347 Schaeffer Hall
Spring 2020 Office Hours
Tue & Th: 4:45-6:15
Dept of Political Science
341 Schaeffer Hall
20 E. Washington Street
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa 52242
Posted updated Prelaw FAQ
Posted two new books in What I'm Reading
Posted updates with 2018 election data to all 11 papers in the Iowa Voting Series
New book, Supreme Court Agenda Setting: The Vinson Court, published for Kindle devices and computers with Kindle reader.
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My Prelaw FAQ is designed to answer the most common questions I am asked. After reading it people often send me follow up questions. These questions and my responses to them are often incorporated into the FAQ. Even if they may be a bit too specific for the FAQ, they may still be of interest. Below are some questions I have been sent along with my responses. I'll start each question/response with a few key words to help you determine whether it will be of interest to you. New additions will always be at the top.
I'm glad you liked my FAQ. Your question is one that I've not run across before. I had a few friends participate in the accelerated programs you mention (one even quit high school to start an early college program!), but I've never seen a mention of such a program for law school.
I can make a couple of suggestions in terms of researching this question. One is to do a web search. If you go to the Links section of my website (URL below) you will find a link to the LSAC. There you can look through information on all the law schools. A second way to search would be to pick up a book on the law schools and just page through to see if any list such a joint program. (I just did this for about 30 or so schools and all the listed joint programs involve the JD with a masters or PhD.)
My guess is that you won't find such programs, particularly at the "better" schools. I see two main reasons med schools offer such programs, but law schools don't. First, physician training takes much longer. In addition to four years of undergraduate work and another four of medical school, new doctors must then spend several years in residency. Law school, of course, only requires four years of undergrad and three of law school before one can become a working attorney. Thus, the need to speed things along seems greater in the medical profession.
A second reason is that law schools may want folks to mature a bit more before beginning their legal studies. In part this is because they want well-rounded students that can bring more to classroom discussions. Law schools want students who have plenty of extracurricular experiences in addition to a high GPA and LSAT score. You may be aware that the average age to law school applicants is around 25. The older students tend to bring a maturity and seriousness to their studies that those entering right from undergrad, on average, do not. (That's not a criticism of those that went right from undergrad to law school--and I was one of those who did so--but if you give up a job to come back to law school you tend to be a bit more serious about it.) Thus, hurrying a student through the process would likely cut back on many of the non-classroom experiences that law schools see as important for the applicants overall development.
That said, individuals may have good reasons for wanting to speed the process along and one can finish early even with no official joint program. At the undergrad level one can take heavier course loads and summer classes to finish early. Advance Placement courses taken in high school can also speed the process along. Taking advantage of all the opportunities to pick up additional credits could easily cut a year from one's undergrad studies. At the law school level, many schools, including the UI, have accelerated programs that start during the summer. Most law students work during their summers to gain valuable experience for later jobs, but if getting through early is more of a concern a student can take summer courses and cut at least a semester of time from one's program.
Again, there can be good reasons for shortening the process, but without knowing the details I would generally recommend against doing so. In fact, I often recommend that students take a year off between undergrad and law school to gain some real world experience, mature a bit more, etc. A student that is already mature and energetic enough to take heavy course loads without cutting back too much on valuable extracurricular activities can certainly cut the time, but it will certainly take some work.
I'm glad you found the information on my website useful. One of my primary goals in writing the FAQ was to give potential law students a better idea of how to prepare for law school and to let them know what they'll be in for. I'm certainly pleased if the FAQ helps those outside the UI as well!
There are a couple of points to make about your question. The first is to keep in mind that the law schools put much more weight on the LSAT than the GPA. If you've seen the Admission Index material in my Advising/Prelaw section you'll know what I mean. (If you haven't seen it, do take a look.) Even so, a low GPA make concern an admissions committee and there are some things you can do to help your chances.
As a brief aside, keep in mind that "low" is somewhat relative. A low GPA for Harvard, for example, would likely be considered high for many other good law schools. Most of the smaller and lesser known law schools that aren't as highly ranked would likely be quite happy with a GPA over 2.50. You should be more concerned about strategies to increase your chances if your GPA is between 2.00 and 2.50.
The strategy you mention to increase your undergrad GPA after the fact will technically work, but is not overly likely to improve your chances with an admissions committee. I accidentally had something similar happen to me when I took a few classes after I graduated and before I officially started grad school. I was more than a little surprised when I discovered that these additional classes affected my undergrad GPA. Even so, when you send your transcripts to the law schools they will see how you did up to your official graduation. It may or may not be easy to determine how your later classes affected your undergrad GPA depending on how the information is presented on the transcript, but given that this will likely be an area of concern I would think that the admissions committee would make the effort of figuring it out.
The better approach would be to enter a Master's program. A main concern of law school admissions committees is whether the applicant will succeed in law school classes. The reason that law schools place so much weight on the LSAT is that it's the best predictor of the applicant's first year law school grades. Even so, the schools will have some concern that someone with a good LSAT and low GPA might be a slacker--which is to say, someone with high ability, but low motivation, discipline, or determination. Plenty of applicants have trouble disciplining themselves their first year or two. Others take a bit longer. Getting yourself into a Master's program, and doing well, will demonstrate additional maturity, discipline, etc. Even better if the program fits into your overall plan for a law career. (For example, suppose you want to go into environmental law. Then getting a Master's in something along the lines of environmental policy would seem to show that you now have a plan, direction to your life, etc.)
Related to the above, another way to show that you have gained additional maturity and such is from having a job after your undergraduate studies. Law schools often like students who have worked for one or more years. Quitting a job to go back to school is a significant decision, and one that most folks don't take lightly. Most such students prove to be more motivated than those that go straight from undergrad to law school. In your application materials you can emphasize how much experience you have gained since graduating and that now you have a plan and direction, and so on.
Finally, a second undergrad degree would also help your chances, but a Master's program would be better. Law school is a form of grad school and the admissions committee will be most interested in how you perform at the graduate level. On the other hand, if another BA fits into your plan, then that would be the way to go. (For example, if you want to go into business law, then getting a second degree in Finance would make sense and would be something you could "sell" to the admissions committees.)
I'm not entirely sure, but I think the students were given the materials with whatever was sent to them with their results from LSAC. Not all students, however, received such sheets. There didn't seem to be any pattern for those that did (such as those that took it on a particular date), and I haven't had any students who have gotten one recently, so they may not be giving them out anymore. That wouldn't surprise me given the potential to get applicants worked up about the formulas.