Friday, October 22, 2021
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School of Law alternative programs

UMKC is known for housing many professional schools, including dentistry, medicine and pharmacy. One professional school on the Volker campus is often overlooked.

The School of Law enrolls approximately 500 students annually. Some first-year law students have not yet gained their undergraduate diplomas. UMKC is able to give its undergraduate students this unique opportunity through two programs: the six-year BA/JD program and the 90+ program.

The six-year Bachelor of Arts/ Juris Doctor (BA/JD) program is unlike many other law school programs in the U.S., because it allows college seniors to apply concurrently to both undergraduate and law schools at UMKC. If accepted, students will begin pursuing their major of choice in the College of Arts and Sciences.

By stacking all of the required classes for their majors and general education, students can complete a bachelor’s degree in three years, excluding electives. According to Pre-Law Advisor Carla Oppenheimer, double-counting the first-year law classes as Arts and Sciences electives allows students to cut out a year of school.

This is the essential structure of the six-year law program, but there is one caveat. Students enrolling straight out of high school can count their ACT or SAT scores in place of the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT). Therefore, they are not required to take the LSAT before entering law school.

The theory behind this, is that since the LSAT is a standardized test similar to the ACT or SAT, the latter two are probably good indicators of how someone would do on the LSAT, according to Law School Admissions Director Lydia Dagenais.

The six-year program is only in its third year at UMKC, meaning that the first class is finishing its sophomore year. All signs point to the ACT/SAT scores as being adequate, according to Dagenais.

To be considered for the program, students must score of 28 or higher on the ACT, submit two letters of recommendation and write a personal statement for the law school supplement. Additionally, applicants must fill out character and fitness questions that are standard on any law school application.

Once accepted into the program, students must maintain a 3.5 GPA, and when it comes time to move to the law school, the undergraduate pre-law advisor must submit a letter on behalf of the student, according to Oppenheimer.

Current enrollment in the six-year program is relatively low, according to Dagenais. The dean of the Law School meets at least once a year with the students to help develop the feeling of being in a cohort.

Variations to the traditional four-year bachelor’s degree and then three-year law degree are not a new concept. The 90+ program has been available for more than two decades at UMKC, according to Oppenheimer.

This option allows students to apply to UMKC’s Law School during their junior years and then finish their electives during the first year of law school, similar to the six-year students.

The main difference is that the LSAT is required for 90+ students. Students must apply as a normal student seeking entrance into the School of Law, but must also have a letter from the pre-law advisor attached.

Oppenheimer said that this option is available to any student in the College of Arts and Sciences, as long as they plan ahead.

“Students need to decide during their sophomore year if this is something they want to pursue,” Oppenheimer said “We have a lot of students that come in to meet with us too late, and it just isn’t possible to make all of the credits work out.”

Students who are able to stack their credits during the first three years should take the LSAT and fill out the application during their junior years. During the spring semester of their junior years, these students will complete all required UMKC exit exams and are able to walk in the May commencement ceremony, according to Oppenheimer.

Squeezing all of these things into one year, while completing a full course load, can be a bit stressful. According to Ramsey Fowler, a current 90+ student, it can be done with consistent advising appointments and early preparation.

“My advice for students interested in the program is to work hard,” Fowler said. “Start preparing for the LSAT as soon as possible because on test day, you’ll be thankful that you did.”

These two programs are appealing to many students because it cuts out a year of schooling, saving time and money along the way, according to Fowler.

While both the six-year and 90+ programs were created with students in mind, a huge obstacle that the school faces in moving forward is making prospective students aware of the opportunities, according to Dagenais.

As the Law School faces enrollment challenges, students also face challenges of their own.

“My biggest challenge will be transitioning from my undergraduate routine to law school life,” Fowler. “Law school will be fast-paced, difficult, and requires a lot of work from students in order to be successful. I’m personally excited to begin this new and testing chapter of my life.”

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