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Kaplan Survey: Pre-Law Students, Schools Clash Over Culture

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By William Peacock, Esq. on December 03, 2014 12:12 PM

There are a lot of factors to consider when applying to law schools: ranking, cost, scholarship funds, odds of admission, geography, schools' success rates in regards to job placement and bar passage, and more.

Somewhere, far down that list, is a school's culture. It's a soft factor that is often overlooked, but it really is an important one, especially if you're planning on spending most of the next three years of your life there.

Would you prefer a small-town school, where everyone knows everyone else, gossip runs amok, but camaraderie and casualness are the rule? Or would you prefer an overly formal institution in a big city, where everyone lives their real lives outside of the few hours of classes and cut-throat competition for library materials?

A recent Kaplan survey tried to measure culture, in terms of students' expectations and schools' self-assessments. The results, unsurprisingly, did not match.

Kaplan Survey: Adjust Your Expectations

According to the survey, 77 percent of law students don't want to spend three years in a Turkish prison, full of shanks and "cut-throat competition." Fair enough. The good news: 98 percent of law school admissions officers say that their school totally has a collaborative culture.

OK, so my school was not the "hide books from other students" nightmare of certain cut-throat stereotypes. But I've heard stories from recent graduates of other institutions of students sabotaging each other. Some schools are cut-throat. Some aren't. And the split certainly isn't 98 to 2 percent.

What were some of the other mismatches?

  • 58 percent of students prefer an "individual emphasis" (they hate group work because there is always that gunner guy who has no idea what he is talking about), while 66 percent of schools think they have a team-focused emphasis.
  • 55 percent of students want a casual environment, which means 45 percent of students are going to be disappointed by the 89 percent of schools who rate themselves as casual. Of course, "casual" to a recent undergraduate student probably means something different than it does to a BigLaw refugee who works in academia.
  • 53 percent of students want lenient professors, but 56 percent of schools think their professors are strict.

Where do expectations align?

  • 74 percent of students want a practice-ready curriculum, while 77 percent of schools promise that exact (arguably unrealistic) thing!
  • 84 percent of students want small class sizes (duh) and 92 percent of schools say they'll deliver exactly that.
  • Socrates and his methods are popular: 72 percent of students say "yay," compared to 75 percent of schools.

A Methodology Tweak Is Called For

What's interesting about this survey is that it matches pre-law students' desires with schools' self-assessments. And we always rate ourselves more highly than we deserve.

Are 98 percent of schools collaborative? Heck no. What would be really interesting is a comparison of recent graduates' assessments of their alma maters versus pre-law folks or incoming 1Ls. Something tells me that we would still see a disparity, but instead of "what we want" versus "what we think they want to hear," we'd hear "what we want" versus "oh my God, that was horrible."

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