Deciding Where to Apply
There are no rules governing where to apply to law school. You do not necessarily need to follow the “reach schools, good chances, safety schools” paradigm that you may have used during the undergraduate admissions process. The most important steps are to consider what you want from a law school, research schools before you apply, and then apply to the schools that fit your needs, interests, and goals. However, you should also be sure to apply to some schools where you do have a reasonable chance of getting in.
There are many things to consider when deciding where to apply. Here is an excellent, comprehensive set of criteria that NAPLA (Northeast Association of Pre-Law Advisors) has devised to help students through the process of deciding where to apply.*
National/Regional Schools: Does the school attract applicants from across the country and abroad, or are most students from the region in which the school is located? Do most students want to work throughout the country or in the school's region following graduation?
Location: Is the school in an urban area or in a suburban/rural setting? Is it part of university or independent? Are there other graduate schools nearby? Is the school in a place you would want to be for three years and where you would be willing to work following graduation, depending on employment opportunities?
Faculty/Classes: What are the academic and experiential backgrounds of faculty? How accessible are they? What is the faculty-student ratio, the number of full-time vs. adjunct faculty, and the number of female and minority faculty? How many students are in each course? Are classes taught in the Socratic method or lecture?
Facilities and Resources: Is the school affiliated with a university? Do students have access to courses from a range of academic disciplines to supplement their legal curriculum? Is the library large enough to accommodate holdings and permit students to conduct research and study? How helpful is the library staff? How accessible are electronic databases such as Lexis and Westlaw? In general, do the facilities provide a comfortable learning environment?
Student Body: What is the size of the entering class? What does the admissions profile tell you about the quality of the student body? Where did students study as undergraduates and what are their geographic backgrounds? Is there diversity in interests and personal/cultural backgrounds? What is the overall atmosphere–are students friendly or overly competitive? Is there much interaction with fellow students outside the classroom?
Special Programs: What courses are available in specialized areas? What joint degree programs of interest to you are available? What are the opportunities for practical experience, including clinics, internships, etc.? Can you “write” on to law reviews in addition to be selected based on class rank? What specialized institutes, journals, or organizations exist in your areas of interest? Does the school demonstrate a commitment to women and minorities through special programs?
Career Services: What advising and resources are available to help you find a job? Is career counseling available? How many employers recruit at the law school and who are they? What percentage of the class has positions at graduation? In what types of positions and geographic areas are they employed? What is the percentage of graduates holding judicial clerkships? What assistance is given to students not interested in working in law firms? What is the bar passage rate for recent graduates? How involved are alumni in career activities?
Student Life: Is housing provided for first-year students? If not, does the school offer assistance in locating off-campus housing? Is the school located in a safe area? What is the cost of living? What types of cultural opportunities are there? Does the school provide recreational facilities? What is the general ambiance?
Costs: What are tuition, housing, and transportation costs? Is financial aid exclusively need-based, or are merit scholarships available? Does the school offer a loan forgiveness program for public interest lawyers? What is the average debt burden for graduates from this school?
There are ways to minimize your cost of attending law school and to keep down the debt you incur. Apply to schools where you will be in the top part of the applicant pool; schools may give you a merit scholarship to attract you. Also, public schools are usually less expensive, and even if you are not a resident of a state in which a school is located, you can sometimes pay in-state tuition after your first year.
Reputation: A number of factors contribute to a school’s reputation, including faculty, facilities, career services, and the reputation of the parent university. Though a number of law-school rankings are available, most factors evaluated are not quantifiable, and therefore you should not perceive the rankings as accurate or definitive.
Selectivity at law schools, however, is one factor that can be quantified; you can gauge a school's relative selectivity by comparing the number of applicants accepted to the overall number of applications....
Schools can be divided roughly into three groups:
- Schools with national reputations that tend to appear in various "top ten" lists. They draw students from a national pool and offer geographic mobility to graduates.
- Schools with good regional reputations that are attended primarily by students from the region, who may want to remain in the area following graduation, but who may also seek positions throughout the country.
- Local schools that draw students primarily from the immediate area who want to practice there following graduation.
* NAPLA Pre-Law Guide (NAPLA Inc., 2007). Permission to use this content has been granted to non-profit educational institutions.