Life is full of demands – from family to career to other obligations or interests. Prospective law students may wonder how they can balance these responsibilities and attend law school full time.
Fortunately, many law schools offer part-time programs. As you consider whether to pursue a law degree on a full- or part-time basis, it is helpful to look closely at the key differentiating attributes – and the related benefits and drawbacks – of a part-time legal education. Here are several key aspects to consider.
The time factor differs dramatically in full-time vs. part-time law programs, and it is the aspect with the most consequences to consider. While most full-time students will receive a J.D. after three years of studies, part-time students typically take four years to complete their degree requirements.
• Benefits: One primary benefit of attending law school part time is flexibility in your schedule. Most part-time law programs offer evening classes, which allow students to keep working, meet responsibilities or pursue other interests at the same time.
For example, a commencement speaker and graduate of Loyola Law School Los Angeles' part-time program this past year was a new mom when she started her law studies.
Weekend programs are also an option for prospective law students. At least three law schools – including Loyola University Chicago, Seton Hall University and Mitchell Hamline School of Law – now offer weekend-only J.D. programs. Loyola began its weekend program in fall 2016, and Seton Hall's and Mitchell Hamline's weekend programs started this academic year.
• Drawbacks: The flexibility baked into part-time law school programs also has drawbacks. Most obviously, you won't graduate as quickly as your full-time peers.
You may be drawn to this type of program because you can technically work, take care of your family or pursue other interests at the same time, but it is important to think about the potential toll on your well-being as a result of juggling these obligations.
Keep in mind, too, that part-time students should still expect to spend 30 to 40 hours per week pursuing their law degree, including classwork, homework and other school-related activities. Consider how you will balance competing demands and think about putting in place any support structures you will need in your lives to do so without losing your mind.
Likewise, some opportunities afforded to full-time students may be unavailable to part-time students because of class timing and the difference in course-load requirements. Specifically, part-time students may have limited ability to participate in journals, clinics, moot court, externships, on-campus interview, student organizations or other extracurricular activities.
Most significantly, part-time students who work full time or who must take classes in the summer may not be able to secure summer clerkships, which serve as the most common first step to securing postgraduate private sector employment.
Depending on how you look at it, a part-time legal education is either less or more financially burdensome.
• Benefits: Because part-time programs take an extra year to complete, you will be able to spread out, and therefore reduce, the financial burden of your legal education. That extra year to draw out the payment may be critical to you.
Moreover, working during law school – even part time – can help offset your education expenses. This may also help you take out fewer loans, reducing your postgraduation debt.
• Drawbacks: On the flip side, given you'll spend an extra year in school, the overall cost of your part-time legal education is greater. Part-time students may also forgo eligibility for academic scholarships that can help lower costs.
[How to decide if you should work during law school.]
You may have better admissions chances with part-time programs, but consider the programs' relative prestige and potential impact on employment opportunities.
• Benefits: Part-time law programs typically have more lenient admissions criteria than full-time programs.
Specifically, admissions committees for part-time programs are more forgiving regarding LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs, placing more weight on prospective students' professional and other accomplishments. This makes sense, since part-time programs are generally geared toward professionals who have spent time in the workforce already.
For applicants whose LSAT score or undergraduate GPA falls short of the ideal range of a particular dream law school, a part-time program could serve as an appealing alternative. Consider, too, that part-time programs' heightened focus on applicants' professional achievements and other soft factors for admissions could result in a more diverse and enriching student body, which could potentially have a farther-reaching benefit throughout law school and beyond.
• Drawbacks: Because part-time programs place less emphasis on the objective LSAT score and undergraduate GPA value, employers may view these programs as less impressive. This judgment could, in turn, impact your employment prospects as a part-time student.
Additionally, while some top-ranked law schools, such as Georgetown University, offer part-time programs, the majority of these program offerings are at less prestigious schools. In our experience, this more generally has a corresponding impact on employment options.
Since part-time law school programs differ from full-time programs in terms of time, money and admissions criteria, be sure to carefully weigh the benefits and drawbacks to determine whether a part-time legal education meets your needs and serves your best interests.