FAQ

Q: Why should I participate in the Semester in D.C. Program?

Semester in D.C. Program alumni regularly say it was the best thing they did in law school. Why? Here are some of the reasons our alumni have offered:

  • Working full-time while also meeting regularly to talk about their experiences helped them figure out what kinds of work they like and don’t like, what their strengths are, and what they ultimately want to do with their careers.
     
  • The experience, credentials and contacts enabled some of them to find jobs.
     
  • They learned skills in practice that they couldn’t have learned just by studying.
     
  • It was satisfying to have the chance to exercise the knowledge they’d learned in their classes.
     
  • Actually doing the work of a lawyer gave them confidence in their abilities. 


If you’re wondering whether you should do the Semester in D.C. Program, one of the best ways to figure it out is to talk to our alumni. They’ve been in your position, so they understand where you’re coming from and can give you a realistic perspective. Professor Baylis will be glad to put you in touch with Semester in D.C. Program alumni. You should also talk to Professor Baylis. She has seen lots of students come through the Program and can talk you through the pros and cons.

Q: Who is eligible to participate?

All second-year and third-year law students are eligible for the Semester in D.C. Program.

Q: What are the Flexible Track and the Policy Track?

This chart provides an overview. There are more details under the "Options, Credits and Classes" tab.

 

Flexible Track

Policy Track

When?

Spring of your 2L or 3L year

Spring of your 2L or 3L year

Classes

DC Seminar (3 credits)

DC Externship (8-10cr.)

Law-Making Seminar (3 credits)

Lobbying & Advocacy (3 cr.)

Policy Colloquium (1 credit)

Policy Externship (4-8 cr.)

Class Alternatives

Flexible Track students are permitted to enroll in a Policy Track class if available.

Policy Track students can substitute the DC Externship and DC Seminar for the Policy Externship and Policy Colloquium if they wish to earn additional credits.

Credential None Public Policy Concentration

Focus

Learn from your externship experience

Intensive training in policy skills through classes and your externship

Students

Law students only

Law and GSPIA students

Q:  What planning do I need to do to participate in the Semester in D.C. Program?

You should think about how a semester in Washington fits into your plans for your law school education, career exploration and job search, in particular:

  • Should you participate during your 2L or your 3L year? If you want to work for the federal government after graduation, it can be helpful to participate in your second year if possible. Such internship experience can be advantageous in your applications for entry level federal attorney positions, which take place early in your third year through the Honors Program and the Presidential Management Fellowship Program. Anticipated journal, clinic, or job responsibilities in your third year are also a reason to participate in your second year. Third-year participation gives you the opportunity to explore your established area of interest and to make contact with corporate, non-profit, Congressional, or small/medium/boutique law firm employers closer to the time they will be looking to hire. 
     
  • What courses do you need to take during other semesters in order to fulfill your graduation requirements and have a semester free for this program?
     
  • Are you participating in a certificate program, clinic, joint degree program, or law journal? If so, talk to the director or faculty advisor in advance. You can use the Semester in D.C. to fulfill some certificate program requirements. All our program directors support participating in the Semester in D.C. program and encourage students to use it to gain hands-on experience in their specialty area. You just need to plan your courses carefully to make sure that you schedule required classes and fulfill other obligations in other semesters.

Q: What about housing and financial aid?

The Semester in D.C. Program has put together a list of intern housing options in the D.C. area available here. To mitigate the higher cost of living in Washington, Semester in D.C. Program students are eligible to apply for up to $3,375 in additional financial aid through the Financial Aid Office. Semester in D.C. Program students may also apply for fellowships to help defray their expenses, including the Samuelson-Glushko Fellowship for intellectual property and technology law fellowships, here; for more information about external fellowships and financial aid, see the Fellowship page.

Q: After I’ve finished looking at the information available here, how can I learn more about the Semester in D.C. Program?

There are many ways to learn more about the Semester in D.C. Program:

  • Students interested in this program are urged to attend a Semester in D.C. student information panel.
     
  • Professor Baylis is in Washington full-time running the Semester in D.C. Program, but she is available to e-mail or talk with you by phone to answer any questions. She will also meet with students in person when she is at the Law School.
     
