Columbia Law School vs. Penn Law School
Academics & Programs: Columbia Law School is “a very exciting and dynamic place.” The curriculum is very heavy on legal theory “with a dash of practical, just for show,” and the “breadth of course offerings” is staggering. There are countless centers and programs specializing in everything from law, media, and the arts to European legal studies to tax policy to gender and sexuality law. “Getting on a journal is remarkably noncompetitive.” “Being in New York affords the opportunity to participate in almost any internship you could imagine.” Programs in international law and intellectual property law are reportedly excellent. Columbia is also “a corporate lawyer factory” and the “best place in the country for budding transactional lawyers.” Public interest law is yet another strong suit here. Students who are involved are “a bit clique-ish” but, if you are in the clique, you’ll have access to a wealth of opportunities as well as a tremendously generous loan repayment assistance program.
The “unbelievable,” “unmatched” faculty at Columbia is “amazing” “across the board.” “Columbia does a good job mixing the young, relatable rising superstars with older, more practiced professors.” Virtually all of them “make class interesting,” and “they’re the number-one reason to come to CLS (besides the prestige, of course).” Professors also “make a huge effort to be approachable” and “are happy to give career-related advice or answer questions.” The administration isn’t as beloved. Happier students note that there are some “really caring people” on staff. However, the general sentiment seems to be that management is somewhat “disdainful.”
When the time comes to find a real job, “employment prospects are unbeatable and the alumni network is extraordinarily strong.” Career Services is “very helpful in offering support in a variety of capacities.” Columbia boasts a “high placement rate in big law firms” and “the opportunities for working in prestigious government and sought-after public interest positions are unparalleled.” “It’s Columbia,” candidly explains a 2L. “The name buys you a lot.” About the only complaint we hear is the contention that “the employment focus is a little too New York–centric.”
Campus Life/Facilities: The facilities here are far from great. “Everything is very modern” and “the building is serviceable and clean, but it is ugly.” Classrooms “aren’t terribly comfortable,” and “They’re not as pretty as what you’ll find at other Ivy League law schools.” “The library is one of the best in the country” as far as the resources on offer are concerned, but its aesthetic “is absolutely hideous,” says an appalled 2L
The population of future lawyers at Columbia is “extremely diverse,” generally young, and “quite national.” Students describe this place as “a nerd paradise” full of “geniuses” who are “brilliant and accomplished but surprisingly cool.” “There are spoiled brats, and awkward types, and public interest people, and friendly people, and inflated egos, and social people,” reports a 3L. A few students say there is a “divide between students of different economic and academic” backgrounds. However, many others insist that personal circumstances don’t matter at all. “There isn’t any sort of conspicuous divide between the student body on socioeconomic or geographic factors until you realize that most of the Ivy kids are terrible at beer pong,” quips a 1L
Academically, “There is an atmosphere of [intensity] here.” Students are “constantly assessing how they stack up, which feeds into the collective neurosis.” Some students assert that the struggle for top grades is pretty brutal. “People in general are not happy to share notes,” claims a 2L. “They are, in fact, very secretive about their notes.” “Our reputation for gunning, competitive jerks is unfortunately true for about five percent of the class,” laments a 1L. Other students tell us, “People are extremely generous about sharing their outlines and studying together.” “If you miss a class,” they say, “your neighbors will e-mail you their notes without you even asking.”
Columbia’s location in a “safe, relatively quiet” neighborhood on Manhattan’s Upper West Side provides few distractions when you are trying to study. When students put down their casebooks, though, they can take advantage of a “vibrant student community.” “You’ll be happy socially here unless you are a complete tool,” promises a 2L. “Everyone is fairly involved in all sorts of organizations.” “There are multiple lunch events every day, and there’s some sort of lecture or panel or firm event with dinner almost every evening.” There are “plenty of students who want to party like it’s college,” too, and “no shortage of happy hours.” Living in the Big Apple is also a massive plus. “It’s hard to explain the type of magnetic force this place can be unless you’ve lived here and worked here,” reflects a 1L. “New York City means students can do anything they please (with the free hours they have).”
* The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University.
University of Pennsylvania Law School
3501 Sansom Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6204
Application Deadline: March 1, 2014
Annual Tuition: $54,992
Class of 2016 Stats:
Acceptance Rate*: 15.5%
Total Applicants*: 5,848
Students of Color: 30%
Average Age: 24
Total Full-Time Enrollment*: 776
Median LSAT*: 170
LSAT Scores (25th-75th percentile)*: 164-171
Median GPA*: 3.87
GPA Scores (25th-75th percentile)*: 3.55-3.94
The University of Pennsylvania Law School is located in Philadelphia, the birthplace of the constitution. Fittingly, this past Constitution Day, the Penn Law staff did a surprise public reading of the Constitution’s preamble—complete with dramatic background music. A sense of history permeates the university, one of the oldest institutions of higher education in the country; the law school, which was founded in 1850, is no different.
Students from all over are drawn to Penn’s traditional feel and strong academic reputation. The Class of 2016 comes from 36 states, 124 different colleges and universities, and several foreign countries. On Penn’s website, the school highlights a number of these students’ accomplishments. Some of them are impressive but expected—there are founders of organizations and former teachers from all levels of education—and some of them are as quirky as the staff’s Constitution Day stunt: the class of 2016 includes an NHL hockey player, a Rabbi, a few DJs and a trapeze artist.
