Applicants with backgrounds in STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – have a leg up in law school admissions.
Law is becoming enmeshed with science and technology, and not just in the burgeoning areas of health law, tech law, patent law and environmental law. From forensic evidence to financial instruments, lawyers must increasingly draw upon scientific knowledge and quantitative skills. Artificial intelligence technologies are transforming the legal field altogether.
Law school applicants with STEM backgrounds are no longer as unusual as they once were, but they still stand out to admissions officers. Law schools seek students who will contribute new perspectives and expertise to their incoming class.
However, applicants with STEM backgrounds face challenges in an admissions process more geared to graduates in the social sciences and humanities. STEM applicants should consider the following five tips:
- Address a low GPA.
- Steer clear of technical jargon.
- Tie your background to your interest in law.
- Show how your interests align with a school’s offerings.
- Gain relevant experience.
Address a Low GPA
STEM majors tend to have lower grade averages than humanities and social science majors. And those STEM majors who somehow skated through college with spotless transcripts are unlikely to switch gears to pursue a legal career.
Law school admissions officers know that course difficulty and grading curves can vary between schools and among departments. No one will be shocked by a college transcript with poor grades in difficult STEM classes like organic chemistry or discrete mathematics.
However, cumulative undergraduate GPA is still given great weight in law school admissions because it correlates with high performance in law school and factors into law school reputation and rankings. Thus, STEM majors with a low GPA may need to address it.
A transcript addendum can give more context to academic underperformance. Your personal statement and recommendation letters can also help present a fuller picture of academic potential.
Steer Clear of Technical Jargon
If your resume is oriented toward jobs in STEM fields, it may be dense with technical jargon. For example, many software engineers detail their coding projects in language illegible to lay readers, emphasizing experience with specific software or processes.
Law schools appreciate work experience. However, they are less interested in the technical challenges you faced than in your level of responsibility, performance under pressure and ability to work both on your own and with others.
To adapt your resume for law school applications, replace technical terms with plain English. Weed out irrelevant specialized skills and qualifications. And consider using your personal statement or optional essays to explain your expertise and achievements.
Major research papers are a great thing to highlight, even if they are technical in nature. Even readers who can’t fully appreciate the significance of your work will see that you have research and communication skills that are essential to legal practice.
Tie Your Background to Your Interest in Law
Applicants from STEM fields should avoid coming across like pinballs bouncing between professions. It’s important to emphasize your commitment to a legal career without sounding overly negative about your previous experience or neglecting it entirely.
Aim between those two extremes by acknowledging your career pivot but connecting your past pursuits to new career goals. For example, a former premedical student might explain how she realized she was not a good fit for laboratory work or patient care but gained a passion for addressing systemic issues of health care inequality through legal reforms.
Show How Your Interests Align With a School’s Offerings
Many law schools are leaning into rapidly growing fields like health law and tech law, along with new data-based approaches to legal issues from social justice reforms to antitrust law. Schools that position themselves on the cutting edge of legal scholarship invest heavily in centers, programs and journals in high-tech legal fields.
Such opportunities are great to mention when asked in an interview or essay why you are applying to a law school. Do your homework to determine how your training or experience would give you a niche on campus.
Online research and informational interviews with people in your desired field can also help uncover less selective schools with special scholarships or programs, or other strengths that match your goals.
Gain Relevant Experience
If all your previous academic and professional experience is in a lab or technology office, then admissions officers may doubt that you have the reading, writing and qualitative research skills needed to handle the rigors of law school.
If you are still in college, add law-related classes to your schedule. If you are in the workforce, enrich your resume through volunteer activities or take on responsibilities at work that involve management or mentorship, research and analysis, written or oral communications, or writing and implementing company policies.
Overall, the benefits of applying to law school with a STEM background outweigh the challenges. If nothing else, you will have an advantage on science passages on the LSAT.