Not every law school is created equal—and we’re not talking about just the rankings. In fact, the rankings do a notably poor job of indicating whether or not a law school will be a great fit. Many students go into their 1L year with a specific goal: “I want to be an entertainment lawyer,” a particularly slick student might reveal during orientation. Their neighbor might have a very different take: “Oh, me? I’m going to use the law to protect the environment.”

Is the same law school perfect for both of them? It truly depends on the school!

Match Your Law School List with Your Interests

Use each school’s website to get a sense of their course offerings, clinics, externships, and faculty’s general areas of expertise. You’ll also want to find out whether you have the ability to take courses at other grad schools within the university for JD credit (for instance, at the business school or school of social work) and if they offer dual and joint degrees, study abroad programs, specialized moot courts, specific law journals, and more.

If you’re dead set on environmental law and a school doesn’t offer a single course in this area, that school might not be a great fit for you. Similarly, if you’re aiming to work in public interest law but the school is more known for their corporate and finance law focus, you may be better off looking into schools with a reputation for graduates who end up in service-oriented careers. But make sure and do a deep dive here. Some schools with strong corporate law placement might also have extensive, individualized support for public interest lawyers, including scholarship opportunities. We recommend the same approach when looking at specific programmatic offerings: if you know you want practical experiential opportunities in education law, for example, and a school doesn’t have an externship or clinic in this area, you can strike them off your list.

But Remember That Your Interests Can Change!

Your life will change in many ways once you step onto your law school campus—you should give yourself room for your interests to evolve too. It’s difficult to get a feel for a specific subset of legal work until you get some good, robust exposure to the lawyering world. So try to assess programmatic offerings as a whole as well. If, for instance, you’re interested in IP law but also might want to go into health law, you’ll want to make sure that the schools you’re considering would allow you to follow either path. Just as an entertainment-law-focused applicant shouldn’t pick a school that doesn’t have any good offerings in that field, so too should they not attend a school only because of the strength of a specific sub-program. Give yourself options!

Set Yourself Up for Your Future Career

In considering how each school aligns with your potential career goals, make sure to do some digging for data on your prospective schools’ career support and job placement rates. In particular, look for data on the percentage of graduates gainfully employed nine months after graduation. The American Bar Association requires law schools to publish general employment statistics for the most recent graduating class, which will be a valuable resource as you figure out whether a given school offers the kind of career support you want. Many schools also publish this information on their websites as well. 

It’s also a great idea to find out where and in which industries alumni work. Depending on your interests, you’ll want to investigate clerkship offices and placement, career support and placement for students interested in academia, or specific support for international students seeking employment in the US after law school. 

Why Law School Geography Matters 

Location can impact internship, clinical, and externship opportunities, and sometimes your likelihood of getting a job in or outside the region after graduation. Somewhere like Los Angeles might be a good fit if you’re interested in entertainment law, and future finance lawyers tend to gravitate toward New York City. Washington, D.C., of course, is a good place to be if you’re interested in government policy, and Bay Area law schools are quickly establishing themselves as central players in tech and privacy law. If you want to practice in a particular southern or midwestern state (e.g., Alabama), you might consider a regional school; going to a higher-ranked school might cost more and may not help you get a job at a local firm. That said, a degree from a top law school with name brand recognition tends to be very portable to any state or even abroad to international firms. Even if you ultimately plan to return to a smaller, regional market, having a couple years’ worth of training and experience from a major legal market like New York City can help you stand out.

Then, of course, you’ll want to weigh factors like whether a school is in a larger city or a small town, if you’ll be close to friends and family, what the cost of living is like in a given area, and even factors like the weather. If you hate cold winters, you’re not likely to have a great time at a law school known for its snowball fights, and if you’re someone who thrives in an urban environment, you probably shouldn’t be looking at law schools surrounded by cornfields. As you research each school, ask yourself: can I see myself living there? How happy would I be to settle there after law school?

Why Program Size Matters

There are different advantages to larger or smaller programs, and you might use your undergraduate experience as a good metric in determining what you’re looking for. Larger programs might have more avenues for socialization and networking, and you’ll benefit from an expansive alumni network. Smaller programs offer an intimate environment and may allow you to connect more closely with professors. 

The best way to get a sense of program culture, regardless of size, is by speaking to current students or alumni or by attending prospective student events to get a feel for the school. Ask about professor access—whether students feel that they are able to form relationships with their professors or even work alongside them through specific programmatic offerings—and check websites for information about professor-student ratios. Some schools may also let you sit in on a class separately from formal prospective student events. Contact your schools of interest and see what they offer in terms of visitation, sampling a class, or meeting with student groups. 

You also might hear about programs being more “competitive” or “collaborative,” but be sure to take these kinds of labels with a grain of salt: you’ll be the best judge of whether a school environment feels right for you. 

Assessing a Law School’s Diversity

In considering whether a school is a good fit for you in terms of diversity and inclusion, you might begin by investigating resources like the LGBTQ+ Guide to Law Schools or the ABA Commission on Disability Rights, or contacting affinity groups on campus to chat with current students from similar backgrounds about their experiences at the school. The Association of American Law Schools also has a list of law schools who have made commitments to or statements on antiracism as part of their Law Deans Antiracist Clearinghouse Project.

In addition, law schools often publish statistics on their overall demographic breakdown. Knowing that there are other enrolled students who share similar lived experiences and identities can be helpful in determining whether or not a school will be a fit for you, too. 

How Cost Should Impact Your Law School Decisions

The cost of law school is more complicated than it may initially seem. While each school’s website will list tuition and give you a general sense of its sticker price, you’ll also need to account for cost of living, personal expenses, transportation, and other unexpected costs.

Schools often offer additional funding and scholarships to admitted students whose credentials put them among the top of the incoming class, making it a smart idea to apply to a number of target and safety schools. It’s also a good idea to check individual schools’ websites for scholarship application requirements in case there are specific scholarships that are well suited to your background or goals. Additionally, many schools have robust LRAPs (Loan Repayment Assistance Programs) where the school repays a percentage of student loans over time while a graduate works in a public service job. And in terms of outside funding, LSAC lists a number of scholarships on their website—including one from 7Sage!

As you weigh the cost of law school in choosing your school list, consider the best return on your investment. A higher-ranked school might help you get a job in a particular industry after graduating, but a regional school could be a better fit for your individual goals and offer you a more appealing financial aid package. Consider your expected future income, your repayment options once you’ve graduated, and whether or not you might be able to secure additional funding along the way.