The idea of taking a break: Should you stay, defer or restart?


[ Makenzie Way, 3L at the University of Pennsylvania ]

This past week I had the amazing opportunity to virtually connect with my fellow BARBRI bloggers – we spent time getting to know one another, and talking about our individual law school experiences.

The paths that we each took to get to law school, and our reasons for wanting a law degree, were so different that it surprised me to find out that we all shared one very unique experience. Each of us, for our own reasons, had to consider whether to defer (or withdraw) from our legal studies. Even more interesting, we each ended up making different decisions with one of deciding to stay, one of withdrawing and restarting their 1L year during the following academic year, and one of us deferring before matriculating.

Deferring and withdrawing aren’t topics that routinely discussed amongst law students; maybe because it’s relatively rare (we think), or maybe because there’s some degree of stigma attached to (which is stupid). Either way, we all agreed that there was a significant lack of information available to help guide us through the decision making process.

It’s not an easy decision – trust me, I know. But sometimes deferring or withdrawing is necessary whether it be for medical reasons, family reasons, mental health reasons, financial reasons, or simply because you want to pursue another avenue or opportunity first. Whatever your reasoning, if you’re considering deferring or withdrawing, with the intention of returning, here are some things we think you should know, based on our collective experience.

Deferring Before Matriculation

  • In order to secure scholarship money and awards, schools will require that you sign a binding contract guaranteeing that when you return to law school, you will return to theirs.
  • It can be tempting to reserve your placement offer and awards with certain schools, however, if it isn’t your absolute dream school you should consider the fluctuating nature of acceptances. You may get into different schools on your second go-around (especially if you re-take the LSAT or pursue career and/or academic ventures). Likewise, you may receive more funding.
  • 1L is hard – law school is hard – so being in the best mental, emotional, physical, etc. state is very important. So, if you have a reason to be worried about your ability to succeed in law school (beyond the general concerns that every incoming 1L has) deferring may be right for you.

Deferring and/or Withdrawing During 1L

  • Your health and wellbeing is the most important thing, don’t let fear over what people will think or say stop you from doing what’s best for you. But at the same time, remember that there are resources available to you if you’re struggling or feeling overwhelmed. That is to say, you don’t have to stay because people tell you to, nor do you need to leave because you feel like you’re not succeeding.
  • Prepare yourself to not come back. It’s incredibly hard to return to your legal studies when you know just how hard 1L really is. The momentum and excitement that you have before entering law school, before experiencing law school, may be gone, and that could impact your motivation to return.
    1. Having a solid understanding of why you want to pursue a legal degree is extremely helpful in terms of motivating yourself to return.
    2. Likewise, acknowledging that law school gets better after 1L is useful to overcome any dread you might feel.
  • It’s a bit socially awkward when you return. If you’ve watched greys anatomy, then it’s a bit like George when he fails his intern exam. You’ll have connections with your former classmates who are now 2L’s and 3L’s, but you’ll also be placed in a 1L section and expected to bond with them. The 1L’s around you will be experiencing everything anew, whereas you’ll be experiencing it for the second time, this may lead to some complications when it comes to forming a relationship.
  • Relatedly, you may be becoming the person that 1L’s come to for help, since they may form an expectation that you know more than them. This can be a bit overwhelming at times, but it goes away eventually.
  • According to your school, your scholarships may, or may not, be impacted. Make sure to check early on.

Overall, our advice is to ignore the social stigmas and do what’s best for you. We each made different decisions when it came to continuing our legal studies, and yet here we all are, making our way through our JD degrees.

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