The list of law schools with the most applications was recently reportedly and schools in the Washington D.C. and New York City areas dominated the list. As another batch of potential law students ready their applications for next year, they will also be faced with the difficult decision of choosing the right law schools to apply to.
Conventional wisdom has been that you should apply to the very best law schools you can possibly be admitted into, and then attend the very best school you actually get in.
However, this dependence on lists may be misplaced, and choosing law schools based solely on rankings may not be the smartest move.
When the Rankings Matter
If you can get into a law school with national/international acclaim like Harvard, Stanford, or Yale, you should go. Having a degree from one of these schools will pay off as you will have doors opened to you based solely on name recognition that would not be open to graduates of even other top ten schools.
Also, if you are not a genius, rankings also matter if you already know where you want to live following graduation and that area has a lot of law schools. If you want to live in a city like Boston, New York, or Washington D.C., getting into the top ranked regional school will give you a leg up on your peers.
When Rankings Don't Matter as Much
For most everyone else, rankings don't matter as much when choosing law schools.
For example, let's say your family is in Kentucky and you want to practice in Kentucky following graduation. It's probably a good idea to go to a school in Kentucky even if you are admitted into a higher ranked school elsewhere. So choosing a higher ranked law school like UCLA would probably not be a good idea if you get into a good (albeit lower ranked) Kentucky school.
Also, law school is expensive and you will accrue a lot of debt. So unless you can get into a top-tier law school (think top 15) where getting a job is almost guaranteed, you will want to give a lot of consideration to tuition and scholarships when choosing schools.
Finally, the name of the game in choosing law schools should be the ability to get gainful employment -- and not simply having bragging rights that you went to the 16th ranked law school as opposed to the 17th. So you may want to steer clear of better ranked schools in heavily competitive areas like Manhattan and choose a much lower ranked school in an area where you are much more likely to get a job.
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