Now that you've decided to apply to law schools, you face an even bigger question: to which ones should you apply? You have probably already deliberated about academic rigor, rank and reputation when making your list, but those factors alone may not necessarily indicate if a school's classes and professors will cater to your learning style.
In addition to those criteria, consider the following three factors to ensure you find an environment that suits your learning preferences.
1. Class size: The size of your law school class can greatly affect your educational experience. Law schools use a forced grading curve, which means that you compete with your peers for grades – and only so many students can get As.
Smaller classes, like those at Yale Law School, tend to encourage closer personal relationships and more collaborative learning. The size of the class can also affect the number of students in each course – larger schools, like Georgetown Law School, may tend to have more lecture-based courses, whereas more intimate schools are more likely to offer a higher number of seminar-style courses.
Neither environment is right or wrong – you simply need to ask yourself: in which atmosphere will you learn best?
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2. Fellow students and the community: While academics are important, you should also carefully consider the school's social environment. Your law school will not only be a place for you to learn, but also your home for three years, and the social climate can certainly affect your learning.
There are individuals who do their best work in a "work hard, play hard" atmosphere, and others who need to eliminate distractions to achieve grades that reflect their abilities.
Either way, you want to make sure there are clubs, journals, clinics and extracurricular activities you will enjoy. Visit campus to get a feel for the social environment, and ask some current students what they do in their spare time.
Is it a tight-knit community or are students in general more independent? Ask yourself which culture you prefer. Location can also affect the community feel, as rural and urban schools can have quite distinct atmospheres.
[Find out which law schools get the most applications.]
3. Professors: The professors you work with in law school will shape your education greatly. My mentor, Professor Martha Minow (now dean of Harvard Law School) inspired me to dedicate my life to helping others reach their educational goals.
Research professors' backgrounds to get a feel for their experience, academic focus and teaching approaches. If possible, sit in on a real class and pay close attention to the professor's teaching style. Is it more Socratic, or volunteer-based?
But watch how students engage with him or her even more. It is important that your professors not only be experts, but also be effective teachers in order for you to gain the most from your education.
[Get the answers to vital law school questions.]
You should not base your decision on one particular professor – you may never take his or her class, or he or she could pursue an opportunity elsewhere before you enroll – but observing a class or two and researching a variety of (especially tenured) professors can give you a general idea of how your academic life would be shaped at a given law school.
Remember, it is not about finding the best law school, but the best fit for you personally. Selecting a school that will complement your learning style is a key factor to consider in your search.