrees and doctorate will help differentiate you and further demonstrate your academic proficiency.

[Find out if advanced degrees help in law school admissions.]

Your main obstacle in the law school admissions process will be convincing law schools why you want and need a law degree. While funding challenges in your current field may be one of your main reasons for embarking on a career switch, that story may not resonate with law school admissions committees, who, instead, want to see evidence of your passion for law.

Show how your experience in science has led you toward the study of law and how that experience will benefit you as a lawyer, perhaps you would be leveraging your science background to practice as a patent or intellectual property attorney. Best of luck! -Shawn

Dear Shawn: I am an older student (late 30s) who is also a monk, and my abbot has just given me permission to attend law school. I have not yet taken the LSAT, but I can study for the test about 8-10 hours per day. Should I try to take the February exam and still apply this year? 

I have heard that I could be at a severe disadvantage if I take the February administration. Given my background, I would probably have to score in the mid-170s to get into an excellent school. Thank you for your time in advance. -Monastery to Law School

Dear Monastery to Law School: Taking the February LSAT is not automatically a severe disadvantage in the admissions process (especially if you do as well as you anticipate you could), but it is not ideal for certain applicants as a number schools (including many top-ranked law schools) will not accept the February LSAT for fall enrollment.

[Read more about the February LSAT.]

Considering the potential drawbacks and the proximity of the February exam, as well as your need to score very high to reach your goal schools, I recommend preparing for the June LSAT instead. Taking the LSAT next summer gives you plenty of time to prepare for the test, and even more time to strategically put together stellar applications to apply next fall for a fall 2014 start.

While your schedule gives you ample time to study for the LSAT every day, you will almost certainly benefit more from studying a few hours each day over six months, rather than many hours every day over just a couple months.

[Find out how to best prepare for the LSAT.]

Your experience as a monk will certainly be helpful in differentiating you in the application process. You did not include your undergraduate GPA in your letter, but remember: This is an important factor in law school admissions as well, no matter how long you have been out of school. Good luck! -Shawn