We promised that we'd follow up on decision time, when the time came. You've completed our step-by-step process for applying to law school and now, the offers are rolling in -- a scholarship here, good employment outcomes there, and family somewhere in between.
How do you choose? Here are some considerations, from most important, to least important.
Some schools have it, others don't. You're headed to law school for one reason: to get a job when you graduate. Your choice should reflect that.
When comparing offers from schools, check their employment scores on Law School Transparency, which not only provides a numerical measurement, but also tells you where graduates end up geographically-speaking.
One other note: ask about what kind of jobs graduates end up with. If a school is big on public interest placements, and you hate people, that's probably not a match.
Cost (Negotiate Scholarships)
In the immortal words of Randy Moss: straight cash homey.
It's a fool's errand to graduate with six-figures of debt, unless you're going to a top-five school. And while it may be advisable to go to a first-tier school over a fourth-tier school, even if that means a lot more debt, unless the rankings are that disparate, money should be at the top of your list.
Another tip: be shameless. You're going to be shamelessly advocating in a few years anyway, so why not start now, on your own behalf.
Ask schools for money. Tell them that you have other offers in hand that make more financial sense, but your heart belongs to them. (Sidebar: This works way better if you've actually visited the campus and talked with the admissions staff.) Just keep at least one school in hand, just in case your negotiations backfire.
Also, this is very important: check the fine print on the scholarship. Is it for all three years? Is your tuition rate locked in? Do you have to maintain a GPA or class-ranking standard?
If you can't stand to leave the Florida sunshine, your spouse can't move with you, or you are for some other reason (say, parole) locked to the land, geography will play a part in your decision-making.
Don't just look at where the school is located, however. Also look at where graduates go.
For example, according to Law School Transparency, a good number of Brigham Young University graduates end up in California. Provo, Utah may not seem like your cup of tea, but it's three years of studying in a quiet, inexpensive, prestigious place. Conversely, if you go to Appalachian School of Law, you might get a few quizzical looks back on the Left Coast.
There's no doubt: a first-tier degree is going to open up more doors than a fourth-tier degree. So why is the time-honored standard for law schools so low on this list? Because, unless the rankings are drastically different, they're not that important when it comes to job hunting. An employer isn't going to say "Hm, #25 beats #35. Forget about class standing, geography, etc. RANK RULEZ FOOLS!"
Your debt load and overall job chances are far more important.
Other Soft Factors
If you still have multiple options after considering the above factors, this is where lifestyle comes into play -- rural v. urban, grading curve, cooperative learning or pressure cooker, etc.
If you know any alumni, ask them about the lifestyle. Visit the campus and talk to current students. Check the grading curve and dropout rate.
These soft factors, while hardly determinative, can mean the difference between three years of dodging crack fiends in the street while plotting against gunners and spending your days reading Scalia rants next to a bubbling creek and a roasting pig.
Did we miss a crucial factor? Tell us about it on Facebook.
- Which Schools Have Shrinking Class Sizes? Does it Mean Anything? (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
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- ABA's Task Force on Fixing Law School Has a Lot of Bad Ideas (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)
- Top 5 Cheapest Law Schools (And 5 More Worth Attending) (FindLaw's Greedy Associates Blog)