We all know there’s a lot to think about when pulling together your law school applications. But how do you even narrow the options and choose where to apply to law school? How do you know which schools may meet your needs and which ones you should probably avoid considering. Here at Law School Solutions, we want to help you learn how to decide where to apply to law school.
Before we get much further, I want to introduce myself to help ease some of those fears of trusting different sources on the internet. As helpful as online sites can be, there are still sources touting unreliable information. Yuck! I want you to know that I’ve got your back with this law school thing.
My name is Hannah Hammersmith, and I’m the Chief Law School Strategist here at Law School Solutions. As a graduate of UCLA School of Law and a litigator with the State of California, I understand the whole law school process. I know what it’s like to apply, get in, do all the hard work, study for the bar, and become a practicing attorney. The lawyer life isn’t easy – let me tell you! But it’s rewarding.
The feelings of accomplishment during each step of the process have been amazing. I want to help others who are interested in law be able to have similar experiences. I’m here to help you determine where to apply to law school and then put together your best possible application.
As someone who’s done this personally and then helped other applicants do the same, it’s a joy to share my best tips with you. So, here’s to helping you decide where to apply to law school.
Let’s do this thing!
Evaluate Yourself – Do a Comprehensive Overview
When determining where to apply to law school, most students’ first reaction is to start thinking about individual schools. They may look at a list of top law schools or do quick Google searches for law school websites. Don’t do this first. You may have already done a little of that, and that’s okay. But before you do further evaluation of potential schools, I want you to become a little more introspective.
Think about who you are a person. What do you care about? What do you bring to the table? Ponder this for a bit, and make some notes.
Next think about the kind of law you’re interested in practicing. Know your why. This is a big one. When you know your why, you’re able to make more rational decisions that aren’t so reliant on the opinions and expectations of others. It also helps you think more about what you need individually even if it seems contrary to what others may choose to do for law school.
Take inventory of what you’ll be able to answer for the various parts of the application. What’s your GPA? What’s your LSAT score (or projected LSAT score if you need to retake it)? Do you have valuable experiences to list on your resume? How about people who can write strong recommendation letters?
Knowing these key pieces of information will make it easier when you start evaluating where you should apply to law school.
Do a Brief Evaluation of all Law Schools
After you’ve done your own personal evaluation of yourself, it is time to start a brief evaluation of law schools. This can be a fun part of the potential law school selection process for those who like lists. I kind of love lists, so I find it fun to look through lists of top law schools like the lists published by U.S. News & World Report. I say this, but I also want to clarify that there is so much more to a law school than their ranking.
Lists are a great starting point so you can begin thinking about the options out there, but they should never be the ending point.
Look at the law schools where your LSAT score and GPA seem comparable to the scores they accept. If you’ve been around our blog for any period of time, you’ll learn that law school acceptance isn’t only dependent on those two scores. However, I want you to be realistic when you choose where to apply to law school.
The numbers to notice when looking at those big lists are 25th percentile LSAT score, 50th percentile LSAT score, and 75th percentile LSAT score. These are all numbers that were submitted by law schools based on recently enrolled students.
Here’s how this whole percentile business works: If the LSAT score is listed as the 25th percentile, it means 75 percent of enrolled students had higher scores than that score. The other 25 percent had scores equal or below this score.
As a rule of thumb, if your LSAT score falls in the 25th percentile, it’s probably a stretch school. If it’s at the 50th percentile, it’s likely a good target school. I recommend applying to several law schools where your LSAT score is within their 50th percentile. If your score falls in the 75th percentile, you can probably consider it a safety school. While there are no guarantees of any of this (remember your whole application is being considered, not just your scores!), this can help give you a baseline for how to start evaluating law schools.
Make Many Lists as You Decide Where to Apply to Law School
By now you’ve evaluated yourself by thinking about your goals, what you bring to the table, and those very important scores. You’ve also started to evaluate some of the potential law schools out there. As you move onto the next phases of this law school choosing process, keep several lists. Do whatever you need to do to get all those swirling thoughts onto paper and out of your head.
Here’s the deal: when we just keep our thoughts inside our heads without processing through them, we may fail to look at potential schools from all necessary angles. When you create lists and sort of “mind map” your way toward decisions, you’re probably going to make more strategic decisions. At least that’s what I’ve found by working with other future lawyers.
On your list, identify your top choices right off the bat, even if they are stretch schools. Write down law schools you think are good target schools. Then identify a few safety schools.
Next we’re going to start thinking a little more outside the box. We’ll get real about the things that actually matter to you as you’re selecting the law schools where you’ll apply.
Each applicant is very different. Your reasons for the choices you make may be different. There’s no right or wrong reason for selecting a law school, but it’s important for you to recognize why you make the choices you do. This makes it far easier when it comes time to actually enroll. As with anything in life, when you know your why, it spurs you on. You’ve got this!
