Like everything else in life, picking a law school is complicated. If it was a science, then you would just go to the highest ranked school, but that is not always the best choice. And what if you got into schools all similarly ranked? How can you really know which one is the better option?
Thankfully, with just a little extra research you can make a decision that best fits your goals and plans.
One. What’s the vibe? It’s important to visit your schools if you can. Visiting will let you get a feel of the school, the lectures, the students, and the nearby businesses. Of course, it may not be possible to visit every school, especially if it requires travel (or just because we’re in a pandemic right now). If visiting in person isn’t an option then make sure you talk to current students. I visited a few schools but was not able to visit the ones in Chicago, so I ended up picking Loyola because of how much I didn’t gel with the other schools. At one school, the admins made me wait in a lobby for 20 minutes and it felt like I was imposing (even though it was expected for prospective students to visit!). At another, the students were really candid about their concerns and lack of opportunity. I really recommend that you talk to current students and get even more specific and request to speak to a member of the school’s Latinx student group. Getting their perspective of what the next three years will entail will be really helpful in deciding what school you pick.
Two. What’s your commute like? Ok admittedly, if you have a car this is much, much easier. But if you –like me–lack a driver’s license, then it’s important to be realistic about your commuting plans. Again, I ended up in an apartment that was a 40-50 minute commute, on a good day. It cut into my studying time and ability to stay late in the evening. It was just not great planning on my part. If you’re moving to a new city really add commute time to your decision-making along with whether there are viable public transport options if living near the law school isn’t possible. If you don’t have easy access to a car than being able to travel back and forth will be really impact your quality of life.
Three. What are your extracurricular options? Yes, the holy grail of law review and moot court is important. But, statistically speaking you want to give yourself options. Does the school have multiple journals you can consider? Do their moot court participants look diverse? Do they have different clinics to allow you to have real, hands-on client experiences? Knowing that they have more to offer beyond the “main” journal and that students of color are represented in their different programs is really important.
One bonus part, but important–when you’re considering a school do your due diligence and research what problematic issues have taken place recently. Do they have professors that drop the N word during lecture? Professors that speak openly about how white students are inherently smarter? Sex harassment allegations? If so, ask the admission counselor about it. What changes have taken place since this incident? What does the school do now to address racism and implicit bias in the classroom? Does the problematic professor teach 1Ls? As an admitted student, the school have an interested in your accepting their offer. You wield a little power here to, at bare minimum, show admissions that you’ve heard of those bad behaviors and need reassurance that things are being addressed. And, if you decide to opt out of enrolling from that school because of those issues, make sure you let them know. They should know that they are losing out on talent and future leaders because of who they employ.
Ok, so having answers to all these points won’t make the law school experience perfect. It will still be difficult and they’ll be days you’ll be like–I made a huge mistake. But with a lot of prep work, those days will be limited. And eventually, you’ll graduate from an institution that supported you in your early career development. At least’s that’s the goal!