How to pick a law school
Step 1: Set out your own goals and needs. Not everyone wants the same thing from a law school. The first thing you need to do is to clarify what you are looking for. Some possible factors to consider:
- Geographic considerations. Some students may be limited to a particular geographic area by inclination or necessity. Students should also consider going to a law school in the state in which they plan to practice. This can make it easier for students to get jobs in the area and in cases where there are state-specific bar exams (such as New York). Students who attend top-ranked law schools and special programs often find it much easier to find employment in other states.
- Special programs. Most law schools have a variety of special programs. For example, someone who is interested in litigation should look at schools with clinical programs. Special programs in a particular field can be a real attraction. Some law schools allow the opportunity to take classes taught by professors in other departments on topics like the environment or economics. Many law schools offer joint degree programs so that you can earn a master's or PhD in a substantive field along with your law degree (but remember, these require more than the three years law degrees generally take).
- Specific factors relative to each school. For some students, smaller classes may be attractive; others may prefer the variety offered by a bigger school despite the less personal attention of larger classes. Other factors include student groups (law reviews, moot court, student associations, etc.), faculty expertise, job placement, alumni, community service opprtunities, etc.
- Cost. Law school is very expensive and there is not much assistance available (beyond school loans). Students may want to consider price, especially in terms of in-state and out-of-state tuition for public universities.
Step 2: Be realistic about your own abilities and achievements. If you are a student with a GPA below 3.0, you are likely, barring spectacular LSAT scores, to have to scramble to get into law school at all. Fortunately there are law schools with special programs that allow students with certain attributes who complete a summer program successfully to gain admission. On the other hand, if you have a very strong record of achievement, don't sell yourself short. An exceptional Oswego student can compete with the best from private colleges and universities.
Step 3: Narrow the field. There are so many law schools out there. You can't examine each one in detail so you need to reduce your possibilities to a manageable number. Most students apply to between five and 10 schools. It would be reasonable first to reduce your field to 20 or so, then study these in more detail. A number of books and websites have short summaries of each law school's features. Some have grids that will allow you to assess your chances of admission. Others will list the many features of each program (for more information see the handout "Finding information about law schools"). You will surely look at numerical rankings of law schools but remember that these are very subjective. Even seemingly objective indicators like bar pass rates may not be helpful. For example, Brooklyn Law School has often had a higher bar exam pass rate than Harvard or Yale because it concentrates on New York State law while Ivy League schools may teach on a more national level. If you start early enough, you will be able to attend events on campus which will include one or more law school representatives. Talking to them directly will probably give you more information than most printed sources.
Step 4: Thoroughly examine your remaining possibilities. For each law school you are now considering, be sure to do at least the following: get their catalog and other printed materials, visit their website and look through newspaper and periodical indexes to see if any stories feature positive or negative information. This material will give you more detail to examine the factors you are most interested in. Also look at the faculty for each law school. Check their specialties and publications. If you have the time and money, try to visit as many of these schools as possible. During these visits you will want to speak to someone in the admissions office, sit in on a class or two, check out the library and speak with current students to discover what they like or dislike about the law school. You may also find out whether there are any Oswego alumni who are enrolled at or have graduated from these schools. Check the pre-law alumni website to find those we have listed. The alumni office or your professors may also be able to give you names. Most of our alumni would be delighted to get an email from you and answer questions.
Step 5: Put your applications together (see the handout on preparing an application for more detail). You want to include a safe school that you are certain to get into. This will ensure that you will have someplace to go. Also, getting that first acceptance assures that you will feel good, especially if you get one or more rejections from other schools. Also include a reach or two but keep it within reason. A student with a 3.0 GPA and slightly above average LSAT scores will simply be throwing away money by applying to Harvard. Since law schools charge an application fee you don't want to overdo it but apply to as many as a reasonable budget allows. If your family income is limited, ask law schools about the possibility of waiving the fee.
Step 6: Wait to hear from the schools you have applied to. This is the hardest step of all. If all goes well you will soon have another decision -- selecting one of the law schools that accepted you.