“S.W.B.A.T.” If you immediately think that means “Students Will Be Able To,” then you are probably a teacher, maybe even a Teach for America (TFA) corps member. If you are a part of TFA, you might be considering law school after leaving the classroom. You wouldn’t be alone. 4% of TFA graduates go on to the legal profession. That might sound like a small percentage but considering that TFA now boasts 50,000 alumni, the actual number is significant. Here are some things to think about if you are one of these TFA corps members lacing up for law school:
1. Personal Statement
In preparing your law school application, you will have to write a personal statement that typically asks you to describe any significant personal, social, or academic experiences that have contributed to your decision to study law, and how those experiences might help you contribute positively to the law school community. For many TFA corps members, your time in the classroom will be a centerpiece of that personal statement. But recognize that many TFA members will be thinking similarly. So be sure to actually “personalize” your personal statement. How exactly did TFA inspire you to pursue a legal career? Was it TFA itself that sparked your interest in the law? Or was it one step in a longer progression? What specific values and skills did teaching develop that will enable you to add to the vibrancy and diversity of a law school’s student body? Did your time in the classroom point you towards a particular area of law? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but there are true ones. The more specific and honest you are with yourself about how TFA has influenced you, the more powerful that personal statement will be.
2. Law School Curriculum
Many law students go to law school without a concrete idea (or any idea at all) about the kind of law they want to study. To some extent that is inevitable because before law school, you might not have been exposed to many of the legal fields out there. That said, the more you can think about the kind of law that could possibly interest you, the better. Given their teaching experience, many TFA corps members are attracted to the public interest legal sphere. Again, though, that is an enormous area of law covering many subject areas, types of representation, and fundamental goals. For those considering “education law,” keep in mind that is a relatively narrow sphere that often falls under a broader umbrella of civil rights litigation, direct services representation, and/or policy work. Some law schools are better hosts for the public-interest minded student than others, and certain curricula provide greater opportunity for such students. In selecting which schools to apply to, skim through their upper-class electives to see whether there are course offerings that interest you. Examine a school’s lists of clinics and practice simulations because those classes often provide the most hands-on, real-life experience to prepare you for public interest work. Are there internships or externships that catch your eye? These are simple, relatively easy ways to focus your sights (and your personal statement) on what you actually want to get out of law school.
Law schools appreciate TFA. Consequently, some schools allow TFA alumni to defer admission for two years in order to do TFA first. Other schools value the program with their wallets. Several law schools waive application fees and several offer generous merit-based scholarships for TFA alumni, ranging from several thousand dollars per year to half tuition. TFA itself has compiled a list of these benefits to help its teachers.
Additionally, check out a law school’s specific web page to see if there are any other scholarships that TFA participation might tee up for you. Law school costs a lot. Help yourself up front by finding ways to defray the cost.
4. TFA Resources
As evident from the above list of scholarships, TFA takes seriously helping out its alumni, regardless of the profession they choose to pursue afterwards. Try to use that help. The TFA website alone provides many useful resources, including lists of partnering graduate schools and employers. And the TFA network is growing in terms of size, geography, and influence. Networking can be time-consuming and you probably don’t have a mountain of free time after lesson planning, teaching, coaching, maintaining your personal life, and whatever else you cram into your day. But if you have targeted questions about a certain law school or type of legal work, send a quick email to a TFA alum who has relevant experience. More likely than not, the recipient will be excited to share. Not only will this paint you a clearer picture, but if you don’t like what you hear it could save you a lot of wasted time. Similar to delivering an effective lesson, preparation beforehand can spare you a serious headache when it comes time for execution.
No matter what your classroom experience has looked like, teaching has probably been a very meaningful and important time in your life. Law schools know that and welcome your contribution. Explain to them exactly what TFA has done for you, and use TFA in the many ways available to help you take that next step towards law school.