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Want to take a break between college and law school to travel? How about a stint in the Peace Corps? Chase a dream in Hollywood?
All of these opportunities are available -- and encouraged -- through Harvard Law School's new junior deferral program. No, the law school will not pay for your travel plans or land you a role in the movies. But it will admit you early with the understanding that you take two years to pursue other goals.
"This program is allowing people to pursue their passions in ways that may not be available if they didn't already have their pathway to law school set," said Jessica Soban, associate dean of admissions and strategic initiatives.
Expanding on a program that was originally open only to Harvard College students, the three-year old pilot now is offered to juniors at colleges around the world. Soban said it is apparently the first of its kind at any law school in the United States.
"The Junior Deferral Program is one of many efforts underway here to remove barriers as we seek the most talented candidates for law and leadership," Dean Martha Minow said in an announcement. "By offering admission to the most promising college juniors, we can encourage them to pursue important and fulfilling experiences without concerns about effects on a later application to law school."
The catch is that early admission candidates must take at least two years after graduation before starting their legal studies. During that time, they may work, study, complete a fellowship or pursue some other interest.
The idea is that they will gain real-world experience, which employers and educators value. "Having someone who can draw on their real-world experiences or who can draw on a difficult client situation, that's something that's really valuable and makes the classroom discussion much more robust," Soban said.
More Changes Coming
Harvard, like many law schools, has been looking for ways to attract more qualified students during a period when enrollments are down. Next year, the school will accept GRE scores as an alternative to LSAT scores.
By accepting GRE test scores, the law school will make it easier for students in other disciplines to apply. Math and science students, for example, will be able use GRE scores for graduate school in their disciplines without having to take another test for law school.
Likewise, the junior deferral program will open up opportunities for students to diversify. While waiting to start law school, they can earn a graduate degree in a technical field or take a corporate job, for example.
Or, as Soban suggested, they can pursue an acting career. One student with a martial arts background has been working as a Hollywood stunt double, she said.