Pursuing a career in the legal profession often begins by applying to the best law schools. However, what constitutes the best law school programs may be more subjective than prospective students imagine. Each institution provides foundational education and training to help law school students pass the bar examination and begin practice. But the nuanced curriculum provided as well as the campus life experience can significantly shape a student’s future.
Are you interested in pursuing an education in law? After putting the following insights to work, you will have a better understanding of what “best law schools” actually mean for you.
What Makes the ”Best” Law School?
Answering this question is a great deal like asking what makes the “best song.” While people often consider the notion to be purely subjective, there are objective elements in either assessment. A band in which the players are out of sync typically creates cacophony, not harmony. If the singer’s voice is off-key, those may not be the vocals you want to listen to for the next three years (the time law school students typically invest to earn a Juris Doctor degree).
The best law school is generally one that fits your personality and understanding of the world, to some extent. You will be immersed with people also pursuing a law degree. Harmonious extracurricular relationships generally make the time you spend with like-minded students more rewarding. The connection with students, the law school’s general philosophy, and the academic approach can be like listening to a favorite genre. Or it can be musical noise. The best law school for you is the one in which you are most likely to succeed academically, and personally, and move forward with a prosperous career.
What Are Some Important Considerations When Choosing a Law School?
Reviewing core and elective curricula ranks among the best areas to evaluate a law school. Teaching core courses tend to run along similar lines at any American Bar Association (ABA) accredited law school. The core curriculum involves legal doctrinal subjects such as civil procedure, criminal law, torts, constitutional law, research, property, contracts, and legal writing. However, law schools diversify how they prescribe and teach these foundational courses. Don’t be surprised if a first-year law professor sparks a new interest in a previously unfamiliar area of the law.
It’s also essential to note that institutions vary concerning the number of core and elective requirements. As you enter the second and third years of law school, the diverse elective course offerings may significantly impact your education and life’s direction. A solid foundation of legal knowledge and skills must be weighed against your post-law school goals. Thoroughly vet core requirements and the electives available. Each law school’s website offers a treasure trove of curriculum information.
Law School by the Numbers
Selecting a law school may be the single most significant personal, professional, and financial decision of your life. The process also mirrors a decision many will make after completing their JD and start earning a good income as an attorney — buying a house. The primary hard-number factors regarding law school involve location, size, cost, and qualifying for admittance.
Why Does Law School Location Matter?
A segment of the legal industry considers location the single most crucial element in choosing a law school. The primary reason supporting this perspective stems from post-graduate options.
For many prospective law school students, regional influences and shifting demographic patterns currently favor urban cores. For example, attending an institution in a developing city with an abundance of technology companies, business law firms, or areas that present a high need for immigration services is likely to provide more opportunities for employment during and after law school. You will likely compete for internships and build relationships with professionals and industries in the immediate area. As they like to say in the real estate sector: location, location, location!
Does Law School Size Matter?
Like your undergraduate experience, the size of a law school’s student body will likely impact your comfort and academic success. Bigger schools are often considered “prestigious,” and the name on your JD diploma matters when applying for positions in well-paying law firms or corporations. Some students prefer large classrooms and interacting with the teaching assistants. Many of the TAs were in your shoes at one time and provide a valuable resource in terms of student life and academics.
But the inverse also holds true for a great many law school applicants. Small campuses offer a more intimate environment where students enjoy greater access to professors and resource professionals. That can be a boon in terms of feeling like a person and not just another number in some higher education machine. For example, Texas A&M Law ranked among the Top 15 best law schools in terms of student-to-faculty ratios.
The Cost of Law School & Financial Aid
The national average cost of a law school degree exceeded $205,744 in 2021. Tuition costs were about $137,533, or $45,844 per year. Living expenses generally run $22,737 per year or $68,211 over three years. Expensive Ivy League schools topped $72,000 in 2021. For that amount of money, you could easily put at least a down payment on a house.
To say law school is likely the greatest financial investment of a recent undergraduate’s life is something of an understatement, and initially paying for it can prove challenging. But the good news is that financial aid and scholarship opportunities remain available for qualifying students. These are some financial items to consider when investigating financial support:
- Merit-based grants are awarded for academic excellence, leadership, and specialized talents
- Need-based grants are available after a review of FAFSA information
- Law schools generally offer select grants
- Federal student loan programs are generally available to law school students
In 2020, more than 42 percent of law schools offered some level of conditional scholarships. Given rising tuition rates and expenses, people considering law school would be well-served to calculate the cost associated with each school. Then compare the costs against the education, experience, and potential opportunities of attending an institution.
