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A 1L Odyssey
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Melissa’s dilemma is common, one that career planners at Penn Law say they see every year. Students are asked at orientation why they came to law school and what they hope to do after graduation. Like Melissa, many ILs want to work in the public sector to effect social change, but financial considerations begin to impinge on their hopes and dreams. “A lot of our students just came from college. They’ve never paid tuition before, they maybe never even bought a car, which doesn’t even cost a year of tuition,” says Diane Downs, Co-Director of Career Planning and Placement.

“I think they’re coming to terms with two things: What do I want to do in the abstract, but they also want a higher standard of living,” Downs continues, “so while they’re very interested in equal housing for everybody, they’re not interested in living on $35,000 a year.”

But there will be more time for Melissa and her class to sort out career options. Right now, finals approach. Unlike college, all-nighters won’t cut it. Melissa can’t suddenly shift into overdrive and sprint to the finish line; finals are a marathon, requiring Melissa and her classmates to muster the stamina to study off-and-on for two straight weeks.

The pressure mounts. After all, students must spill out everything they’ve learned in class and in their thick textbooks. Jason Johnston, Robert G. Fuller, Jr. Professor of Law, says exams are a testing ground. “Law students soon learn that their first grades will be the most important grades of their entire three-year law school career … A major task for first-year students is to deal with this pressure, to not be overwhelmed by the perceived consequences of one’s performance.”

As she prepares for her first six-hour final, Melissa greets the challenge with three parts confidence, one part trepidation. “There is that little competitive voice that’s like, ‘Come on, you know you can’t wait to sit down and put all your knowledge on a piece of paper, turn it in and see how you do.’ “

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