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For many Penn students, post-graduation plans begin to cast their shadow early, in a hazy and frequently terrifying way. Some manage to ease the anxiety with an unambiguous post-graduate trajectory.

There are those who have set their sights on medical school and are slogging with no shortage of grumbles through a morass of bio requirements. There are those who plan to break with fanfare into the investment banking world. And of course, there are those who choose to go into law.

It turns out that the profile of a pre-law student is a fairly flexible one. Todd Rothman has been advising pre-law students for eight years. Though the majors that come to him most commonly are the expected trio of history, philosophy, politics & economics and political science, he said, pre-law majors can arrive at his office in many different guises.

“I’ve seen the full range of majors - from French to Bioengineering to Theater,” he wrote in an email. “This is, of course, completely fine from an admissions perspective since law schools do not have any sort of preference when it comes to major or academic focus.”

There is a certain skill set he would emphasize, he added, among them critical reasoning, efficient processing of a high volume of information and being a “strong and concise” writer.

With the graduation of the Class of 2015 on the horizon, two seniors with radically different backstories discussed why they have chosen to attend law school. One has been admitted and is ready to move to D.C., while the other has chosen to gain work experience before embarking on his studies. One never anticipated law school as a future prospect, while the other was legally bound since his early high school days. Both have outlined their ambitions clearly and are determined to achieve them — the unspoken ingredient, perhaps, to Rothman’s formula for success.

Grace Castro

“This was definitely not the plan at all,” College senior Grace Castro said of her academic trajectory, which has deposited her at American University’s Washington College of Law.

“My mother has been a litigator ever since I was little,” she explained. “She worked from home, and I always saw her being under a lot of stress. So I told myself, ‘There’s no way I’m ever going to be a lawyer!’”

The Penn in Washington summer program changed that. “I realized that I had an actual interest in public policy, lobbying, how laws are passed, things like that,” she said. She switched to a communication major and began contemplating a career as a lobbyist.

“You don’t have to be a lawyer to be a lobbyist, but a majority of lobbyists have a law degree,” she said, due to the sheer competitiveness of the field. “I feel like I need as much leverage as I can get.”

Castro put in an impressive amount of independent legwork to achieve this ambition; many around her disputed whether law school was even worth considering. She shepherded herself through the application process, anticipating that an official advisor would try to deter her because of her academic profile.

Castro worked one summer as an intern for “a very small public policy group,” she said. “Everyone was like, ‘Don’t go to law school, it’s a waste of your time.’”

Ignoring their misgivings, Castro tackled the application. The whole process, she said, was a lot like Version 2.0 of the undergraduate application experience: There is a test, there are essays and there are GPA considerations.

The advice she was given as a high school student applying to university, she continued, was to focus on her compatibility with a given school and how it would be her perfect academic fit. But when applying to law school, she said, the situation is reversed. Schools are not interested in hearing about how applicants will thrive and prosper in their respective academic contexts. In a pool of impressive candidates, Castro had to emphasize the unique assets she could offer each university.

Fast forward to 2015, and the poised and unrepentant Castro has steered herself to an ideal spot for a rising lobbyist. American University’s location in D.C. places her at the epicenter of lobbying activity; the area’s networking opportunities aren’t shabby either.

“The reasons I chose American were A, for its location and B, for its alumni network within D.C.,” she said. The atmosphere also struck her as the most positive among the D.C. schools. Students at the neighboring George Washington and Georgetown universities appeared somewhat more “stressed and miserable,” she said.

As for the campus, she said, “it’s a little more rural. It’s a 20-minute drive to the White House.” The surroundings are refreshingly green, a far cry from the grids and bricks of Philadelphia. “I’m kind of ready to get out of the city environment,” she laughed.

Sean Mason

Sean Mason concluded his self-searching early.

“I’ve always thought that I’d be a history or poli sci major,” he said, “and I always knew I wanted to go to law school, since early high school.”

He had an interest in constitutional law that germinated in his American History class. “We talked about the Supreme Court and its important decisions,” he said. He decided thereafter to fix law school firmly on his horizons.

He’s taking an atypical route to his post-graduate degree, however. Mason intends to work for one to two years as a paralegal. He is currently wading through the mess of applications he accessed on PennLink.

“I wanted to get some real-world experience,” he explained. To pay $200,000 dollars to go to law school and “have it be something I didn’t really want to do,” he said, would be a less-than-desirable situation.

The paralegal field can be a challenge to break into, especially in New York and D.C, he said. The latter is where Mason eventually intends to base himself. “The firms that have temporary paralegals are the most competitive law firms,” he said.

Unlike Castro, he is not yet sure of how his law degree will be applied once he has it in hand. At law school, he said, once he has gained exposure to the plethora of legal fields available, his decision would likely become easier. “I had an internship with my DA. Criminal law is interesting, but not what I want to do,” he said.

When he finishes with his tenure in the “real world,” Mason wants to attend school in D.C., the city in which he sees himself practicing. He is shooting for either George Washington University or Georgetown University.

Is there any chance his time as a paralegal will dampen his enthusiasm for the profession? “I could envision a circumstance in which I hate it,” he said, “but I’m fairly certain that I will go to law school afterwards.”

With “95 percent” certainty, he added.

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