Choosing a law school: Go to the best school ... for youJul 26, 2001 Write an essay on this topic.
The Bottom Line Decide what characteristics are most important to you, and use this to guide your decision - not what US News & World Report has to say.
As I write this epinion, I am a mere month away from my first year of law school. And, like many ambitious and overachieving pre-law folks, I've done my fair share of research regarding schools, the application process, the right way to study, books I should be reading this summer, etc. "Obsessive, much?" you might ask. And I would respond with a hearty "YES!" But my research, aside from netting me a few pretty pennies on Epinions, has resulted in my selection of the best school for me .
The whole "My school is better than your school" attitude, and similar boasts
I'm currently working as a paralegal. It's pretty much a dead-end job. And when I'm not proofreading merger agreements or doing research on Lexis, I spend my time researching law schools. Perhaps it's just the sites I'm visiting (Vault.com's law school message boards are my favorite), but everyone seems to be trumpeting their school for its ranking. "Go to the best school you can get into," they advise. "You won't get a job if you're not in the top tier," they warn. "If you can't get into a top-25 school, it's not worth going at all," they foolishly assert. Reading these opinions was enough to send me into a downward spiral, questioning my academic merits and my sense of reason.
You see, I'm going to a second-tier school.
And I got accepted to 3 first-tier schools.
The method behind my madness
If I blindly followed what those Vault people advise, I would say that I'm shooting myself in the foot. But, really, I'm not. I know my school doesn't have a national reputation - yet. I know that I may not be a top recruit by the big firms, and that I'll have to compete with students at higher-ranked schools in my area. And yes, sometimes it gnaws at me that after going to a nationally-recognized, top-ranked school for undergrad, I'm not able to say the same for law school. But I am wait-listed at an Ivy League school, so I guess that counts for something :).
So, back to my dilemma. I'm accepted at 3 top-tier schools, waitlisted at another 2 top-tiers and an Ivy League. And I'm accepted at a second-tier school with a good local reputation and a program I really like. To many, it would seem like a no-brainer - I should go to the best school I can get into, regardless. But I visited that school after acceptance, and I just didn't like it there. I would be moving back to a city where I lived for 7 years - and I really didn't want to make that backwards step. Not to mention that I've been told by so many people that it's fiercely competitive. The same was true for the other 2 top-tiers. Having such a well-known reputation wasn't enough to propel me to move halfway across the country.
In making these decisions, I realized that I like where I live. I've been in this city 3 years already. My friends are here. Many networking contacts are here. I know many attorneys here. And I could really use these things to my advantage. I decided that I'd much rather stay in this city and have a leg up, than move blindly to another city and rely on the name of my school to open doors. This may be a foolish decision, but it's the only one I feel really comfortable about.
Nine out of ten attorneys agree...
I'm fortunate in that I work at a law firm right now. This means I get free legal advice whenever I need it :) Seriously, these attorneys have been a great help in assessing the positives and negatives with my law school choices. Some of them attended the school where I've enrolled. Others attended the schools where I was accepted. They've been able to give me unparalleled insight into the life of a student at their respective schools. Like I did, you should seek out attorneys from your potential schools. See what they have to say about the program. Was it competitive and nasty, but worth it? Was it competitive and nasty, and just plain miserable? Was it comfortable, yet challenging? Was their cooperation among students, or were there catfights in the study sessions? Decide which would be the most productive environment for you and let this guide your decision-making process.
Other things that mattered to me ...
Obviously, location proved to be very important. I want to work in this city. It only made sense that I try to attend a school in this city. So while my school may not have a national reputation, it is very well-received locally. And since I plan to stay here for a few years, I believe this will benefit me. Not only will I be able to lay more foundations for networking, but I'll have opportunities to intern/clerk for firms I'd potentially like to work for.
The atmosphere of the school itself was also very important. When I visited my school, I fell in love. I loved the facility. I loved the library. I loved that every freakin' desk in the place is wired for internet. I loved the faculty and the dean. And I loved what the student body had to say - that the school attempts to foster cooperation, rather than competition, and that students should be left to self-motivate. That's the kind of student I am, so it really impressed me. And in chatting with former grads at my firm, they've all agreed that's the way it really is.
One other thing that mattered to me? US News' rankings. No, not the national rankings that listed my school as second-tier. I mean the specialized rankings that list which schools are most reputable in certain specialties. My school was listed in the top 10 of my desired specialty. That was enough for me to sign the check and send it to the admissions office.
So - I'm attending my safety - by choice
I admit that when I applied, I included this school as a "safety" - traditionally, one you know you'll get into. But just because it's a safety doesn't mean it's not good, or even that I should forego it if a better school opens its doors to me. True, it was easier for me to get in, but in my not-so-humble-opinion, it's just as good a school academically, for my intended field, and it's got a strong local reputation to boot. I'm confident that in bypassing better-ranked schools hundreds of miles away, I'm still doing what's best for me.
So to all those pretentious people who shamelessly name-drop, I say that I am going to the best school. I'm going to the best school for me . Reputation is certainly important in the legal field, and I won't downplay the advantages of going to a top-ranked school. But I'm taking a gamble on this one. I've got a gut feeling this is the right place for me, and that I will thrive in this environment. And who knows - I may just be in competition with the top-tier students 3 years down the road :-)
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