Selecting the right law school for you is a difficult decision. There are several factors at play and a wrong choice could have devastating consequences. Given the investment, both financially and amount of time, you want to ensure you are selecting a school where you will be comfortable and which gives you an opportunity to succeed when your degree is complete. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help you in your search:
Some may attempt to make the claim that ranking of a school should play no part in your decision. This I would dismiss immediately. Ranking is of particular importance to those who wish to practice in an area other than where there law school is located or for those seeking the most coveted summer post of any law student; a Federal Judicial clerkship. If you are not interested in either one of these, but rather intend to practice in a small firm in the city your law school is located, then perhaps ranking will matter less so. However, for the vast majority of potential law students, rankings of schools matter immensely.
With that being said, a few places up or down in the rankings is not going to matter the world. Harvard and Yale are both fine schools and if you got into either one it should not matter all that much that Yale is generally ranked number one and Harvard is ranked number two. Likewise, the decision of whether or not to go to the 70th ranked school or the 50th ranked school is not a deal breaker. Even though 20 ranks separate them, they most likely both have the same amount of national acclaim
I would advocate separating schools into “brackets”. The top fifteen schools are in a league of there own, while 15-40 are going to be better than 40-100, which are all about the same in terms of national recognition. Everything below 100 is about the same, except for non-accredited schools which I would not advocate considering. Anywhere within a bracket and you are wise to select the school based on other factors than rank. However, if you can get into a school a bracket high than your others, I would advise selecting that school.
Location makes a big difference if you are outside the top 15 schools. You are less likely to look for employment outside of where your law school is located and therefore should select a school in a location where you fell comfortable spending a large portion of your life following obtaining your degree. Likewise, attending law school in an area where you are unhappy can put you into a rut an effect your study. Lastly, summer job opportunities are key; a school in a bigger city will provide more selections for clerkships, large firms, and not for profit organizations.
Money is another large issue to consider. While lawyers are still one of the highest paid professions, there is no guarantee of making large sums of money immediately following schooling. There are plenty of lawyers struggling to find work. The best you can do to limit the amount of loans taken out while in school will go a long way to limiting your burden after school.
Many schools do give out aid and scholarships. Don’t be afraid to pressure schools when you are accepted to give you more aid, many are more than willing to do so.
Again, I would say rank is of prime importance if you plan on working outside of where your school is located, but if a school lower in a particular bracket offers you more money take it! Example-If the 80th ranked school gives you a half scholarship while the 50th rank school gives you nothing I say go to 80. However, if you make it into the 10th ranked school, don’t concern yourself with the price tag. You’re going to be just fine.