Last night, the NCAA announced the brackets for March Madness, naming the highest ranked college teams in each division. Perhaps more important for prospective law students are the rankings released last week by US News and World Reports on the top law schools in the country.
Heading the list at number 1 is perennial leader Yale University, with a hefty price tag of over $53,000 per year for full-time tuition. Harvard, Stamford, Columbia and the University of Chicago round out the top five, each of which as a price tag of over $50,000 per year in tuition. US News uses a number of factors to decide which law school to rank number 1, including job placement, LSAT scores and financial ratios of money spent per student. The rankings have been used for over 20 years by law school advisors as well as those interested in attending law school and trying to decide what law school to apply to and what offers to accept.
A challenge to these rankings has been offered by The National Jurist, which last month revealed its top law school: Stanford. The law schools at the University of Virginia and then Duke followed. Numbers four and five were the law schools at the University of Chicago and Northwestern. The National Jurist ranked Yale number 16 and Harvard was ranked number 24.
The goal of the National Jurist is “to provide an alternative ranking that was focused more on results and service, and that would provide legal education with admirable incentives”. To that end, the magazine looked at 4 categories not necessarily part of the review used by US News.
Much in the same way there is debate over whether the NCAA team that wins the tournament is really the best basketball team in the country, there will be much discussion as to what is the best American Law School. It is important to remember that the rankings offered by both magazines, while based on objective criteria, are not necessarily determinative of the best school for a particular student. As you look at these rankings, take into account the tuition costs as well as cost of living, transportation, books, etc. We have looked at issues affecting declining law school enrollment including high student debt and lowered post graduate employment. In addition, take time to think about your goals for attending law school: are you interested in a particular field of study or really intent on getting a job in a specialized area. Can the number 1 school on either list meet those needs? Many schools offer lower tuition to in-state residents. For example, the tuition at the University of Mississippi is just over $12,000 per year for a resident of the state; at number 38, the law school at University of California – Davis is the most expensive school, with tuition costs of $58,815 per year for out of state students attending school full time. Certainly the cost of attending law school may move a particular school up or down on your personal rankings.
Take time to review the rankings, as well as the factors that were used to create these rankings by both magazines. But be sure to take into account your own personal factors and create a law school ranking system of your own that is not just about numbers but is reflective of your finances, interests and abilities.