By Laura Bladow • October 08, 2014•Law School, Pre-Law
When spring time rolls around, and it's time to decide where to put your deposit, choosing the right school ultimately will come down to trusting your gut. But in order to get those acceptance letters, you first have to get the applications in. So how do you effectively narrow down the long list of law schools and decide where to apply? In my pre-law adventure so far, I've encountered a wide variety of lists, rankings, and advice. However, all of this advice really boils down to these 6 points: LSAT Score & GPA, Finances, Job Prospects, Geography, Practice Area, and Rankings.
LSAT Score & GPA
There is nothing wrong with having a dream school that might be a reach with your LSAT and GPA scores. After all, it's about the full application you present to a school, not just two numbers. However, managing expectations is essential. If you truly want to make that reach and dream school happen, dedicate time to taking the LSAT seriously. If you're a young professional like me, there isn't anything you can do to change your undergraduate GPA at this point in time, so do your absolute best on the LSAT and then evaluate your options. If you're still in college, take responsibility for your education and set high academic goals to keep your dream law school within your sights. To round out your application package, be sure to gather glowing letters of recommendation and write a powerful personal statement.
With student debt at an all time high, selecting schools to apply to also needs to be grounded in the reality of your financial future. What percentage of students at your chosen schools receive financial aid? And what form is that financial aid taking? Scholarships? Grants? Loans? If it's scholarships, what are the renewal criteria and retention rates? How much can you afford to invest in your education? How much debt are you willing to take on? And beyond the cost of tuition, what is the cost of living going to look like? Need a starting point? Try this cost calculator. And don't miss Ms. JD Board Member, Courtney Gabbara's post on getting a handle on law school finances before you apply.
Career Goals and/or Practice Area
Do you already have a concrete idea of how you want to use your JD? If you have a narrow or specialized set of interests within the legal profession, then you may want to look into law schools that have robust general law programs in addition to having professors with rich backgrounds in your interest areas. After all, the top ranked law schools for a particular area of law may not be the ones that are the top ranked law schools generally. For example, check out this list of top ranked law schools for enviornmental law. Looking to go into public interest law? Then take sometime to look into LRAP consideration. Equal Justice Works has a list of schools with LRAP programs.
Can't articulate why you want to want to go to law school, spend some time doing some soul searching to figure out what you're really interested in. Dig in and explore the profession before you apply. At the end of the day law school is a big investment in your future, so when it comes time to apply make sure the schools you apply to can provide you with the tools and experiences you need for the legal career you want.
Job Placement Statistics
Also in the career category of your school search, job placement and bar passage rates are critical items to evaluate . Take a look at the percentage of students from your chosen schools who are employed in full-time jobs that require bar passage 9 months after graduation (be sure to take into consideration those students that have been employed by the school to bump those numbers up). What type of real world experience via clinics, externships, etc. does your chosen school offer? Also take a look at where students are taking the bar and practicing after graduation, which brings me to the next point.
If you already know where you want to practice after law school, be sure to factor geography into your decision. Is there a solid local law school there that will fit your needs? Also take a look at the schools' alumni networks to see if there is a strong network in the area you would like to relocate to after graduation. The Pre-Law Guru, Peg Cheng has some excellent advice on this and other factors to consider as you build your list of schools.
So how do you sort through all of the various factors listed above when searching for the right law schools to apply to? Your best starting point is going to be taking a look at the data the ABA gathers on each law school and a guide on how to decipher that data. There are also all sorts of rankings you can consider in addition to the traditional U.S. News & World Report rankings. For a breakdown of the variety of rankings that are out there and how to factor them into your decision read on here.