Penn’s first-year requirements are fairly standard. 1Ls take five core classes over two semesters, along with two electives in the spring. On top of the classes, though, all Penn students must complete a public service requirement and a research and writing requirement. The former entails 70 hours of pro bono legal work (92% of the class of 2013 exceeded that number); the second is intended to “provide faculty-student intellectual interchange” through a scholarly project. The combination of these requirements results in a legal education that’s both practical and academic.
For those who aren’t satisfied with a JD, there’s a joint degree program that appeals to countless employers (and mothers): a JD/MBA. The program’s prestige is bolstered by Wharton’s status as the third best business school in the country. It can be completed in three years, but the cost is huge: on top of the $49,900 tuition, students pay a JD-MBA program fee of $28,840. Still, Penn’s site showcases a few students who plan on putting those expensive credentials to good use. For example, Andrew Towne, a JD/MBA candidate and former CIA analyst, will use them to forge connections between the public and private sectors as a government employee. He’s been especially satisfied with his experience at the law school. “I actually have a hard time imagining studying law anywhere but Penn Law, because the people here are so different from the stereotype I’d heard of law school students,” he said, citing his sectionmates’ eagerness to help each other learn.
As good as the Penn experience can be, a relatively small percentage stays in the area after graduation. According to employment data from the Class of 2012, the top destinations for Penn graduates are New York (40%), Pennsylvania (18%), Washington, D.C. (11%), and California (10%); other regions got around 2% of the class each. In spite of Penn’s public service requirement, only 4% of 2012 graduates took public interest jobs. Meanwhile, 15% took clerkships, and far more—74%—went to law firms. Like at most schools, it’s likely that salary was a deciding factor: the median salary was $160,000 for private practice lawyers and only $43,750 for public interest lawyers. Either way, as far as general employment goes, the odds are in Penn graduates’ favors: 91.2% of the class of 2011 was gainfully employed within 9 months.
*Derived from school-reported U.S. News data
Academics & Programs: Founded in 1850, Penn Law is one of the country’s most outstanding law schools, boasting a “stellar” academic reputation and a cross-disciplinary program nearly unrivalled by other schools. The school “has a lot of resources and ensures that it remains a place of cutting edge legal thinking and teaching,” and the environment is one that fosters “academic success and personal friendships at the same time.” Overall, the school is “the perfect mix of academic rigor, opportunity, and collegial environment,” according to a 2L.
The professors are “incredible,” comprising a faculty of “nothing but pure geniuses.” They “genuinely care about the students and take the time to mentor them,” and many seem “to genuinely enjoy working through legal issues or discussing legal scholarship with their students.” Faculty members are “interesting people who’ve had extraordinary careers,” and most feel that “it’s an honor to learn from them.” Students are also able to take classes outside of the law school in their second and third years in order to broaden their horizons. Currently, the Legal Writing program is getting “a much-needed makeover,” and the appellate advocacy courses and moot court opportunities “are strong and can accommodate most if not all students who wish to participate.” Clinics are “great… if you can get into one,” as they tend to be small, meaning many students ultimately may not be able to capitalize on the school’s strong clinical programming.
The “extremely visible” administration garners similar enthusiasm, delivering “excellence with a smile.” They “consistently put in extra effort to improve your learning experience, to bring a speaker to the law school, or to implement a concern or suggestion you have to improve the law school.” As examples, a student cites the staff member in the registrar’s office who “emailed me a syllabus for a course I hoped to register for, so I could be current on the readings,” and the times that “the library researchers will hold an impromptu meeting to help find a tricky resource.” “It would be easy for Student Affairs to hear out student complaints or suggestions and never act on them. Our administrators, however, really seem invested in making this a positive experience for the students and respond with action a majority of the time.”
There are “lots of pro bono opportunities” that provide practical experience, but a few students do wish that more practical opportunities were available, “particularly ones geared toward transactional, legal practice.” Fortunately, professors are “very willing to help with clerkships, externships, and outside research.” The lack of practical opportunities is the only resource complaint that Penn students have, yet many agree that the professors “make sure we have what we need and that we know how to use this stuff.” Registering for classes can be “a hassle” though, and students gripe about the “archaic process” of having to go to the office and write your name on a waitlist, which is a slightly tedious process.<p>Penn alumni are very involved, returning to Penn Law to teach elective courses and to offer their support in the recruiting process; it is because of the alumni’s solid reputation that “employers look at a resume that has ‘Penn Law’ on it.”
Campus Life/Facilities: “I love being at Penn,” says a happy student. “The size of the student body is large enough that I am still meeting people, but small enough that it feels like a real community.” Penn is composed of “superbly accomplished individuals who are relatively humble about their achievements,” which makes for a “superior learning environment, where everyone works to their highest capacity, but everyone is still kind and generous to others.” This general feeling of being the best of the best takes a load off of the tension that can be found in many graduate programs: “Everyone is very confident that they will get a great job when they graduate, so there is no sense of competition that I hear about from my friends at comparable schools.” Students “share notes and outlines at the drop of a hat, and there’s a genuine feeling that we’re all in it together.”
The school is also very LGBTQ friendly and supportive.<p>The facilities at Penn are “visually pleasing and practical,” and classroom facilities are “mostly very high-tech and new, especially with the addition of our new building.” There are always “good places to study, socialize, eat, hold events, and whatever else you want to do.” The school is small, and the way it is laid out “really makes it feel friendly and like a community. You run into everyone all the time, professors and students.” “Penn is as good as everyone says, and better,” says a pleased student. “Law school’s a tough three years. Given a choice to do it all over again, I can’t imagine wanting to go anywhere else.”
* The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University.