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The Pros and Cons of a Part-Time Law Degree

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.

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