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For many prospective students, deciding which admissions offer to accept can become a separate, stressful challenge. In choosing a school, considerations like overall cost, available scholarship money, geographic location, and reputation are important. The prevailing wisdom, however, suggests that an applicant should attend the best school to which she is accepted. With ranking systems arranging schools into a prestige hierarchy based on financial resources, faculty accomplishments, and library collections, among other factors, today's employers can quickly assess the type of education a student received. (The most prominent of these systems, the U.S. News and World Report Ranking of America's Top Graduate and Professional Schools, was founded in 1983 and is currently the leading authority on law school rank.)
Unless you are seeking a specialized education available only through specific programs on select campuses--for example, with its American Indian Law Clinic, the University of Colorado would be a wise selection if your professional dream is to help preserve tribal Southern Ute lands--a school's ranking is often the most important factor to consider in the school selection process. In today's prestige-driven legal community, school rank can affect your marketability during school, upon graduation, and throughout your career.
Because top firms recruit most heavily at highly ranked schools, students attending those schools have a better chance of obtaining well-paid jobs with large laws firm upon graduation. Without the benefit of on-campus recruiting or those coveted personal connections, however, interviews with choice law firms can seem as elusive as that 180 LSAT score--even for a student who aced contracts and wrote the winning appellate brief.
In addition to facilitating lucrative law firm positions, attending a well-ranked school is equally helpful for those who wish to secure prestigious public interest positions. Because public interest jobs often involve compelling cases addressing high-profile, controversial issues, public interest work is highly desirable; positions in the field can be as, if not more, competitive than those in the law firm arena. Attending an esteemed institution, therefore, can give candidates an edge when they seek to, say, protect dolphins from sewage sludge or analyze proposed housing legislation at a think tank.
This is not to say that attending a less highly regarded school is a waste of time and resources. It is very possible to graduate from a lower ranked law school and go on to realize great success. However, the reputation of a well-ranked school can give its graduates an enviable advantage in today's increasingly competitive job market.
Of course, the only way to gain admission to a top ranked law school is to excel in the admissions process. Impressive personal essays, glowing letters of recommendation, and, most importantly, a stellar LSAT score are essential. So, before you look forward to experiencing the exquisite stress of deciding between law schools, make sure you're in a position for law schools to want you, as well.
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