Breaking Barriers: Selecting a Law School
This series, Breaking Law School Barriers, tackles the big and small issues that come into play when you’re deciding if you’ll even attend law school. The purpose is to give practical advice for college students, and for current law students and attorneys to give suggestions about their real world experience.
Applying for law school is an incredibly long process and it can be stressful, anxious, and tedious (and expensive!). For those that have just finished the application round, the next big step is deciding which law school you will attend. When I started my process, I constantly compared my experience to other students of mean, and saw that they were applying to ten+ schools. I was slightly jealous of all the options they would have, but in the end, I’m glad I had such a limited selection (I only applied to four schools) because it made deciding easier. However, even with just four schools to decide from, it still required a lot of thinking and analysis.
Why is this step so important? Because when you decide which school gets your deposit, you’re figuring out a complicated formula to determine which school will give you the biggest bang for your buck. It’s not just about choosing the least expensive or the highest rank–you have to make a decision that best fits your needs and goals.
So whether you applied to 14 or only four schools, your decision will impact your future for years to come–no pressure! 🙂 How do you make your decision? How do you know you’re picking the right school?
There are a lot of things to consider, but here are my top three:
One. Cost. Yes, I just said you can’t solely base your decision on cost, but it definitely needs to be a high priority when you’re analyzing your options. Thankfully, most schools are willing to match scholarships that other schools give, so if you really like School A, but they are more expensive and School B has given you a scholarship–call Admissions at School A and ask for a match. Now, I know that many law-focused blogs scream until they’re blue in the face that students shouldn’t attend law school unless it’s basically free because of the high debt that comes with law school. But that’s not a reality for most people–especially most Latinas, and that type of “encouragement” keeps the status quo in the legal community essentially the same. So, I won’t advise to only attend if it’s free, but do your best to minimize costs and ask for the financial match whenever possible so you attend the school of your choice, not just the one that’s cheapest.
Two. Location. Back in the day, it was really encouraged that you select a school in the place where you wanted to practice. I’m not sure that’s really a necessary factor anymore. We are much more global and connected so that even if you go to school in a different state, it’s still very viable to make connections and find employment in the place where you actually want to live. Location can still affect your employment prospects, but I don’t think it’s a make or break factor—especially if you make it a point to intern and network in the location where you want to eventually practice. Location matters less in regards to how it can help your career, but more in how it will impact your mental well-being. This is a real consideration that students of color should make. It’s easy for a White person to move almost anywhere in the U.S. and attend any law school. They will find like-minded and similarly-situated people. That is not the same for us. For example, you may end up moving to a place that feels isolating and that can be mentally overwhelming, which can negatively impact your studies. Of course, some people move to a completely new and strange place and they absolutely thrive. That’s always a possibility—you just have to know yourself and what you’re able to endure before you make the decision of where you attend.
Three. Rank. I am not a rank snob. I know the list exists and there may be some truth to it, but I try to not believe the hype associated with the ranks. I don’t put too much thought into it because I have seen students and attorneys from “lesser” ranked schools that do equal work, and often the work is even better than the higher ranked student/attorney. Of course, you shouldn’t ignore it completely. Rank can tell you a lot about the power a school may have in the region/country, and the opportunities they’ll have for internships/future employment prospects. But focusing only on rank ignores other factors: the cost (often higher than the other schools); the location; the student body; and the opportunities afforded to students. For example, a few very prestigious schools are mostly focused on academics or getting you into Big Law. However, if you want to work directly with people or do work outside of the normal legal standard then those may not be the schools for you. Pay attention to rank, but then see if the benefit that comes with higher rank, will actually benefit you.
What are some other things to consider before deciding on your school?