Ah, to attend part-time law school or not to attend part-time. That is the question. For many students, the decision is a no-brainer. Attending a full-time program is the only way to go. But what happens when you don’t have the time or need/want to continue working full-time while you attend law school? That’s when part-time programs start looking very attractive.
Many students, however, are reticent about even considering a part-time (sometimes referred to as PT) program. Are they considered lowlier than full-time programs? How much longer will that stretch out getting a JD? Can you really work full-time and go to school?
Demystify PT Programs
A full-time law program is the traditional 3-year law school stint that most applicants are readily familiar with. Part-time programs offer the same classes and the same end result but take longer to complete–typically 4 years.
As with everything, there are pros and cons to attending a part-time law program.
Pros of a Part-Time Law Program
- Flexibility. Part-time law programs have more flexible entrance requirements than their counterparts. If you have a less-than-stellar LSAT score or a poor UGPA, it might be worthwhile to look into. They are usually much more lenient regarding admission standards. Part-time law programs also have flexible schedules, which works well for those students with full-time jobs and/or families.
- Stability. Most part-time applicants are not applying outside of their immediate geographic area. Attending a part-time program right in the city they live in allows them to eschew any potential relocation and maintain their routine.
- Increased financial freedom. Part-time programs allow you to attend fewer classes for a longer period of time. This lets you continue working full-time if you choose. It may make it easier to take out fewer student loans at one time or repay some of the principal while still in school. By maintaining a job while in school, you can offset the costs of your legal education by working. You would only need to borrow the cost of tuition. In some cases, depending on if you get tuition assistance where you work and/or your salary, you may not have to take out any loans.
- “Safety nets.” Two personal benefits that are important to many are the ability to keep company-provided health insurance and contributions to a company-sponsored retirement plan. Being able to keep your job while attending school makes both of these possible. Many law students don’t have health insurance (due to its prohibitive cost when not company-sponsored, and/or lack of school-sponsored programs). Many also consider the potential earnings given up during the three years of full-time law school to be an addition to the financial burden of a law education. The possibility to continue earning and contributing to a retirement fund are definite pluses enjoyed by PT students.
Cons of a Part-Time Law Program
- It takes longer. This is the con that affects most students’ decision. No one wants to be in school for longer than necessary (especially an endeavor as costly as law school), so the longer it takes to get your JD, the less attractive things start to look.
- Expensive. Surprisingly, most part-time programs aren’t considerably cheaper than their full-time counterparts. Students in PT programs often end up paying considerably more than full-time students.
- Limited schools/job prospects. Few schools offer part-time law school programs, so your options are limited. If ranking, status, and prestige are a consideration, it’s worth noting that very few of the top law schools offer part-time programs. This could result in limited job prospects for part-time students.
- Missed networking opportunities. Part-time students simply don’t spend as much time on campus. They’re also there for longer than the traditional three years, making it harder for them to network with their classmates. Networking is of utmost importance; most schools that offer part-time programs are either local or regional schools, where most students will remain in the general geographic area of their institution. Not networking can hamper your job prospects upon graduation.
- Lower grades. Students in part-time programs are juggling at least two major responsibilities. The additional burden may cause part-time students’ schoolwork to suffer, even with reduced class schedules.
- Poor job performance. As a corollary to the point above, adding school to a full-time work schedule can also cause your job performance to suffer.
- Part-time “stigma.” Although it is becoming less common, the perception of part-time law programs is that they are not as high a caliber, or as rigorous, as full-time programs. This can result in fewer job offers and potentially less pay for part-time law program graduates.
Consider Your Options
All in all, a part-time program may be the best answer for some, but not all, students. Carefully consider your options, your opportunity cost, and what your overall aims are in obtaining a JD when considering full-time vs. part-time programs, and make sure that a part-time program can help you fulfill them. Otherwise, a full-time program may be the best option.