Selecting where you are going to spend the next three years of your life (at least) is a stressful and important decision. I remember when I was trying to decide which school I would attend I kept going back to three factors: the quality of the school, the financial situation I would be in, and the geographic location of the school. I think for most people the ultimate decision comes down to some combination of these factors.
For everyone who is thinking about where to attend law school, do your research before you make your decision. When you make the decision to attend law school you do so with one real goal: employment. So make an effort to look into the employment statistics of every school you’ve been accepted to. When I was looking at BC’s I realized that the employment rate was much stronger than comparable schools, and even some higher ranked schools that I had been accepted into. It’s also important to look at what types of jobs students go into. Are they large firms, or public interest? Look at whether most students end up in positions that are in-line with your ultimate goals or vastly different. You’ll be able to gain some perspective by comparing three or more schools. Also pay attention to which cities students end up working in. I visited one school in Virginia which touted it’s connections to DC, but actually ended up placing more people in southern states. If you really want to get into it, you can also look at state bar statistics, and see which schools have more students take the bar in the state you’d ultimately work in. This may be an indicator of how regionally connected a particular school is, and whether or not there will be a strong alumni network in the region. Also, make sure that the bar passage rate is respectable for the schools you consider, as you’d be shocked at the rates at some lower ranked schools. Bar passage rates will also tell you something about the quality of classmates you’ll find at different institutions.
You should also think about whether you’ll be able to accomplish your goals for your time in law school. If you have any idea of a practice area or areas you are interested in, look at the courses, clinics, and journals offered by the different schools you are considering. If you want to go into international law, for example, it may not be a good idea to attend a school where there are only two or three relevant courses. You should also think about what kinds of resources are offered by the city you’ll be living in. In a city like Boston, it is easy for BU and BC to have a cross registration agreement. We also do job fairs with area law schools and are able to attend lectures and other events on the many college campuses in the area. In addition, cities like Boston, New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco offer many summer and semester internship opportunities and summer associate positions, which may be more difficult to take part in if you are studying in a city or town that is not a regional hub.
Also look into whether you think you’ll be satisfied socially at the law school you attend. This may seem like a silly thing to take into account when choosing a law school, but there may be some tough stretches through your three years of school, and it is important to go somewhere where you’ll have a supportive community. When I was looking at schools I tried to talk to current students when possible to see how they had acclimated to the school, and I also checked out student groups and online calendars to see what sort of extracurricular and social opportunities there were at the school. I knew if I attended a friendly, community oriented law school that not only would I be happier during my three years in law school, but that the alumni network would likely be more connected and eager to help current students.
Finally, there’s the financial piece. Weighing your scholarship offers is a difficult, personal decision. But is also one that you shouldn’t do alone. Play out the different scenarios with your parents, or with a financial aid counselor, career advisor, or academic advisor at your undergraduate institution. Know that if you are offered a full ride at a much lower ranked institution that it will probably also be more difficult to find a job. Think about whether you are interested in the public sector or the private sector, and play out whether you’d be comfortable living on less and repaying loans if you’re more interested in public service. Talk to your parents about whether they expect you to completely support yourself, or if they would be willing to help you to any degree.
When I was making my decision I ended up choosing my middle ranked school (BC), in a city I loved, where I knew I could pursue the courses and internships I was interested in, instead of taking more money for a lower ranked school or less money for a higher ranked school. Almost three years later I couldn’t be happier with my decision. Ultimately, only you can make the decision about which law school is the best fit for you and your goals, but before you make that choice, take the time to do your research, talk to parents or mentors, and carefully think through what you hope to get out of your law school experience.
I am a 3L here at BC Law, as well as being in my final year of a Masters in Higher Education. If you are thinking about coming by BC for a tour you’ll probably see me at my job in the Admissions Office. I’ll be posting every week about an aspect of life as a student at BC Law. If you have any questions comment here and I’ll answer for everyone!