Understanding How Law School Differs from Other Graduate Programs.

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Is Law School Graduate School? No.

In this article guide, I will explain the main differences between law school and graduate school, and the future career and life impact of each. 

For the majority of people, graduate school would be a better choice than law school. Law school is a very stressful environment and the job market for attorneys is quite saturated. At the same time, graduate schools offer many different career options not limited to a single area of the economy.

The exception can be carved for those who want to be lawyers and can go to law school for cheap. I explain my position below in this article guide. 

When you receive those nice-looking freshly printed marketing prospects from either law school or graduate school, you may get excited very quickly because those are well-prepared marketing materials.

I always suggest evaluating your interests first. Please do not get sold on the hype about graduate or school. Colleges generally are good at advertising their benefits and usually keep quiet about cons. 

When you ask yourself “should I go to law school or grad school,” you must perform serious analysis. Mistakes here can be very costly. The guide below will make your law school vs grad school choice more informed.

Is law school a professional or graduate school?

Let’s define that law school is not graduate school. Law school is a professional school. The difference is that law school gives law students a specific recognized profession after passing the bar exam – lawyer. 

Another example of a professional school is medical school. Read my other post on law school versus medical school

These are just generally acceptable views of law school and medical school. Don’t ask me why. There is a fine line between professional and graduate school, but I will not discuss it here. 

Is law school the same as graduate school?

Law school is not the same as graduate school. The law school offers a Juris Doctor degree, which is considered a doctorate in law. The definition is artificial here, but this is a generally accepted definition. In my opinion, law school is just graduate school on major steroids. 

Is graduate school different from law school?

Law school is different in many ways. From the fact that it specifically trains people to be lawyers, to unique Socratic teaching methods and curve grading. Law school stands on its own and is a different experience from graduate school. Many differences between law school compared to grad school I will describe further in this article. 

Is law school harder to get into than graduate school?

The answer to the question of whether law school is harder to get into than graduate school depends on the type and rank of graduate school. Between graduate or law school belonging to the same university law school is usually harder to get into than sister grad school. 

For example, in 2020, Harvard law school accepted 12.9% of applicants. Harvard MBA accepted only 12% of applicants and Harvard medical school accepted just 3%. Those are highly competitive programs. 

But a less competitive program like Harvard graduate architecture and landscape design programs’ overall acceptance rate is 17%. And I have heard some of their graduate programs enjoy up to 20%-30% acceptance rate. 

I am pretty sure that most colleges and universities in the USA have a similar setup. It is probably harder to get into law school than into many graduate programs in most colleges. 

Is law school harder than graduate school? 

Whether law school is harder than graduate school depends on the type of grad school. I am confident that law school is an overall harder experience than liberal arts or social science graduate programs. I am excluding Ph.D. from this analysis and Ph.D. is a doctorate program. 

But law school is probably easier than such quantitative programs like graduate masters in engineering, finance, applied economics, or applied math, and science programs like physics. 

I also have heard that studying in philosophy programs may be comparable or even harder than going through law school. 

Graduate programs are often simply a more deep extension of undergraduate ones. The law school offers a completely new and different experience. Law school experience is not an extension of any undergraduate studying and is radically different. 

Law school is harder than grad school because it is more intense, performs complete brainwashing, requires rewiring your brain. I am not even mentioning indulging in crazy legal jargon and learning how to think like a lawyer. 

Even though my undergraduate was not aligned with my MBA, my graduate school MBA experience was much more fun and easier than going through law school. Law school is a lot of tedious mental stress, while MBA was quite a bit of interesting intellectual stress. 

And law school demolishes all you have learned in undergrad and requires a fast and uneasy transition into thinking differently. 

I had a feeling that it was hard for me to get back into society after law school. I was never the same and look at people with a more cynical point of view. 

Therefore, I would say that graduate school is less difficult than law school. Because graduate school program usually builds upon previous knowledge, using similar methods learned in undergraduate. And law school requires a complete overhaul of the thinking process. 

