Political Science Vs. Law Degree

Oct 21, 2019

Students with aspirations of applying to law school or pursuing careers related to politics and the legal system may want to consider majoring in political science or law, which is typically offered as pre-law at the undergraduate level. Learn about key differences and benefits of these two disciplines.

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Comparing Political Science and Law Majors

A political science major is an undergraduate degree focused on the study of government. At the undergraduate level, a law major, usually referred to simply as pre-law, is a program providing specific resources for students looking to apply for law school. Both political science and pre-law degree programs can prepare students for law school and open a variety of career opportunities. Do not confuse a pre-law program with a law degree, however, as the latter is required to practice law professionally and earned at the graduate level.

Political Science

Students can earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) in political science at an undergraduate institution. This discipline studies the development, processes, and impacts of government systems on a domestic and international scale. Political science majors have the opportunity to specialize in areas such as political theory, comparative politics, international affairs, and public policy. Classes within a political science curriculum might examine the structure of the U.S. Constitution or current developments in foreign affairs. As a social science, political science fosters strong reading, writing, and analytical skills in undergraduate students. A political science major can lead to careers and further education in areas such as business, law, government, healthcare, and education.

Pre-Law

A pre-law program prepares students to apply for law school by providing resources, connections, advising, and experience relevant to law school admission and a career in the legal system. Pre-law undergraduate majors are a little more difficult to come by; pre-law or legal studies minors may be easier to find. Typically, those participating in a pre-law program pursue an academic discipline of their choice. Common undergraduate majors for students applying to law school include political science, English, history, philosophy, and economics. Earning a pre-law minor or completing a pre-law track often entails taking certain courses focused on the affects and intricacies of law. These courses are often interdisciplinary and may examine the law through a historical, political, or philosophical lens. Course examples include: philosophy of law, law and social psychology, and criminal justice and religion.

Political Science vs. Pre-Law for Law School Admission

Unlike some graduate programs, such as medical school, there are no recommended or required courses for law school admission. Law schools regularly accept students from any major. The most important factors in the law school admission process are grade-point average (GPA) and Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores. While students may apply with any undergraduate major, there are some benefits of holding a political science or pre-law degree when it comes to law school admissions.

Political Science

According to the American Bar Association (ABA), political science was the most popular undergraduate major for law school applicants in 2017-2018. Law and politics are closely intertwined, thus, political science is a popular stepping-stone to law school. Students in a political science program gain a strong understanding of the American legal system and develop writing and communication skills. A political science curriculum might include law-related classes on constitutional law, judicial policy, or civil liberties. As a major, political science aims to strengthen analytical skills. Argumentative essays, public speaking, and lectures are commonplace in political science curriculum and prepare students for the academic rigor of law school. The ABA reported an 80% acceptance rate for political science majors who applied to law school in 2017-2018.

Pre-Law

The specifics of pre-law differ depending on the program; some institutions offer pre-law as its own major, but this is rare. Since most reputable pre-law programs exist as a minor or area of specialization, courses specific to pre-law and legal studies are often housed within a university's political science department; making pre-law simply an optional emphasis for political science majors. Majoring only in pre-law does not necessarily provide a guaranteed benefit for law school admission, because courses in legal studies are not required. Pre-law programs can prepare students for law school, however, by introducing them to the case method of teaching. This teaching method is used throughout law school but is uncommon in typical college courses. A strong pre-law program will help students show an admissions board they are committed to and capable of succeeding in law school. For 2017-2018, the ABA reported a 65% law school acceptance rate for those majoring exclusively in pre-law.

Pre-law students will have access to a pre-law advisor who can suggest courses that will best prepare them for success in law school. Networking events, law school fairs, and pathways to relevant internship opportunities are also common benefits of pre-law programs. Forming professional connections and gaining experience in the legal field can give students an advantage when applying for law school and applying for jobs upon graduation.

Alternate Career Options

A number of career options exist for students studying pre-law and political science who do not attend law school. Those interested in the effects of public policy may want to pursue a career in public policy management. Those with an interest in the legal system may want to consider a profession as a paralegal who assists lawyers with preparing for trial. Working as a political analyst or legislative assistant are other examples of careers that do not require law school.

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