“When selecting law schools to which you will apply, the general philosophy is that you should have a threefold plan: dream a little, be realistic, and be safe. Most applicants have no trouble selecting dream schools — those that are almost, but not quite, beyond their grasp — or safe schools — those for which admission is virtually certain. A common strategic error made by applicants is failure to evaluate realistically their chances for admission to a particular law school.” -- The Law School Admission Council
For some students, deciding where to apply is a simple question of geography. If you are required or simply strongly desire to live in a specific city, your applications will likely be limited to schools in that area. Many University of Washington Tacoma students wish to remain in the South Sound and apply only to University of Washington School of Law and Seattle University School of Law for that reason. Other students are able or willing to relocate, opening the pool of possibilities. For students who are able and willing to consider a wider range of schools, there are important considerations in deciding where to apply.
Many students rely on rankings alone to determine where to apply to law school. While a school’s reputation can be important, we recommend that you gather information both about law schools and yourself to arrive at your own set of criteria that can help you make an informed decision about the law schools that are best for you.
Where do you want to live and work?: Law school is three years and many students find that they go on to work in the general region in which they attended law school. Think carefully about where you would open to living. Additionally, if you hope to go to law school in an area that far from friends or family, or in a different part of the country from where you hope to ultimately hope to work, make sure to factor in travel costs when you think about your budget!
What kind of academic environment and school culture do you prefer?: Do you prefer a collaborative, collegial environment or a more competitive environment? A great way to find out about the culture of a school is to talk to current students. Find out about opportunities to visit a class and chat with a current student/admissions ambassador through schools’ admission offices!
What are your financial requirements?: There is no way to know what your financial aid offers will look like after applying, but there is still a lot to consider. For example, how important is it to you to minimize your costs by applying only to in-state public schools, schools to which you are a very competitive candidate and therefore more likely to receive generous financial aid offers, or public schools that accept Veteran benefits?
Are there specific specialty areas that are particularly important to you?: Every school has a some areas where they stand out. If you are interested in a specific area of the law, you might want to consider whether potential law schools have clinics or centers that focus on that area, faculty who are particular experts, or unique internships/externships.
Do you prefer a large school or a small school?: Just like undergraduate institutions, some law schools have relatively large incoming class sizes, with several hundred students in the first year class, while others are much smaller.
Do you prefer an urban area or a rural area?: If you hate living in the city or can’t imagine yourself thriving in a more rural setting, you should use that to help guide your application list!
What is the diversity of the student body? The faculty? The region?: Diversity, equity, and inclusion matters and it is important to consider whether you will feel safe, comfortable, and represented at your school. Make sure to find out how the school is supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Do they have strong student groups, like a Black Law Students Association or Formerly Incarcerated Student Union? Are they hiring and supporting underrepresented faculty members? Is there an office or center to support students from marginalized backgrounds or communities? Most schools will publish this information on their website and if you can’t find it, don’t be afraid to ask the admissions office!
Admissions Considerations: While numbers alone should not guide your decisions, it is still important to consider the entering class profiles and the average LSAT scores and GPAs of admitted students. Since admissions decisions can be unpredictable, a common strategy is to use comparisons of your LSAT and GPA to recent entering classes to develop three lists of potential schools, though you should always keep in mind that other factors, such as your personal statement, addenda, and letters of recommendation can either increase or decrease your chances of admission:
Dream or “Reach” Schools: These are schools where your top LSAT score and your GPA are below the school’s medians, or where your LSAT score is below the school’s 25th percentile
Core or Target Schools: Core or target schools are schools where you have a decent chance of admission because your LSAT and GPA are close to the school’s medians, or where either or LSAT or your GPA exceeds the median
Safety Schools: A safety school is a school where you are likely to receive an offer of admission. A strong safety school is one where both your LSAT and your GPA exceed the school’s 75th percentile, indicating that you have a high likelihood of success
Access Standard 509 Reports. The American Bar Association, Section of Legal Education, has up to date reports of all ABA approved schools. The reports include data about tuition and fees, living expenses, GPA and LSAT scores, and grants and scholarships which can help you compare law schools before applying.
LSAC GPA and LSAT Search: LSAC created this resource from law schools’ ABA-reported data. Not every school participates.
AccessLex Xplore JD: XploreJD asks 24 questions about factors to consider when selecting a law school and generates a list of ABA-approved law schools that fit your criteria