Whether shopping for new shoes or a car, most people prefer to try something out before making a purchase. Considering the cost of law school tuition, it is unwise to choose a law school blindly.
In the past, law school applicants typically visited law schools — either before applying or after receiving a decision — to determine whether they felt at home. Law schools provided tours, information sessions and special events for interested and admitted students.
The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has left applicants unable to tour campuses closed to visitors. So, applicants need to be more creative and proactive in determining whether a law school is right for them. In particular, they should:
— Research the school’s website.
— Speak with current students and alumni.
— Visualize day-to-day life at the law school.
Research the School’s Website
Unsurprisingly, law school websites present a rosy picture of life at their school, with carefully curated photos of confident, engaged students. But carefully reviewing a law school’s website can provide important context about whether a school is right for you.
Look for special programs, centers or clinics that match your interests. Such programs not only enhance your resume in your legal job search, they allow you to get a taste of whether a specific career path fits your skills and talents. Many fields are different in reality than they sound on paper, for better or worse.
Beyond special programs, browse the online course catalogue for offerings that interest you. Read the profiles of faculty who teach those courses to see if they might make good mentors. Look for tenured and full-time faculty or those who have a long-standing relationship with the school. You could even try reaching out to them, although not all professors respond to cold emails.
Also be sure to review lists of student activities and journals, which provide a good sense of the range of interests, backgrounds and viewpoints of your future colleagues.
Speak With Current Students and Alumni
For a less filtered view of life at a specific law school, try to reach out to a current or recent student through your own social networks or an affinity group on campus. If you can’t find a connection, the admissions office can likely set you up with a student volunteer.
No two students will have the same experience at a law school, and few students can compare their experience to those at other schools, so do not expect any dispositive advice. Rather, ask subjective questions about the campus culture, student activities, and unexpected surprises and disappointments. This is also a great way to learn tips to set yourself up for success in your first year.
Speaking to a student is far more helpful than reading law school internet forums. Without context, it is hard to evaluate whether opinions about law schools on such forums are credible and applicable to your circumstances and interests.
Visualize Your Day-to-Day Life at the Law School
Unlike undergraduates, law students are likely to choose to stay in the same state as their law school after graduation. Law schools provide key local connections through their internships, clinics and alumni networks, as well as courses geared toward the legal rules of their home state.
However, geographic considerations encompass more than a foothold in a legal market. Law school requires three stressful years of study, and applicants should make sure they will be spending those years in an environment that will allow them to thrive.
Some people do best in close-knit, rural communities while others like the energy of a busy city. Many law students find lifelong friends — perhaps even love — in law school, so find a place where you feel yourself.
Even if you cannot visit a school, consider visiting the neighborhood and visualizing your life there. Where will you live? What will you do for fun? Will you have any friends or family nearby or will you have to start anew? Is the environment a cultural fit, or will you stand out and feel self-conscious?
Many of the reasons some law students drop out of their program are avoidable if they put effort upfront into finding schools that fit their expectations and interests. While there is no substitute for personal experience, thoughtful research and planning can be the next best thing.
More from U.S. News