Evaluating Law Schools
Applicants sometimes select schools they view as “prestigious” or those that offer a particular program of study or the most financial support. Some applicants may need to stay in a particular geographic area because of family or job obligations. There are many factors to consider in order to find the right law school. The school may be public or private, large or small, faith-related or not, stand-alone or university-affiliated. The choice of the “right” law school is subjective. Examine your own needs and find schools that match up.
The first year of classes is similar, but not identical, at all law schools. Almost every school offers a core curriculum of civil procedure, criminal law, contracts, legal research and writing, legal methods, torts, constitutional law, and property, though not necessarily all during the first year. At some law schools, required courses comprise only a small part of the JD curriculum; at other law schools, required courses and other experiences take up more of the curriculum. Generally speaking, however, you will have the opportunity to take a variety of electives during your second and third years of law school. Don’t assume a school has a program to suit your particular interests; individual school websites can tell you more about that. Many beginning students don’t have a specific direction in mind, so just make sure the school offers a wide range of electives, or the type of electives that interest you.
Consider the size, composition, and background of the student body as well as the location, size, and nature of the surrounding community. Remember that the law school is going to be your home for three years (or more, if you choose a part-time program). What kind of environment will you thrive in? Also, learn about the faculty; school websites will tell you about individual professors’ backgrounds and expertise. Other areas to consider are:
- Overall size of school
- Average class size
- Demographics of the student body
- The library and other physical facilities
- Availability of part-time or evening programs
- Joint-degree programs, LLM programs, other special-degree programs
- Clinical programs
- Moot court competitions
- Student law journals
- Academic support programs
- Student organizations
- Career services and employment
- Honor societies such as Order of the Coif
Diversity and Inclusion
You may wish to consider a school with a strong commitment to diversity recruitment, retention, and mentoring. A faculty and student body with diverse backgrounds, points of view, and experiences enriches the legal education of all students, broadens your point of view, and prepares you for the variety of clients you will encounter when you enter the profession.
When researching law schools, consider contacting student organizations (or faculty members) that represent your racial/ethnic background or other aspects of your identity. For example, many schools have Asian, Black, Hispanic, and Native American law student associations, or associations based on religious affiliations. More information about LGBTQ+ organizations and faculty at ABA-approved law schools is available in LSAC’s LGBTQ+ Guide to Law Schools. Through the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, you can access an online directory that lists disability resources and student organizations at each ABA-approved law school.
The single best source of information about financing a legal education is the financial aid office (or the website) of any LSAC-member law school. Tuition at law school can range from a few thousand dollars to more than $50,000 a year. Adding in the cost of housing, food, books, transportation, and other personal expenses, the total cost for the degree could exceed $150,000. Most students rely on educational loans and think of this debt as an investment in their future. It is important that you have a financial strategy from the outset that includes thinking about your budget while attending law school, repayment options when you graduate, and expected future income. The law school is your best guide as you navigate this process. Daunting as the numbers seem, they should not deter you from your dream of becoming a lawyer. Planning is key.
When selecting law schools to which you will apply, the general philosophy is that you should have a threefold plan: dream a little, be realistic, and be safe. Most applicants have no trouble selecting dream schools — those that are almost, but not quite, beyond their grasp — or safe schools — those for which admission is virtually certain. A common strategic error made by applicants is failure to evaluate realistically their chances for admission to a particular law school.
You can use LSAC’s UGPA and LSAT Score Search to help you assess your chances at participating ABA-approved law schools.
How to Use Schools’ Applicant Profile Grids
In addition to the UGPA/LSAT score search, you can also use the law school applicant profile grids found in LSAC’s Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools to help you determine your chances of being admitted to a particular school. The data in these grids are provided by the law schools directly to the ABA and LSAC. You can find these grids at the bottom of most school pages in LSAC’s Official Guide.
Check your qualifications against the applicant profiles of the law schools that interest you. The grids indicate the number of applicants with a range of LSAT scores and UGPAs who were admitted in the most recent admission year. Comparing your credentials to those of previous applicants will give you a general sense of your competitiveness at that school. These charts will help you determine which schools are your dream schools, your realistic schools, and your safe schools. If your profile meets or exceeds that of a school, it is likely that the school will be as interested in admitting you as you are in being admitted.
The “ABA Data” link for each school contains other statistics that should be read with care as well.
A few words of caution:
- Law schools consider many other factors beyond the LSAT score and UGPA, and the grids and data about these credentials only give you part of the story.
- You should make your final decision about where you will apply only after obtaining additional information from each school.
- The data in the grids are from a previous application year and may not reflect fluctuations in applicant volume that affect admission decisions.