Once you know what to look for and how to conduct a thorough search, finding the law school—or schools—that fit you and your goals isn’t so difficult after all...
So. You’re looking for a law school.
In an ideal world, it’ll be an institution that will give you the training you need to hit the ground running in your legal career…in an environment that will help you focus and excel…in a city or town with opportunities that will sustain you during school and after you graduate...
That’s a pretty tall order. But it’s a surmountable one, and thousands of hopeful law students undertake it every year.
“You don’t necessarily need to know exactly what type of law you want to practice to find a school that fits you,” says Julia Low, a member of New England Law’s Class of 2022. “Know what your goals are financially, and consider location carefully. It’s a lot easier to find opportunities if you go to school in the city or state you know you want to end up in.”
In fact, once you know what to look and how to conduct a thorough search, finding the law school—or schools—that fit you and your goals isn’t so difficult after all...
Related: Everything You Need to Consider in a Law School
Start With Your “Why”
Before you dig into the nitty gritty law school research, you need to ask yourself one critical question: why do you want to go to law school? The answer will color the whole law school search process.
Of course, there’s no “right” answer. If you’re like many hopeful JDs, you’re probably looking for a stable career that allows you to support yourself and your family. Maybe you want to be an intellectual property lawyer on the front lines of health care, engineering, or entertainment. Or you want the thrill of the courtroom, advocating for your clients as a litigator. Or you want to enact change at a higher level as a judge or even politician.
You don’t need to have your whole future planned out—in fact, it’s important to remember that your legal interests may change over time—but you should have some ideas of what you’re trying to achieve to guide your law school search.
Once you have your “why,” you can use it to come up with the law school search criteria that will fuel your research…
Researching Law Schools
Online research is really going to be your bread and butter when it comes to finding and learning more about the law schools that meet your criteria. Get started by conducting a broad-based search for law schools using sites like:
Also, don’t underestimate the power of a simple Google search for “law school + [criteria]”!
- Faculty reviews/ratings sites
- Online forums (Reddit, Quora, etc.)
- YouTube videos
- News coverage
- Law school fairs and other recruiting events
- School websites
- Digital tours
- Press releases
- Social media accounts
- Info sessions
- Viewbooks and brochures
- Alumni magazines
- Admitted student events
- Local alumni interviews
Having a great law school visit is an article in and of itself. But the important thing is to do them if at all possible.
You have undergrad (and maybe even grad school) behind you, and the strategy is largely the same: get a real sense of the community, facilities, and overall “vibe” of the school, as well as a preview of what your life and opportunities there will be like. Only now you have much more context to rely on than when you were a little high school student checking out colleges!
Talking to people
Talk to a variety of folks to learn more about law schools on your list and get their impression of the process. You’ll can also ask them your questions and learn more about what being a lawyer is really like.
Start with your personal network: friends, family, coworkers, etc. You can also ask the alumni and/or graduate services office at your alma mater(s), look for professional groups in your area (like the local Bar Association), or even just do a quick LinkedIn search for lawyers practicing in your town, legal niche, etc.
Try to interact with students, faculty, staff, and alumni from the schools you’re considering as well. Any law school on your list will be happy to connect you with current students and alumni, but it’s also worth trying to find these individuals on your own.
You might be surprised by how easy it is to carve out 20 minutes on someone’s calendar—and how helpful a 20-minute conversation about your future can be.
Don’t underestimate the power of a simple Google search for 'law school + [criteria]'!
Finding Your Fit
As you look for law schools, consider how they fit you on these three major axes:
- Educational fit: Will you learn about and have hands-on learning opportunities in legal areas that interest you? Caveat: your legal interests might change during law school career, so don’t try to pigeonhole yourself.
- Admissions fit: Are you a competitive applicant, both for admissions and financial aid opportunities? Look at the admitted student profile; how do your LSAT score and GPA stack up? Caveat: paying more for your education might make sense if it opens up opportunities that will pay dividends. You’re planning for your future, not bargain shopping.
- Personality fit: Do the institutional values, campus vibe, and student body feel right? There’s less variety in law school “personality” than in undergrad, but many of the same themes still emerge. Caveat: going somewhere that challenges you can be a good thing!
