How to Avoid Law School Rankings Tunnel Vision
March 12, 2012
Are you that guy? You know, the guy who says, “I’m going to go to this law school which is ranked at #37 because this other school that I got into is ranked lower, at #56.” Worse yet, are you that gal who says. “I can’t go to this school ranked at #12 – not when I can go to this other school ranked at #8. After all, this other program is in the top ten!”
If either of these people sounds like you, it’s important that you take a step back and recognize that basing the decision to attend a school solely, and oftentimes, even primarily on its rankings – including the US News rankings – can be hazardous to your educational and career well-being. There are many ways in which focusing too heavily on the rankings can come back to haunt you. I could write a book about it, but on second thought, let me just give you a few of the reasons why you should avoid catching a contagious virus that strikes a number of law school applicants each year – something which I like to call, rankings tunnel vision.
Think Location, Location, Location!
Did you know that the vast majority of law schools in the U.S. have a greater number of connections, as well as more clout with employers that are in their immediate locale or region than they do with employers in a distant geographic region? For instance, it’s not at all unusual for a law school in New York to have much more clout than a law school in California does with employers in the New York area. That’s not to say that you can’t attend law school in California and get a good job in New York, Florida or Texas, for that matter. Of course you can! Just as importantly, most law schools can be helpful with your search for a job in another part of the country. But, it’s important for you to keep in mind that the extent of your law school’s pull with employers in a particular region or locale can greatly affect the number and quality of your future employment options. Therefore, if you already know that one of your targeted, but lower ranked schools is in the geographic area where you wish to practice law, while your higher ranked schools are far from your targeted area, that can be an important reason to give the lesser rated school a closer look.
Think About the Pressures of Money!
Now … with all the resources available on the Internet, I know you already have a general idea that paying for law school probably isn’t going to be easy. But I truly hope that you realize just how challenging paying for law school can be for some graduates. Paying down the debt on your law school education can be so burdensome that some newly minted attorneys will struggle financially for many years after receiving the JD. Other recent law school graduates may end up taking jobs that they dislike, but need to stick with for a very substantial period of time, just to pay the bills. True, there are large numbers of graduates who like or even LOVE the jobs they take after law school. But, there have also been a fair number of law school graduates over the years who have hated the initial jobs they took to help pay back their loans – particularly because doing so delayed or pushed them off of a career track that would have been much more satisfying. Keep in mind that the true monetary cost of attending a given law school is not well reflected in most law school rankings. This is yet another reason why it’s important to consider factors beyond the rankings.
Don’t Turn General Estimates into the Holy Gospel!
Even as you seek out other sources of information, it’s important that you understand that the rankings themselves do not represent a metaphysical truth. No rankings scale accounts for the full range of qualities that a law school can have. Just as importantly, there are many different ways of calculating a school’s “quality.” Therefore, at best, numerical ratings should be taken as general estimates, which can change simply by the shift of a single factor, such as an increase in the LSAT scores of admitted students. As a result, it is not only possible, but entirely likely that a school ranked at #12 is – for some students – really just as good, or in fact, even better than a school ranked at #8. Also, keep in mind that schools can and do move up and down the various rankings scales from year to year. If school #8 and #12 reverse positions in the course of a year, does it mean that the new #8 school has really become the better program? A healthy dose of skepticism would serve you well before you answer such a question.
Take a Test Drive!
We can look at rankings and other data on law schools all year long, but the bottom line is that long before starting your first semester of law school, one of the best ways to determine whether a school truly fits your needs is by visiting it, sitting in on classes, and talking to current students. I have to admit that, as an admissions consultant, I’ve successfully advised quite a substantial number of applicants who ended up at the top law schools in the U.S. And, let me tell you, I’m always excited when they get in. So, I’ve got nothing at all against applying and going to a highly ranked law school. However, there are still too many applicants out there who are willing to blindly accept a law school seat on the basis of a high ranking, only to later realize that they have chosen the wrong institution. So, take your schools for a test drive and consider a range of factors when thinking about which program is best for you. You could be surprised at how much you connect with a program, regardless of its ranking.
Whatever you do and wherever you end up, just don’t be that guy or gal who lives by the law school rankings alone.