When selecting a law school, students should start by looking at the LSAC Official Guide to ABA-Approved Law Schools. The Official Guide provides extensive information about the over 180 ABA approved Law Schools in the U.S. Students should think about where you want to go to school and what size of school you prefer. Examine available information about average GPAs and LSAT scores to compare yourself to the students at various law schools, and consider each school's acceptance rates. However, use these numbers with caution, and only as a rough guideline, as many factors can affect the competitiveness of an application. Students sometimes apply to a range of schools: a few very competitive schools, a few with more generous acceptance rates, and some in between. Visit the schools in which you are interested, if at all possible. Also visit local schools (Creighton Law School and the University of Nebraska Law School are both excellent schools in Nebraska) to learn more about the law school experience. While visiting these schools, students should ask questions that will assist in choosing a law school. Both Nebraska and Creighton offer special course sessions for visiting students to observe. Applicants should, also, take into account the following five factors.
Academic achievement is one of the most significant factor affecting law school acceptance. Often, where the applicant would like to go to school does not dictate the final choice, but where admission can be obtained. Applications should be submitted to three categories of law schools, as follows.
These are schools that have "numbers" (median GPAs and Law School Admission Test scores) somewhat higher than those of the applicant. Applications should be sent to one or two desired schools in this category. Students should emphasize their unique strengths in the application materials in order to stand out from the other applicants. The most prestigious law schools in the country are long shots for even the very best students.
These are schools that have numbers similar to those of the applicant. Applications should be submitted to as many schools in this category as the applicant is willing to consider attending, aminimum of four or five. If the category is properly identified, an acceptance rate of approximately 50 percent should be the result.
These schools have numbers clearly below those of the applicant, but which the applicant would attend if denials were received from all schools in the other two categories. Applications should be made to one or more schools in this category.
Applicants should be aware that all law schools charge a nonrefundable application fee. Eight to ten applications are recommended. Following the guidance above should minimize expenses while ensuring almost certain admittance to a legal education.
Candidates should investigate the composition and interests of the faculty at the schools that are being considered. They should determine, for example, the faculty's legal training. They may also want to find out whether faculty members are easily accessible to students. Also, candidates should consider the diversity of the faculty and the ratio of faculty to students.
If a student knows the type of law in which they would like to specialize, they should determine which schools offer that specialization. Also, the student should determine how much flexibility they will have in tailoring their program. Some schools allow more leeway than others. Certain schools also offer joint programs, allowing students to pursue a master's or doctorate in an academic area while concurrently pursuing their law degree. These programs are usually open only to extraordinarily talented and motivated students. Students should inquire about any additional admission requirements.
Researching the culture of the schools will help in selecting the program that best matches a student's personality and work style. Some schools encourage competition among their students, pitting one against the other in an atmosphere of "survival of the fittest." Other schools are more cooperative, supporting student study groups and providing experienced mentors for first-year students. Candidates should speak with faculty and administrators at each school. They should also inquire about the availability of academic support programs, size and type of student organizations, and the size and composition of the student body. Candidates may also want to inquire about the attrition rate: how many students drop out or fail each year, and why. Speaking with current students, either during a campus visit or by telephone, about their satisfaction level and their perceptions of the school may also be helpful.
When choosing law schools, the future job search should be considered. Law schools publish, or will provide on request, statistics on the rates at which they place graduates in jobs after graduation.
For each of the schools to which a student applies, they should find out their placement rate and consider these data as they weigh their choices. Consideration of the locations and salaries of jobs secured by graduates, as well as any differences in placement between the top 10 percent of the class and the other 90 percent is also important.
Also of importance is whether each school offers career counseling and what support services are available to assist with the job search.
In addition, students should determine what type of clinical, internship and externship opportunities are available, including the number, location and salaries (if any) of these opportunities.
The economic factor entails the actual dollar costs of law school, including tuition, books, room and board, and a consideration of what one gets for the investment. The cost of books and supplies will be considerably more than that paid as an undergraduate, and currently can be greater than $1,000 per year. Students should inquire about any additional class or student fees that might be incurred, as well as the likelihood of tuition increases over the next few years.
Considerably more judgment must go into the computation of general living expenses. In addition, the kind of accommodations desired may be available within walking distance of one law school or require commuting expenses at another. Thus, the availability and cost of public transportation, car insurance and parking may also become economic considerations.
The above costs, plus all additional living expenses, constitute the economic factor that must be considered when choosing a law school.
Students should also investigate thoroughly the availability of financial support, such as loans, scholarships, and, for second- and third-year students, employment opportunities at the law school or with law firms. Many law students graduate with a large amount of personal debt. This can affect quality of life and career choices. Therefore, it is well worth the time to investigate the economic aspects of each law school before making a final choice about where to attend.
Separate from the economic factor, but closely allied to it, is the geographic factor. Two overlapping considerations make up the bulk of this factor.
The first of these is the acceptability of the law school location with regard to climate, distance from home, availability of recreational and cultural facilities, etc. The community environment can also play a large role in success and happiness during law school. Students should consider visiting the schools on their short list to see first-hand the campus facilities and neighborhoods where they will be living and working.
Closely allied with the above factors is the applicant's perception of where he or she wishes to practice upon completion of law school. For most students, the opportunity to make contacts and begin part-time or summer employment in law firms while still in law school will be an important step toward obtaining a satisfactory position subsequent to graduation.