Pancakes and Professors: More Law School Rankings

As everyone knows, US News and World Report already dropped the Fat Man of rankings on us not so long ago, but just this week The Princeton Review (TPR) dropped their Little Boy as well. TPR does their own ranking system, and while it’s much less regarded than US News, there are some pretty interesting tidbits of delicious informational nuggets to be ripped from its moist flesh.

To be totally clear, this really is not a scientific study. It is, however, based on enough hard data and a large enough number of survey respondents to make it safe to assume that it’s not total poppycock, as the kids say. Unlike USNWR, TPR does a bunch of Top 10 Lists in many different categories. I don’t think anyone is surprised by BYU winning the Most Conservative Students race (or by the fact that 6 of the other winners are from the south), or that Yale tops the list of “Toughest To Get Into.” But there were some things that were a bit surprising.

First of all was “Best Professors.” You might think the “better” the school you go to (for most students, this means the highest USNWR ranked), the better teacher you get, but it looks like this isn’t true at all, at least according to this study. On top of the pile are Chicago and UVA, but Yale, Harvard, Columbia, and NYU are all absent from the list. Apparently they couldn’t measure up to Pepperdine (USNWR 55), Chapman (Tier 3), or Queens College (Tier 4). Also, for “Best Classroom Experience,” again we’re missing a lot of the über-prestigious schools. The only schools from the top 10 to make it are Stanford, UVA, Duke and Chicago. So maybe prestige doesn’t necessarily equal best education. But then again, if your classes are insanely hard, you might be getting an excellent education, but the fact that you’re constantly being schooled might lower your “classroom experience.”

The winners for “Best Quality of Life” seem to be based at least partly on geography. UVA is the winner, and I’m guessing this is mostly because of Charlottesville, which I hear is a cool town. Next is Stanford, and while Palo Alto is one of the most soul-crushing places in the world, the Bay Area in general is pretty darn excellent, if I do say so myself. Chapman made it third, which I find surprising, because I would rather live in a Siberian Gulag than Orange County (no offense to Siberian Gulags). But I guess if you’re into ostentatious cars and old women with fake boobies, there’s no place like the OC. Vanderbilt is also on the list, almost certainly because of Pancake Pantry on 21st Ave (they make pancakes with bacon and cheese cooked in the actual pancake – O.M.G. The USNWR top-tenners to make it on the list? Stanford, Northwestern, UVA, and NYU. Again, not so surprising that Greenwich Village has a high quality of life but Morningside Heights not so much. Or so I hear.

The list people might find most surprising is “Most Competitive Students.” You’d think that people fighting tooth and nail to be the best in their class would be at Yale, Harvard, and Stanford, right? Not even close. The most competitive students are at Baylor, ranked 65th by USNWR. The only other numerically ranked schools to even make the list are Hastings (competing for prestigious San Francisco jobs, I would think) and BYU (Workin’ for the Lord – I’m guessing a lot of Mormons turn down better schools to stay with the flock). But all the other schools are Tier 3 or 4.

One might think this sounds strange, but I really don’t think it is all that crazy. If you go to Yale, as long as you pass your classes, you can be at the bottom of the pile and you’re still looking pretty good, so the need to be all that you can be might be a bit less pressing. If, however, you go to Whittier College, you need to set yourself apart. Graduating last in your class from a Tier 4 school means waiting tables is a live option, especially in this economy. So there’s a bit more of a fire under your ass.

Another explanation is the transfer pool. I have students say all the time, “well, I’ll just go to a lower ranked school, get really good grades, then transfer to Harvard.” Nice idea, but there are a lot of people with that exact same idea. So while at your average Tier 4 school it might be the case that the majority of students are happy to cruise along and just graduate, there is a very significant chunk that are gunning to be the best so that they can transfer to a different school.

Anyway. Then comes “Toughest To Get Into.” If USNWR rankings were the only determinant for choosing where to go, we would expect a perfect correlation, I would think, and this is the list that does best match USNWR.
USNWR is:
Yale
Harvard
Stanford
Columbia
NYU
Berkeley
Chicago
Upenn
Michigan
Duke

While TPR ranks the hardest to get into as:
Yale
Harvard
Stanford
Berkeley
Columbia
Upenn
Northwestern
UVA
Chicago
Michigan

So it’s not a huge variance, but it’s not a perfect match, either. Berkeley and UVA are both a bit higher. But the strangest thing is the absence of NYU from the TPR list. Inferiority complex with Columbia, maybe? If you can’t get into CLS, then New York City is just out of the picture? I’m not sure.

But most importantly, of course, is what happens after law school. Are you going to the big firm or the unemployment office? The rankings for Best Career Prospects are as follows:
Northwestern
Upenn
Michigan
Chicago
Stanford
Boston University
Boston College
Harvard
NYU
Georgetown

Where the hell is Yale? And Columbia? And Berkeley? The shakeup here could be due to a number of things. A lot of people graduating from prestigious schools first get low-paying clerkships, and this might be driving down career prospects. This also might be based on how quickly you can get a job, and not on how good that job is. I’d like to see the methodology behind this, because Yale being absent just seems dead wrong. Funny thing is, check out Vault’s list of top law schools, which is ranked “on which law schools best prepare their graduates to achieve in the firm environment.” Yale is 10th, Columbia is 7th, and Berkeley is 8th. So maybe TPR is onto something here. Perhaps at Yale you get oodles of theory, but not the best “job training.” Even if this is the case, which I’m still not sure of, I don’t think it would really be a detriment. If you go to Yale, you’ve got the best shot at the super high level jobs, and if you’re smart enough to get into Yale, you’re smart enough to figure that shit out as you go.

So what do all these rankings mean? You can use them as a starting point for further research, but, like advice from a naturopath, take everything with a grain of salt. These were all done as voluntary surveys, and that might explain some of the strange numbers. If you go to Yale, you might not have the time to fill out a stupid survey for a test prep company. You also probably don’t feel the need to defend your school as a good one; it’s f*****g Yale. Conversely, if you’re attending a Tier 4 school, you might be a lot more likely to plug it, either to inform the masses that it’s not as bad as they think, or to validate your choice. The point being, this isn’t scientific or necessarily true in all instances. So don’t base your choice on just a list that someone else put together, whether it be USNWR or TPR or anyone else. Base your choice on the pancakes. Go to Vanderbilt.

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