Consider Career Interests When Choosing Law Schools

Knowing what you want to do after school can help to narrow your options.

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Ask yourself several questions to decide if graduate school is the right direction for you.
Ask yourself several questions to decide if graduate school is the right direction for you.

This is another installment of Law Admissions Q&A, a monthly feature in the Law Admissions Lowdown that provides admissions advice to readers who send in questions and profiles. If you have a question about law school, E-mail me for a chance to be featured next month.

Dear Shawn: I have a question about deciding on which law schools to attend. I am restricted to the Research Triangle Park here in NC due to my husband being in school in this area. I am fairly certain that I will be accepted into the University of North Carolina School of Law, Elon University School of Law , Campbell University—Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law, and North Carolina Central University School of Law. I have a master's in Human Services and want to work in Public Interest Law or own my own practice. Owning my own practice is my eventual goal.

So, my question is how do I choose a law school with my career goals in mind? NCCU is very inexpensive and I assume I would get some scholarships there. However, UNC Law would be the obvious pick from these choices.

Is spending say an extra $60,000 worth having a degree from a more renowned law school, considering I have no desire to work in big law and for any corporations? I expect my salary to be quite low working in the public sector. I would appreciate any advice you have. Thanks! - Public Interested

Dear Public Interested: There is a common misconception that graduating from a top law school is less important if you want to go into public interest. Public service jobs are actually incredibly competitive, so having the brand name of a highly-ranked law school on your résumé will likely expedite your job search.

Since University of North Carolina School of Law is a top 40 law school and the other three schools you mentioned are designated as Rank Not Published by U.S. News, UNC should be your clear choice.

[Explore the U.S. News Best Law School rankings.]

Of course, you do need to take cost into account in addition to ranking. While UNC is more expensive than the other schools, you have options to make it more affordable. First, you may be able to attain merit-based aid if you can make your application stand out with an excellent LSAT score, stellar recommendations, and compelling essays.

Also, while your post-law school salary will be lower with a job in the public/non-profit sector, you can take advantage of programs like UNC's Loan Repayment Assistance Program to reduce your debt after law school. Best of luck with your applications. -Shawn

Dear Shawn: I am a prospective high school graduate and looking into college and career choices. I am creative and enjoy art and design and would ultimately like to become a creative director. My parents are urging me to go into law because all of my cousins are doing the same thing (law or medical or accounting careers) and they say I can "do anything with a law degree."  

I read your article and I would like your advice on this. Should I go to law school (rather than a communications design school) and would I be able to go into a creative career (co-editing at a magazine, for example) with a law degree? I appreciate you reading this. -Creative Calling

Dear Creative Calling: You can apply the skills you learn in law school to a variety of professions, so having a law degree opens up many opportunities outside the traditional practice of law. Some lawyers do transition into creative careers, most often related to writing.

However, law school is also a significant and expensive time commitment. If you decide to go to law school, you should have a genuine motive to ensure obtaining the degree will be worthwhile for you. Law is definitely not the right career/educational choice for everyone, and you should follow your true passions, wherever they lie. This will ensure you have a successful and fulfilling career.

[Find out how to pick the right major for you.]

Since you are still in high school, I would advise you to first concentrate on gaining a well-rounded education in college. Explore your passions to discover which career path is best for you. You may decide that you want to go into law or accounting while still dabbling in art as a hobby, or you may pursue design full time.

If you do decide on law school, keep in mind that you will want to start preparing for the LSAT in your sophomore or junior year of college. Good luck! -Shawn