The Peace Corps and Law School Admissions?

I am currently a sophomore in college and I am trying to shape my post graduation plans. I have been, for several years, very interested in the Peace Corps, and I would like to attend law school when I return. My current cumulative GPA is about 3.7. I historically do well on standardized tests and I began planning and preparing for the LSAT since soon after starting college. Does Peace Corps service provide and “edge” in the admissions process over otherwise equally qualified applicants? My interest in the Peace Corps has nothing to do with padding a law school application, but since they are both important aspects of my plans, I am curious to see how they are related, and how PC service my impact my chances for admission. Does anyone know of specific schools that would put more stock in PC service than their counterparts? I might be more inclined to apply to schools that would value it. Another question I have is about when to take the LSAT. Should I take it while I'm still in college, or after I return from the Peace Corps when I will actually be applying? Thanks!

Hi, Elizabeth. Those are all good questions.

GPA and LSAT are the two most determinative admissions factors on your application. They're overwhelmingly more important than almost anything else you could do. In fact, I can't think of anything more important off the top of my head. Maybe curing cancer. That being said, certain law schools do want something in addition to good numbers. If you don't have the stats, then your soft factors won't matter even at these schools. If you do, your soft factors could push you over the edge. Peace Corps is actually one of the more respected soft factors, along with military service, Teach for America, and being a Rhodes Scholar (or other type of scholar). These “certain law schools,” at the least the ones in the top 14, are Yale, Stanford, and UC Berkeley. The other law schools will like them, too, but these three schools are known for being highly selective and rejecting / wait-listing applicants who had good numbers, but didn't have anything “interesting” on their applications. At the other top-14 schools, I'd say that your Peace Corps experience won't count for quite as much, but will give you lots of fodder for your personal statement and might even act as a tiebreaker with applicants who have similar numbers, but no work experience or good soft factors. So, by all means, join the Peace Corps. There's no way this would hurt and, depending on where you'll be applying, this may help a bit.

As for when you should take the LSAT, how long will you be in the Peace Corps? After five years, the score disappears. After three years the law school doesn't really want your score. In general I'd say take the LSAT no more than two or three years before you'll be applying. For example, if you'll be applying fall 2013 for the fall 2014 class, then a score from 2010/2011 is the earliest I'd go.

Good luck to you!