With 181 ABA accredited law schools, how does anyone decide which to apply to? There are several key factors to consider when making this decision:
- The Location of the school.
- Whether or not you want to pursue a Joint Degree.
- Special Programs.
- Your competitiveness as an Applicant.
- The cost of Tuition and Living Expenses.
- The Bar Pass Rates and Job Placement of law school graduates.
- Where you attend law school can have a big impact on where you end up practicing law. Unless you attend a name-brand school like Columbia , Georgetown , USC, or other nationally recognized schools, you may find that your greatest number of job opportunities will be within your school's region.
- In addition to considering which part of the country a school is located, it is also important to see what kind of town, city or area the school is in. Attending a private school not affiliated with a four-year university in a densely populated urban area is going to be a different experience than attending a school in a small college town where the law school is part of a larger undergraduate campus.
- If at all possible, visit the schools you are seriously considering. They will all have their own distinctly different styles and moods, even between two nearby schools with similar enrollment statistics.
- Considering the amount of time you will be spending at the school over a three-year period, it is important that you feel comfortable in the environment. While visiting, sit in on a class. See how the students and faculty interact and what kind of students are in the classroom. Is there homogeneity or heterogeneity among the student population?
- A joint degree program is a program of study set up to allow you to complete a J.D. and another degree in a lesser amount of time than it would take to do the degrees sequentially.
- Many universities offer joint degrees such as a J.D./M.B.A., a J.D./Ph.D. Humanities, J.D./M.D., etc. With the exception of the J.D./M.D., joint degree students generally devote their first year of graduate school exclusively to law, and then pursue a mixed curriculum for the remaining years of study.
- When applying for joint degrees, you must apply for each degree program separately, and complete all tests and pre-requisites for both. For example, if you wanted to apply for a J.D./M.B.A. program, you would need to take both the LSAT and the GMAT.
- Most law schools that offer joint degree programs are part of a larger university. If you are interested in combining two graduate degrees for which there is no formal joint program, it may still be possible to do both degrees together.
For a complete list of all schools that offer joint degrees and the types of joint degrees available, please see a pre-law advisor at the Office of College Advising.
- If you have an idea or inclination toward a particular field of law, it is worth your time to investigate which schools have classes or programs in this area. Some of this information will be available in the commercial law school guides, and you can request brochures or pamphlets directly from the school on special programs.
- The courses you will take during your first year in law school are universal; students at all law schools across the country will be taking the same subjects.
- Special programs become a factor in your second and third years of law school. It is during this time that you will be able to take advantage of a school selection of electives, choose to follow a designated emphasis, or participate in legal clinics run through the law school.
- When reviewing law school catalogues, look for schools that either have a lot of electives in your area of interest or have clinics, emphases, or other special programs. Also consider areas of specialty among the faculty. Is there anyone with a reputation for or long history of working in the specialty area in question?
- By the same token, however, do not make this your sole criteria when choosing a school. Many students find that once they begin to study law, their interests change or move in new directions. Also keep in mind that practicing attorneys that specialize do so because this is where the majority of their work experience lies, not simply because they had such an emphasis in law school.
- By the end of your junior year, you should have a general idea of what your overall GPA is and how you have scored, or are likely to score on the LSAT. These two numbers are your most useful tools in determining where you should apply.
- There are a number of published guides, including but not limited to The Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools (LSAC), Official ABA Guide to Approved Law Schools (ABA), and The Best Law Schools (The Princeton Review). All of these books have the same basic statistical information, though it may be presented in a different format and may include other types of information in addition to this. If you are not interested in purchasing these materials, you may come to College Advising Office and peruse our copies.
- A particularly valuable piece of statistical information you will find is the 25th/75th percentile ratio for enrolled students. For example, the USC Law School has a 25th /75th GPA of 3.30/3.65 and a 25th/75th LSAT of 159/165 for full-time students. Put simply, this means that 25% of those admitted had a GPA of lower than 3.30 and 25% of those admitted had a GPA higher than 3.65. Similarly, 25% had an LSAT score lower than 159 and 25% had an LSAT score higher than a 165. All other students at the school fell between those numbers.
- If you are above the 75th percentile in LSAT and/or GPA for a given school, you are likely to be admitted. This school would be a safety school. If your numbers fall between the 25th and 75th percentile, then this is a competitive school; Continuing, if your numbers are below the 25th percentile, you are not likely to be admitted, and this would be a dream school.
- To maximize your chances of being admitted to the best law school for you possible, we generally recommend that you apply to 1-2 dream schools, 3-4 competitive schools, and 1-2 safety schools. Of course, how many schools you choose to apply to is a personal decision, and the cost of application fees is a factor to consider.
As you probably noticed when applying for your undergraduate degree, not all colleges cost the same. This is also very true for law schools. What school you attend could mean the difference between graduating with $50,000 in loans or graduating with $150,000 in loans.
Though it would probably not be in your best interests to choose law schools simply by cost, it can be a critical factor when narrowing your search or deciding between schools where you have been accepted. Where a school is located and the cost of living in that area can also make a difference in the amount of loans you take out (see Financial Aid for more information).
- Just as you should look at what kinds of students are entering a law school, it is also valuable to see how those students are doing once they leave. Unless you pass the state bar exam, you cannot practice as a lawyer in that state.
- You can receive information on the bar pass rates for any given school from your pre-law advisor at the college advising office.
- Job placement rates are something you'll need to individually query potential schools about. The number you'll want to ask for is the 6-month post-graduation job placement rate. This will tell you what percentage of the school's graduates have jobs within 6 months of graduating. It might also be worth asking how many of those jobs are in law professions, especially if a school has a relatively low bar pass rate.
- If a school has a low bar pass rate (less than 70%), or a low job placement rate, this might be cause for hesitation on your part. You may want to ask the school if there are other contributing factors that would make their numbers lower than expected. It may not be worth the cost of your law school education if you will be unable to practice after completing your J.D.