Law School Curve Grading Makes It Much Harder Than Grad School

Law schools are grading on the curve, especially in their first year. Statistically, that means that most bright first-year law students will never get good grades and will never be at the top of their class. 

It does not matter if you were a straight-A student in your undergrad. You can go to law school and end up in a class with lots of even brighter people than you. Then you may suffer major humiliation and demotivation by being just a below-average law student. 

Even worse, I have seen some bright kids falling to the bottom of the curve and ending up with bad grades. Some of them quit after their first semester in law school or after their first year, sinking that student debt.

It is very hard to be at the top of the class in law school. And if a law student graduated from law school ranking below the top 14 in the bottom of the class, then he or she will have a hard time finding a decent attorney job. Even passing the bar exam does not guarantee a job. 

The grading on curve combined with tough job market makes law school much more stressful environment and harder than graduate school. That is why in many instances graduate school is a better choice than law school. 

How to decide between graduate school and law school 

When deciding between graduate or law school do not jump into either just because you saw something on television. Do not fully trust if your friend told good things about any career because that path may not fit you. And your friend may be plain wrong. 

When choosing between law or any kind of graduate school I do not recommend following any new fad or hype just because others follow it. Not everyone can be a law student, not everyone can work as an attorney. By the same token, not everyone can be a programmer or scientist. We are different.

Evaluate and Apply Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Law School or Grad School analysis will be more useful if you think the following: “why should I go to law school or graduate school?” rather than “why do I want to go to go to law school or grad school?”

Think whether you like psychology, history, or literature. If you know computers or computer programs well and can code then I think a graduate program in computer science is a better idea than law school. Knowing tools like Adobe Photoshop or other software can lead to a career in itself. 

Think about your hobbies, what you like to do and what you do well. If you can match those with any good graduate school program leading to a job, then maybe graduate school is a good choice for you. 

If you are good at numbers and like science, then a graduate engineering or scientific program may be a good choice. Given that you already have similar undergraduate education.

I suggest that you align something from your undergraduate education and work experience with the graduate school of your choice. You need a hook for the admissions officer to accept you. And you need to make you know what you are getting yourself into with the graduate program of your choice. 

Many grad programs like MBA do not require specific undergraduate education. And the advantage of law school is that law school admission also does not mandate any specific previous education or professional experience. 

So, evaluate what you are naturally good at and what you can do well. Then think if you can find any grad program that can help you to build a career based on your natural strengths. Maybe this will help you to make a correct choice between law school or graduate school. 

Law School Requires Huge Amount of Reading Legal Texts

You must like reading and have the ability to read and comprehend volumes of complicated texts if you want to go to law school. In law school students are assigned an insane amount of dull endless legal materials to read. 

Most students can never finish all assigned readings and that is how law schools weed out weak links in the first year. 

Unlike law school, many graduate programs assign a manageable amount of reading at home. Because their purpose is not to fail but to train the student. 

Good Math Skills Are Better Asset at Graduate School

If you are good and feel quite comfortable with numbers or science topics, then I would skip law school and apply for a graduate program with quantitative topics. 

Any good quant (someone who can do complex mathematical calculations) has good chances of finding analyst work in many industries. Those range from financial firms to marketing to non-profits and so on. 

Few people like to do complex math so the competition for analytical jobs is less stiff than competition among new lawyers. 

I have read experts suggesting graduate programs like applied economics or applied math for that purpose. 

Unlike Graduate Students, Law Students must pass the state bar exam to work

The practice of law in the USA is generally limited only to licensed attorneys. Law students must sit for and pass the bar exam before they can even work as lawyers. 

And passing the bar exam is a quite difficult task. While a majority of law school graduates pass the bar exam, the preparation is a brutal experience. And bar exam is a brutal and stressful experience by itself. 