Law School Admissions Requirements
Perhaps the two most important numbers a prospective law school student possesses are their Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score and undergraduate grade point average (GPA). LSAT scores range between 120 and 180, and those upwards of 160 or higher are generally considered “competitive.” Some law school reports view scores of 150 or lower as borderline. But the competition ranges significantly depending on the institution and the class of applicants vying for entrance. Gaining admission to a top-tier institution generally tasks test-takers with exceeding 170. However, quality law schools are often willing to accept applicants with LSATs hovering just above 150 if they have other resume strengths.
Law school admissions also expect students to demonstrate an ability to achieve good grades. They couple the LSAT score with an applicant’s GPA to ensure the person possesses both the reasoning skills and study habits to succeed. A person’s GPA effectively serves as a soft cut-off measure, with higher ranking schools accepting those with an average GPA hovering around 3.865. Many law schools will accept students with an average 3.4 GPA, while others take applicants with an average of 2.95.
Platforms such as Public Legal provide hard data that helps students measure their scores to the admissions requirements of appropriate schools. With grades and scores in hand, matching your numbers with suitable schools can improve your odds. Texas A&M University School of Law ranked in the nation’s Top 50 law school programs in 2022 and enrolled students with a median GPA of 3.93 and a median LSAT score of 164. When applying, it may be prudent to focus the bulk of your applications within your LSAT and GPA range.
Thoughtfully Consider Academic Programs
Not everyone who successfully completes a law degree practices in the courtroom, and it’s not uncommon to be motivated to serve in a niche capacity. For example, environmental law ranks among one of the trending areas. That being said, diverse academic law school programs offer coursework to prepare students to help community members through the practice of family, immigration, trademark and copyright, tax, and elder law, among others.
Hands-on learning also makes a significant difference when law school students transition into the public or private sector. Legal clinics where students work on behalf of real clients, externships with judges or policy experts, and courtroom simulations provide a wealth of experience for a legal career. When considering the best law school for you, carefully review the full range of academic and experiential offerings to ensure you get the niche training you desire.
Law School Rankings & Reputation
The best law schools are not necessarily determined by GPA, LSAT scores, or the seemingly prestigious national name. The best law schools have an established reputation for thoroughly educating and preparing law school students for critical next steps. The vast majority of Top 100 law school programs provide effective training. Texas A&M Law now ranks 46th nationally among law schools according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2023 edition of Best Graduate Schools.
In 2021, 93.3 percent of Texas A&M law school graduates passed the bar on their first attempt. And 95 percent of degree recipients were gainfully employed within 10 months after graduation. Law schools earn their reputation based largely on the success of graduates who make their mark in the world.
Flexible Degree Programs & Timelines
Although the traditional pathway involves graduating from high school, entering a four-year college, and applying directly to law school programs, not everyone is on that track. Deserving applicants face adversity that requires them to support family members, care for loved ones, or continue to serve in the military, among other factors. If you have concerns about fully immersing yourself in three-year law school programs, consider those with flexible timelines.
Student and Campus Culture
The best law schools offer students a robust educational experience in a culturally rich environment. Diversity and inclusion have emerged as significant factors in campus life. Interacting with people from different backgrounds and perspectives deepens our cultural understanding. Diversity also tends to make law school students better advocates for clients throughout their careers.
That’s why prominent law school programs proudly post inclusion ratios and carve out financial opportunities to foster diversity. And the best law schools also further inclusion by supporting on-campus organizations and activities that bring people together. Earning a JD may be a matter of passing examinations and classes, but the value of a diverse student body that truly reflects the country cannot be understated. When selecting the law school that best fits your needs, consider the qualitative experience ahead.
Student Support and Career Services
It’s something of an open secret that law school programs tend to be rigorous and emotionally demanding. When considering an institution, take a long look at the type and number of support systems it has in place. Bare minimums should include mental health resources, support groups, and off-campus referrals. Beyond student wellness, look for academic advising, bar examination preparation, career placement, and networking opportunities. You probably have a good idea about the levels of support you require when studying intensely, but take a step back and think about life after law school and how a program best serves that future.
If you plan to apply to law school programs, Texas A&M University School of Law ranks among the best opportunities to advance your education and enter a rewarding career. For more information, visit Texas A&M School of Law or contact us today.