When it comes to deciding where to apply to law school it may seem like you have 200+ choices and that can feel super overwhelming. But the reality is that based on your goals, needs, stats, and finances your options won’t be as vast. And that’s a good thing! Lots of people cast nets far and wide when they apply, which is one strategy. But if your finances are limited (like mine were) then you have to be judicious when it comes to deciding how many fee applications you want to pay for and that means really understanding what each school can offer you.
When I applied, the LSAC fee waiver only covered four schools, so four schools it was. I keep thinking if I had a do-over what would I do, but other than applying to an Ivy League just for “fun,” I wouldn’t change much else. And that’s because I really had to figure out since I couldn’t waste an application. While four may be too few, game-planning exactly what you’re looking for and where you’ll fit in will help you when the time comes on deciding where you actually want to enroll. Here’s what to consider:
One. Numbers Matter. Yes, I often talk about how rank and other stats aren’t important and they can’t be the most compelling factor in your decision, but numbers are important. The rank, median LSAT/GPA score of the most recent class, and percentage of who receive financial aid all paint a picture of the school. It also gives you a better understanding of how you’ll fare in the process—if your LSAT/GPA is higher than the last average you may get a really good financial aid package or if it’s a lot lower you can go in knowing this may be a “reach” school (and if you have limited resources you can determine whether this reach school is the one you want to spend your money on).
Two. Beyond the numbers. Besides the stats of each school it’s important to know what kind of programs they offer and other resources. For example, when I was applying, I wanted to be a part of an active Latino law school association, clinics to get hands on experience, and a strong sense that the school supported public interest work. Maybe you’re interested in health law, or need a space that is supportive to LGBTQ individuals, or see that they have award winning programs —all factors that will help you hone your list down to schools that could provide you with the experience you’re looking for.
Three. What about the location. It’s best practice to attend school in the area you want to practice, but that is not always the case (especially in a growing global/remote world). It’s important you look at the community outside of the school to gage how much of a jolt it will be to your system. Things like weather, lack of access to things you’re used to, figuring out a commute—all of that can influence your decision. One of my main determining factors was access to transportation. I always knew I’d end up in Chicago but their easy and affordable public transportation system made the decision easier because I knew I wouldn’t need a car (and your homegirl doesn’t know how to drive, so this is a bus pass is key!).
Four. Who is the school supporting. It’s kind of wild but you can google “slur + law school professor” and a ton of articles pop up. There is almost one (or more) every semester, where a professor says something wildly inappropriate in class and doubles down on it. Worse, there are profs that make the speaking circuit rounds and imply that students of color can’t make it in the school…or say other, more blatantly racist things. Usually there is little repercussion and it’s dismissed as an issue of academic freedom. Insert major eye-roll. That approach is lazy but it is why law school continues to be so toxic. Do yourself a favor a do a quick search of any drama happening in the school you’re looking to attend. How did the admin respond? How recent was the incident? Is the professor still teaching 1Ls? Those are all fair things to consider, and if you opt to decline an acceptance because of those incidents make sure you tell the admissions counselor. They should know their decisions are costing them good students.
Ultimately, there is no magic number on how many schools to apply to—it depends on your timeline, resources, and interest. But I encourage a deep assessment of what you’re looking for so that when you do apply it’s to schools that you know can offer you something and get you closer to your goal with (hopefully) as little stress as possible.