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Albany vs. Buffalo: How to choose a site for the NY bar exam

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New York

Should you take the bar exam in Albany or in Buffalo? The answer to this question depends on a number of factors. Because costs for ride-share companies and meals do not differ substantially from one location to another, we will focus here on the differences in travel, housing, and testing rooms each in turn below. 

Examinees taking the bar exam in New York initially have a number of testing locations from which to choose. This includes the Javits Center in New York City, Albany, Buffalo, Saratoga, and White Plains. The Javits Center is generally reserved for individuals who attended law school in the state of New York. The majority of individuals who attend law school outside of the state of New York generally choose between Albany or Buffalo, with Saratoga and White Plains serving as additional options if those seats are already filled.

Train or plane?

In travelling to a testing location, the majority of examinees have the option between taking a train or taking a flight. Some examinees choose to drive to their location; however, that is only a small percentage who have this option even available to them.

If departing from one of the five boroughs of New York (or eastern parts of New Jersey) to get to Albany, the better method of transportation is an Amtrak train. The average cost of a round-trip ticket (coach or business class) is less than $100. Trains depart from Penn Station, so public transportation allows you to cut out the extra travel time needed when travelling to an airport. An added bonus is that you don’t have to deal with security checkpoints nor gate changes. Amtrak departures are exceptionally punctual, so when the respective train is called, passengers simply line up, select a comfortable seat, and get on their way. Because you’ll be travelling in the opposite direction from those heading into the Manhattan for work, trains are less full, allowing passengers to travel with much less stress and likely without a noisy seat neighbor. As there are fewer than 7 stops along the journey filled with nature views, you’ll arrive to your destination in Albany-Rensselaer after approximately 2 hours of travel.

To get to Buffalo, on the other hand, is another story. Your most likely option is hopping on a flight unless you’d rather opt for an 8-hour train ride. The average cost of a round-trip ticket is more than $300.  Let’s keep it real here. No one truly enjoys the idea or even the reality of hurrying to an airport in an overpriced uber or taxi just to arrive 2+ hours before takeoff to then go through irritating security checkpoints, lengthy wait lines, and unnecessary gate changes. And who could forget to mention the prolonged boarding times, inadequate overhead bin spaces, uncomfortable seats, middle seats, shared armrests, polluted air on a germ-infested capsule, popping ears, clouded views, coughing passengers, crying babies, and worst of them all – misbehaving children. And after your 2-hour flight, you have to go through a drawn-out deboarding process. In deciding between taking a train or a plane, just preserve what little is left of your sanity and choose the less stressful mode of transportation.

Hotel or Airbnb?

In choosing between a hotel or Airbnb in Albany or Buffalo, the answer really depends on how early you are booking your stay.

In both Albany and Buffalo, the 1 or 2 hotels nearest each testing center will likely be pre-booked by large law firms for their incoming associates. However, other nearby and reasonably-priced hotels will have plenty of rooms still available if you place a reservation up to 2 months in advance. If you decide to book a hotel up to 2 months in advance, bear in mind that the bar examiners will have not yet informed you of your testing location.

Therefore, it may benefit you to reserve a hotel in both Albany and Buffalo and later cancel the hotel that is not located near your designated testing center. Most hotels don’t require full payment (or any payment at all) until you check-in. Many will also issue a full refund if the reservation is cancelled prior to a specific date. Hotel and travel booking websites have different policies when it comes to payments and cancellations, so ask questions, double check and confirm reservations, and read the fine print.

If you decide to go with an Airbnb, consider whether you are OK with roommates or whether you prefer an entire unit to yourself. Also think about whether you prefer to be within walking distance to the test site or are OK commuting in a taxi or ride-share at an hour which might bump against the morning rush-hour traffic. Locations that are within walking distance will cost you more, but you will ultimately gain the convenience. Additionally, consider whether the Airbnb will afford you any hotel-like amenities, for example, breakfast included at no additional cost, restaurants on location, room service, office/study space, and gym, to name a few.

In whichever decision you choose, choose a place that will allow you to feel most at ease and most comfortable. What works for other bar examinees may not necessarily work the same for you.

Big or small testing room?

The noise levels from the clacking of fingers on a laptop keyboard aggressively documenting responses to the Multistate Performance Tests (MPTs) and Multistate Essay Exams (MEEs) on testing day 1 holds steady, so there are few, if any real differences between this sound in the Albany and Buffalo testing rooms for laptop candidates. For those who will need to use the restroom during the exam (whether due to mother nature or otherwise), note that the women’s restroom in Albany is strategically placed as far away from the testing room as humanly possible, while the men’s restroom is conveniently located immediately outside the testing room of laptop candidates. To this, all women say a hearty “How nice…”

The biggest difference between the testing environment in Albany and that of Buffalo is the seating arrangement. In Albany, the testing room where laptop candidates are placed is situated in the style of a stadium, so there are multiple levels in one room. Each table seats two examinees. For some examinees, this can present a number of distractions. For example, a few examinees who had been placed on a lower level complained of other examinees restlessly slamming their foot on the ground, contributing to an already noisy room.

In Buffalo, the testing rooms for laptop candidates are one level, meaning that, in the respective rooms, examinees are not situated above and/or below where other examinees are seated. Each table seats approximately 5-6 students, and if there is enough luck on the examinee’s side, another examinee will not aggressively shake the table on MBE day. For the most part, choosing a testing location is a very individualized decision, so focus on your own bar exam needs.

Use these tips to help put you on the right track. You can do it. Good luck!

Heather Bowen Heather Bowen is an intellectual property and licensing counsel in New York. She has protected intellectual property and licensing portfolios, negotiated and reviewed domestic licensing agreements, and strategically counseled internal legal, finance, sales, and marketing teams. She has continued to stay abreast of developments in intellectual property law through publications as well as her effective leadership and involvement in committees of the American Bar Association, the Hispanic National Bar Association, the International Trademark Association, and the New York Intellectual Property Law Association.