Northern Illinois University College of Law
Academics & Programs: As the only public school found within the environs of the greater Chicago area, NIUers are released into Illinois’ sea of graduating law students equipped with a solid education at a fraction of the price. Known for its commitment to fostering a sense of community and responsibility and pointing its students in the direction of public service jobs, NIU places a high value on pro bono work and makes a number of “public interest stipends” available to its students each summer. The school “has placed a special emphasis on diversity, both amongst its faculty and its student body,” and it shows in the number of “divergent viewpoints” that are represented both in and out of the classroom.
Professors are themselves one source of these divergent viewpoints, with many students claiming that “some of the professors are amazing while others clearly enjoy the benefits of tenure.” While the vast majority of professors “are well above average” and “do a very good job,” offering students a high level of approachability, many students claim to have had a few instructors who were below par. “Simply reciting material straight from the textbook is not teaching,” observes a first-year student. For the most part, however, students are happy with the quality of teaching at NIU and say that the school is very good at balancing theory with practice. “A number of the professors go out of their way to expand on topics illustrated in the text and to relate their real-world experiences to the matters at hand. The professors as a group make themselves accessible to students who have issues that need to be discussed,” affirms a student. “The faculty and administration practically begs students to come in and talk to them.” Other students would like to see a broader spectrum of courses offered.
Although some students have grumbled about “1970s decor,” the school recently repainted and refurnished several on-campus buildings, including the law library and the student lounge. One of the greatest resources offered to NIU students, many of whom are older, is the Career Opportunities Office, which “will definitively help you get started toward your career,” especially if you’re at the top of your class and looking to get into “big law.” Though some students speak of the disadvantages facing NIU grads— particularly the distance of the school from Chicago proper—others are reassured by the Career Opportunities Office’s strong networking prospects, which complement the school’s well-established and reputable clinic and externship programs. “We have a lock on many state attorney and public defenders offices now, and an incredible number of alumni in the judiciary. If you want to be a government trial lawyer in Illinois, this is definitely the school to go to.” As an exiting student says, “The price was right, and if you are willing to do the work you can get a good education.”
Campus Life/Facilities: With a strong contingent of older, “second-career” individuals, “a high bar for maturity and professionalism within the student body” tends to be set on campus. Students are friendly enough, but hometown DeKalb can be a “pretty desolate place to kids accustomed to the party life of Champaign-Urbana, Bloomington-Normal, or other major college towns.” DeKalb is “without much of the nightlife and amenities that students were accustomed to having from their undergrad experience.” There are two fraternities on campus (one is “clearly the party frat, and the other is the academic frat”), and there are a number of student groups that students can join, though “a few struggle to survive” due to lack of participation.
As for competition among students, a second-year student assures us, “The shark-eat-shark mentality of other law schools would not be tolerated here.” “For one thing, the student body is too small, and we all know each other too well. For another, there’s just more a sense of being practical and real-world here; we’re ‘type-A’ people, surely, but we’ve also mellowed with more life experience than your average law student straight out of undergrad.”
* The Princeton Review is not affiliated with Princeton University.