Yuko Sin is an instructor and blogger for Blueprint LSAT Prep. He is starting at Columbia Law School this fall, and will be writing a series of law school-related posts about his experiences. Here’s part one.
Believe it or not, some people will choose a law school based purely on the school’s place in the US News Rankings. Some think they’re being more clever by using the “Specialty Rankings.” Still others are attracted to such fringe benefits as having to swear off sex and booze – I’m looking at you BYU applicants.
For me, choosing a law school was all about cost of attendance versus job placement. I found that indeed, Puffy Daddy was right, it is all about the Benjamins.
Cost of Attendance
Calculating costs of attendance is like leg day at the gym: painful but necessary.
Your cost of attendance is the total amount of money you’ll need to shell out for three years of law school, including tuition, fees, and living costs. The amateur mistake is to leave out annual increases in tuition, interest on loans, and living expenses during the summer months.
Of course, your final cost of attendance will depend on any scholarships or financial aid you receive. However, law school scholarship offers are notoriously difficult to predict. Two schools with equivalent selectivity might give you wildly different scholarship offers, as in zero compared to full.
All of this makes cost of attendance extremely individual. Such huge swings in costs make law school rankings about as useful as nipples on a bicycle.
Figuring out what differences there are between your schools in terms of job placement is a bit more straightforward.
I used the average of several years worth of large law firm hiring plus federal clerkship placement numbers as an estimate of a school’s employment strength. This isn’t a perfect approach, for example it makes Yale look like a middling top-14 school, but if you just keep Yale off to the side, it works pretty well for the rest.
As my scholarship offers came in, I started to negotiate. I was well prepared. I watched Pawn Stars. All day. “I’m sorry Dean, but the market for law schools isn’t what it used to be. The best I can do is…”
Once all the offers were settled I narrowed my choice down to two schools: Columbia and a school just outside the top 14. I had several attractive offers in between, but I liked these two the most. I got lucky, and the two schools gave me much better offers than any of their immediate peers.
Columbia offered a significant discount and as-good-as-it-gets job prospects. However, the other school countered with a full scholarship, a much lower cost of living, and pretty-good job prospects.
In the end, I went with Columbia because I thought the better job prospects were worth it.