And if a law graduate fails the bar exam, then he or she cannot find work, period. Or they work for low pay as clerks for some law firms or solo attorneys.

Unlike Grad school, Law School Seriously Limits Employment Options

Unlike law school graduates, grads from graduate programs often are not limited to only a single profession or geographical area. 

Law is state-based, and attorneys are licensed by state supreme courts. So, a law school graduate after passing the bar exam usually is limited to working as an attorney in the state where he or she passed the bar exam and obtained an attorney license.  

Most grad school graduates do not face this restriction. They can travel around the country for jobs. Sometimes they can even move internationally if the standards for the job are similar to STEM or accounting). 

Lawyers cannot do that because the law is so different in many countries. Most countries impose serious restrictions on the ability of foreign lawyers to come and practice law. 

More so, law school makes you overqualified for many entry-level positions across most industries. Frankly, most companies or firms are unlikely to hire a law school graduate for an unrelated entry-level position. 

But grads from graduate school are more welcome into non-related entry-level positions. Graduate school graduates can more easily get their foot in the door than law graduates.

It has to do with general psychology and bias against lawyers, I think. I could be wrong and law grads also find jobs in other industries. 

Law School is often more expensive than graduate school

Another consideration between graduate or law school is the amount of student debt you will incur until graduation. Going to law school for cheap may be worth it. But most law schools charge high tuition. 

A law student may end up with additional $100,000-$150,000 student debt, fail the bar exam, and without any job prospects whatsoever.

Many graduate schools may offer cheaper tuition. Take this major factor into consideration when evaluating law school vs grad school choice.   

Graduate Schools May Offer more transferrable skills than law school

As I said, law students are often limited to only law jobs after graduation. At the same time, law school does not train students specifically in how to practice law. 

Most law students graduate from law school without any understanding of how to prepare legal paperwork. They learn on the job. And then law school skills are often not tangible enough to be transferred in any other industry. 

The exception is reading and writing skills which law students usually master. But you can learn those without going to law school as a graduate student in journalism or an English language program. By the way, the English language program also does not give a specific profession. Most graduates work as teachers.   

Many graduate schools, on the other hand, do train students for the job. For example, such graduate programs like master’s in accounting or marketing specifically train people to become accountants or marketing analysts. 

Often but not always graduate students often learn skills which they can apply on the first day of work. Law school just does not do that.

Therefore, between graduate or law school look for a grad program that teaches specific skills directly applicable in the line of work leading to greater employability.  

And about quants – the ability to do mathematical or statistical analysis or modeling is a huge transferrable skill across many industries. This is what I would do if I went back in time – the quantitative graduate program.   

Unlike some Graduate Programs, Law School Does Not Require Math

Not a single time I was facing a math problem on law school exams or in-home assignments. Except for one – comparative negligence liability. And even then, that math was so basic that it was laughable. Just basic percentage of fault – who is more than 50% at fault, roughly and subjectively speaking. That’s it. 

If you hate math but can read and write a lot – then law school may be better for you than math-related grad school programs. No wonder law school can charge law students so much money. Because law students hate calculating law school expenses and tuition costs. This was a lame joke, I know. 

Law School May Allow STEM majors Successful Career as Patent Attorneys

Law schools love STEM undergrad majors and for a good reason. They know that even if those do not become attorneys, they may go back to the tech sector and still get a job, helping the school’s employment statistics. Yes, there were reports that law school post-grad job statistics include ALL jobs, not just law jobs. 

You have a good chance of being accepted into law school or grad school as a STEM undergrad major for the very same reason. 

On the other hand, law school graduates with a STEM background and relevant work experience often can find well-paying employment as an attorney. 

The primary examples include patent, IP, medical malpractice, or pharma litigation attorney position. If they pass the bar, of course. 

Every STEM major who went to law school that I know is gainfully employed in that area of law with lots of hard work and high pay. I know someone who was hired from the 2L – the second year of third-tier law school with the $60,000-$70,000 annual pay. That is so unusual among non-stem law students. 

