Want to Go to Harvard? Get a Job

Harvard Law School

Harvard Law School

“There’s no substitute for experience.”

At Harvard Law, the administration takes that maxim quite seriously. According to The Harvard Crimson, since 2009, roughly three-quarters of incoming law students have worked for a year after graduation.

So much for law school being the refuge for lost souls and liberal arts majors!


And Harvard isn’t alone. Indeed, law students are getting older in general. From 2005-2009, for example, 39%-45% of incoming Harvard Law students came directly from undergraduate school. Fast forward to today. That number is 32% and 30% at Penn Law and Columbia Law respectively. And Yale Law, Harvard’s Ivy League nemesis, accepted just 24% of its Class of 2017 directly from undergrad programs.

Source: The Harvard Crimson

Source: The Harvard Crimson

At Harvard Law, this shift came directly from the top – as in Dean Martha Minow. “When I became dean [in 2009],” she wrote to the Crimson, “I directed our admissions team to give extra weight to applicants with experience since college.” While work experience isn’t a requirement to enter Harvard Law, Jessica L. Soban, the school’s chief admissions officer, notes that it is something they “actively preference and look for in the application process.”

“For someone who doesn’t have work experience, it’s not harder per se,” Soban tells The Crimson. “But I want to see in an application that you have those same characteristics, and you have that kind of experience and focus, and not that Law School is a default option for you.”


Indeed, many Harvard Law students agree that a year or more away has major advantages for future lawyers.

Taylor Poor, a second year law student at Harvard, spent a year as a program coordinator for the National Alliance on Mental Illinois. She shares with The Crimson that the time away gave her a stronger sense of purpose. “I think the biggest help for me…was that it gave me kind of a reason to keep going, and a very specific person for why I was at law school.”

Mark Weber, the school’s assistant dean for career services, reinforces Poor’s point. “The real reason, I think it’s better for our students to have some time away,” he tells The Crimson, “[is that ] it gives them… a better perspective as they’re exploring their options. They have more of a crystallized focus of what they want to do and why they are here,”

For others, work tests whether a law career is truly right for them (especially with 2014 grads racking up an average debt of $137,599). Taylor Lane spent two years at PowerAdvocate, an energy data firm, where she was promoted from being an analyst to a marketing and strategy manager. In the end, her experiences drew her back to school. “It really tested how much I wanted to go back to law school,” she tells The Crimson. “And so I think that was very healthy—law school is a big investment.”