Harvard Law School to Admit Undergraduates

Harvard Law School has announced plans to launch a pilot program allowing juniors at Harvard College to apply to law school, provided they work for two years after graduation before entering their law studies, The Harvard Crimson reports.

The program, named the Junior Deferral Pilot, is open to the Harvard College Class of 2015.  Admitted students will be encouraged to pursue fellowship and business opportunities before entering Harvard Law School in 2017.

Jessica Soban, the law school’s chief admissions officer, told The Crimson that the program will give students “the room to explore and be able to come back.” “It’s for people who want to have something locked down so they can focus on their job search and explore their passions,” she added.  It’s also assumed that students will expand their  networks and identify areas of law they’d like to study during their time in the workforce.

Harvard Law School has traditionally attracted students with some post-college experience. More than three-quarters of Harvard Law students enroll at least one year out of college.  The new pilot program will likely push that percentage up even higher.

The move may also be a subtle maneuver to delay and even deter some students from going to law school in an oversaturated legal market.  Top law schools such as those at Northwestern University, UC Hastings and George Washington University have all reduced their class sizes in response to dwindling applications and dismal job prospects for newly minted JDs. By requiring law students to defer their enrollment for two years, Harvard’s pilot program pushes them to explore other opportunities before pursuing a legal degree.

Traditionally, the law school does not admit undergraduates until the fall of their senior year.  Students applying as juniors under the new program will learn their admissions status the summer after their junior year.

Similar to their counterparts in the standard system, junior deferral applicants must submit a personal statement, LSAT scores and letters of recommendations. However, they have to opportunity to interview with law school admissions officers on campus as opposed to teleconferenced interviews via Skype. Students in the pilot program can also submit scores for the February LSAT exam, allowing them to study for the test and complete their applications during their junior year.

The new system is in part intended to attract students with backgrounds in science and technology, Soban told The Crimson. “Having a technical background as an attorney is increasingly valuable,” she said.  The program is also expected to help alleviate some of the pressure on graduating seniors, who are typically applying for jobs and wrapping up their theses.

The program is currently limited to Harvard College juniors. If the pilot proves successful, the school may open it to other students. Harvard is the first law school to pilot such a program.  It will be interesting to see if other institutions follow suit.