Northern Illinois University is now offering a new academic program that will put some undergraduates on the fast track to earn a law degree.
The six-year Accelerated Law Degree program will enable designated political science majors to shave a year's worth of time and expense off the typical seven years needed to earn both bachelor's and Juris Doctor degrees from NIU.
"We believe there's a demand in the market among hard-working, successful students who want to have this type of opportunity," said David Gaebler, associate dean of the NIU College of Law. "It provides a double financial incentive by allowing students to eliminate the cost of a full year of law school tuition, room and board and to get out into the job market and start earning money a year earlier."
The potential savings to a student in tuition alone would exceed $20,000, Gaebler added.
"Realistically," he said, "if a student took law courses over two summers, the program could even be completed in 5½ years."
NIU Law has received numerous rankings and recognitions in recent years. It was named as one of the most diverse law schools in the United States, among the "Best Schools for Public Service" and as one of the top law schools in the nation when it comes to minimizing tuition inflation.
Gaebler said the college hopes the Accelerated Law Degree program will attract some of the brightest students from NIU's high quality political science program, which typically counts about 400 majors. The department has produced five of the last 10 NIU Student Lincoln Laureates, the award for the university's top senior.
"At recent NIU open house events, I've informally discussed this program with recruits, and their eyes light up," said Matthew Streb, political science chair. "For a certain percentage of our undergraduates who are considering a law degree, it's an exciting option."
NIU's Accelerated Law Degree program isn't unique, but legal education experts estimate that fewer than 20 U.S. schools could give students this option, according to an Oct. 31 article in U.S. News and World Report.
The NIU program primarily targets high-achieving freshmen and transfer students.
Here's how it works:
Students first must declare a "politics emphasis" within the Department of Political Science and their intentions to complete the Accelerated Law Degree program.
Program participants must then complete the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) by Feb. 15 of their junior year. By the end of the junior year, students with a minimum GPA of 3.25, a minimum required LSAT score and 90 credit hours of coursework completing their general-education and undergraduate-major requirements can apply for NIU College of Law admission.
Once approved, they can begin taking law classes during their senior year.
Those senior-year courses will count in two directions, fulfilling the remaining requirements for the bachelor's degree while earning law-degree credits.
Streb said the political science coursework can be completed in three years for students taking the average 15-hour credit load.
"This program begins to address general concerns among the public about the amount of debt that students incur during college," Streb said. "This is a way for high performing students to earn two degrees, save money and start making a living sooner."
Streb said his department also will launch a pilot mentoring program this spring.
"By next fall, students seeking to enter the Accelerated Law Degree program will have the option of being paired with a mentor who is a political science alum and has gone onto a career in law," he said. "So this accelerated program accomplishes two of NIU President Doug Baker's key objectives. It fits in with the university focus on student career success, as well as efforts to provide more NIU students with alumni mentors."
For more information on the Accelerated Law Degree, see http://www.niu.edu/acceleratedlaw/index.shtml or contact professor Andrea Radasanu, director of undergraduate studies in the NIU political science department, at firstname.lastname@example.org.