There's also the question of financial fit. And while your financial aid package and law school scholarships can change everything, you need to start your law school search by looking at the cold, hard numbers and assess the realities of what you can afford.
For example, most law students graduate with some debt (even if you get a full tuition scholarship, you may need to borrow to pay for living expenses). Even though law careers typically pay well—median salary of $119,250 in 2017—it’s important remember that the kind of law you practice will affect those numbers too. You need to consider if your post-grad salary, minus your and your family’s living expenses and any projected student debt, measures up.
Now, before you worry that this means you need to give up your dream of becoming a public interest lawyer or public defender (whose salaries skew lower), keep in mind that you may be eligible for income-based loan repayment plans or even loan forgiveness, if you meet certain criteria.
Law School Search Tips
- Look for patterns. There are lots of ways to research law schools, and you should use all the tools at your disposal (and listed above). As you traverse those different resources, take notes and keep an eye out for recurring themes.
- Apply early. Many law schools have rolling admissions policies, so if you apply early (say, December the year before you intend to enroll), you can get admissions decisions back with plenty of time to apply to additional schools if you like.
- Keep track of your research. It’s hard to go wrong with a good ol’ fashioned spreadsheet, tracking your search criteria consistently and in one place. Add notes and observations along the way. You’ll be happy you did when you’re comparing your options.
- Don’t discard your research either! You never know—you may find the law school isn’t a good fit and you want to transfer, revisiting your research. Or you might be able to share your findings with someone else searching for the perfect law school for them.
- Keep your loved ones in the loop. Law school is a multi-year journey that impacts virtually every area of your life. From a practical perspective, the people closest to you—from roommates to partner to parents to kids—need to know. When you have a family, law school isn’t really a decision you can make unilaterally either; your whole world will turn upside down, from budgeting decisions to who’s available to pick the kids up after school. But your family and friends are also an important support system; their understanding, support, and encouragement will absolutely make a difference in your law school experience.
- Get diverse perspectives. Use lots of different sources to paint a complete picture of the school and give yourself as clear a picture of what your time there would be like. Don’t take one review, good or bad, as gospel. There really isn’t such thing as too much research. That being said…
- Trust your gut. True, our first impressions can sometimes be wrong. But if you arrive on campus and the law school feels like home—or makes you want to go running for the hills—you should follow your instincts.
There’s no magic number or formula for how many law schools you should apply to; your list should fit your needs and life.
How Many Law Schools Should You Apply To?
The “reach,” “safety,” “match/target” strategy you’re probably familiar with still applies to law schools.
In case you need a refresher, it’s about comparing your academic criteria—LSAT scores and GPA—to the average admitted student profile, then picking a few law schools where you’re at the top of their applicant pool, right in the middle, and toward the bottom.
It’s not an exact science, and it’s important to remember that those admitted student profiles can shift from year to year. But it’s the best way to figure out your probability of being admitted (and, hopefully, being such a competitive applicant that you get some merit-based aid).
This being said, while academic criteria and the rigor of your bachelor’s or master’s course work will weigh most heavily on your applications, law schools will take other things into account, particularly for those “non-traditional” applicants who may have been working for several years (or decades!).
Related: What Do Law Schools Look for in Your Application?
The most important part of picking this trifecta of schools? Making sure you’d actually want to attend if admitted. This may go without saying, but don’t treat your safety schools as throwaways. In fact, thoughtfully picking your safety schools might be the most important thing you do, because they’re the institutions where you’re probably going to get the most financial aid. Remember, law school is what you make of it, and any ABA-accredited school will prepare you for the bar exam and a career in the law.
There’s no magic number or formula for how many law schools you should apply to; your list should fit your needs and life. You’re a grown up; you get to decide what’s a reasonable number. When you figure out your law school “must-haves” and do your research, and the list will fall into place.
Are You Ready?
There are about 200 accredited law schools in the United States. The average acceptance rate is 46% (with a wide differential). Keep your mind open, and cast a wide net to give yourself as many options as possible.
Any ABA-accredited law school will give you the academic foundation you need to take the bar exam and practice law. The school environment and opportunities it provides are what make the difference. You will get out of law school what you put into it. Start by putting your all into finding law schools that really fit you.
Ready to take the next step? View admissions requirements at New England Law | Boston.