The decision to attend graduate school is a complex one. Most people choose to attend graduate school to further advance their knowledge in a field, to gain the education necessary to change careers or to advance professionally. The decision to attend should be well planned and thought out.
There are several major components in the application process:
Search for Programs
Most graduate programs require that you take a standardized test as part of the application process. Departmental requirements vary by institution so be sure to clarify what is required by each. There are several tests used in graduate school admissions such as:
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE)
- Miller Analogies Test (MAT) (offered through the College of Graduate and Continuing Education)
- Graduate Management Admissions Test (GMAT)
- Law School Admission Test (LSAT)
- Medical College Admission Test (MCAT)
- Dental Admission Test (DAT)
The personal statement is your opportunity to express your commitment to the field, academic preparation and to articulate what you have to offer the program. Have your statement reviewed by the Career Center and/or the Reading and Writing Center.
Requests for official transcripts can be made at the Registrar in Parenzo Hall, Room 107.
Letters of Recommendation
Most graduate programs require letters of recommendation. Faculty often serve as references as they can attest to your ability to perform in the classroom.
Be sure to provide your recommender with:
- The deadlines for application
- Instructions for submitting
- Stamped and addressed envelopes
- A copy of your resume and unofficial transcript
- List of courses you took with the professor (if the recommender is a professor)
- Any special projects you have done with the recommender
- Conferences you have presented at or attended
- Information about your internships
Also, maintain contact to discuss how the process is going and to ensure that the recommendation was submitted. It is always a nice gesture to send your recommenders a thank you note for their time.
Your GPA will also play a strong role in your consideration. If you need to explain a situation or problem that impacted your grades (i.e. loss of family member, working full-time, etc.), feel free to do so in your personal statement. Keep your explanation brief as the main focus of your personal statement should address the topic that was posed. Some programs will also ask for samples of your work or a portfolio.
Paying for Graduate School
There are several forms of need-based and merit-based aid available for graduate school.
A fellowship is a monetary award based on academic, athletic or personal achievements to support graduate studies, academic research or specialized training of particular interest to the granting organization.
Assistantships provide full or partial tuition and sometimes a stipend and health insurance in exchange for part-time employment. There are three different forms of assistantships: teaching, research and graduate assistantships.
Teaching Assistants teach undergraduate courses, lead classroom discussions, facilitate small group activities, grade papers or supervise labs.
Research Assistants perform research in their academic field, sometimes in collaboration with a faculty research project.
Graduate Assistantships are available in a number of departments or programs at the institution. Responsibilities vary greatly depending on the department and program. Graduate assistants might be responsible for supervising residence halls, planning student activities, managing community service programs, etc.
Scholarships are offered on a more limited basis for graduate study. The graduate institution may offer scholarships. Some good resources include:
Federal Loans and Student Aid
Need-based financial aid is also available at the graduate level. You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for federal aid.
Loan Forgiveness Programs
Depending on what field you enter and your professional pursuits after school, some loans can be partially or fully canceled.
Loan Deferment or Forbearance
A deferment or forbearance allows you to temporarily stop making your federal student loan payments or to temporarily reduce the amount you pay. You’ll need to work with your loan servicer to apply for deferment or forbearance; and be sure to keep making payments on your loan until the deferment or forbearance is in place.
Some companies provide tuition reimbursement as part of their benefits package for employees.
A law degree is referred to as a Juris Doctorate degree. It is an advanced, graduate degree studying the “system of rules, enforced by a governing body, that shapes politics, economics and society and serves as a mediator of relations between people” - Legal Philosopher, H. L. A. Hart
Background & Preparation
There is no particular undergraduate major or degree that you are required or recommended to obtain in order to prepare or be accepted into law school. There are laws that govern all aspects of life and society and require individuals with knowledge of not only law, but the details specific to each field. The experiences you gain as an undergraduate student, whether you major in Criminal Justice or Zoology, will be of value. However, it is always useful to take an undergraduate law course or intern with a firm to help you decide if law is the right career path for you.
- Preparing for Law School: The American Bar Association
- Law School Admissions Council
- U.S. News & World Report
PAID SUMMER LSAT PREP OPPORTUNITIES
- DiscoverLaw.org Prelaw Undergraduate Scholars (PLUS) Program
- TRIALS - Training and Recruitment Initiative for Admission to Leading Law Schools
- Sidley Prelaw Scholars Program
THE REALITIES OF LAW SCHOOL
Law school and practice requires the ability to think analytically. While law school requires a good deal of reading and memorization of legal principles there is a great deal of uncertainty and ambiguity involved. Law is constantly changing therefore it requires the ability to apply legal principles to a variety of different situations and draw conclusions from the relevant facts.
The Case Method Approach
In the case method approach, used in most law schools, you are encouraged to analyze cases and distinguish between the possible outcomes based on the principles applied. Professors challenge you by taking a position contrary to you, forcing you to defend your reasoning. Whether you fully understand the case or not you are required to participate in discussion.
Students have little time for other interests, especially during the first year of law school. The ABA requires that no full-time student hold an outside job for more than 20 hours a week. Most schools encourage their students to become totally immersed in reading, discussing, and thinking about the law.
The Myths & Realities of Law School
An article by Peter F. Lake, Stetson University College of Law
SEARCHING FOR LAW SCHOOLS
Choosing a law school that is right for you will rely on several factors including reputation of the program, cost, entrance requirements, and location. Use the law school search tools listed below to view institution profiles, read professional reviews, and request information from schools. Be sure to ask faculty at potential law schools and at Westfield about pursuing a JD and getting advice on where to apply.
LAW SCHOOL ADMISSIONS
The Credential Assembly Service is a process for collection, summarization, and distribution of undergraduate education information of law school applicants to their law schools of choice. Nearly all ABA (American Bar Association) law schools require this as a part of their application process.
Law School Admissions Test is a standardized exam required for entrance into all ABA-approved law schools.
- LSAT: PrincetonReview.com
- Law School Admissions Council: LSAT Guide
- LSAT Study Plan
- LSAT Preparation
FINANCING YOUR LEGAL EDUCATION
Paying for law school can be daunting so it is important to begin the search for financial assistance early. Check with your law school's financial aid department to learn more about financing options, scholarship opportunities, and work-study. Be sure to spend extra time preparing for the LSAT as those with high scores often receive significant aid if not full tuition.
U.S. Department of Education
Student Debt Relief
Financing Your Education Booklet
Federal Student Aid
THE BAR EXAM
The Bar Exam is a government issued test, required of all law students in order to be able to practice law after graduation. The exam varies by state and must be passed to practice in that state.
WESTFIELD STATE UNIVERSITY 3+3 PROGRAM WITH LAW
The 3 + 3 program is open to academically-qualified Westfield State undergraduates who are committed to pursuing a law degree at UMass Law in Dartmouth. You will complete the first three years of your undergraduate studies at Westfield State. In your fourth year, you will attend UMass Law as a first-year law student, and earn credit toward completion of your undergraduate degree by completing first-year law courses. In effect, you save one year of college tuition by substituting your first year of law school for your senior year of college! Visit the program website to learn more.