  • Associate Dean Kevin Deasy is also very familiar with the Semester in D.C. Program. He is on-campus full-time and is also available to talk with students. 
     
  • Join our LinkedIn page for regularly updated information about Program events in D.C. and about internship and job opportunities.  
     
  • Ask Professor Baylis to add you to our e-mail list to receive new semester and summer internship and entry-level job announcements as well as notification of Semester in D.C. Program events in Pittsburgh.
     
  • Our Semester in D.C. Program alumni are our greatest resource. You can read their stories on our Alumni Spotlight page. Professor Baylis will be glad to put you in touch with Program alumni to talk about their experiences in the Program and to offer advice on your own Semester in D.C.

Q: What kinds of externships qualify for the Semester in D.C. Program?

In order to qualify for the program, externships must meet the following requirements:

  • Your employer must be either a non-profit organization or a government office;
     
  • You must do primarily law- or policy-related work;
     
  • You must be supervised by an attorney, or by an equivalent policy professional if you have a policy-focused internship;
     
  • You must work a minimum of 52 hours per externship credit during the semester (Each 2 credits amounts to approximately one day of work per week for 14 weeks. For the 10 credit DC Externship, this is a total of 520 hours, which amounts to full-time work.);
     
  • Your externship must be unpaid (except for a stipend or reimbursement of expenses of up to $3,375); and
     
  • You must be working in the office (no telecommuting).

Q:  How do I apply for an externship?

Students apply directly to employers for externship positions. If we have an existing relationship with an employer, we will also be glad to forward your application materials to the employer, in addition to your direct application. Most employers will indicate what application materials they want to receive in their externship announcement. If not, or if you are applying to an organization that has not advertised a position, send a cover letter and resume. 

Q: How do I find an externship?

We offer you a lot of assistance with finding an externship:

  • Start by using the Semester in D.C. Program Externship Resources document. This download provides information about the resources the Semester in D.C. Program offers to help with your search for an externship placement, including how to access our permanent externship employer lists and new externship announcements. It also has links to external information that might be useful to you, including listservs and websites that have listings for externships, as well as summer internships and jobs.
     
  • E-mail Professor Baylis at pittindc@pitt.edu to let her know of your interest in the program, discuss externship employer possibilities, and begin receiving externship opportunity announcements through the Semester in D.C. Program email list. Professor Baylis can provide you with more information about past Semester in D.C. Program employers, as well as connecting you to Semester in D.C. Program alumni and other Washington-area alumni and practitioners.
     
  • Meet with professors who teach in your areas of interest. They may be able to help you think about your goals and interests and identify potential employers, and knowledgeable alumni.
     
  • Meet with the Office of Professional and Career Development and use their resources. We post externship announcements on Symplicity, and employers post announcements there directly as well. Many employers who post announcements for summer internships would also hire interns during the semester if asked, even if they don’t actively advertise semester positions.
     
  • To receive new D.C. externship announcements, ask Professor Baylis to add you to the Semester in D.C. Program e-mail list. Also, join the Semester in D.C. Program LinkedIn page, where we post externship announcements as well as information about D.C.-area events and Semester in D.C. Program news.

Q:  When should I begin applying for externships?

Typically, you should begin applying the semester before you want to participate. Some employers have formal hiring processes with very early deadlines, as early as August or September for the spring semester, and a handful of employers hire a full year in advance. Government agencies that require security clearances tend to hire early. However, many other employers do not have formal hiring processes and hire interns on a rolling basis. Some employers will not get around to hiring their externs until the last weeks before the new semester begins. The best advice we can offer is to apply early, but be patient and flexible about the timing. Don’t worry if you don’t hear from an employer right away – they may just not be ready to think about hiring externs yet.

Q: How do I enroll in the Semester in D.C. Program?

Once you have been offered an externship, you should immediately notify Professor Baylis so that your externship site can be approved. All externship placements must be approved in advance by Professor Baylis. After your externship site has been approved, Professor Baylis will ask the registrar to give you the permission numbers to register for your D.C. classes. Many students will still be in the process of applying for externships when it is time to register for the next semester’s classes. That's fine. You can just register for a regular courseload at the law school. Then, when you secure your externship, you can drop those classes and add the D.C. courses.

