This is a guest blog from Equal Justice Works, Senior Program Manager for Law School Advocacy and Outreach, Charlene Gomes.
No matter where you go to law school or what you plan to do once you have your degree, selecting a school that is a good match for you is a weighty decision. The Equal Justice Works Guide to Law Schools (www.ejwguide.org) (The Guide) can make the decision-making process easier by allowing you to look at individual school profiles or to compare schools based on the criteria most important to you in light of your personal, professional, and educational goals.
There are more than 200 law schools in the United States – some public, some private; some rural, some urban; some large, some small. So where do you start when trying to decide which school or schools will give you the education and experience you want, in a convenient place and at a reasonable price? A good way to start is to list the factors that are most important to you, then prioritize them. Some factors to consider might include:
- availability of scholarships and grants
- postgraduate employment, and
Prior to joining Equal Justice Works, I spent five years overseeing the public interest scholarship selection process at a large law school, through which I became intimately acquainted with law school admissions practices. But reviewing applications is not the same as writing them, so in order to make sure my advice is relevant in 2011, I consulted the law student members of our National Advisory Committee. Here is what they had to say:
Meet with a Prelaw Advisor: If you are lucky enough to attend a school with a prelaw advisor, be sure to make an appointment with her to discuss your interest in law school and your goals for a post-law school career. Even if your school does not have a designated prelaw advisor, be sure to check in with your career office and see which counselor can best advise you about law school. Then
Be sure to make an appointment with him or her.
Research! Law school can feel like a long three or four years, especially if you are the first person in your family to attend. It is important to find a school that is a good fit for your financial situation, personality and goals. The years will pass more quickly if you feel comfortable and engaged in the law school community. The Guide can help you get a better sense of a law school’s culture, including the types of opportunities for student engagement.
Look at Opportunities for Practical Hands-on Training in Areas of the Law that are of Interest to You. Much of your first year will be spent frantically taking notes in large lecture classes. The second and third years will provide you with many opportunities to tailor your coursework to subjects that will help prepare you for your post-law school career. Courses such as clinics and externships provide you with the best of both worlds – learning the relevant law and applying it to real-life situations by assisting clients – all under the supervision of experienced faculty.
Shoot for the Moon! – And Visit the School. The last bit of advice is to aim high… but also have more than one safety school. Make sure you visit a school before you commit to attending. Websites and marketing materials will understandably highlight what is best about the school, and it is the job of admissions counselors to attract and recruit qualified applicants. So before you put all your money on the line, take the time and make the effort to visit the school and speak with faculty, administrators, and, most importantly, current students.