The most prestigious program in Quebec to which students can be admitted directly from CEGEP without any science prerequisites would undoubtedly be one in the field of law. The province is unique in allowing collegiate students to begin a law degree as an undergraduate degree, whereas law is an exclusively graduate field of study in the rest of North America. Here is everything you need to know about law school admissions from CEGEP.
What are the different undergraduate law programs?
Six universities offer an undergraduate degree in law to CEGEP students. We’ll begin by addressing the five civil law programs, which are taught primarily or exclusively in French and which lead to the obtention of a degree allowing you to practice law in the province of Quebec only. Among these are four Quebec universities (Université de Montréal, Université Laval, Université de Sherbrooke and Université du Québec à Montréal) which offer a baccalauréat en droit (LL.B.), as well as Université d’Ottawa, which offers a licence en droit (LL.L.), which are all identical 3-year programs despite the different names.
Of the five civil law programs, the most reputable is arguably UdeM, which requires a R-Score of around 31 for admission, with the other Quebec universities hovering around the same range. UOttawa has the program with the least stringent requirements, as students only need a 80% academic average to be admitted. Predictably, its civil law program has a similarly bad reputation, with the worst Quebec Bar pass rates as an example.
One last university, McGill, stands alone with a very different program and much more rigorous entrance requirements. McGill offers a combined civil and common law program leading to the obtention of two degrees, Bachelor of Civil Law (B.C.L.) and Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.), in 3 and a half years. Students study civil and common law simultaneously in both English and French (thus candidates must be bilingual).
Rather than admitting students based on grades alone like French schools, McGill considers the student’s R-Score (with admitted students having an average of around 34), CV (and thus extracurricular implication), 2-page Personal Statement, two letters of reference from teachers, and an interview (not granted to all applicants). McGill’s program is by far the most reputable, and can lead to placements in the Quebec and Ontario markets as well as in the United States, as opposed to French schools which mostly cater to the Quebec market.
The rest of this article will focus on McGill Law almost exclusively, since we consider that it should be easily doable for competent students to gain admission to French law programs.
What does McGill Law look for in CEGEP candidates?
Roughly speaking, McGill looks for two areas of competency: academic potential and personal qualities (including leadership, judgement, community involvement, etc.). To a lesser extent, it also considers a variety of diversity factors.
The perennial question is that of the balance between R-Score and extracurricular activities: our opinion is that you should focus on both, but never underestimate the importance of the R-Score in admissions. For instance, an applicant with a 35 R-Score and very minimal extracurricular activities will be more competitive than an applicant with a 33 R-Score and outstanding extracurricular activities. Law school is academically intense, and the Faculty prioritizes the academic record accordingly. At R-Scores below the median of ~34, a stellar personal statement (PS) is also usually necessary.
After the March 7 application deadline, McGill begins reviewing applications and granting interviews based on applicants’ R-Score, CV, PS and letters of reference. The conventional wisdom is that McGill grants interviews in waves, beginning with a round of interviews for the applicants with high R-Scores (36+) at the end of March and continuing into mid-June. The interview lasts approximately 30 minutes and is conducted by two faculty members, and is free-flowing, with professors not always sticking to predetermined questions.
The faculty members conducting the interview do not make the final decision on whether to admit a candidate. They make a recommendation and share notes with an admissions officer, who then looks at the whole file and makes a final decision. For this reason, the higher the applicant’s R-Score, the less critical the interview, and vice-versa, since a so-so interview will not necessarily preclude a candidate. This effect does not seem to apply as clearly to the other factors: as such, a candidate with a weak R-Score but great CV, PS and letters of reference would probably not survive a mediocre interview. By our estimation, in order of decreasing importance, the most important factors in admission would be the R-Score, then the interview, then the CV, and to an even lesser extent the PS and letters of reference.
What is the best strategy for an incoming CEGEP student who wants to be admitted to McGill Law?
Choose a CEGEP program in which you will perform well. A 36 R-Score is a 36 R-Score no matter the program you’re in, and while Science may be looked on favourably as a slightly harder program than Social Science by admission officers, that effect is much smaller than even a 0.5 difference in R-Score would be. This is not meant to dissuade you from studying in Science; plenty of students admitted to McGill Law do, and it can be argued that the objective grading of science subjects allows for less uncertainty than the subjective grading of social science essays might.
Additionally, choose a CEGEP which offers extracurricular activities in which you are deeply interested, so you can perform well in them and eventually gain leadership positions which will be an asset to your CV. The extracurricular activities you choose to participate in do not need to be a “traditional” pre-law activity like student council, Model United Nations or debating. While there are specific reasons for which those cookie-cutter activities are good feeders for law school, never be afraid to pursue completely different activities which will make your application stand out. Staying true to your interests is always preferable, since it will make it infinitely easier to write a quality Personal Statement which takes those activities into account, and to speak confidently about those experiences in your interview. Furthermore, having a job in which you carry responsibility is always a great asset, and is preferable to more passive activities like volunteering.
What we haven’t covered
Due to their personalized nature, some key points related to this article would be best discussed in a one-on-one meeting with you. Those parts include:
- How to plan your extracurricular involvement so that you will seem not only to be accomplished in specific activities or competitions, but to also possess the intellectual vitality and leadership to make a meaningful contribution to the field of law;
- How to write an impactful Personal Statement that frames your entire application in a desirable manner, providing a narrative for your strengths and addressing your weaknesses;
- How to perform well in McGill Law’s interview format, from answering the common questions to optimizing your body language as you walk into the room.