I recently visited my sister at Smith College, where she is a first year student. During this visit I was very surprised by the college lifestyle and I realized I hadn’t really thought about how different being it is to be a law student rather than a college student. In this post, I’m going to reflect a little on what makes college so different from law school.
First and foremost, law school and college are different in terms of the amount of work. Law school is much more work than college. I think this is in part because of the volume of work we have to do, but also because the standard for how work must be done is higher. If I compared how many pages of reading I had assigned during a semester at Smith and how many during a semester at BU Law, I actually thing the numbers would not be that far off. However, every page I read at law school I read carefully, critically, and with an eye towards a big exam and future utility. At Smith I could skim readings more, and I was mostly reading with an eye towards participation in class discussion and pure personal interest.
Second, at law school there is a sense of urgency in one’s work; we are all keenly aware of the grading curve and the legal job market. In law school I choose my classes based on what skills or expertise I can utilize in my future career as an attorney. In college I remember choosing classes based on what I found fascinating. While that was fun at the time, I honestly love having a greater purpose for choosing a class. Having the sense that I will use some knowledge in the future gives me extra motivation to really understand what I learn and commit it to memory. I annoy my little sister a lot now because I constantly tell her to take useful classes and choose a marketable major.
Third, there is definitely a big difference in the social life of a law student and college student. College is all about being social. Law school is mainly about getting a job. To be honest, law school can be kind of isolating – there is so much to do I often find myself locked in my room studying for days at a time, rather than seeing people. Visiting my sister reminded me that there are really nice things about being a student, such as making your own schedule and being around people who are mostly your own age. Those things are available in law school as well as college, but in law school I have to remember to seek them out and fit them in or they’ll get lost in the grind.
I have one more note about this difference. I took two years off of school to work before I came to law school. I am so, so happy that I did this! Working helped me learn to be disciplined. It helped me to form career goals and to value practical learning. By the time I came to law school, I had already dealt with the uncertainty of the job market and I had clear goals going forward. I came into law school looking at my homework as more of a job than a nuisance (as I would have in high school and to some extent in college.) To finish off my comparison blog, I will now include remarks from my friend Alex Mooradian – a fellow 2L at BU law – about his perspective between the differences, especially since he came straight through from undergrad.
“Coming straight through to law school, you go from a life of certainty and academic success to a much more ambiguous life. College was simple after a couple of years: you went to the gym all the time, you hung out with friends all weekend, you got As on all (well, most) of your midterms, and when finals rolled around you had several consecutive strokes of genius and wrote your final papers overnight. Friendships were certain, and while all your friends panicked about applying to jobs, you had your LSAT score and maybe even law school acceptances to rely on—good as gold.
But once you enter law school, this certainty might vanish. You might find yourself up late preparing for classes, but not feeling like a genius anymore. It’s no longer enough to say something long and vague about one sentence in last night’s reading during class—and the reading isn’t necessarily as open to alternative interpretations anymore. Now some of your professors might even mask their political views, which can pose major challenges in trying to figure out what the right answer is for class or the final exam. Worse yet, if things don’t go well in class, and you just want to tell your friends about bad grades or go be reckless, these behaviors are suddenly taboo. There’s secrecy about grades and a level of professionalism that never existed in college. Your classes are not what you expected, it seems there’s no one who can relate—but there is hope.
Embrace the ambiguity of law school. College was comfortable, but how many can say that their final semester in college was extremely fulfilling? In comparison to the work you’ll be doing during your summers and as an attorney, you’ll look back (hopefully nostalgically?) on the discomfort of your first year in law school. When you feel like there is no right answer in the reading, the answer lies in the ambiguity. Draw out from the materials what makes you uncomfortable and investigate it—talk about it with friends and professors instead of ignoring it and focusing elsewhere like you may have done in college. Indeed, problematizing the law is what will get you better grades on exams, not searching for a final answer. As for friendships, you will soon find that there are people you can trust in law school because everyone here is ultimately human (except for the dogs that are also prevalent on campus). You will grow to appreciate the professionalism at the school because the ambition and composure of your peers will provide great opportunities like student-run networking, panel events, and insightful conversations.
When people ask you what you are doing after graduation, you can no longer shout your LSAT score or tell them what great law school your heading to. Chances are you will have no idea. Embrace the uncertainty and realize that you have a life outside the three years you dedicate to law school. And keep living your life during those three years, too.“