Time Off Before Law School

Last updated: July 7, 2013

by Andy Cornblatt
Georgetown University Law Center

The four years went by so quickly.  It is hard to believe that you are at those "crossroads" that everyone has been talking about, but here you are.  Should you take some time off between college and law school?  Should you apply now and request a deferral if you get accepted?  Does work experience, travel etc. strengthen your application?  What if you're not sure what you want to do right now?  Will all law schools permit deferrals?

These are difficult and important questions.  What makes them even more difficult to answer is that each situation and each individual is unique and sweeping generalizations should be resisted at all costs.  There are some general principles that are applicable however and should be kept in mind as you wrestle with your future plans.

If you are asking yourself if you are ready to begin law school right away, then chances are you should explore other alternatives.  Talk to the people at your Career Placement Office.  Anything that you do that separates you from all the college Seniors applying to law school will enhance your chances of acceptance.  Responsible and meaningful work experience, further academic pursuits and public service work are all things upon which law school admissions people look favorably.

There are dangers here however.  Work experience, law related or otherwise, very rarely plays a decisive role in an admissions decision.  If you want to take time off and explore other things, go ahead and do it.  But do not do it because you think it will help you get into law school.  Everything you do need not be a means to some end.  What you should not do, in my opinion, is to go find a job as a paralegal because you think law schools like that.  If you genuinely want to find out what a law firm is all about, that's great.  But do it for the right reasons.

My inclination is to recommend that most people take some time between college and law school.  Once you begin your first year at law school, certain things are set in motion and your opportunities to explore and experiment are severely restricted.  On the other hand, do not simply take a year off to tread water.  Some people are anxious and ready to begin law school right away and that is exactly what they should do.

As far as deferrals are concerned, the policies of law schools vary greatly.  You should contact the school to find out what their policy is.  A number of schools will grant a deferral for one year only.  These schools require a written request from the applicant indicating the reasons for the deferral.  Some schools do not allow any deferral at all.  It is up to you to find out the policy of the particular school in which you are interested.

What if November arrives and you just aren't sure whether you want to go to law school the following year?  Should you apply and then maybe defer or should you wait a year to apply?  My rule of thumb is this:  if you are 100% certain you want to wait, don't apply.  Wait until the following year since any meaningful experience in the intervening time will help your application, though in most cases only marginally.  However, if you are not certain, apply during your senior year of college.  There is no need to cut off any of your options.  People's minds have a way of changing and your outlook may be very different in April from November.  While you may have thought you needed a year off, you may come to realize that you only needed a weekend off.

Deferred Admissions

Most law schools admit a person for a specific entry time.  If you choose not to enter that year, you must reapply for a subsequent year. However, the policy is changing some now.  A few schools will defer admission for one year, for good cause (see listing under Additional Useful Information section in this book).  If you are certain you will not be going in a given year, do not apply until you are ready.  Never, but never, ask for a deferral until after you have been admitted.

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