Choosing a law school is one of most important decisions you'll make in your life. First you need to narrow down your list of potential schools; even applying to schools can get expensive with application fees up to $70 and $80. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that Ivy League law schools are the only ones worth attending, though, as you can get a great legal education at many schools across the country--and you just may find that one of those is actually a better fit for you by considering:
10 Criteria for Choosing a Law School
- Admissions Criteria
Your undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores are the most important factors in your application, so look for law schools that line up with your numbers. Don't limit yourself to just those schools, though, as other aspects of your application just may sway an admissions committee to take a chance on you.
Divide your list into dream (a stretch that you'd get in), core (line up with your credentials) and safety (very likely to get in) schools to give yourself choices.
- Financial Considerations
Just because a school has a high price tag doesn't mean it's the best for you and your interests. No matter where you go, law school is expensive. Some schools can be downright bargains, though, especially if you can get a scholarship or other financial aid that doesn't include loans like scholarships and grants.
When looking at finances, don't forget that most schools have fees beyond standard tuition. Also, if your school is in a large city, remember the cost of living will likely be higher than in a smaller location.
- Geographic Location
You don't have to go to law school where you'll want to take the bar exam and/or practice, but you do have to live in that location for at least three years. Do you want an urban atmosphere? Do you hate cold weather? Do you want to be near your family? Do you want to make connections in the community that you’ll be able to use in the future?
- Career Services
Be sure to find out about job placement rate and the percentages of graduates who move on to careers in what you think might be your chosen field, whether it’s a small, medium or large firm, a judicial clerkship, or a position in public interest, academia or the business sector.
What is the student to faculty ratio? What are the credentials of the faculty members? Is there a high turn-over rate? Do they publish many articles? Will you be learning from tenured faculty or from associate professors? Are professors accessible to their students and do they employ student research assistants?
Along with first-year courses, look at what courses are offered for your second and third years and how often. If you're interested in pursuing a joint or dual degree, or in studying abroad, be sure to compare that information as well.
Clinics are another consideration. Now offered by many law schools, clinics can provide students real world legal experience through hands-on work in a variety of disciplines, so you may want to investigate what opportunities are available.
- Bar Exam Passage Rate
You definitely want the odds in your favor when taking the bar exam, so look for schools with high bar passage rates. You can also compare the school's bar passage with the overall passage rate for that state to see how your potential school's test-takers stack up against students from other schools taking the same exam.
- Class Size
If you know you learn best in smaller settings, be sure to look for schools with lower enrollment numbers. If you like the challenge of swimming in a big pond, you should be looking for schools with higher enrollment numbers.
- Diversity of Student Body
Included here is not only race and sex, but also age; if you are a student entering law school after many years away or returning as a part-time law student, you might want to pay attention to schools that have higher numbers of students who didn't come directly from undergrad. Many schools also list the most popular majors among students, as well as types of previous work experience.
- Campus Facilities
What is the law school building like? Are there enough windows? Do you need them? What about computer access? What is the campus like? Do you feel comfortable there? Will you have access to university facilities such as the gym, pool and other recreational activities? Is there public or university transportation available?
Once you focus on the characteristics that are most important to you in choosing a law school, a great resource is the 2009 Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools, a database searchable by many of the categories listed above.