Law School Q-and-A: Deciding If and Where to Apply

Shawn P. O'Connor
July 15, 2013

Welcome to the latest installment of Law Admissions Q-and-A, a monthly feature of Law Admissions Lowdown that provides admissions advice to readers who send in questions and admissions profiles.

If you have a question about law school, please email me for a chance to be featured next month.

This week, I will address questions about challenges candidates face when considering applying to law school.

[Explore the top law schools in photos.]

Dear Shawn: I know that I want to go to law school, but I am having trouble choosing which schools to apply to. Obviously, I would like to attend the highest-ranked school I can get into, but there are a lot of other factors to consider. Is it worth it to pay more to attend a higher-ranked school, or is it all the same degree in the end?

Also, I would prefer to attend a school on the East Coast as I have lived here my whole life (and plan to live and practice here after graduation), but I suppose I would be open to attending law school elsewhere and moving back after three years. How do students narrow down which schools to apply to? -The Deciding Factor

Dear Deciding Factor: It is common for students to labor over their school selection. Rank is a good place to start, but there may be cases when other factors outweigh a law school's rank.

For example, it would be best for you to attend a law school in the East Coast vicinity as it will open up more career options in your desired area. This may change if you are admitted to one of the top 14 law schools, which have formidable national reputations.

The cost of attending a top school will likely be gained back many times in your future salary. However, some students find it's not practical to pay full tuition when they have scholarship offers at other, lower-ranked schools. This decision depends on numerous factors, including what type of law you hope to practice and any other financial responsibilities you have.

I suggest that you apply to a range of schools based on your GPA and LSAT score and focus primarily on East Coast schools. You can narrow your choices further by comparing student life and organizations on campus as well as statistics on job opportunities after graduation, culture, scholarships and other factors that are important to you. -Shawn

[Find out which law schools see the most applications.]

Dear Shawn: I read your article about deciding if law school is right for you. The decision to go to law school is a hard one for anyone but I'm finding it particularly hard because I'm 5-6 years into a career.

I sometimes find my current career empty, unmotivating and lacking substance. What draws me to the legal field is how many different ways the law can be viewed by different people. I like that a good lawyer can make a difference in people's lives by doing what they know to be right. I think I am ready for a change - do you have any advice? -Taking a New Path

Dear Taking a New Path: It can be daunting to change course, especially when you have invested so much time and effort in your career. But because it sounds like you feel unfulfilled in your current profession and have a passion for the law, you should strongly consider making this shift.

You don't want to look back 20 years from now and wonder what life would have been like if you'd decided to stay in your current position and not followed your interest in law.

The great thing about law school is that individuals from all stages of their professional career attend, from students right out of college to those who have been in the working world for a decade or two -- or more.

[Discover how to apply to law school later in life.]

Before making your decision, take time to speak with a variety of practicing attorneys in different fields to confirm your perception of the law. I advise that you also confer with friends, family and mentors about your options.

After that, the decision must be up to you, as you will be expending the time and money to go to law school - unless, of course, you get a scholarship.

If you are unsure where to begin with your applications, start by researching law schools that intrigue you and looking into LSAT preparation to get the ball rolling. -Shawn