Top Ranked Doesn't Equal Most Applications

by Vault Law Editors | April 22, 2011

-- By Jeff Thomas 

For all of you exploring law school, I'm going to propose a novel idea: pretend law school rankings don’t exist. Tough to do, I know. But go with me here. How would you somewhat “objectively” figure out where to apply? Pretty much the same way you, like me, may have ended up watching one-too-many episodes of Jersey Shore, became addicted to Angry Birds or came to use Digg as a primary news source: you’d use the age-old popularity contest, at least as a starting point. Now lest you think I’m a guy swayed by the masses, I’ve never read a Harry Potter book or seen The Godfather (it’s principle people). But I digress.

Somewhat lost in the “Who’s up? Who’s down?” discussion on U.S. News' annual law school rankings is some interesting data on application volume that at first glance may be surprising. Many of the ten law schools that received the most full-time applications this year were not ranked among the top 10 or even top 20 overall. Consider this: Georgetown received the most applications in 2010—11,524—yet ranked 14 overall; Boston University School of Law received the fifth-most number of applications at 8,515, yet ranked 22 overall; and American University Washington College of Law received the ninth highest application volume, but ranked 50 overall. In fact, only four of the top ten schools with the most full-time applications are among the top 10 ranked overall. Top-ranked Yale Law School and Harvard Law School didn’t make the list at all. The question is, why? Something else is at work. Let’s look into the mindset of the wannabe lawyer.

In a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey of more than 1,300 LSAT-takers, when asked “How important a factor is a law school’s ranking in determining where you will apply?” 86 percent said ranking was “very important” or “somewhat important.” But in a related question asking, “What is most important to you when picking a law school to apply to?” only 30 percent reported that a law school’s ranking is the most critical factor, just ahead of geographic location at 24 percent. Job placement statistics only received 8 percent, which—for the record—we think actually deserves a lot more attention, particularly given today’s legal job climate.

The application volume data implies that aspiring JDs are being smart about where they apply. They’re not just looking at rankings, which while helpful in aggregating specific information, don’t tell the entire story—even U.S. News itself rightfully concedes this point (see our exclusive sit-down with U.S. News on the subject by clicking the link below). We consistently counsel students to consider attending law school in the region/jurisdiction where they ultimately want to practice and where their career passions lie.

Where should you go for the nation’s largest law firms with the highest starting salaries? Think New York City, where Columbia and NYU—two schools with the highest application volumes—are located. Looking for a career in politics after graduating? Head to Washington DC—Georgetown, American and GW (also popular schools) are located there. Throughout law school, these students have internships and networking opportunities accessible to them that many don’t—experiences and connections that can be extremely helpful in a competitive legal jobs market after they pass the bar.

Yale and Harvard are terrific law schools—among the best, no doubt. They’ve produced many presidents, Supreme Court justices and top legal minds. So why aren’t they among the schools with the highest application volume? It could come down to the simple facts that New Haven, for example, is not an attractive locale to them or that prospective students are being realistic about their admissions chances. It never hurt anybody to dream big, though.

Where does this leave you as you go through the law school admissions process? Consider the following:

•Use the rankings only as a guide.

•Speak with current students and alumni to make sure you’d be a good fit.

•Strongly consider where you want to establish your career.

•Understand the differences in the programming at the schools you may apply to.

Ultimately, enroll in the JD program that best fits your personal needs and long-term professional goals—not the masses’.

US News Source
Kaplan Site
Kaplan’s information session with U.S. News

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Jeff Thomas is the director of pre-law programs for Kaplan Test Prep, managing the company’s LSAT business, including marketing, program development and delivery. A veteran Kaplan LSAT instructor, Jeff helped develop Kaplan’s new suite of 2010 LSAT products including Logic Games On Demand and the LSAT Experience, the industry’s first fully-simulated test day experience. Jeff also maintains close relationships with admissions deans at the nation’s top law schools. A successful entrepreneur, Jeff received a BS in management from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a JD, magna cum laude, from Albany Law School.

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Filed Under: Law


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