“Who needs rankings?”
You’ll hear that refrain from many deans. Can you blame them? In many ways, the U.S. News rankings are the educational equivalent to the S&P 500. And administrators’ performance is often pegged against it. Drop four spots and it’s time for a top-to-bottom review. Alumni will howl that their degree is losing value. And students will wonder if their school is trending downward.
Critics charge that rankings produce more damage than good. They measure the wrong variables, placing too weight on small sample surveys and imperfect tests. The grind of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ has driven up costs – and tuition. Worst of all, rankings are self-fulfilling. The best schools attract the best students, which results in better internships and jobs. Like a class rank, they don’t really measure growth and learning, let alone ingenuity and grit.
This reality is particularly acute for law schools, where perception (i.e. reputation) is everything. Despite the excesses, rankings serve an inimitable purpose: They are starting points for evaluating and comparing various law programs and their students and graduates. They identify whether a student possesses the intellectual horsepower to succeed within a community. They expose whether a school has a strong brand and reputation. Most important, they publicize how attractive you are, and how much you’re worth, to prospective employers.
In 2014, Tipping the Scales examined a series of law school rankings, ranging from placement rates and salaries to legal specialties and campus life. In early January, we’ll reveal our second annual law school rankings. In the meantime, here are the rankings that you can use to pinpoint where you fit – and which schools give you the biggest bang for your tuition buck.
1) The Numbers You Need to Be Accepted: In business schools, adcoms hunt for career progress and inspiring personal narratives. In law school, numbers are destiny. If you can’t score 164 (or better) on the LSAT, you probably won’t be accepted at a top 10 school. In this piece, Tipping the Scales shares the average LSAT and GPA ranges, along with tuition and acceptance rates, at the top 100 schools over the past two years.
Not sure where you stand? Read more about your chances at various schools here.
2) 2014 U.S. News & World Report Rankings: Here it is: the ranking that every school measures itself against. Sure, Yale Law maintained its No. 1 ranking – a spot it has held since the Reagan administration. But which programs comprise the top 10? Which rose and which dropped – and why?
Want to know the answers? Check out U.S. News’ 2014 rankings of the 100 law schools (along with their rankings over the past five years). Plus, find out why the College of William & Mary was celebrating – and why Washington & Lee started seriously soul-searching in our annual analysis of rankings winners and losers.
3) Law Schools Where Students Actually Get Jobs: If you thought three years of law school was hard, just wait until you start looking for a job! Let me share a little secret: Your law school’s placement-rate ranking usually doesn’t align with its overall rank. Case in point: The No. 8 ranked University of Virginia, whose 97.3% placement rate within nine months of graduation is nearly six points higher than No. 1 Yale Law, and 10 points higher than No. 10 Duke.
4) 2014 Above the Law Rankings: Try this: Remove LSATs, GPAs, and acceptance rates from your ranking criteria. At the same time, reduce the weight of survey results from 25% to 10%. Plus, boost the weight of graduates who hold full-time, long-term jobs, Supreme Court clerkships, and federal judgeships. Oh…and don’t forget to factor in educational costs, including cost of living.
So what do you have? Try a results-driven, meat-and-potatoes ranking that rivals (if not surpasses) U.S. News & World Report’s law school ranking. Does Yale also rank No. 1 using these revised metrics? And how do the top 100 law schools compare when you put the Above the Law and U.S. News rankings side-by-side? Click this link and see for yourself.