Tess Halpern '19
Tess Halpern majored in English and double minored in political science and sociology. Tess was an active member on campus and in the English Department, and now attends law school at Boston College.
You majored in English at UMass, did you have any additional majors, minors, or specializations?
I minored in political science and sociology. Through the English department, I did the Study and Practice of Writing (SPOW) specialization. The classes for that specialization are really different and tend to be very applicable to real life, which I really liked about them.
When did you decide you wanted to pursue a career in law?
I always had it in the back of my mind that law school is something I might want to do, but I didn’t want to jump right into it after undergrad. I wanted to get some real world experience first. So, I worked in marketing for about a year and a half and it was then that I realized I really wasn’t satisfied with the work I was doing. When COVID halted the routine of going to work every day and I had to work remotely, it sunk in that I wasn’t doing something that I wanted to stick with. I wanted to do something that I was more passionate about, something more challenging. That’s when I decided to go back to school, to law school in particular.
What area of law are you interested in? Why?
I’m still undecided at the moment, but I’m leaning towards something in the public interest sector. It basically comes down to two sectors, public or private. Public law work can be doing government work, or nonprofit work, or working for a judge. I am leaning towards that, but I haven’t had a legal internship or job yet so I can’t say for sure. I’m still keeping my eyes and my options open.
What do you plan to do with your law degree?
I plan to be a lawyer. That sounds dumb, but some people go to law school and don’t ever work as a lawyer. But I do want to be a lawyer.
How did having a background/major in English help you/how do you use your English skills day to day? Examples?
I would say an English major is one of the single best majors you could come into law school with. The skills I learned help me all the time. So much about law school, especially the first year, has a lot to do with reading. We read so much, and a lot of it is really dense legalese. Literature classes help prepare you to read long pieces and be able to comprehend them and parse out what’s important.
Did you have a favorite English class at UMass?
I liked a lot of my SPOW classes; I took one with Dr. Dave Toomey where we wrote grants and did a lot of professional writing. I really enjoyed the classes that were a little more tailored and specific to the careers I thought about pursuing.
How did you prepare for the LSAT (if you took it)? Did you find that having strong English skills helped you there?
I took practice tests over and over and over. That was really helpful, looking at practice questions and taking the tests to get used to the timed aspect of the exam. One of the three sections of the LSAT is reading comprehension, and that’s all we do as English majors, so that was an easier section for me. Having those close reading skills definitely helped.
How have you found law school to be different than your undergraduate?
It’s very different. The number one difference is in terms of classes; we don’t have exams or papers or homework. There is one final exam at the end of the course which is your grade for the whole class. This definitely changes how independent your learning has to be, because no one knows if you’re keeping up or if you’re falling behind (except you).
I also think it’s more stressful in general. I definitely feel that more here than I did in my undergrad. Being at law school raises the stakes. We’re all working towards the same goal, and I think everyone feels that.
Did you participate in any internships while you were at UMass? If so, what were they?
I did an internship the summer before my senior year. I worked at MassLive, which was really great because I did a lot of journalism work at UMass so I got to use those experiences and apply them to a real workplace.
Do you have any advice for students thinking about law school?
If you’re thinking about going to law school, I would recommend taking time off. I think most people jump right into law school after undergrad, but sometimes getting real life experience helps solidify the choice to go back to school. I know it did for me. I was overextended after my senior year, so I definitely needed a bit of a recovery period. Law school is a big investment in time, in money, in energy, so it’s important to be sure it’s what you want to do.
Why did you choose Boston College?
I knew I wanted to be in either Boston or New York. This narrowed down my options significantly. I just wanted the best school for the best deal, and student life wasn’t as important as it might have been in undergrad since I wouldn’t be living on campus at all. And on the other hand, the school ranking mattered more for me than it did in undergrad. BC was the one that gave me the best of both worlds. It also has a really good reputation, and people are generally kind and look out for each other.
What have you learned [about yourself, about the professional world] since you’ve left UMass?
After working in a job that I didn’t love, I learned that I value a job where I do something meaningful and impactful. Over time I felt that what I was doing was void of any meaning, and wanted to be doing something that had more of a direct impact for people. I would rather have a more stressful job if it means that it ultimately feels more fulfilling.
If you could talk to your senior year self, what would you say?
Enjoy the experience. Relax a little, it’s okay to go out on a Tuesday. You don’t need to overexert yourself to succeed.
Interview by Sarah Mulcahy, Digital Communications Intern