Q: How do I know whether I should participate in the Flexible Track or the Policy Track of the Semester in D.C. Program?

The Flexible Track is aimed at students interested in any law-related area of work. Its focus is on learning from your externship experience. 

The Policy Track is intended for students who are interested in policy work and want intensive training in policy skills. It allows you to earn a credential for your Semester in D.C. Program experience: the Public Policy Concentration. The classes are designed to be practical in orientation, with a focus on hands-on activities and on learning from policy practitioners who serve as guest speakers and instructors. We created this program in consultation with alumni who work in policy jobs in D.C.; they advised us on what skills and knowledge would be most useful for law students interested in policy jobs.

Q:  What graduation requirements does the Semester in D.C. Program fulfill?

Flexible Track: The D.C. Externship fulfills the Professional Skills requirement, and the D.C. Seminar fulfills the Upper Level Writing Requirement. 

Policy Track: The Policy Externship fulfills the Professional Skills requirement, the Law-Making Seminar fulfills the Upper Level Writing requirement, and Lobbying & Advocacy can be used to fulfill either the Professional Skills requirement or the Writing requirement. 

Q: How many credits can be earned for the Semester in D.C. program?

Flexible Track: 8-10 ungraded credits for the D.C. Externship and 3 graded credits for the co-requisite D.C. Seminar. You may also add a policy class for additional credits, as discussed below.

Policy Track: 4-8 ungraded credits for the Policy Externship, 1 ungraded credit for the co-requisite Policy Colloquium, 3 graded credits for Lobbying & Advocacy, and 3 graded credits for the Law-Making Seminar. Additional classes may be offered in future years. If you want to earn additional credits, you may substitute the D.C. Externship and D.C. Seminar for the Policy Externship and Policy Colloquium.

You may also add an independent study for 1-2 credits to either track.

Q: What credentials can be earned through the Semester in D.C. Program?

Flexible Track: None

Policy Track: Public Policy Concentration

Q: Can I take a policy class if I am participating in the Flexible Track?

Yes, you can register for an individual course from the Policy Track if you wish. However, you cannot earn the Public Policy Concentration unless you complete the full Policy Track.

Q: What classes are required to participate?

If you take the D.C. Externship, you must also sign up for the D.C. Seminar. If you take the Policy Externship, you must also sign up for the Policy Colloquium. If you want to complete the Policy Track and earn the Public Policy Concentration, you must also take the Law-Making Seminar and the Lobbying & Advocacy course.

Q:  What is the D.C. Seminar?

This course meets weekly at Pitt’s Washington Center in downtown D.C. and provides intensive supervision and support for the externship experience. Part of each session is devoted to a “roundtable” discussion to facilitate peer-to-peer learning about lawyering at the broad range of externship sites. Class sessions feature frequent guest speakers including students' alumni mentors, past Semester in D.C. Program participants now working in Washington, and other Washington-area alumni and practitioners. Students write weekly reflection journals and final research papers on topics relevant to their externships. A sample syllabus with information on class topics, course requirements, and grading, can be found here.

Q: What are the Policy Colloquium and the other Policy Track classes?

The policy colloquium is an every-other-week meeting with the other students in the Policy Track and with policy practitioners. As in the DC Seminar, you’ll write reflection journals, engage in round-table discussions with your peers, and meet with your alumni mentor. Unlike in the DC Seminar, you will not write a final research paper. At most meetings, GSPIA and Law alumni who work in policy-related jobs will visit to talk about their work and career paths and to offer advice on your interests.

The Law-Making Seminar teaches you about the real-world dynamics affecting law and policy development and implementation by focusing on case studies of current issues and bringing in law- and policy-makers who have worked on those issues to talk with the class. Past issues have included immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act, international rule of law programs, epidemics, and climate change. You will write either an “issue brief” policy paper or an academic research paper.

Lobbying and Advocacy teaches you hands-on advocacy skills through a series of in-class and out-of-class assignments. You will also meet with Congressional staff, lobbyists, and other advocates and learn about their work. This class culminates in a presentation to a hypothetical client on a current policy issue.