How to Choose a Law School
- Apr 03, 2023
- acceptance into law school
- Reviewed by: Matt Riley
You studied, you took LSAT classes, and you took the LSAT exam. Now, you finally have your application all together — LSAT score, transcript, letters of recommendation, and personal statement all uploaded to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC) site — and ready to send out to any of the 199 American Bar Association (ABA)-accredited law schools. But clearly you don’t want to waste valuable time and money on all of them, so you’re going to want to prioritize that list down to schools that are both good fits for you, personally and professionally, as well as ones that you have a good shot of admission.
As you may be aware, many law schools are ranked by U.S. News & World Report. This ranking is the clearest indication of the prestige between different law schools and, lately, many of the top law schools have been declining to partake. Although these rankings are not perfect, they provide a decent picture of the likelihood, everything else being equal, of a newly graduated law student being hired by a law firm within the United States. This is important since you’re going to need a good job to keep making payments on the debt incurred over the three or four years it takes to become a juris doctor, so you’ll want to go to a school that gives you the best chance of being gainfully employed even before sitting for the bar exam.
If your LSAT and GPA are around or above the median, you have a good chance of admission. Any score below the 25th percentile is a reach, but if it’s a school that interests you it may be worth taking a chance on it and seeing what happens. After all, a quarter of the class does fall below that metric! And if you’re a splitter (low GPA, high LSAT) or reverse splitter (low LSAT, high GPA), you still may have a shot, depending on the school. It’s generally easier to be a splitter, which is why we tend to emphasize the importance of your LSAT performance.
Lastly, if you’re determined to go to law school next year, then have at least one or two safety schools where your scores are comfortably at the 75th percentile or better for their admissions. Other factors go into admissions (life story/experience, recommendations, race/ethnicity, veteran status, undergrad major, etc.) so your chances are highly variable, but LSAT followed by GPA are by far the two biggest contributors, on average.
There is one note on the overall rankings — if you have a particular specialization in mind already, look at the specialization rankings. These often differ from the main rankings and can provide some hidden value in the admissions process.
Most law students don’t decide what they want to specialize in until their summer internship after their second year and are hoping for a job offer, so these rankings only apply to most students in retrospect. However, if you already have an idea for your specialization, you might be surprised to find you’re a competitive applicant in a law program at schools that are highly ranked in the field you’d like to practice.
Another major concern, especially for older law students, is geography. If you need and/or want to be in or near a specific city, your choices will be naturally narrowed down. This will also likely be the city in which you do most of your internship work and networking, which are crucial to getting a job offer out of law school if you’re not graduating from one of the T-14 schools. Try and visit as many potential schools as possible, and make sure that you’re only applying to ones you’d be happy to be at for at least the next three years, if not the rest of your career.
The different sizes of law schools give each law student the power to decide what kind of experience they want on their journey to earning their law degree. Many law school applicants are looking to find a law program that has a large student body, looking to meet as many connections as possible. On the other hand, some applicants want a more “homey” feel that’s more personalized, with a smaller faculty-to-student ratio. Either way, choosing the right law school with the optimal size can help you have the best experience possible.
Cost of Attendance
Last, but certainly not least, is cost. The most highly ranked schools tend to have high tuition, although some with large endowments also offer quite a bit of financial aid. The simple truth is that all law schools are expensive, and almost every new lawyer graduates with debt. There are only two ways to effectively deal with this problem: pay less up front, or make more on the back end (i.e., the job market). So know the current tuition fees at the schools you’re applying to, and also any financial aid or scholarships they may be able to offer you.
In the long run, your best chance at making enough money to pay off your debt is to go to the best possible law school and then get the best possible starting salary afterward. So apply to the best schools you have a reasonable chance of getting into, and take advantage of any and all possible financial aid.
Since that’s a lot, we’ve put together a list of some of the big questions you want to be asking yourself for each school on your list. This is by no means exhaustive, but should help you get started in your decision!
- Where do I fall in terms of LSAT and GPA?
- What types of activities do students participate in?
- What does grading look like? Some schools are pass/fail; some use a typical A-F system.
- What do their need-based and merit-based scholarships look like?
- How big is the class size?
- Is the school known for any specialty areas of law?
- What types of clinics, internships, and externships are offered?
- Who are the school’s most acclaimed professors?
- Are there options for dual-degrees, online classes, or flexible/part-time J.D. programs?
- What is the graduation rate?
- What is the bar exam pass rate?
- Where do alumni of the school tend to work?
- Are there moot court proceedings?
- Are there career services and career path offerings?
To increase your chance of getting into the law school of your dreams, you want to ace the LSAT. Fortunately, we have free resources to help you do just that. Get started with a free LSAT account to access our free practice test with analytics and a customizable study planner.
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