The other skill that may get law school grad hired is knowledge of some complicated Asian or middle eastern foreign language like Japanese, Chinese or Arabic.

I assume that graduate school may offer the same advantage for STEM students, but it probably depends on the major. 

STEM major with applied math or applied economics grad degree will probably find a quant job at some major financial institution. But STEM major with a degree in sociology – I am not sure about that combination. 

The point is – your education and work experience need to complement each other for better employment leverage. 

Note: As a STEM major should I go to law school or graduate school? 

I would go into things like machine learning, AI, or robotics right now if I was a STEM grad. These areas are exploding beyond imagination. 

Still, patent attorneys and IP attorneys will keep making good money. Therefore, good choices for STEM majors are either law school and IP law or graduate school in applied math or economics, or tech or science. 

Check Job Market for Law School or Graduate School Graduates

Checking the job market for law school or certain graduate school programs is a very important step often skipped by potential students. 

When evaluating law school or grad school prospects keep in mind the situation in the job market. 

Many forget that lawyers are licensed to practice usually in one or two states, but many other professions are often applicable nationwide.

And job market for lawyers is very saturated. It is very hard to find a job for young attorneys. There are just too many law students graduating each year. 

Check what is the state of the job market for this or another field, its competition, demand for workers, and how much you really can make in that profession.

This is the most important consideration for your Law School vs. Grad School decision. If someone exhibits certain natural or already developed skills and abilities he or she must evaluate if those can be enhanced and developed by education and experience.

Evaluate if those skills can be transformed by education into something that you can sell for money to society and do every day without losing motivation. One just needs to match the career path with existing skills and abilities to make career and life naturally easy.

Should I go to Law School or Grad School if I Hate Math?

Hating math does not mean you automatically should go to law school. There are plenty of graduate programs that do not require complicated math. Do your research and you will find them.

For example, writing is a skill that can be applied nowadays in many settings besides the law. So is the design. 

You can become a designer of anything from logos to designing and developing websites. Note, that marketing requires some math as marketing can be very analytical. 

Should I go to Law School or Grad School if I Love Math?

You should not go to law school if you love math and want to work with math all day long. Find a good quantitative graduate school and make a career out of being a quant or tech specialist.

Should I go to Law School or grad school if I don’t Know What to do with My Life?

That is probably a bad choice for you because of major student debt incurred in law school by law students. If later you realize you do not want to be a lawyer too, then you will have that student debt hanging over you for decades and limiting your option. 

If you do not know what you want to do better go neither to law school nor to graduate school. Go to vocational school or take the online course and learn something for cheap. Do some career aptitude tests online and figure out what you can be good at.

How to Evaluate Law School vs. Graduate School Choice?

Here is more on how I would evaluate the choice between law school and grad school. 

  • Think whether you read, write, and research well over doing math well. If so, then law school or some relevant non-quant graduate school is a probably better choice. 
  • Check the job listings online. The more requirements they have, the less likely you can to break into the industry in an entry-level position.
  • Are you very good with numbers and science staff? Good at math, statistics, and analytics? Then any quant or tech graduate school is probably a good choice in this economy.
  • Make sure you choose an area in which you can happily work every day for many years ahead without losing motivation. 
  • You can settle for an area in which you are naturally good even if you are not too happy with that choice. This way successfully doing that type of work will be easy and not too draining on your motivation. 
  • Those are very practical questions pertaining only to you.

I suggest you also evaluate this as follows:

  • Think about your goals, such as where you see yourself in 10 years regardless of your career.
  • In what type of setting do you want to work. And on what kind of project, doing what type of intellectual work. 
  • Review your natural abilities, which you can develop to sell to society.
  • List your mindful reasonable interests.
  • List your already existing hobbies where you exhibited some skills.
  • And recognize your inner true hidden desires and motivations.
  • See if you can align your abilities, skills, desires, and the job market demand.
  • And learn about each potential profession, what they do at work. Because the majority of people have a total misconception about what law school students go through every day in school and subsequently as attorneys. 

