There are more than 200 law schools in the United States at which students can receive a fine legal education as well as encounter a variety of professional opportunities. Law schools are the same in many respects: they all have talented faculty members and offer the same core courses, interesting electives, clinical programs, journals, and student organizations. However, they differ in terms of size, geographic setting, facilities, culture, spirit, and the breadth and nature of professional opportunities they offer their students.
As you investigate schools and decide where you will apply, it is important to determine which will be the right fit. Ask yourself the following questions to narrow down your law school list — and if you cannot find the answers on your own, ask law school admissions officers, career services counselors, current students, and alumni.
Which law schools offer a sufficient number of courses, clinical programs and journals in areas in which I am interested? Which law schools have faculty who focus their scholarly work in areas in which I am interested? If I’m not sure in which area(s) of law I might want to practice, which law schools offer a larger number of courses and clinical offerings across the board?
Do I work better in smaller settings in which I am able to get to know all of my classmates and work closely with faculty? Would a smaller law school suit be best?
Am I a city person or a country person? Do I need the excitement and the multitude of internship and externship opportunities that being in New York, D.C., Chicago, or Los Angeles will provide? Or do I want my law school experience to be more focused on the life of the law school and what is offered in the curriculum, clinical programs, and student activities? Am I more likely to excel in a place like Charlottesville or Lexington, Virginia, where there are no big-city distractions?
Where do the schools place their students in summer positions and in permanent positions upon graduation – in what practice areas and in what geographic regions? How strong is the alumni network? If I want to practice in a certain city, are there alumni there who will be willing to mentor me? If I know that I want to do public service once I earn my law degree, what type of support will the law school offer to help me land a public interest job? Which law schools have loan repayment assistance programs for students who enter public service?
What is the reputation of the law school in terms of culture — collaborative and collegial or cutthroat? How do current students and alumni feel about their law school experiences at the different schools?
Once admitted to a number of law schools, it is important to:
Visit two or more law schools that are the highest ranked on your list, whether during admitted student events or on just a regular class day. Talk with current students and faculty. Get a feel for the atmosphere, spirit and facilities. Can you picture yourself walking into this school every day for the next three academic years? Are the people you meet, both the current and admitted students, individuals you want to be part of your professional network?
Dig deep into the placement statistics. Talk with career services staff. Be sure all your questions about career services support, as well as the placement statistics are answered.
How do the financial aid packages offered by the different law schools compare? Is it worth going into more debt to attend school X, the school that is at the top of your list, as compared to taking on less or no debt to attend school Y, the school that is second or third on your list? Do your own cost-benefit analysis. How much debt do you feel you are willing and able to handle, given the different opportunities that each law school may offer.
Go with your gut. Which school feels right? Which school will you be proud to claim as your alum mater for the rest of your professional career?
As you begin your legal studies, you are embarking upon a challenging and incredible adventure. Choosing which law school you will attend is the first important decision you will make in your legal career. Do some thoughtful self-reflection; determine which place will be best for you — academically, financially , socially and emotionally — and go with it.