Deciding which law schools to apply to is an important and complicated decision. Unfortunately, some people let their decision making process be dominated by one or two factors, such as ranking or location, when there are many other important things to be considered. The ultimate goal should be to apply to law schools that will be the right fit for you based on multiple factors that will ultimately contribute to your success.
Let’s look at some strategies to approach this decision and factors you should consider as you decide which law schools might be the right fit for you…
The first cut: General indicators
GPA and LSAT is a good place to start in narrowing your list as these are some of the clearest indicators of credentials common for prior successful applicants. Your GPA and LSAT scores will help you decide which schools are reasonably likely to take a close look at your application. Medians are reported in the annual ABA 509 reports for each school and can always be found on the law school websites.
TIP: There is no secret formula here. Being at or above the median doesn’t mean automatic acceptance and being below it doesn’t mean automatic rejection. However, comparing your LSAT score and GPA against reported medians can help you determine if your application has a reasonable chance of success, understanding that the closer to at or above medians you are – the more attractive application you will be.
Once you have a list of possible schools, think about the factors that are most important to you. What do you want from a legal education? Here are some factors to consider:
- School Size. Law school class sizes can vary from around 100 to 400 +. Do you thrive in larger or smaller environments? Do you prefer smaller classes or larger ones? What type of school community do you think you would enjoy? Does having greater access for one-on-one experiences with your professors, administrators, and other resources appeal to you?
- Location. Geography can be important. Where would you like to be while in school, and where would you like to end up after graduation? Is being near family important, what impact does location have on living expenses? Schools with greater national reputations will traditionally have greater success in placing students at a wider-range of locations. If you know where you would like to live following law school – perhaps schools more regionally located will position you well for success.
- Scholarships and Financial Aid. Law school is expensive and affordability is an important factor to consider not only during law school but for your financial future. Research a school’s scholarship history, keeping in mind that most schools are awarding the majority of scholarships based on LSAT and GPA (merit based). Also consider what type of earning potential a degree from a school would offer you – what are the median starting salaries for recent grads.
- Career Goals. Do you know what type of career you would like to have – public interest, big law, government? Schools report very helpful details about post-graduation employment for their law graduates. Research and ask questions to learn more about how schools have supported prior graduates – keeping in mind questions about geographic placements as well.
- Academics. Look for schools that have the right academic fit for you and your interests. Some school’s approach law study from a more traditional viewpoint, while others may place more emphasis on practical learning opportunities – most law schools will have a balanced curriculum between the two. Consider all types of academic opportunities that you might be interested in such as legal clinics, moot court and trial advocacy programs, study abroad, class structure, multi-disciplinary classes, and internships or externships can all be important parts of your legal education.
TIP: Do you know what type of law you are interested in? While your interests may change as you move thru your legal education, if you are starting law school with a strong area of interest – be sure your schools of choice has academic courses and programs that can help prepare you for this area of law.
- Reputation. Law school rankings may be relevant in the legal world, but they are not everything. There can be advantages to attending the highest ranked law school that you can, but not if it is at the expense of other factors, such as those discussed above. What you want is the school where you can be most successful.
Do your research!
Once you have decided on the most important qualities of a law school for you – it is time to research to determine if a school is a good fit. Fortunately there is lots of information available to help you decide where to send your applications. Do your research and really get to know the school you are interested in before applying. Here are some recommendations on resources for your research:
ABA 509 Reports
These annual reports, submitted by each accredited law school, give you lots of information about the admissions process. Things like the number of applications received, percentage admitted, and median LSAT and GPAs of admitted students are included in the reports, along with tuition and scholarships and aid. Another set of reports will tell you about bar passage rates, where graduates were placed geographically, and what kinds of jobs the accepted. Information is reported to the ABA each year, stay tuned for 2021 data which has been reported and will be available soon.
The Law School Admission Council website has a wealth of information about choosing law schools. They cover everything from finding schools to evaluating them and financing your education.
TIP: The Official Guide to Law Schools data search allows you to search geographically or with your GPA/LSAT data comparing your credentials to school medians. This a great database for doing some early identification of potential schools.
Law schools websites
Once a school is on your radar be sure to check out their website. The admissions pages will have a trove of information about what the school is looking for in applicants, along with profile information about the school and its programs. Other parts of the website can be very informative about faculty, academic programs, and student life at that law school.
US News and World Reports and OthER Rankings
Us News and World Reports ranks colleges and universities, along with undergraduate and graduate programs. Their law school rankings should NOT be considered the authority on what is a “good” law school. However, US News, and organizations like it, compile helpful information on many different aspects of law programs which are easily searchable, assisting greatly in finding many data points about a school giving you more information to aid in evaluating a school from many different contexts.
Organization is Key!
As you begin compiling a list of schools and researching you will need a place to store and manage this information. You will need to be able to compare and contrast various information about the schools, including deadlines and other factors. Keep in mind you will refer to this information not only prior to applying, but once you move into your ultimate decision making process following acceptance. Here is an example* of how that information might be organized:
*Data is for example purposes only, please check current law school websites for current 2021 data and information.
Perspectives from our Graduate Assistant
We spoke to our GA, Courtney Koenig, currently a 3L student at the University of Illinois College of Law, about what the law school application process was like for her. Here are her thoughts on three specific application issues:
Location: “At this particular stage, I was focused on where the school was located for assessing whether I wanted to live in that region for the next three years. I looked at job placement location at a later stage, once I had offers of admission.”
Credentials: “I looked at schools where I thought I would be a competitive candidate. Schools where my LSAT and GPA were close to the medians. I did have target, safety, and aspirational schools.”
Financial Consideration: “I looked at the price of schools and compared that to the cost of living/cost of attendance (COA) for where the school was located. I also considered what scholarships would be available and if I would be competitive for them. “
Applying to law school is a complicated process with many decisions to make. The most important thing is that you identify schools that will do the most to help you succeed. Careful consideration of the factors that are important to you, combined with careful research about potential schools, will help you make the right application decisions.
Remember, we are here to help! You can schedule an advising appointment with a Pre-Law Advisor. There are two types of appointments:
- Pre-Law Advising
- Document Review (Personal Statement, Resume, and Addendums)
Schedule online at: https://go.oncehub.com/PreLawAdvisingatIllinois