Sometimes in the flurry of law school admissions, students forget that eventually they will be in law school. What then? We've got tons of advice on what to expect in law school, from the importance of first-year grades to kickstarting a rewarding legal career. And that's just for starters.
When you're ready to start full-time law study, but your LSAT score isn't quite ready to get you there, you may find yourself sitting at a proverbial fork in the road. One way lies an unpredictable path: applying though it's unlikely you'll get in. The other way lies a path that is safer but potentially longer: waiting another year to apply and taking the time to bolster your application with a higher LSAT score or with additional education or volunteer or work experience. As you contemplate these two choices, you'll likely be wondering, "Isn't there another way?"
One alternative might entail applying to a part-time or night program at a law school, then transferring to the school's full-time program after your first year. At all schools surveyed for this article, criteria for admission do not officially differ between part-time and full-time applicants. However, LSAC's most current admission data reveals that median LSAT scores of part-time students are consistently lower than those of full-time students. At top-ranked Georgetown University Law School, for example, the median LSAT score for full-time students was 169, while the median for part-time students was 164. At George Mason University School of Law, the point spread was smaller—164 for full-time versus 162 for part-time—but part-time students still had a slight edge. This edge could make all the difference to those who are striving for top law schools but whose LSAT scores fall just short of being competitive in the full-time applicant pool.
Part-time programs also proved to be a bit more forgiving with GPAs. At New York University School of Law, the median GPA for full-time students was 3.4, compared to 3.2 for part-time students. At George Mason University School of Law, the difference was even more pronounced; full-time students had a median GPA of 3.66, while part-timers had a median of 3.30. Not all schools reflected a discrepancy in GPA, however. There was virtually no difference at Loyola Law School, where the median full-time GPA of 3.28 was nearly identical to the part-time GPA of 3.27. Still, since it is harder to change one's GPA than one's LSAT score, the overall trend of lower GPAs among part-timers is helpful when you're staring down that fork in the road.
So why are LSAT scores and GPAs lower at part-time and night programs in the first place? Such programs are generally designed for people who are already working and want the JD degree to help advance their careers. As such, it makes sense that less emphasis is placed on LSAT scores and more is placed on professional experience and accomplishments. At many institutions, less emphasis on LSAT and GPA translates to higher acceptance rates. In 2005, Fordham University School of Law accepted approximately 21.4% of full-time applicants but 23.9% of part-time applicants, a slightly more favorable rate. At Brooklyn Law School, the difference was quite dramatic: 25.4% of full-time applicants versus 41.9% of part-time applicants were accepted. However, part-time programs don't always have better acceptance rates. Loyola and New York University law schools both accepted a lower percentage of part-time applicants than full-time applicants in 2005: 3.9% and 5.9% lower, respectively. Before making your decision about which program to which to apply, it's best to closely research the schools of your choice and see how acceptance rates for full-time and part-time programs compare.
Another thing to keep in mind is whether or not applying to a school's part-time program forecloses on the possibility of applying to their full-time program. The law schools at Temple University, George Mason University, Loyola University, and George Washington University all allow students the option of applying to both the full- and part-time programs at the same time by indicating their preference. If you want to be considered for both programs, be sure to check the admissions policies of all schools to which you're applying.
If you do land a spot in a part-time program, how easy is it to transfer once you're there? At most of the law schools surveyed for this article, transfer is surprisingly easy. At Temple University, George Washington University, and George Mason University law schools, students can automatically transfer to the full-time program without reapplying, provided that they are in good academic standing. With such an effortless transfer process, part-time programs are an attractive alternative for applicants who feel they can't get into a full-time program the first time around. There are exceptions, however. At Loyola Law School, students who begin their enrollment in the part-time program may not transfer to the full time program except under extreme circumstances.
For those who decide not to transfer, it typically takes four or more years to complete a part-time JD program. You may be wondering if graduating from such a program has any bearing on your appeal to employers or your likelihood of passing the bar. At George Mason University School of Law, placement rates are the same for students in both full- and part-time programs. However, most evening students already have jobs working in Washington D.C., so many do not participate in the traditional recruitment process. As far as bar passage rates, a George Washington University Law School admissions officer emphasized that evening students take the same curriculum taught by the same faculty as full-time students, ensuring that bar passage rates for the two groups are equivalent. The same is true at Loyola Law School, where evening students are also eligible for law reviews, moot court, and trial advocacy programs.
With slightly more forgiving admissions data, flexible transfer policies, and equivalent curricula, part-time programs may represent a viable alternative path to full-time study at the law school of your choice. But remember: the first time you apply to a law school is typically your best shot, so don't rule out the safer but longer path of waiting a year to apply. In the meantime, you can work to increase your LSAT score, acquire work or volunteer experience, or invest in additional schooling. That way, you might give yourself a better shot at getting into a full-time program the first time around.
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