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When, How Law School Applicants Should Convey Parents’ Education Level

Written by Mamie M. Arndt

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a feature that provides law school admissions advice to readers who send in inquiries. If you have a question about law school admissions, email us for a chance to be featured in a future post.

a man sitting at a table using a laptop: Asian senior father and his adult son using laptop computer while sitting at home

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Asian senior father and his adult son using laptop computer while sitting at home

I am applying to several top tier schools. My parents have an MD and a PhD. Should I answer the optional question regarding their educational levels? Thank you. – SL


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What a family of underachievers! Were your grandparents astronauts?

There is no reason to hide your parents’ achievements. Your parents’ educational background can be a meaningful part of the context that shaped you, which is why some law schools ask you about it. But law schools neither favor nor begrudge the children of professionals.

Certainly, law schools, like other institutions of higher education, are conscious of the unique challenges faced by applicants whose parents did not attend or graduate college, often called first-generation students. Law schools welcome such applicants, whose educational journey may demonstrate uncommon levels of self-motivation, self-discipline and resourcefulness. First-generation students might bring firsthand perspectives into classroom discussions on issues like education law or access to justice.

Law schools often provide dedicated resources to first-generation students, from peer support groups to dedicated scholarships. Additional resources are often available as well to “first-generation professionals,” students whose parents received undergraduate degrees but not graduate or professional degrees.

First-generation students should make this facet of their background clear in their personal statement, optional diversity statement or even an addendum. Not only does this information help admissions officers contextualize each applicant’s own struggles and achievements, but it helps them match incoming students with the support and guidance they need.

However, law school admissions offices are emphatic that they evaluate candidates holistically. There is no mechanical formula that favors one applicant whose parents lack degrees over another whose parents are professionals. After all, what if the first applicant were the child of Hollywood superstars, and if the second were raised by physicians who opened a low-cost primary care clinic in an underserved community?

In every case, admissions officers look at the full context of an applicant’s background to gauge his or her potential to excel in law school.

So, what should you tell law schools if at least one of your parents is a successful professional? You may choose to mention this information in your application essays if it is a relevant part of your story. For example, perhaps a parent’s experience in the biomedical field inspired you to seek reform in the health care system.

On the other hand, if you do not feel your parent’s educational background plays a role in your own story, you need not bring it up.

In either case, however, answer a specific application question about your parents’ degrees truthfully. Avoiding the question may come across as prevarication or equivocation.

Law schools may appreciate first-generation applicants, but above all they are interested in applicants who are forthright about themselves and their background. Declining to answer an application question may not raise a red flag, but it will likely stand out more than your parents’ laudable degrees.

Copyright 2021 U.S. News & World Report

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Mamie M. Arndt