Applicants often – and certainly sometimes wisely –
pursue admission to law school through a part-time or evening program track.
While not all law schools offer alternatives to full-time program, for many
students, the part-time option offers a viable way to attend that dream school
when either an LSAT score or GPA falls short of being
competitive in the full-time pool. Typically, law schools do not officially
present differing admission criteria between part-time and full-time applicants,
however a quick survey of the numbers reveals a consistently more forgiving
numeric range for part-time program applicants. On average, one can assume that
the average GPA and LSAT at the full-time program are about 0.15 and 5 points
higher, respectively, than the averages at the part-time program.
It is important to keep in mind that evening part-time programs are generally
geared toward professionals already in the works force. Accordingly, admission
officers often place greater emphasis on work experience and other subjective
factors than on the LSAT and GPA. So while it is not necessarily always easier
to gain admission to a school through a part-time program, for an applicant
whose numbers don't quite stack up and who has strong work experience or other
soft factors, applying to the part-time program might make sense.
Other than the more lenient admission criteria, there are indeed some advantages
to pursing a law degree part-time.
Debt Management: Completing a JD on the standard part-time cycle
typically takes four years, as opposed to three years of full-time study. This
protracted program with lighter course loads each semester, allows students to
work and pursue their degree simultaneously. The
financial considerations can be
significant. Students considering attending law school part time sometimes
cannot afford to quit their jobs to attend full time. Attending part time,
perhaps even subsidized by an employer, is the only way for some students to
fulfill their dream of a legal education. Additionally, a student may be able to
take out fewer loans and offset the cost of a legal education while working.
"Flipping" Option: Another advantage to gaining admission to a school
part-time might involve the ease of "flipping" to the full-time program after a
successful first year. Do not expect all schools to openly promote this
practice, however. While some schools grant students the transfer option
automatically, many others flatly state outright that transferring to the
full-time program is not an option. Even at these schools, however, the door
might not be completely closed. It is entirely possible that schools simply are
trying to deter applicants from getting in the "back door," hoping to reserve
the part-time/evening program for the applicants for whom it was designed –
professionals already in the workforce, pursuing a JD for career advancement.
Students who flip from the part-time to full-time program after the first year
might still be able to complete their degree in three years with smart planning.
The option of admission through a part-time program is indeed alluring, however
it is important to consider that completing a law degree through a part-time
option has other implications. These considerations should be weighed carefully.
Employment: Graduating from a part-time program may have an impact on
employability after law school. In many cases, employers may not be able to
distinguish a part-time from a full-time candidate in the review process. In
some cases, where employers are privy to a candidate's part-time status, hiring
partners may consider part time students as those who might not have been
qualified to get in the full-time program. So for those students who attend
school part-time and do not maintain outside employment, this bias (which some
employers may not even realize is happening) might hold especially true.
Additionally, while a handful of top-ranked schools offer part-time programs,
the vast majority of part time programs are at less prestigious schools, with a
corresponding impact on employment options. While placement rates may be
comparable between the two programs, it is important to consider these
statistics carefully. Bear in mind that students in part-time
programs are frequently already employed, particularly in part-time evening
programs, and thus possibly skew the statistics. All these factors can play a
part in limiting your employment options in your post-law school life.
Law School Features