Ever-growing documentation is proving just how important the U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings are to prospective law school students in choosing where to apply. The latest such evidence comes from a Kaplan Test Prep survey of October 2010 LSAT test takers released last month.
One key survey question: "What is most important to you when picking a law school to apply to?" According to Kaplan's results, 30 percent of test takers say that a law school's ranking is the most critical factor, followed by geographic location at 24 percent; academic programming at 19 percent; and affordability at 12 percent. Only 8 percent of respondents consider a law school's job placement statistics to be the most important factor.
In a related question that asked, "How important a factor is a law school's ranking in determining where you will apply?," 86 percent say ranking is "very important" or "somewhat important" in their application decision making.
One thing is clear from these results: Prospective law school students are relying heavily on the rankings in their application process and as the basis for choosing which law schools to apply to.
[View law school Q&As with admissions officials.]
What is U.S. News's take on this heavy reliance on the law schools rankings? Going to law school and choosing which school to attend are very big one-time and high-cost decisions. Going to the right law school is very important given today's tough market for new J.D. graduates.
The U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings spotlight the country's academically excellent law school programs in many areas. However, they should be used by prospective students as just one tool in the process for picking the best school for them. Many other factors that cannot be measured need to go into such an important decision, including the overall cost, location, course offerings, school culture, job prospects, advising or mentoring opportunities, and campus life.
[Read the Get In: Law School blog.]
If prospective students or their advisers are using the U.S. News law school rankings as the only basis to choose one law school over another, that would be the absolutely incorrect usage of the rankings. As prospective law school students research and weigh different schools' intangible attributes, U.S. News's rankings can help them compare each school's academic excellence. However, rankings should only supplement—and not replace—careful thought and emphasis on all the factors that really matter. The rankings can inform a person's thinking, but they shouldn't be used as the easy answer. We urge everyone to use them wisely.
Searching for a grad school? Get our complete rankings of Best Graduate Schools.