There are a lot of factors that play into choosing a law school. With nearly 200 institutions and programs accredited and approved by the American Bar Association, it can be hard to know where to start your search. Oftentimes, this leads prospective students to scour the various rankings and lists; however these only begin to scratch the surface.
When choosing a law school, students need to not only consider what their experience will be during their two to three years in the program, but also how their institution will support their future career goals.
The typical factors many students look into include faculty, full-time and part-time opportunities, cost, academic programs, size, career support, job placement, and bar preparations; however, here are four other factors, that should be at the top of your list when making a decision.
Law school is rigorous but not every institution fosters a cut-throat mentality. Because most of your education experience will require interacting with fellow students and instructors, it is important to choose a school that has a good culture. This includes an environment that you feel comfortable in and are provided an opportunity to grow.
Evaluating culture through websites and ranking lists is difficult, and COVID has further complicated this; however, there are still ways to get insight into an institution’s culture.
First, pick up the phone and call the admissions office. Your law school experience begins when you are applying and does not end until after graduation. These conversations can help you see how much support you will get throughout the process.
In addition, ask if the admissions office can connect you with a current student or allow you to sit in on a virtual lecture. This provides you real-time insight into whether you can see yourself interacting and engaging with these individuals. Even more so, joining a lecture helps show whether the law school offers a collaborative, interactive environment or whether students are competing.
Whether a school is cooperative or competitive is often determined by its type of grading system. Law schools that use a forced curve tend to foster a more deeply competitive, cut-throat environment as everyone is vying for the top half of the curve; whereas a law school that grades based on individual merit provides every student who puts in the work the opportunity to succeed.
Although some law schools are still operating remotely, the institution’s location should play a role in the decision-making process. However, when prospective students think of location, their first thought is often the cost of living. While that should be taken into consideration, location’s impact extends beyond that and even outside just your years at the institution.
When considering location, you should look at where you want to be long-term—including what type of law you want to practice. This is important to consider as where you choose to study will impact your access to different firms and courts.
In addition, the professors and alumni relationships in the community can help you network during your education and open the door for potential job opportunities after graduation.
3. Externship opportunities
Similar to location, it is important to look at the opportunities and accessibility to externships. Externships can be an invaluable part of the law school process, allowing you the opportunity to work with real world issues and clients. But not all law schools offer the same opportunities.
When applying, ask admissions what types of externships are available—some provide access to private law firms, while others can only offer externships with public agencies and service organizations. Depending on the type of law you want to practice, this can make a difference.
It is important to evaluate diversity when entering an educational space. Many colleges and universities value diversity among their students to enhance critical thinking by student’s different worldviews. Ask about the student body at the law school and the diversity in age, gender, race, etc. Don’t just look at the most recent class, but look at the history of the law school to get a better perspective on its diversity. In addition, some schools offer diversity scholarships.
Overall, the experience you have in law school will shape your career and it is imperative that you find the best law school to suit your professional and personal goals.