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How to Choose a Law School

Applying to law school requires a significant amount of research. You should plan on spending several weeks investigating the potential schools to which you intend to apply. Each law school has its own application forms as well as institutional-specific criteria for admission. Most charge an application fee and have specific deadlines for the submission of application materials. More importantly, the overall cost of attending law school (tuition, board, living expenses, etc.) varies greatly.

Step 1: Research the Options
There are many factors to consider and you must determine which factors are most important given your unique situation. In general, however, there are some common factors that should be considered in selecting law schools.

Factors to Consider:

Cost: Remember that beyond tuition you have to take into account the cost of room and board, expected living expenses for that location, and additional costs like study aides and books. Consider too the reputation of the law school in relation to the expense. Most law schools disclose information on placement statistics - the rates at which their graduates pass the bar exam and average alumni salaries. It is highly recommended that you fully assess your financial situation and prepare for the management of debt in selecting a law school. Remember that full time study and the necessity of doing well in law school will limit your ability to engage in additional employment.

Availability of financial assistance: Scholarships for law school are generally few and very competitive, but some schools do have scholarships, grants or assistance programs like federal work-study. Contact the individual schools for a complete listing of available financial aid. You may also want to contact the schools' career development offices for information on paid research, part-time and/or summer employment opportunities. Most law schools recommend that first year students not hold any outside employment and emphasize that it is unrealistic for students to work more than 20 hours a week while in the J.D. program. Many students rely on federal or private loan options to finance their legal education. Always research the conditions and terms of a student loan. Thinking ahead about the financial ramifications of your choice is sound planning.

Admission criteria: When debating schools keep in mind that the criteria on which each institution bases admission will differ. In other words, there is no uniform formula. Some schools have pre-determined standards for eligibility (i.e. a minimum LSAT result). Thus, these schools will not even consider applicants who do not meet the minimum criteria. Remember that there are typically hundreds of students applying for a single slot and the strength of your application may be judged relative to other applicants. Not all schools make immediate decisions; rather they will grant admission to some students, placing others on a "waiting list" for admission. The standards for admission and decision making policy should be stated in the schools' admission catalogs. For official clarification consult that institution's admissions office. Although the formula will be different for each, schools typically base their admissions decisions on some combination of the following factors:

LSAT Scores

G.P.A. (Grade point Average)

Letters of Recommendation

Admission Letter/Personal Essay (written statements by the student which accompanies his or her application)

Class ranking and College attended

Background and experience (or strength of the applicant)

Extra-curricular, professional and leadership activities

Citizenship, race or ethnicity

You should assess the probability of your being admitted to this school based upon a realistic assessment of your academic record and test scores. The goal should be to identify institutions that best meet your needs and offer a fair probability of admittance.

Law School Ranking/Reputation: The American Bar Association (ABA) is responsible for granting accreditation to law schools and is a good source of information regarding the curriculum and facilities of approved law schools. The LSAC also offers an "Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools." There are numerous alternative rankings of law schools and these various guides are typically available in the legal section of most bookstores. Additionally, publications such as Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report offer annual evaluations of law schools. There is no single, agreed upon ranking system. Law schools do, however, have established reputations. Generally speaking, the "better" the school, the more competitive the admissions standards. Beyond the reputation and ranking of a school, consider the factors that are most important to you, including class size, faculty access and faculty to student ratios.

Program Specialities: Many law schools offer concentrations or special programs in specific areas of the law (such as environmental law or criminal justice). Additionally, many schools allow students to pursue joint degrees (such as a joint J.D./M.A. or J.D./Ph.D.) or advanced legal degrees such as the LL.M. (Masters of Law). Some institutions offer part-time enrollment, evening classes or clinical programs which may be attractive. Depending on your goals or interests, your decision may include schools that match your areas of interest or desired expertise or which allow program flexibility.

Location: A very basic consideration should be the location of the school. Out-of-state tuition increases the cost of a legal education and location will affect associated expenses as well (i.e. travel and cost of living). For some individuals, the environment will strongly influence the overall experience. You may also want to consider long-term plans. Many students opt to study law in the state in which they plan to take the bar.

Other Factors of Importance: Because every situation is unique, there may be additional factors for consideration. Try to identify all of the factors that matter specifically to you. Take the time to look for schools which meet your most important criteria.

Where to Obtain Information About Individual Law Schools:

Official Guides to Law Schools: There are commercial publications which distill relevant information such as the location, size, admission criteria, application fees, program specialities and pass rates (the percentage of graduating students who passed the bar exam). There are several publishers that offer these guides and are available through most bookstores. Additionally, many guides have a companion cd-rom version which includes the admission forms for each school.

Online: Virtually all law schools have web sites which include basic information and online admission information/materials. Most of these can be found via a name search using any commercial search engine (i.e. Yahoo! or Excite). You may also want to try www.LSAC.org (the Law School Admission Center) for links to law schools and law school guides which are available for purchase.

Writing to the Law School: You may also call or write the law school directly to request admissions catalogs and materials. Contact with a school, whether in person or by phone, is a good way to get a better "feel" for the place. Consider too visiting the school or talking directly with an admissions counselor as a way to obtain more information about a particular institution.

Ask Around: Talk to individuals who have gone to law school. Check the alumni registry of your undergraduate college for names of individuals who have attended a particular school. Ask the admissions officers whether their school provides any contact sources for prospective students.

Department of History and Government: Daemen's Department of History & Government has a number of admissions catalogs from various schools available in the department's suite area (Room 235 Duns Scotus Hall). The Department's pre-law advisor will also have copies of the LSAC's "Official Guide to U.S. Law Schools" and "Law School Directory" available for student research. The Department will continue to make available new and updated catalogs and materials for student reference.

Step 2: Choosing the Schools to Which To Apply

It is recommended that you narrow your choice of law schools based on your particular situation. Begin by identifying schools which meet YOUR selection criteria. When it comes time to submit applications, remember that each application takes time and there is usually a fee (anywhere from $15.00 to $90.00, depending on the school).

It is highly recommended that you apply to a range of schools. Even if you have your heart set on a particular school you should give yourself options and prepare for the possibility that you will not be admitted to your first choice. Most students apply to 6-12 schools as a way of increasing the probability of gaining admittance.

You may want to prioritize and divide your final selection into tiers. Include one or two schools that reflect your "dream choices." You should not necessarily avoid applying simply because you recognize admission is a "long shot." You should, however, concentrate your efforts on solid choices. The bulk of your applications, in other words, should be to schools that are a strong match for your criteria and record and for which you have a realistic chance of admission. You should also apply to one or two lower tier or "safety schools" (schools which would not be your first choice but to which you know you have a high probability gaining admittance). Step 3: Submitting the Application

All schools have their own individual application forms, requirements for material to be submitted, and deadlines for submission. IT IS VITALLY IMPORTANT THAT YOU MAKE A SCHEDULE OF APPLICATION DEADLINES AND REQUIREMENTS. Failure to have a complete file to the school by the specified date will result in your automatic rejection. You must therefore keep close track of what information the schools require and the deadlines for submission of those materials.

 


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