SWLAW Blog | Future Students
January 21, 2022
Six Tips for Selecting a Law School
J.D. programs can look a lot alike. Shiny brochures boast about clinical opportunities, externship placements, and idyllic campuses. How can you tell what will really make a difference in your law school experience? Here are some questions to get you thinking about what’s important to you!
The students you share a classroom with aren’t going to be mere passers-by in your life. For two, three, or four years, they will determine whether your day-to-day experience in law school feels positive and fulfilling or simply like a grind and something to “get through.” Make sure that the students at a particular school are people you would like to have as friends – people who can lend a sympathetic ear when you’re faced with a challenge, or who can provide an enthusiastic cheer when you find success.
By interacting with current students, whether at admissions events or through one-on-one conversations, you can get a sense of what students are like at the schools you’re considering.
In law school, you’re being trained to think in a brand new way. Your brain will be primed to think methodically and within the framework of our existing legal system. Sometimes this leads to a feeling that you’re losing touch with your reasons for going to law school and the passion that drove you to pursue a law degree in the first place. Keep those motivations strong by attending a school that aligns with your values. If you care about learning from people of varied personal and professional backgrounds, look for a school that has diversity not just in racial make -up, but also age, educational training, and personal experiences.
If you care about using your law degree to challenge systemic problems, look for a law school that encourages students to push boundaries and think creatively.
Do you feel driven to get your degree quickly, or do you want to maximize your opportunities for all that law school has to offer? Would you like to graduate after holding four externships, three leadership roles, and publishing a law review note? Or do you want to get some hands-on practical training and jump right into legal practice? Consider whether the law schools you’re interested in provide the flexibility you need in order to have the law school experience you want.
A traditional three-year program may seem like the way to go, since it’s what most people do. But don’t overlook the opportunities afforded by unique J.D. options.
This is a little different than the common guidance of attending school where you want to practice. That’s an important consideration, to be sure, but remember that your law school will be your home for quite some time. Make sure you will be comfortable in the geographic area and that it’s a place you’d otherwise be happy to live for a while. Also give some thought to where your support networks are and whether the area will provide you outlets for your usual activities. If you find enjoyment from long hikes, look for a school that is near trail networks.
If you find enjoyment from creative pursuits, look for a law school that is near sites of artistic expression. Being able to enjoy your normal activities will help you manage law school stress and provide a more enjoyable experience for you.
When you’re narrowing down your choices, hone in on each individual school that remains on your list. Can you articulate numerous reasons why you would attend each one? Think about whether those reasons can stand on their own, or whether they’re simply comparisons against other institutions.
Ultimately, you want to pick a school that you would be happy to attend on its own merits. Knowing that you have well-defined reasons for picking a school will help you feel satisfied with your decision and confident that this is the right choice for you and your goals.
Remember that success is defined on an individual level. Once you have thought through what success means to you, look at the resources provided by the schools you are considering. Will those resources provide you the tools and assistance you need to reach the level of success you desire? Go beyond career stats and figure out if there are support systems built in at every level of the school.
A responsive and encouraging Admissions Staff can help you put together your strongest application. An academic support office that provides individualized counseling can help you master legal study skills and build your foundation for future learning. A bar preparation curriculum customized for the school’s student body can help prepare you for one of your last major hurdles. Look for signs that a school offers the kind of support that will best help you.