Law school admissions officers can quickly spot an application from a former premedical student. Telltale signs include a resume with internships in medical research labs and a transcript replete with premed coursework – perhaps with underwhelming grades.
Some premeds write personal statements about how they came to see themselves as more suited to law than medicine, while others admit to an aversion to organic chemistry or the sight of blood.
Law school applicants who were once premeds have no reason to feel like outcasts. Law and medicine are dissimilar paths, but they are not incompatible. Indeed, a surprising number of law students come from medical backgrounds, and some older applicants are even licensed doctors or nurses.
Moreover, premeds may be relieved by the relative ease of legal education. The path to legal practice is quicker and less stressful than the long slog endured by aspiring doctors, with no required residency or certification tests beyond the pass/fail bar exam and professional responsibility exam. Most J.D. programs are only three years, and some take only two years.
Law school admissions is less competitive overall than med school admissions. While the top schools in both fields are very hard to get into, there are plenty of less-selective, lower-ranked law schools whose graduates are eligible for the bar. On the other hand, law graduates face a more uncertain job market than doctors, with more uneven compensation.
While former premeds are not at a disadvantage compared to other law school applicants, here are three tips on how they can best position their candidacy for admission:
- Decide early.
- Put lower grades in context.
- Avoid over-explaining a career shift.
If medicine is not right for you, it’s better to realize it earlier in your college career than after you’ve already invested time and effort into completing medical school prerequisites and burnishing your med school resume.
To be sure, law school admissions officers will acknowledge skills like research and analysis demonstrated by lab work, but there are more relevant extracurricular activities to focus on.
Put Lower Grades in Context
Like many STEM majors, premeds often have lower undergraduate grades than law school applicants who majored in humanities and social sciences, due to punishing curves in medical school prerequisites. Looking at the median GPAs among top law schools may seem alarming.
However, law school admissions officers are well aware that different fields have different grading standards. And they are particularly forgiving about lower grades during the first year of college, when many students have yet to hit their stride.
If any low grades on your transcript stand out, write a transcript addendum that puts them in context. You could provide evidence like the average grade in the course or external circumstances that hindered your performance.
Avoid Over-Explaining a Career Shift
Few candidates take a straight path to law school. It’s easy for applicants to get fixated on how they differ from some mental image of a “typical law applicant” with a resume full of legal work and mock trial tournament victories.
There’s no reason to be defensive or apologetic about what you lack, when admissions officers are far more interested in who you are and what you bring to the table.
While it may make sense to use your personal statement to explain your change in career goals from medicine to law, there’s no need for regrets. Don’t go overboard explaining the twists and turns of your intellectual or personal journey, either. Instead, focus on your future and how you are well prepared for the challenges ahead.
Even if your plans have shifted from medicine to law, take pride in what you have learned and accomplished along the way. Whether or not you are interested in a legal field related to medicine like health care law or malpractice, the skills and experience you developed as a premed will come in handy when the going gets tough in law school.