Motivation is important and law school graduates sometimes realize they do not want to be a lawyer. The same can happen with graduate school. 

You need to check what type of work you can do better based on your existing abilities and capabilities. 

Use Career Tests to Help You Choose Between Law School or Graduate School.

This is where various career tests can be quite useful. A long time ago I did Myers and Briggs test and, surprisingly, it described my aptitudes quite accurately. Among the top 10 results, I even saw something I desired but never wanted to admit. 

One of my natural abilities was teaching and explaining. This is what I do in this blog, and I enjoy writing each and single article. 

Another listed skill was music. I played music since I was 14 years old and never was this question asked directly during the test. How did they know? 

I suggest including such tools in your law school or grad school choices evaluation because they can make a difference.

Summary of law school vs. graduate school major points

Let’s have a summary of some major points in this blog post:

  • Law school often is more expensive than grad school.
  • Law school limits you to the most legal profession.
  • Grad school often leads to an immediate career while law school requires passing a bar exam which is quite hard to pass.
  • Failing bar exams results in major career disasters and wasted time and money (student debt).
  • Grad school may give more choices and options job (depends on grad school major).
  • Grad school is often easier than law school (but not always, exceptions include STEM grad programs).
  • It is often easier to get into good ranking grad school than top law school (not always).
  • Law school has generally higher dropout rate than graduate school
  • Law school is often more intense than grad school (not always).
  • Law is endlessly convoluted and confusing. Many grad school subjects are more straightforward.
  • The law profession is too competitive and saturated. Some other professions too, though.
  • Think of natural abilities. Law is not what you see on TV. May require lots of research, writing, boring work, adversarial fights with opposing attorneys, stress, and substance abuse.
  • If you are good at math and science, then we may have more rewarding careers opening in tech in the coming decades.

Should I go to Law School or Grad School – the final answer

I think that the vast majority of people will be better off going to the graduate school of their choice rather than to law school. I laid out many reasons in this blog post and there are many more for that conclusion. 

See, I am getting paid if you click on my affiliate links on this blog leading to LSAT training for law school. Here I am going against my financial interest by expressing an honest opinion. 

If you are good at math and science, then nowadays there are careers better than being a lawyer. You can go to graduate school with a good quantitative emphasis and have various employment options after graduation. 

Unless you want to be a lawyer and investigated the real work and life of a lawyer as opposed to watching TV series fantasia. 

Think STEM digress, maybe accounting, economics, finance, or other areas, including computer science. I would look for some type of graduate program that can give you specific employable skills which you can apply on the FIRST day of the job after graduation. 

Law school does not offer specific work skills you can immediately apply after graduating. Law students study how to read and process a lot of law texts and how to think like a lawyer. 

Law students do not even study how to draft legal paperwork. Top law schools actively attract candidates with STEM degrees to help their rankings. If you want to be a lawyer, you should try to get into as high-ranking a law school a possible to have a better chance of employment. 

The majority of people in law schools do not get grades because they are graded on the curve. You are more likely to be at the top of your class in most grad schools than in law school. 

Therefore, research your career options BEFORE you invest time and money into any school and incur considerable debt. I think that law school is not a good option for most people. Frankly, I enjoyed my MBA grad school much more than I enjoyed law school.

Final thoughts                                                       

Think it through well. No matter what decision you make sure that you make the most out of it – your future depends mainly on your effort and ability to recognize opportunities and act on them quickly.

Hopefully, you will carefully evaluate your options and will make the correct choice for your law school vs. grad school choice. If I were to do it again, I probably would make a different choice in my law school or grad school evaluation process. But that’s me.

For more, you can check this US government website with some info on how to research graduate education options.

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