As a senior in college applying to law schools, foremost in my mind was the knowledge that I was about to embark on a journey that could best be described as a foray into the bottomless pit of hell.
Time and again, I had heard the stories about how difficult the next three years of my life would be--how much time I would spend locked up in my room reading cases about such subjects as contracts and civil procedure (civil what?); how many nights I would find myself at the library subciting for the journal(s) in which I would be forced to participate if I wanted my resume to look anything like everyone else's; how competitive the law school environment would be; how difficult it would be to have a social life.
No, there was no two ways about it. I was going to have to sacrifice three of the best years of my young life in order to attain what would prove to be, or so I at least hoped, a greater level of intellectual sophistication and professional maturity.
What worried me the most was not the fact that I would have to work hard. (That concept is a key component of almost any graduate program today.) Instead, what bothered me was that I would no longer be able to partake in any of the extracurricular activities to which I had grown accustomed in my undergraduate career.
I had always looked to these organizations as a way of counterbalancing the academic studies which had comprised the bulk of my student existence; to me, learning and inter-acting with people on an associational level was just as important an element in the educational process as attending classes.
As I was about to enter Harvard Law, which is considered to be the very epitome of rigorous instruction and competition, I was certain that I would barely have enough time to complete the daily functions of eating and sleeping, much less participate as a member of a student group.
I couldn't have been more wrong. With over 60 student organizations, 10 journals and 12 clinical programs from which to choose, extracurricular activities aren't just available at HLS, they are encouraged. In my first semester here, I was able to be a part of five different associations ranging from the Law School Drama Society to the Committee on Sports and Entertainment Law. In fact, I found myself more involved in student life than I had been at my undergrad campus. And what I liked most about the process here was that students could get involved as little or as much as they wanted.
One of the greatest advantages about the large size of HLS (large, that is, in comparison to most other law schools) is that it allows for a broad spectrum of interests and ideas to co-exist without conflict. Enough organizations are currently in place to account for the multitude of social, political and cultural views a student may have. Yet if that student feels an absence of representation for a particular cause or concern, he or she can develop a new organization to address the gap.
On the same token, there is never any pressure to feel as if one has to be a part of the activities offered. After all, most students decide to come HLS for the somewhat more grandiose purpose of entering the legal profession (or some derivative thereof), and there is, admittedly, at least some work that must be completed in order to achieve that goal.
But as I come to the end of my second year here, I can honestly say that one of the most valuable parts of my law school experience has been my involvement with student activities. They have brought me into contact with students and administrators with whom I would never have met otherwise; they have introduced me to a range of opinions and viewpoints which I had never before encountered; and, most important, they have allowed me to continue to be a part of life above and beyond the daily academic grind of legal scholarship.
Of course, whether one wants to join an extracurricular program is purely a matter of personal choice. But given the abundance of activities available at Harvard, it is almost too good an opportunity to pass up.
--Dina DeFalco is a 2L at HLS. She is the president of the Law School Council, HLS' student government.