I will be applying to law school this fall and wonder if you have any advice to offer about the admissions process. I have a 3.5 GPA and a 160 LSAT. I would like to apply to an out-of-state school, but the higher tuition would mean I will need some kind of financial assistance in order to help offset the costs. I am willing to take out loans as long as there is a good job waiting at the end.
What do you suggest I consider when applying?
Signed: Future lawyer
Dear Future Lawyer:
Unlike medical school graduates who will always find a job after graduation no matter where they go to school, law students will discover that good-paying jobs are hard to come by unless they attend a top school with a stellar reputation. I should add here that in recent years, due to the recession, even Harvard has experienced a decline in the number of law firm recruiters on campus.
So let's be optimistic and assume you are admitted to a top law school. The big question now is how much are you willing to go into debt? Law students typically graduate owing tens of thousand dollars in student loans. It is not uncommon to find a graduate owing $150,000 or more.
The average debt total of a 2014 graduate of University of Chicago graduate is $144,000, according to U.S. News and World Report. This is typical for many good law schools, and not just the elite ones. Of course, U of C grads can look forward to $100,000-plus starting salaries to pay off their loans. At Valparaiso University Law School in Indiana, the average debt of its 2014 graduates was $132,000.
You are correct in thinking that one of your first considerations should be whether or not the debt you are assuming is worth it. If you believe that the job prospects from a top law school out-of-state are better after you graduate, then I would concentrate on applying to those. It might be wise to add a good in-state prospect as well and always make sure that you apply to a safety school where you are certain of being admitted.
Even if you are offered a large grant, there are pitfalls to consider. U.S. News and World Report found that some lower-tier law schools offer substantial scholarships and grants to attract top students in order to boost their rankings. The catch is that students have to maintain a high GPA to renew their financial package. Law schools typically grade on a curve and are stingy when it comes to dealing out A's and B's. Many students found they couldn't achieve a high enough GPA and lost their grants. Weaker job prospects and lower salaries are another risk you face coming from a lower-ranked law school.
Research each school thoroughly so that you get a sense of their graduate placement success. If a law school has a good track record of placing students in internships during their law studies those students will have a leg up when they graduate. If you can get a law office internship while attending school it will benefit your job prospects. On-the-job experience resonates with recruiters.