A Quora reader recently asked whether admissions officers at top law schools care whether applicants obtained their bachelor's degree in more or less than four years. This is an interesting question and one that I hadn't previously encountered.
The Reality is Somewhat Complicated
As a starting point, admissions officers are going to first focus on your GPA and LSAT score when considering your application. Law school admissions is a numbers game. The fact that it took you more or less than four years to obtain a bachelor degree probably will not play a large role, but this answer could vary depending on why you diverted from the norm.
If you graduated college a year or semester early simply to minimize tuition costs, I don’t see this greatly affecting your application. Sure, admissions officers could be impressed if you were able to take on a large workload. The more relevant question, however, is whether you obtained stellar grades within that short period of time. Your actual GPA will more greatly affect your application than the fact that you graduated early.
If it takes you longer than four years to obtain a bachelor’s degree, the analysis would again depend on why it took you longer to graduate. If it was because you struggled during your first couple years of school, admissions officers will be aware of this fact by looking at your college transcript. Improvements in your GPA during your junior or senior years, however, could be helpful. Time off due to family emergencies or personal situations may or may not affect your application, depending on the specifics.
But if it took you longer to graduate due to taking time off to explore unique opportunities, your decision could positively impact your application if you explain the circumstances in your personal statement. For example, taking some time off to pursue a startup idea or to volunteer in a third world country could be a differentiating “soft” factor for you. Again, the LSAT and GPA are the most important factors, but this type of unique experience may separate you from another similarly situated candidate.