In 2013, the University of Iowa College of Law did more than pay lip service to the idea of making students’ lives easier. Along with dramatically reducing its class size and slashing tuition by 16.4%, in November, the school began partnering with Iowa colleges to create the 3+3 program, which allows qualified students to earn their undergraduate and law degrees in just six years. Now, half a year later, the school has partnered with a total of eight institutions throughout the state, ranging from the University of Dubuque to Iowa State University’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Students from these partner schools will be able to apply for admission to the law school after Sept. 1.
Iowa Law isn’t the only school with a 3+3 program, but so far, it’s the most prestigious one in the group. That group includes Albany Law School, Fordham University, and the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, among others.
Is the 3+3 program another way to bring in more applicants as fewer and fewer people decide to go to law school? “We don’t expect that we’re going to get boatloads of applications into this new program,” Iowa Law Dean Gail B. Agrawal says frankly. “I’d be surprised if we got 10 a year, you know? I think it’s not a program that’s for every student.”
In fact, the 3+3 program caters to rather specific kinds of students. First, these students have to know early on that law school is for them. “From time to time you meet students who are highly intellectual students, they’re very motivated, and they are quite settled on seeking higher education,” Agrawal says. Some of them will come straight from high school. “You just have students who know from a very young age what you want to do,” Agrawal says. (She recalls talking about becoming a lawyer when she was 13 years old).
3+3 applicants will be looked at especially carefully, though. They’ll be assessed in the regular applicant pool, so they won’t be expected to have higher GPAs or LSAT scores than traditional applicants, but admissions officials will examine their personal statements and references to figure out whether they’ve really thought this whole law school thing through; there will be close conversations with their faculty advisors, Agrawal says. Nevertheless, she acknowledges that there’s inherent risk in admitting anybody—even high achievers with a clear vision for their futures. “You know, people make mistakes all the time,” she says. “Peoples’ interests change all the time.”
And Agrawal emphasizes that plenty of the 3+3 applicants—like veterans—will have arrived at college with plenty of life experience. The program is also ideal for students who want to delve into different fields. “It will speed them on their way if what they want to do is get two degrees,” Agrawal says, citing JD/PhDs and JD/MDs.
Though schools have just recently begun instituting 3+3 programs, they’re not actually new. They used to be very common, Agrawal says. A change in the American Bar Association’s accreditations standards that prevented law schools from admitting students who hadn’t completed their undergraduate studies wiped them out for a bit. Another change has recently allowed schools to admit students who’ve completed three-fourths of their bachelor’s degrees, so 3+3 programs are back.
In Iowa Law’s 3+3 program, applicants must satisfy whatever requirements their undergraduate institutions impose on them before they actually apply to law school. Those requirements will vary between colleges and academic departments; for example, a department might require potential applicants to complete all the requirements for their major first.
So far, Agrawal has no target for new partnerships in the coming year. Still, it’s possible that other top 50 schools will follow Iowa Law’s example. Shaving off a year of college tuition doesn’t change the fact that law school is incredibly expensive, but given the opportunity to save thousands of dollars, would any student complain? Doubtful.