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Law School Selection: Location, Location, Location! Why Geography Matters

This is a continuing series of blogs from our team of Admissions Consultants here at Kaplan Test Prep & Admissions, showcasing various considerations on finding the right law school for you. Click here for more information on Admissions Consulting from Kaplan.

"Location, location, location!" That’s what many realtors will tell you when you’re trying to determine which of several prospective homes will provide the most re-sale value over time. Simply put, a particular home in one location may end up being a lot more valuable to you than the same type of home in another area.

What did you say? You’re not purchasing a home right now? All right, I understand that the housing market isn’t doing so well. What’s that? You’re not applying for your realtor’s license either? Okay, okay, I get it already – you’re applying to law school. But, that doesn’t necessarily undercut my main point. The mantra of location, location, location may still be relevant to you. If geography hasn’t entered your mind yet, stop for a moment and think about it.

One reason why several of you may want to consider geography when applying to law school is that choosing the environment in which you’ll be the healthiest and happiest will make it more likely that you’ll be able to perform at your best. And that could make you a stronger law school student, leading to higher grades, more inspiring contributions to the law school community, and better internships, better jobs and better careers. By the way, if you think that one’s level of comfort isn’t a big deal for law school students, trust me. I’ve advised many re-applicants over the years who first contacted me only after either dropping out during their first year of law school or deciding to transfer because they hated the environment in which their schools were located. Some of these applicants couldn’t adjust properly because the local area was too rural or too urban for them. Others couldn’t take the weather (too frigid or too hot and humid), and still others felt uncomfortable living in a community in which they perceived local residents to be less than friendly due to differences in background characteristics. Finally, others simply wanted or needed to be nearer to or farther away from their families. Obviously, in every one of these instances, the mantra of "location, location, location" was subjective to each law student. But, that doesn’t deny the fact that geography was a very real and crucial factor for each of them. And, it may be a critical one for you as well.

I know, I know. Some of you are probably thinking, "I’m not like those people. For three years, I can buckle down, focus on my studies, and perform at my best in any type of environment – hot, cold, rural, urban, far away from or close to home." I hear you – but, keep on reading. The value of law school location doesn’t just depend on where you’ll be more or less comfortable studying and living. Geography can also have an impact on your pocketbook, as well as your future employment opportunities.

Affordability, or the pocketbook issue, is a key factor in the law school selection process for many applicants – especially in today’s trying economic times. And you should be aware that affordability intersects with geography in interesting ways. Let’s say, for instance, that you live with your family in southern California, and you’re extremely worried about the cost of a law school education. In that case, to keep your expenses down, you might want to consider attending a local law school while living in your parents’ home, where your room and board, not to mention your travel and possibly your telephone costs, will be much lower. To take things a step further, you might also want to consider public schools in your local community, as well as in other parts of California, where the tuition is still relatively low (albeit rising) for in-state residents. Pushing out beyond your home state, you might want to think about calling your Aunt Madeleine in Miami and Grandpa Carlos in Chicago, who would be thrilled to have you live with them for three years at little to no charge. You might also want to make a conscious effort to look at law schools beyond major urban areas where the tuition may or may not be high, but where the cost of living is likely to be lower. If saving thousands – indeed, potentially tens of thousands of dollars – in educational loan repayments sounds like something you would be interested in, then geography is definitely a factor that you’ll want to think about when considering law school.

To be sure, geography isn’t just about saving money, it can also be about having the right opportunities to establish the best career for you, a career which can lead to more money in your pocket and – what to some of us is an even higher priority – a more fulfilling professional life. First, when it comes to internship and post-graduate employment opportunities, you should be aware that the vast majority of law schools tend to have their greatest pull with potential employers who are within closer proximity to their geographic area. While a small number of law schools have national clout, the vast majority of law schools have disproportionate influence primarily within their city, state and potentially their broader geographic region. What this means is that if you absolutely know that you want to work in city ‘x,’ then – all other school characteristics being equal – attending a law school in or near city ‘x,’ might just get your career off to a better start than applying to a school of similar quality in city ‘y,’ on the other side of the country. At the same time, keep in mind that some schools are located near concentrations of certain types of law firms, corporations, and other organizations, including government entities. So, if you’re interested in working in legal field ‘z,’ you might want to apply to law schools which are geographically closer to a concentration of institutions in that field. Of course, just to be on the safe side, you’ll want to check out the recent placement records of the law schools in question to ensure that the correlation of proximity and clout with employers holds in every instance.

The above examples represent just a small sampling of the reasons why law school location might be critical to you. But, hey . . . If it turns out the geography doesn’t really matter in your case, then more power to you. Just to be certain, I encourage everyone to at least consider the realtor’s mantra when thinking about law school.

Location, location, location! It’s often a valuable consideration when purchasing property, and it can be just as important to think about when you’re applying to law school.

Jesse R. Borges PhD

About Jesse R. Borges PhD

During the past 20+ years, including 15 with Kaplan, where I serve as Senior Admissions Consultant & Trainer, I’ve personally advised more than 1,500 graduate school applicants, and helped my clients gain admission to nearly every ABA-approved Law School in the United States. My expertise covers not only admission to law school, but also business, public policy, international affairs and social science programs. I have a PhD from Princeton University, and have previously been honored as Kaplan Graduate Admissions Consultant of the Year, as well as as National Consultant of the Year. When I’m not working with clients at Kaplan, I’m running The MBA Admissions Center, which is my MBA admissions consulting practice. You can find my complete bio at www.JesseBorges.com.
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