In the rare university environment, it can be easy to take a college education for granted. First-generation students, whose parents have not attended or graduated from college, may feel self-conscious or out of balance when their peers seem to have an easier time navigating career and career options on campus.
In recent years, law schools have become more sensitive to the financial, academic, and social challenges faced by first-generation students. They’ve partnered with nonprofits to expand resources and programs to level the playing field for first-generation students.
These resources range from dedicated scholarships to peer support groups. Some resources are also available for “first generation professionals,” students whose parents have college degrees but no college or professional degrees.
First-generation law school applicants should consider the following advice to reduce unnecessary obstacles on their way to a legal career:
- Look for available resources early.
- Disclose your parents’ education.
- Explain your background in your articles.
- Determine which universities support first-generation students.
Find available resources early
Many introductory law programs for first-generation students are most useful early on, when applicants face uncertainty and challenges in managing their LSAT preparation and application timelines. It would be a shame to learn more about these opportunities late in the process.
Furthermore, more intensive programs that benefit first-generation applicants, such as the Southern California Legal Education Access Pipeline, have an application process. To reap the full benefits of this fellowship program, applicants must apply in September of the year before they intend to apply to the Law School.
Disclose your parents’ education
Ironically, many first-generation law school applicants neglect to emphasize this context in their applications. Some may not realize that it matters, perhaps because they come from societies where higher education is less common. Others may see their parents’ limited education as a source of shame.
Law schools value first-generation students. The challenges they overcome demonstrate essential traits for success in law school and legal practice, such as resourcefulness, self-awareness, and self-discipline.
If a law school application asks you about your parents’ education, answer honestly. Whether your parents got full ABCs or didn’t finish high school, your answer won’t be against you. Instead, revealing your first generation status helps put your accomplishments in context and may open doors to useful resources.
Explain your background in your articles
Understandably, many first-generation students would like to focus on their own qualifications rather than those of their parents. They may have heard that law school admissions officers don’t want to hear a “sigh story.” Such simplified advice is frequently offered in online discussion forums, which applicants should treat with skepticism.
Certainly, a melodramatic introductory essay about every misfortune in the applicant’s life will come across poorly, as will an arrogant and ostentatious essay. The trick is to strike a more balanced tone by explaining how these circumstances have shaped you.
In your personal statement or optional diversity statement, provide context for how your first-generation status affects your life. Focus on the facts and avoid self-pity and defensiveness.
Determine which universities support first-generation students
Many law schools provide their resources for first-generation students.
First-generation students often get used to finding their own way, but there’s no need to feel lonely on your journey to law school. Look online or consult a prior legal advisor to learn more about available resources and support networks.