Choosing a Law School: Prestige v. Debt Load
Klint W. Alexander, Ph.D. J.D. University of Wyoming College of Law Laramie, Wyoming
As the fall law school application cycle commences, law school administrators are excited about the uptick in interest among young people today in the law profession. The number of law school applicants is expected to increase for the second year in a row following a decade-long decline in applications nationwide. Administrators are optimistic that an increase in applications will result in more selectivity among students with better LSAT scores, which will, in turn, improve the quality of incoming classes, rankings, and eventually bar passage rates. In effect, the legal education market is finally shifting from a buyer's market to a seller's market, making it tougher for prospective students to predict where they will be admitted and offered financial aid to attend law school.
Amidst this more competitive landscape, applicants will choose to apply to more law schools taking into account multiple factors, including ranking, geographic location, cost, and programmatic focus. This year, more applicants will find themselves either wait-listed at more highly ranked law schools or offered fewer dollars upon admission, thus raising the question whether the payoff in the end is worth it to attend a more expensive, higher-ranked law school as opposed to a more affordable institution with a strong job-placement track record. The smart shopper, of course, will do the math and decide that graduating with a lower debt load and a job offer is a better bet than attending a more expensive, higher-ranked law school. But not all applicants are smart shoppers or focused on the same goals.
It is important that prospective law students understand just how costly a legal education can be before deciding on where to apply this fall. The average debt load among law school graduates today is approximately $120,000. As a general rule, the higher a law school is ranked, the more it costs to obtain a legal education. One of the major flaws in national rankings outfits like U.S. News &...