4 Areas to Consider as You Decide Where to Apply to Law School
1. Prestige of Law School
I list prestige of law school first – not because I think it’s most important, but because it’s something that can trip a lot of people up. As a dreamer, I completely relate to those who dream their whole lives about going to the most prestigious law school possible. I understand the appeal of being able to say you have a “Harvard law degree.” I mean, it feels pretty good to have a top-notch education under your belt. It matters for future job prospects if you have a degree that’s considered to be worth a lot.
When looking into law schools, it’s important to evaluate early on just how important the prestige of law school matters to you. For some, it means everything. But for others, it’s not that big of a deal.
When thinking about prestige, there’s no right or wrong answer. Just be sure you know how important it is for you to attend a prestigious law school. Does it matter more than being debt free or having a lower debt load? Does it matter more than being closer to where you actually want to practice law? Think about these things.
Location matters for a number of reasons. Do you like the location of the prospective law school? Is it near where you want to practice law? Will it be convenient to get there or will you have to incur a lot of expenses just to get back and forth from law school each semester?
If you have your heart set on practicing law in a specific area of the country, look into law schools in that area. Begin researching which schools in the area offer scholarships. While some law schools might not be as prestigious as others, they could offer great scholarships. Plus, their law program may be well respected in the area. By doing location-specific research, you may discover law schools you wouldn’t have otherwise considered.
If you were going to date someone, you’d probably make sure you were compatible first, right? This should also be true when you’re choosing the place you’re going to spend the next three years of your life! Compatibility matters, my friend.
When thinking about compatibility, consider these things: how you feel about the school and whether you fit in with the culture (or even like the culture – some law schools are more cut-throat and competitive in nature, so know how you feel about that!). Also consider whether the rigor of the school seems to meet your needs. Does it have the offerings you’re looking for?
If you are able to go for a visit, do this! This is one of the best ways to see if a school is compatible. Talk with current students and professors if you’re able to meet them. Observe the overall law school vibe. Do you feel like you could jive there?
If an actual visit to the law school isn’t possible, find out everything you can virtually. There are hundreds of blogs out there with information about law schools of every sort. Do lots of Google searches. If you know of someone who has attended, contact that person to ask questions. Also don’t underestimate the information you can find through forums and Facebook groups. You can tell a lot about compatibility when you read what others write about the school.
A word of advice about compatibility: if a school doesn’t feel right to you, this could be red flag. Just because it is prestigious and seems to be right for others doesn’t necessarily mean it is right for you. Go with your gut here.
4. Bills – Do you want to be drowning in debt? Yikes!
I saved this one for last for a few reasons. I think it’s important for law school applicants to determine what they desire and what fits before focusing only on cost. That way they know what they’re looking for. Secondly, cost matters (a lot!) so I wanted to end by reminding you of this fact.
Debt isn’t fun, but it’s usually a necessary evil of life. While there are some people who don’t need to go into debt for big purchases, most people need to take out some debt so they can then be equipped to go after what they’re pursing. Needs must be met on the front-end somehow. Whether that debt is for student loans or a vehicle, it’s an investment in your future.
As you think about where to apply to law school, determine how much it would cost to attend various schools without any sort of grants or scholarships. Add in all of your other living expenses, like housing, food, transportation, books, suits, etc. Then think about how much you’d have to take out in student loans if you chose that school.
If there are safety schools on your list, look into their scholarship programs! Far too often applicants are so focused on their stretch schools that they completely miss the fact they could go to law school for free or nearly free at a safety school. Consider all of these options.
For a guide on what to consider when you count the cost of law school check out: The Real Cost of Law School.
Consider Your Options as You Decide Where to Apply for Law School
Once you’ve done your homework with all of the above steps, it’s time to start more carefully considering your options. I wish I could give you a specific formula for exactly how to decide where to apply for law school, but I can’t. It’s not that simple.
There are many things to keep in mind as you choose law schools – location, prestige, fit, and cost. You may even have some favorite schools.
But here’s what I’m going to suggest at this point:
The following isn’t exactly a formula, but it’s something to help you narrow your focus just a bit.
1) Look at the location where you ultimately want to practice law. Write down the law schools in the area. Are they schools in your target score range? If so, this is good. If not, write down a few schools near that location that fit with your scores.
2) Find a few safety schools with good scholarship programs in your desired location. Write those down.
3) Are there any dream schools? If they are top-tier schools, do you think your scores have a shot at acceptance? If they’re a stretch but you still would like to try, write them down.
I hope thinking through these additional questions helps you see this decision from a broader perspective.
I hope this article on how to decide where to apply for law school was helpful for you. It’s really important to think through multiple scenarios as you decide where you want to apply. There’s a lot that goes into the admissions process, and you want to be sure you’re submitting an application to a place you could actually see yourself attending. There are big cost-benefit evaluations that need to be done. At the end of the day, only you know how much your law degree is worth to you.
For more guidance as you seek the law school path, download one of our free resources to help with your resume or personal statement. You’ll be glad you did!