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Law School or History PhD


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Hello everyone,

I am new to this forum and I am currently undergoing a dillema of choosing between law school or getting a History PhD. It isn't a new dillema, though. Last year I was going through the same decision making process, and I initially decided on getting a PhD, but then was sort of dissuaded by my parents bc of their opinions of the history job market. I then decided on law school, and I applied and I got into some good top twenty schools. Right now I have to make a decision between going ahead with law school starting in the fall, or starting over and applying to PhD programs. The rational part of me tells me to go to law school simply because there are more job opportunities. However, I am unsure as to whether I would enjoy being a lawyer. I am not exactly what you think of when you think of the lawyer "type" and a lot of people have told me that I am too nice to be a lawyer. I have also heard some pretty bad stories about legal firm jobs and I guess I just don't want to be unhappy with my career choice if I decide on law. I know history is no walk in the park, though, but I have always been very passionate about being a historian, and I just love researching. I really enjoyed the thesis writing process my senior year and I developed close relationships with my professors and could actually see myself doing what they do. Has anyone else interested in history been in a similar dillema abt choosing a career path? What have been some useful techniques you used to resolve your indecision and decide if pursuing a History PhD is the right path for you? Any lawyers or law students out there who have changed their mind to do history? Any advice would be appreciated.

Also, I guess I will give you more background about myself to see if you think I would be competitive in History PhD admissions for this year. I have a 3.7 gpa from a top ten liberal arts college with a BA in History, and I am interested in British colonial history in India. However, I have not published anything. Is that GPA competitive, and is it bad that I haven't published?


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It isn't a problem that you haven't published anything yet. Few people do, and of them, most are just book reviews or research in lower quality journals (which don't really matter).

I would bet that most people that go into the field do so because they cannot do anything else. What I mean by that is, its unconscionable for me to persue a career path that isn't being a professor of History.

That GPA is competative, but--and you will here this over and over again on fora--LOR's and writing samples are what matter.

If you want to do British in India, you should start doing language training ASAP.

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I currently practice law full time but am going back to pursue a history Ph.D beginning this fall. Just click on my name and search my posts because I have discussed my perspective on law vs history in depth, and don't have the time at this moment to go into it again. Suffice to say that law school is not a guaranteed route to a job these days, and for many people it never was. It sounds like you got into decent schools where your odds would be good, but I can say as someone who graduated from a top 10 law school, I have many friends who have been laid off over the last year and the market is flooded with high-quality resumes of people who were making well into the six figures and are now jobless. I'm very thankful to be in the position that I am. I think it's safe to say that if you're questioning law school before you get there, you shouldn't go - most people don't start questioning it until they're a year in. The practice of law in contemporary society is a business, not a profession, and there is a dramatic difference between slaving away over the minutae of a contract for some mega-company, and spending hours in an archive researching a topic you love. :wink:

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Should I be doing Hindi/Urdu language training...how many years/at what level?

I don't know. Email a professor, see what they say. But the general rule is that you should have two years of foreign language training by the time you enroll. So get started--intensive courses work best, and are more impressive to adcoms than classes.

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Well, comfort yourself with a few bits of info:

1. Indian Colonial History is supposedly one of the least saturated job markets in the discipline. I haven't seen hard evidence on this, so don't quote me. But a young professor told me that it's a rapidly growing area, and a lot of departments are looking for people with that specialization. One notch in the history column.

2. The legal job market sucks. It's arguably a more versatile degree than a History PhD, but I wouldn't go to law school simply because the opportunities are "better" with a law degree. You could end up hating your job, and by the transitive property of hating what you do, your life. Perhaps you'll be making enough money to make yourself feel better about it, but in this economy (btw: I am SO sick of hearing that phrase) it isn't a given. You could very well end up making a salary under 50k a year, or even end up without a job at all, should you rank poorly in your class. Check out http://www.jdunderground.com if you want to read the stories of people who probably shouldn't have gone to law school. They speak as if law school is a bad decision in all cases, which overstates the truth quite a bit. But perhaps ask yourself if you have more in common with these folks than you'd like to admit.

I'm kind weighing the same decision you are, but I haven't entered either program yet, so take what I've said for what it's worth.

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