Graduate success

Jenna Ripke ’14Graduate student
Nebraska College of Law
University of Nebraska–Lincoln

Special advocate
Jenna applied to several different law schools, but the University of Nebraska was her first choice because of its highly qualified professors and national rankings. She chose Northwestern for the same reasons. Northwestern, she says, was ideal because of its close-knit community, strong academics, caring faculty and staff, and education that integrates the Christian faith with the learning that takes place in and out of the classroom.


How did Northwestern prepare you for graduate school?

It taught me the importance of hard work. At Northwestern I had to be prepared and ready to participate in every class. That helped me adjust to the rigors of grad school, where there are no slacker classes. My history major also taught me how to think critically. History is more than just knowing facts; it’s about analyzing how those facts work together to paint a picture of the past. Sometimes you have to look at the facts from a different angle and reach a conclusion you didn’t expect or maybe didn’t even want. That’s really important for grad school, because sometimes the answer is obvious, but sometimes it’s not—and you have to explain with solid facts and through sound reasoning how you got there.

Why major in history at Northwestern?

History is a typical major for people who plan to attend law school, for obvious reasons. There’s a lot of reading, writing papers and arguing for your position, which is what the practice of law is all about. I also have a historical context for the cases I am reading, which helps me better understand why the court may have reached its conclusions. A history major at Northwestern is special, though. The small class sizes allow for more classroom discussion, which encourages critical thinking and better clarification of your perspective on an issue. The professors expect you to work hard and produce quality work (which is what law professors and lawyers want), but they also encourage you and are always there to help you when you need it.

You also have a major in Spanish ...

I wasn’t sure when I enrolled at Northwestern what I was going to do for a career, but I knew history and Spanish were what I was most interested in and passionate about. My love of history started all the way back in elementary school when I would read historical fiction. In high school I enjoyed taking Spanish classes and figured I’d at least minor in Spanish in college. When I discovered the only difference between a Spanish major and minor at Northwestern was studying abroad—something I wanted to do anyway—I figured I would just go for the major.

So what was studying abroad like?

I studied abroad in Seville, Spain, my junior year. It was probably the best semester of my life. I took classes while I was over there, all in Spanish, and lived with a host mom and her son in their apartment. I also did volunteer work with an organization called Solidarios. We would hand out coffee and cookies to homeless people and talk to them as a way of giving them back their dignity. It got me out in the community and helped me meet people.

What do you plan to do with your law degree?

My passion for social justice started while I was at Northwestern. Studying Spanish introduced me to that culture and issues regarding immigration. My volunteer experience while in Spain gave me experience with the homeless. I also became a certified nursing assistant and worked in a long-term care facility while in college. So various things I did throughout my undergraduate years introduced me to underserved communities and made me want to help them. I knew a law degree would open up doors for me to do that. My desire to serve the marginalized has particularly made me interested in studying immigration law and Indian law because I’ve worked with both those populations before.

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