The Ultimate Guide to Undergrad vs. Law School

Considering going to law school? Here's an in-depth look at the key differences between life as a law student as opposed to an undergraduate.

This article originally appeared on New England Law | Boston's website.

You may have already guessed that law school is different from undergrad…but how? And how should you prepare as a future law student? Here’s a list of the differences you’ll typically find between undergraduate colleges and law schools. Get to know them and you’ll be ready for whatever law school throws at you.

Reading and writing

  • In law school, you will be reading and writing a tonHow much exactly will depend on the class, of course, but 50–100 pages of reading a night is not uncommon. However, you’ll also take special legal writing and academic support classes early on that teach you how to read cases and analyze information quickly.
  • Rather than essays, you’ll be primarily writing case briefs/summaries, which break down and analyze a particular legal case. You’ll also learn how to identify legal issues, conduct legal research, apply the law as it currently stands, and frame your arguments.
  • You can't skip the reading. One more time, for emphasis: You. Can't. Skip. The. Reading. In. Law. School.

Related: 4 Quick Tips to Take Your Writing Skills to the Graduate Level


  • You won’t be able to fly under the radar in class. Your professors will expect you to participate. Many teach using the Socratic Method, meaning they ask lots of questions and encourage class discussion. It’s the perfect training for becoming a lawyer, and it really helps you learn the material cold. Of course, it can also be a little intimidating. But if you do the reading and make an effort to understand it, you’ll be okay.
  • Your grades are often based primarily on the final exam. With the exception of legal research and writing courses, many law school classes don’t have graded homework, and they have few, if any, quizzes.


  • Law school is more about developing analytical skills than rote memorization. However, you’ll still need to learn lots of legal terms, particularly your first year. So don’t delete that flashcard app just yet.
  • You can’t cram in law school. Remember those all-nighters you pulled in undergrad, just you and some Red Bull against the world? That strategy won’t get you far in law school. You need to bring a semester’s worth of analytical skills and familiarity with the law and core concepts into those all-important final exams. The most successful law students create “outlines,” or organized summaries of the law, from the information presented in class. The ability to synthesize and organize this material into clear rules is critical to law school success.

Work/hands-on experience

  • Law school is all about becoming a lawyer (we know: “duh”). But it’s a pretty stark contrast to undergrad, where your major rarely defines your post-college career path and you can test the waters of totally different academic subjects. In law school, you’ll be working toward a distinct professional goal every day.
  • You’ll start preparing for your future law career as early as your first semester. You’ll likely have required 1L workshops and seminars that will help you acclimate to law school and prepare you for the road ahead. This includes bar exam prep. Lots and lots of bar exam prep.
  • You’ll get tons of real-world experience: clinics, clerkships, internships, pro bono and other volunteer work, summer fellowships, moot court/mock trial, and more. Some of these experiences will be woven into your law school classes, and some you’ll need to pursue on your own.
  • You’re building your professional network. The classmates around you today will be your colleagues tomorrow. You will support each other, whether you’re looking for jobs or need some professional advice. Your professors are invaluable career resources too, from cluing you into possible jobs to having good old-fashioned heart-to-heart talks with you about your career goals.

Related: 6 Grad School Networking Tips for New Professionals

Student/social life

  • Yes, law schools have fun events and activities; they’re just more focused on the lawyering experience. Professional development, academic discussion, and networking will be top priorities. But law schools also host plenty of cultural celebrations, sports leagues and games, volunteer opportunities, holiday events, and more.
  • Student organizations and extracurriculars are more law focused too. They might include groups like the American Constitution Society, Black Law Students Association, Criminal Law Society, Environmental Law Society, Phi Delta Phi International Legal Fraternity, and Women’s Law Caucus. Campus law reviews and other publications can be great introductions to legal research and publishing.
  • Your stress levels will go up. Now, keep in mind that some stress is good. It can make you push yourself harder and grow in meaningful ways. But law school is challenging, and you’ll need to learn how to manage any added stress and practice self-care. Basic things like eating well, exercising, sleeping, and taking breaks when you need them can make a big difference in your overall mental health—not to mention your ability to do well in your classes.

What stays the same?

Some things don’t change between undergrad and law school, namely:

  • You get out of it what you put in. So give law school your best effort, and take advantage of the opportunities available to you.
  • Time management and organizational skills are essential. Map out your time in advance, break projects down to manageable tasks, and set realistic goals. Be good to your planner, and it will be good to you.
  • Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.

Related: 6 Effective Ways to Deal With Graduate School Stress

So, why is law school different from college?

Now you know: law school is very different from undergrad. But it’s different in purposeful—and helpful—ways. Remember, you’re rewiring your brain to think like a lawyer and learning the skills you’ll need for a lifelong career. Someday soon, you’ll be out there helping people as only a lawyer can, from fighting for fair policies to understanding contracts to counseling tough cases and everything in between. Let that motivate you. Finally, remember that you were accepted to law school because you have the skills, passion, and grit it takes to succeed in law school. You can do this! We hope these tips help.

Read the full article at New England Law | Boston or check out other helpful advice in our Graduate School section. 

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