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March 22, 2003

Spring Break: What School?

Escape Is Us. Spring break has come to this midwestern campus and it finds me still trying to make a decision about which school to attend. Still in the running are:

  1. George Washington
  2. American
  3. George Mason
  4. Boston College

I'll be visiting all four schools in the next week, and I'm sure those visits will help me decide. Unfortunately, the most decisive factor in this decision is still the biggest unknown: What kind of financial aid package can I expect from each school? So far, no school has offered a dime, which is, well, not a good thing. I've filled out and submitted the FAFSA and the Need Access forms, but still nada. I've called all the schools and all promise some word on financial aid "within the next few weeks." The deposit deadline for all schools is April 15.

Reading Law School Confidential only makes this whole decision thing seem that much harder because it makes it seem like your choice of where to attend law school is also a choice for where you want to live for the next decade or more. According to Miller, et al., where you go to school determines where you can find a job:

Don't think of going to Kent if you can't see yourself settling down in the Midwest, or to American if you have no interest in living and working in D.C. (64)

Liable had a great post discussion about related issues last week, but her comments have been lost because of technical difficulties. (Move to MT! It's got comments built in!) And of course, I've heard all this gloom and doom about picking too much of a "regional" school before, so it raises again the question: How important is it to pick a school based on rankings? All the DC schools are well-ranked and all of them have strong public interest programs, but none is as well-ranked as BC (which also appears to be a very strong PI school). And where would I prefer to live and work? I don't know!

Heeeeelllllllp!!!! Where would you go and why?

Posted March 22, 2003 07:45 AM | law school

I'm only going to repeat to you what my attorney relative told me: it is better to graduate in the middle of your class from a first tier school than top of your class from second or lower. If we graduate in a tough year economically you are better off coming out of a first tier school. I would combine that nugget of information with what you find out about the money. If BC is not feasible then don't kill yourself over it. Fact is, you are smart and capable and you'll get offers no matter which school you pick.

Posted by: sue at March 22, 2003 05:15 PM

I totally agree with Sue. As a GW grad, I'd be happy to chat with you about what I liked and hated about the school. Feel free to email me.

Posted by: Heather at March 22, 2003 06:24 PM

I am currently making a very similar decision. The rankings don't need to be the deciding factor. I am thinking of GW too, and went to one of the admitted student receptions. And of interest to you maybe: An assistant dean there was discussing the issue of BC vs. GW. Basically what he said was that they were extremely similar schools. We said the feeling of the schools, the faculty and education were basically the same, and what he said differentiates them: location is the biggest thing (DC is great for law school, BC is semi-suburban, etc.), he said obviously GW has the edge for getting jobs in DC, about equal in NYC, and he felt GW was better for west coast jobs, and Boston obviously falls to BC. So his basic advice on those two is to visit and see where you like better. Personally, of your schools I would pick GW. DC would be amazing to study law in, lots of internships and other opportunities, and GW is clearly better than AU and GMU in my eyes, not only in the rankings but the overall education received and reputation, not to mention ability to find jobs. Anyways, sorry for the long post, email me or check out my blog to see what I'm deciding. And one more note: GW is requiring laptops next year, and they say they are requiring windows, and I could see you were a mac user, like me. Kinda sucks, but I just figure I'll use virtual PC.

Posted by: matt at March 23, 2003 12:20 AM

w/r/t the Mac issue: the PC requirement is for Examsoft, which does not work over Virtual PC (the Mac emulator). You only really need a winXP (what they mean when they say "PC") laptop for the purposes of typing exams. My other mac friends borrow others' laptops to get around this problem. other than that, you type your notes and do your outline using whatever you wish--be it Word, Notepad, LotusWorks, AppleWorks...I don't think the registar at any school comes around to make sure you're not running FreeBSD or a non-Windows XP operating system (at least it doesn't happen at my school!). I just wrote about this issue...

in regards to choosing schools: I am enjoying life in DC, and pretty much second what Sue said.

