At this point in the year, as you’re practically blowing your nose and wiping your bum with an unmanageable mountain of law school acceptance letters (*fingers crossed*), you enter the hardest part of the application journey: deciding where to go.
For most people, the primary factors to consider are — in precisely this order — cash, money, guap, and cheeze. Whether in the form of scholarships, grants, or financial aid, it’s imperative that you consider where your school choice will land you financially in three years. That’s truer now than ever before, because graduate school debt, and law school debt in particular, has drastically increased in the last few years without a commensurate rise in payment or employment prospects. In fact, since 2008, many firms have actually scaled back their hiring, and some schools have responded with shady-at-best practices to obfuscate their blighted placement records. (For more resources on school legitimacy, check out Law School Transparency).
Now, money matters more or less for different folks depending on their filial wealth, their age, their fiscal obligations, their willingness to endure BigLaw, and which law schools they’re looking at. It’s important to note that it is usually NOT wise to select a second or third tier law school over a first tier school, simply because they offer you their McName Scholarship. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to compare schools that offer similar employment prospects, and see which of those will invoke the most, and least, debt. Protip: if you get an offer, shop around with your award. Many applicants have saved themselves tens thousands of dollars simply because they were adroit in making law schools bid for them a little bit. If you’re offered $20,000 a year at Georgetown, you’d better make sure UCLA is offering you the same.
In my view, these mundane but practical concerns about finances and employment prospects take priority over other factors that are, no doubt, important in their own right. These include, for example, “fit” — I’d highly recommend going out to an Admitted Students Weekend and seeing not only the campus but the surrounding area before making a decision. Other factors, indiscernible in a weekend jaunt, are also critical: Harvard’s not a bad school, but do you know how much snow they got this year? Have you ever smelled NYU’s campus on a hot August day? Do you wear a wig? Perhaps University of the Windy City isn’t right for you.
You’ll also want to look into what clinics and journals your prospective schools offer. If you have a particular niche interest, will this or that school be able to accommodate your passion? Additionally, when looking outside of the ~T25 (which, for the most part, places graduates throughout the nation), it’s important to consider which regional market you’re lining yourself up for. Chapman University may be a good move if you’re hoping to work in sunny California, but you may be met with blank stares if you want to move to New York City after law school.
Ultimately, your goal should be to get the very most out of law school, while law school gets the least out of you. Take a sober look at your finances, do copious research, and visit as much as you can. Godspeed.