Once you’ve made the exciting decision to attend law school, you’re faced with another dilemma: where should I apply? You may be tempted to apply to certain schools based solely on their ranking, but there’s more to having a successful law school experience than being admitted to a highly ranked school. While prestige and reputation are certainly an important factor when deciding where to apply, they’re not the only thing you should take into account. To increase the likelihood that you’ll have a successful (and enjoyable) law school experience, there are 6 factors you should consider when choosing a law school.
While most students elect to attend law school with a traditional day-time class schedule, this isn’t the best option for everyone. Many law schools offer a variety of class schedules to accommodate students, from full-time evening programs to part-time day programs and everything in between. If you have demanding family commitments or can’t imagine foregoing a regular paycheck during law school, it’s worth considering whether evening classes or a part-time course load will be a better fit for you. Your options are wide open if you’re committed to attending law school on a full-time basis, but if you’re considering a part-time or evening program, you may have to be more selective. Additionally, if you’re interested in a joint degree program, like a J.D./M.B.A., that’s something you’ll need to take into account.
Larger schools generally offer more variety in terms of course selection and extracurricular activities, but it can also be more difficult to make your mark at a large school. Remember, sometimes it’s better to be a big fish in a small pond, so consider whether attending a smaller school may give you more chances to stand out. Alternatively, a larger law school may expose you to a more diverse set of experiences and opportunities. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it’s all a matter of choosing what will work best for you.
Location will likely play a major role in selecting a law school. Sometimes location may even play the only role – I know plenty of people, myself included, who chose a school solely because they wanted to live in the city where it was located. Of course, from a pragmatic perspective, the allure of living in a particular location isn’t the only thing you should consider. Will the cost of living require you to take out larger loans? Will you be able to handle the rigors of 1L year while also adjusting to a new city and/or being on your own for the first time? Does it make more sense to attend a school in the state where you plan to practice? A partner’s career, child’s school, or other outside factor may be the deciding factor in where you attend. But if you have the option of relocating, make sure to take into account how a law school’s location can influence your overall experience.
Perform an honest evaluation of your financial situation and calculate the debt you’ll need to take on during 3+ years of law school. No law school is cheap, but some are less expensive than others, and cost is an important factor in selecting the right school for you. For some people, taking out large loans to attend an expensive (but prominent) school is the right decision. For others, going to a less expensive state university or taking that scholarship to a less prestigious program may make more sense. It can be a difficult calculation, but it’s certainly something that deserves serious thought.
5. Academic and Professional Interests
If there’s a niche area of law that you know you want to study, it makes sense to attend a school that specializes in that area or at least offers a variety of opportunities for you. Similarly, your career ambitions may play an important role in selecting a law school. If you hope to work in a particular field that is more prominent in certain locations – think Silicon Valley if you want to work with startups or D.C. if you want to go into politics – then attending a law school in that area can help you start making connections and gaining valuable experience early on.
Law school is a lot of work, but there’s still going to be some time to play, so make sure you apply to schools that offer extracurricular options that appeal to you. Whether it’s moot court, law review, mock trial, a student org, or even just an intramural sports team, it’s important to find something outside the classroom that you enjoy and that connects you to the law school community. While it probably shouldn’t be a major factor in your decision, the quality and variety of extracurricular activities offered at a law school is still something to take into account.
Choosing a law school can be a difficult, but exciting, decision. In making your choice, look beyond rankings or prestige and consider what school will give you the best overall experience. Ultimately, you want to select a school where you will be able to achieve academic success, obtain job opportunities, and have a little fun along the way.
For more helpful advice, check out these articles:
- Everything You Need to Know About Finding Your Law School
- Scholarships for Law School: Where and How to Get Them
- 10 Books to Read Before Starting Law School
- Should You Take Time Off Before Starting Law School?
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