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Cornell Law School graduates walk.

October 26, 2022

3+3 Pathway: Combining Undergraduate College and Law School into 6 Years

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Cornell undergraduate students looking to apply to Cornell Law School do not have to wait until their senior year. Through the Cornell Law 3+3 Pathway, students can jumpstart their law career a year early by finishing their undergraduate studies in three years and forgoing their senior year to start their first year of law school instead. 

3+3 reduces the total number of years pursuing an undergraduate and law degree from seven years to six by removing the fourth year of a student’s undergraduate degree and allowing their first year of law school to satisfy their senior year course requirements.

The program was originally only offered to Cornell students in the College of Arts and Sciences but has since expanded to include students across the University. Undergraduates at Hobart and William Smith Colleges and St. Lawrence University can also apply.

For Cornellians, one benefit of the program is being able to continue their education in a location with which they are already familiar. 

“I really liked what I was studying and I wanted to learn more and do more and I couldn’t picture what I was going to do right after graduation with just an undergrad degree. I heard about the program and decided that if I get in here, I would choose here,” said Brianna Ramos grad, a current first year law student who applied through the 3+3 Pathway while in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

Undergraduates applying must demonstrate they are mentally prepared to give up their senior year. The program is uniquely designed for ambitious students who can thrive in an accelerated environment alongside older, and more experienced law students. 

“It’s going to require quite a bit of maturity, both intellectual and emotional maturity, because they are essentially going to school anywhere from a year to 18 months earlier, ” said Monica Ingram, associate dean of Admissions and Financial Aid at Cornell Law School.

The workload of a 1L student — the name given to first year students in law school — differs from what most undergraduates might be used to. There are typically no quizzes or tests but only a final exam at the end. 

“1L year is really rigorous and it takes a lot of your time and you’re not going to be able to have the same kind of activities going on in your life as your friends who are seniors,” said Amanda Jantzi, director of Student Services and Academic Advising at the Cornell Law School.

Students often have to develop new techniques to successfully adapt to the demanding environment of law school. Some struggle with finding time to read and annotate long cases, while others may not know how to balance their work and social lives. 

“The biggest thing for me was the lack of the schedule. Your entire grade for most of your classes is just the final so throughout the semester, you are holding yourself accountable to do your readings and go to class and participate,” Ramos said.

3+3 applicants must meet several requirements in order to be eligible for the program, including having already completed at least 108 academic credits throughout their three years of undergraduate studies. This means students interested in the program must take extra credits early on in their undergraduate degree. 

“Oftentimes, undergraduate students haven’t thought that far ahead,” Ingram said. “The program is very hands-on and there’s a lot of self-determination and there are oftentimes undergraduates who don’t fit that profile.” 

For those who do qualify for the 3+3 program, there are many advantages, including not having to take the LSAT if they have either an SAT or ACT score on record. 

“Being a first-gen student, there’s a lot of resources and money that goes into the LSAT and not everyone has time and money to spend three months of their lives preparing for a huge exam,” Ramos said. 

The program also ensures students save on a year of tuition by removing senior year, reducing the financial burdens of tuition, housing, and loan payments. According to Jantzi, saving money is the biggest benefit of the program for the vast majority of applicants.

While the program has benefits, some students feel they are put at a disadvantage by starting law school at a younger age compared to law students who took time after their undergraduate years to experience and explore legal careers first hand. 

“When everybody goes to grad school, you’re at such different places in life,” Ramos said. “There’s people who are married, there’s people who took two years off, or five years off. Everyone’s coming out of different places.”

Though 3+3 Pathway students may be younger and more inexperienced, they are not necessarily disadvantaged in their ability to perform well in law school. 

“A lot of them are coming from Cornell or coming from a really rigorous academic environment so they tend to transition well into 1L year,” Jantzi said. “Most of them have told me they’ve wanted to be a lawyer for a really long time, so for them it’s just an opportunity to get to that career faster.”

3+3 is not the only way for students to gain law school experience during their undergraduate degree. As Jantzi notes, undergraduates can also take classes in the law school. For those who do pursue the program, it is highly selective. 

“This is not designed to be a large program,” Ingram said. “It may be attractive to a lot of individuals, but it’s not going to be one that’s doable for the majority of students.”

However, Ingram welcomes undergraduates to apply and said she likes to see the 1L class filled with Cornellians.

“Our goal is always to have as many Cornellians in the class as possible,” Ingram said. “There are such rich traditions that are embodied within Cornell University that are mirrored within the law school that make them attractive candidates.”