In the rarefied setting of a university, it can be easy to take college education for granted. First-generation students, whose parents did not attend college or graduated from college, may feel embarrassed or out of balance when their peers seem to have an easier time navigating campus life and career options.
In recent years, law schools have become more sensitive to the financial, academic and social challenges facing first generation students. They have partnered with nonprofits to expand resources and programs to level the playing field for first-generation students.
These resources range from dedicated scholarships to peer support groups. Some resources are even available for âfirst generation professionals,â students whose parents have earned undergraduate degrees but not graduate or professional degrees.
First-generation law school applicants should consider the following tips to minimize unnecessary barriers on their legal career path:
- Quickly find available resources.
- Disclose your parents’ education.
- Explain your background in your essays.
- Identify campuses that support first generation students.
Quickly find available resources
There are many pre-law programs for first generation students that are very useful early on when applicants are faced with the uncertainty and challenges of managing LSAT preparation and application deadlines. It would be a shame to find out about these opportunities late in the process.
In addition, the most intensive programs that benefit first-generation applicants, such as the Legal education access pipeline in Southern California, have an application process. To take full advantage of this scholarship program, applicants should apply in September one year before intending to apply to law school.
Disclose your parents’ education
Ironically, many first-generation law school applicants neglect to emphasize this context in their application. Some may ignore that this matters, perhaps because they come from communities where higher education is less common. Others may view their parents’ limited education as a source of shame.
Law schools value first generation students. The challenges they overcame demonstrate traits essential to success in law school and legal practice, such as ingenuity, self-awareness and self-discipline.
If an application to law school asks you questions about your parents’ level of education, answer honestly. Whether your parents graduated from high school or never graduated from high school, your answer will not stand against you. On the contrary, revealing your first generation status helps contextualize your accomplishments and can open the door to useful resources.
Explain your background in your tests
Naturally, many first generation students want to focus on their own qualifications rather than those of their parents. They may have even heard that law school admissions officials don’t want to hear a “sob story.” This simplistic advice is frequently given in online discussion forums, which applicants should approach with skepticism.
Certainly, an essay of melodramatic application on every misfortune in the life of a candidate would be frowned upon, as would a conceited and boastful essay. The trick is to strike a more balanced tone by explaining how these circumstances have shaped you.
In your personal statement or optional diversity statement, provide context for the impact of your first generation status on your life. Focus on the facts and avoid self-pity and the defensive.
Identify campuses that support first generation students
Many law schools offer their own dedicated resources for first generation students.
First-generation students are often used to finding their own path, but you don’t have to feel alone on your journey to law school. Do some research online or consult a pre-law counselor to learn more about available resources and support networks.