As thousands of law school applicants receive their decision letters or emails this spring, they face an often difficult decision regarding which school to attend. Whether you applied to five or 15 law schools, the decision can cause anxiety as you search for the best fit.
Following are five guidelines to follow that will help you confidently make the right choice for you.
[Find out why graduate students picked their schools.]
1. Visit (or revisit) campus: If you haven't visited campus already, I encourage you to do so before accepting an offer. While websites may be full of pertinent information, you can only get a true feel for the atmosphere, culture and location in person.
If you visited before applying, you could benefit from a second trip, either to reinforce your dedication to attend or to refresh your memory as you execute a final comparison between your top choices.
You may also find that a post-acceptance visit takes on a different tenor. Instead of trying to determine which programs to mention in your essays, you will be evaluating how happy and successful you would be in this environment.
2. Chat with current or recent students: When you visit, seek out current students to speak with and not just appointed admissions ambassadors. Ask what they like and dislike about the school.
Are they happy with the choice they made? Why or why not? What is the academic environment like? The social scene? Where have students received internship and clerkship offers? Have third year students, or 3Ls, secured a job postgraduation? How competitive are students?
Think like a reporter and gather in-depth information. Now is the time to uncover the less tangible factors which may indicate which school is the best fit for you.
[Learn the questions to ask as an admitted graduate student.]
3. Consider strengths in your intended field: While nearly every school will offer strong programs in corporate law and litigation, if you have a more specialized interest, you need to ensure that you attend a school with a strong faculty and sufficient resources in that specific practice area.
I recently had a student choose Vermont Law School over much more highly-ranked schools because Vermont is considered the leader in environmental law nationwide, and the environment was her passion. The environmental job opportunities for her out of Vermont will be unparalleled.
Similarly, I had a Stratus Prep student who was determined to work as an entertainment lawyer and agent choose UCLA over a number of top five schools because of UCLA's prominence in the field. I have also worked with numerous applicants committed to a career in intellectual property who chose schools like George Washington University and the University of New Hampshire School of Law over much higher-ranked alternatives.
If you hope to pursue a career in a specialized field, such as environmental, entertainment or intellectual property law, it is critical that you attend a school that excels in this area to maximize your chances of employment in that field after graduation.
4. Consider financial aid versus loan repayment: Financial considerations will weigh heavily, especially for students dedicated to a career in the public interest. But you should not simply take the highest merit-scholarship you are offered.
Many top schools now provide very generous loan repayment programs where the school pays part of all of your loans over (usually) 10 years if you practice in a less well-compensated public interest practice area. Make sure to compare the details of loan repayment programs with merit-based scholarships and take public interest job placement rates into consideration before you make a final decision.
[Find out how to negotiate law school financial aid.]
5. Carefully compare ranking, location, academic specializations, job placement rates after graduation, class sizes, extracurricular programs and financial aid offers: Some of these factors will be more important to you than others. If you will be attending a law school outside the top 50 and want to practice in a certain region, you should choose a school in that region.
Choosing a law school can be a challenging process. But once you have weighed the multitude of factors outlined above and accepted an offer, enjoy your summer with confidence and spend a bit of the next few months getting ready for your first year.