Yale Crowned Top Law School In 2017 U.S. News Ranking

by Jeff Schmitt on

Yale Law School Library

Yale Law School Library

Consistency is the true mark of greatness. And this quality is what separates Yale Law from the pack. Since the U.S. News Best Law School Rankings were launched in 1990, Yale has held the top spot – without interruption. Students and faculty may have come-and-gone, but Yale Law has continued to set the standard. While markets have shifted and expectations have changed, Yale Law’s supremacy has endured.

And this year’s rankings are no different, with Yale Law holding down the top spot with a perfect 100 index score. Harvard Law and Stanford Law, the perennial bridesmaids, again tied for second place. In fact, the top seven schools held their places for the fourth consecutive year – despite boasting higher overall index scores across the board.

Harvard Law

Harvard Law


So what sets Yale Law apart from other programs? For one, its renown makes it the most exclusive law program in the United States. Last year, 2,767 prospective students applied for a spot at Yale Law – with only 269 landing an offer – an acceptance rate of just 9.7%. Compare that to Harvard Law, whose enrollment is twice as large as Yale. And Harvard Law draws nearly double the applications (5,208) as Yale. As a result, Harvard Law’s 17.9% acceptance rate really means that Harvard candidates enjoy quadruple the odds of making it into the Class of 2018 compared to Yale applicants.

In contrast, Stanford Law compares closely with Yale Law in terms of size (180 1L students vs. 200) and acceptance rates (11.3% vs. 9.7%). However, yield is another story. Just 180 of the 433 candidates who received an acceptance letter from Stanford Law ultimately enrolled (41.5%). Compare that to Yale Law (74.3%) and Harvard Law (60.3%), which are obviously the more attractive options to the best and brightest students.

The difference between academic inputs, however, is far smaller between the three schools. Yale Law’s LSAT scores in the 25th to 75th percentile (3.86-3.98) are higher than Stanford (3.78-3.97) and Harvard Law (3.75-3.96), particularly at the low end. That said, Stanford actually matches Yale’s 173 median LSAT (with Harvard close behind at 171).

The story is similar with undergraduate GPAs, with incoming Yale Law students averaging 3.86-3.98 (again in the 25th to 75th percentile). That’s a shade higher than Stanford Law (3.78-3.97) and Harvard Law (3.75-3.96). Yale Law’s strength at the lower percentile also manifests itself in median GPAs. Here Yale Law also possesses the edge at a 3.93, though still less than a tenth better than Stanford (3.89) and Harvard (3.86).

Stanford Law School

Stanford Law School


In terms of outputs, however, Harvard and Stanford are quite competitive with Yale. For example, Yale Law students’ placement rate – 86.1% within ten months of graduation – lags well behind Stanford (93%) and Harvard (94.4%). More strikingly, this number is down from the 2013 (91.4%) and 2012 (91.2%) Yale graduating classes. If you look deeper into the numbers, the school fares even worse. For one, 8.7%, of 2014 Yale grads work in law school and university-funded jobs, a far higher representation than their Stanford (5.5%) and Harvard (4.8%) brethren. When it comes to prestige, Stanford grads actually hold more judicial clerkships (33.3% vs. 31%) in the Class of 2014 – with Harvard grads trailing well behind in this metric at 19%.

Another surprise: Just 73.5% of the Yale Law grads holding a job within 10 months of graduation are working in a position that requires bar passage – far below Stanford (90.9%) and Harvard (90.1%). Of course, Yale makes a comeback when it comes to bar passage on the first attempt. Here, Yale (96.4%) and Harvard (97.3%) rank among the top five schools. That’s in sharp contrast to Stanford Law, where the onerous California bar exam (with a overall 60.2% passage rate) undoubtedly cuts into Stanford’s performance.

Professionally, Yale, Harvard, and Stanford Law graduates are considered equivalent. In U.S. News’ Peer Assessment survey, which is given to law school deans and faculty chairs, each program earned a 4.8 on a 5.0 scale – the highest marks available. The same dynamic applies to U.S. News’ survey to judges and lawyers, which also conferred 4.8 averages to Stanford and Harvard and a 4.7 to Yale.

In short, Yale’s advantage continues to stem from the higher quality students it attracts. That’s not surprising, given that Yale Law is also more generous than Stanford Law and Harvard Law in terms of grant money. Overall, 59.6% of incoming Yale Law students received grant money. Compare that to Harvard (47.8%) and Stanford (48.6%) and Yale owns a decided advantage in recruiting. With greater support, Yale grads also leave school with lower debt, with 75.6% owning an average debt of $122,796, a better rate than either Harvard (72.2% at $149,574) or Stanford (78.9% at $132,970). That said, Yale’s downspin in placement could turn into its achilles heel, particularly with Harvard and Stanford surpassing them here.

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