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Definition of “Non-Traditional”

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 3:29 am
by Dipsychus
Everyone has a vague idea about this, and it has to do with age — being older when applying and enrolling.

But, given that many law school applicants now take two to three years “off” to get some work experience, I doubt being 25 makes you non-traditional.

So... how much older is “older”? And is age the sole or primary criterion? (A significant amount of work and graduate school experience entails “older” of course.)

Not looking for a set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but a more clear idea of how the term is used specifically in law school (as opposed to undergraduate or PhD or MBA) admissions offices.

Finally, does this give you a “boost”? (After all — and I say this with some humor — 40somethings are underrepresented at law schools!)

Re: Definition of “Non-Traditional”

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 5:28 am
by cavalier1138
In terms of the age line, I think 30+ is usually considered old enough to be a rare applicant.

But it's got nothing to do with URM status; that only applies to race. Age gives a boost on the fringes because it usually comes with a decade or more of work experience. It's the experience that provides the edge, not the fact that the student is older. And that only comes into play for scholarship consideration and/or when the admissions office is comparing very similar candidates.

Re: Definition of “Non-Traditional”

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 7:02 am
by nixy
I agree with the above (definitely no boost). And frankly I think non-traditional still generally means “not K-JD;” it’s just that some students are more non-traditional than others.

Re: Definition of “Non-Traditional”

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 11:39 am
by QContinuum
nixy wrote:I agree with the above (definitely no boost). And frankly I think non-traditional still generally means “not K-JD;” it’s just that some students are more non-traditional than others.

Generally agree except that I don't really think that K->1-2 years' i-banking/consulting/BigLaw paralegaling->J.D. is really considered "non-traditional." I think you've gotta get 3+ years' work experience (not counting internships), or a substantial graduate degree (beyond a BS/MS program), to really get into "non-traditional" territory these days.

Re: Definition of “Non-Traditional”

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 12:09 pm
by nixy
My take from talking to faculty is that it’s really a binary: you’re either K-JD or you’re “non-traditional.” But I can’t guarantee every adcomm sees it that way. Certainly I agree there are a lot of people with a couple years’ experience between law school and undergrad, but I don’t see “non-traditional” meaning the same as “uncommon” (I think it’s a pretty broad/generic term.)

Re: Definition of “Non-Traditional”

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 12:13 pm
by thriller1122
QContinuum wrote:
nixy wrote:I agree with the above (definitely no boost). And frankly I think non-traditional still generally means “not K-JD;” it’s just that some students are more non-traditional than others.

Generally agree except that I don't really think that K->1-2 years' i-banking/consulting/BigLaw paralegaling->J.D. is really considered "non-traditional." I think you've gotta get 3+ years' work experience (not counting internships), or a substantial graduate degree (beyond a BS/MS program), to really get into "non-traditional" territory these days.


Agreed. You have to have some type of career that was non-law, as opposed to just padding a resume for a few years between undergrad and law school. To echo the first reply, age has nothing to do with the boost, you get a boost from actually working for 10 years when the majority of applicants have odd jobs and internships on their resume. How much of a boost? Who knows...

Re: Definition of “Non-Traditional”

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 1:26 pm
by Dipsychus
Killoran has an interesting (and numbers-oriented) blog post about this -- boosts and anti-boosts -- from March 21, 2017. Also, when doing the number crunching, defining "non-traditional" simply as those who call themselves non-traditional. Not cut-pasting the link here in case that's a forum or copyright violation.

Re: Definition of “Non-Traditional”

Posted: Mon Oct 07, 2019 1:47 pm
by nixy
I do think (from personal experience) that schools vary. Some adcomms may be more interested in non-trads than others. It may be a function of the pool of applicants in a given year, or it may be a function of bias (is a K-JD adcomm more or less likely to see non-trad experiences as valuable?), or just a function of the given student and what arguments they can make in their own favor. I think that being non-trad can provide a lot more fodder for making a compelling narrative throughout your application, but it’s possible that assumptions about what law is like and what you can do in the law may hurt such a candidate more than they would a K-JD.

One of the things that’s hard to parse from Killoran’s blog post is what combined stats were. The non-trads who had lower LSATs may have had higher GPAs or vice versa. Certainly the same can be said for the traditional students, too (we don’t know the combo of their stats), so the comparison is probably valid, but it’s not clear whether there are more splitters getting admitted as non-trads than as traditional students. (Plus there’s the self-identifying of the category.) But it’s certainly interesting.

I don’t think there’s enough evidence of a boost to rely on it and plan applications around it, though.