Leverage College Summers to Prepare for Law School

Shawn P. O'Connor

Law school applications typically ask what you did every summer during the time you were in college. There's really only one wrong way to answer this question: Nothing.

[Get more tips on applying to law school.]

While it can be tempting to spend time relaxing after a long school year or working nonstop at a local restaurant to make money, you should try to find an internship or service project each summer. Finding paid internships and volunteer opportunities can be a challenge, so if money is an issue, consider doing the internship a couple days a week while also maintaining a paid job on the other days.

[Find out how to land a summer job.]

The following are some ideas of what you could do each summer during college.

-- The summer after freshman year: Since you have only been in school one year, you may not be able to get the best internships yet. Instead, consider building up your community service experience with a service project either in your area or abroad.

Use online resources like Idealist and United Way to find local volunteer opportunities, and try Cross-Cultural Solutions or Projects Abroad for international options. If you want to mix in some academic work, offer to work as a research assistant for a professor who teaches a subject that interests you.

[Turn your community service into college cash.]

-- The summer after sophomore year: No matter what kind of law you think you might want to practice, you will never know for sure until you work in that environment. Internships in college are a great way to try out a few different fields to see which you most enjoy and which best suits you.

[Explore the U.S. News rankings of specialty law programs.]

The summer after your sophomore year is the perfect time to try out an internship in public interest. To find good opportunities, look into Tte Legal Aid Society , the ACLU, or your local public defender's office.

If you have the time, this is also an ideal summer to start your LSAT preparation. Taking the LSAT in the fall or spring of your junior year will give you plenty of time to focus solely on your applications the following summer, without the distraction of the exam.

[Use seven tips for LSAT success.]

-- The summer after junior year: Even if you loved working in public interest the summer before, try something new this summer. You could intern at a law firm or focus on a specific area of law, such as law and economics, by interning at a think tank like the Brookings Institution or the CATO Institute, or at an economic development agency like the International Economic Development Council or the New York City Economic Development Corporation.

When you are looking for internships, look for opportunities that will allow you to contribute in a meaningful way. While most internships will have some administrative tasks, be sure to ask during the initial interview if you'll also be able to take on additional responsibilities. A good internship will be mutually beneficial; you provide services to the company, but they also take the time to teach you and ultimately help you grow.

[Read more about getting the most out of an internship.]

At each internship, do all of your work thoroughly and take initiative without being bothersome. While professional recommendations are not required for law school applications, a particularly glowing review from a boss can really set you apart.

How do you plan to spend the summer? Let me know in the comments, E-mail me at shawn.oconnor@stratusprep.com, or contact me via Twitter at @StratusPrep.