Posted by: mike at March 23, 2003 10:51 PM

Thanks everyone for the feedback. I'm at American now (in the law library) and I have to say they've made a very strong impresson. G. Mason yesterday made, well, something of the opposite impression. I'll give full details when I've got more time. Tomorrow I'll be at GW, so we'll see....

Posted by: ambimb at March 24, 2003 11:21 AM

How about this -- if you're willing to work diligently at any school you go to, pick the one you want to attend. They're all winners.

PS - I added your name to my "pre-law blawgers" admissions decision tally board. Let me know if that's a problem.

: )

Posted by: liable at March 26, 2003 10:50 AM

If I had your choices, I'd go to GW. I'm probably not the best person to ask since I'm currently trying to make some decisions about which law school to attend also and it seems to be getting harder as the days pass!

I currently reside in the D.C. metro area and it is an amazing place to live. There is so much to learn, see, and do.

Good luck! :)

Posted by: Ditzy at March 26, 2003 11:38 AM

Law school decisions are totally personal. The reasons a school is right for one person will not necessarily be the reasons it is right for another. Regarding ranking, here is what several of my lawyer friends have told me (and note that even they don't totally agree with each other):

1) Top tier only counts if you are top 14. If you go to a school at the bottom of the top tier, you might as well go to a second tier.

2) School rep only follows you to your first job unless you go to HYS which will follow you forever.

3) There are brilliant, high-paid lawyers working in top firms in major cities that did not go to a top-tier. Law school is what you make of it.

Good luck. -- Cin

Posted by: Cinnamon Girl at March 26, 2003 03:13 PM

So you can judge my perspective: I'm a senior associate at a large DC law firm. I'm not a member of our recruitment committee, but I've been very active in interviewing and the summer programs.

All of the schools you have listed are excellent schools, and I congratulate you at your success in landing these opportunities. I have known and worked with very good lawyers from all of these schools. I did not attend any of them and have no axe to grind in favor or against any of them.

That said, I have the following thoughts: You will have a much, much broader range of job opportunities upon graduation from GW or BC than from American or Mason. This is not a reflection of the relative quality of those schools or their students, but rather a reflection of the amount of employer recruitment effort that each school attracts. Law firms in DC simply do not pay as much attention to American and Mason as they do to GW and BC.

Certainly, it's eminently possible for a graduate from American or Mason to get a large law firm job, but it's a lot harder. Those schools don't attract as much recruitment, which means that students there have to work harder just to get a screening interview. Also, the GPA cutoff, below which law firms won't even consider a student, is more stringent for American and Mason than for other schools.

You may be saying that you don't intend to go to a law firm (or at least not to a large law firm). That's fine; it's not for everyone. However, your views, your career aspirations, or your financial situation may change while you are in school. Going to GW or BC will likely keep a broader range of options open, without foreclosing non-firm or non-traditional paths.

GW and BC have good reputations beyond their home cities. American and Mason are still (unfortunately) relatively unknown to law firms outside the DC area. American has very good connections in the public-service community, I think. Mason is very well-regarded in Virginia, and it has some particular expertise in intellectual property law, if memory serves.

Best wishes.

Posted by: Tom T. at March 26, 2003 09:58 PM

BC, where I had my undergrad years, is good, and a national school. GW is national as well (with regard to hiring). BC has a slight edge with regard to ranking. American is decent, but regional. Geo. Mason is somewhere in between regional and national. However, Geo. Mason is also very, very conservative. I don't know if you'd enjoy that sort of thing.

Posted by: TPB, Esq. at March 28, 2003 05:23 PM

not that this is very important or makes much difference, but BC and GW are ranked the same this year, GW hopped up to 22 alongside BC now.

Posted by: matt at March 28, 2003 09:38 PM

Hi, I've never been to your site before but misery loves company, and I, too, am an applicant for the class of 2006 at various law schools.

A friend of mine is facing the same decision between BC and GW (she was PWL at GTown after being deferred early action). She's probably going to choose BC because of a better "feeling."

I think a combination of feeling and financial aid is the best advice one can get at this stage. Both are good, national schools... not quite as national as a top 14, but still great.


Posted by: Rich at April 7, 2003 12:38 AM

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