What To Look Out For In Lower-Ranked Law Schools
Applicants can apply to hundreds of law schools. Some offer a known brand, rich curriculum, and intensive support. Others provide coursework and a degree…and little more.
That’s not to say a lower-ranked program won’t prepare you to practice law. However, it’s important to keep an eye out for admissions standards and accreditation.
Daniel Waldman, a contributor at US News, recently discussed how applicants can spot the red flags in lower-ranked law schools.
Accreditation Is Key
Currently, according to the American Bar Association, there are 203 ABA-approved law schools.
Waldman says there are several reasons why applicants should be wary about non-ABA-approved law schools.
“For example, landing in an unaccredited school suggests that the student doesn’t excel in standardized testing, which affects that student’s chances of passing the bar exam,” he writes. “Nevertheless, it’s safe to assume that the level of teaching in such schools has some bearing on the bar pass rate.”
On top of the challenge of passing the bar exam, Waldman argues that getting a degree from a non-accredited law school could mean difficulty securing employment.
“The legal field is extremely competitive, doubly so in states allowing unaccredited schools, simply because more schools means more lawyers,” he writes. “Law firms of all sizes certainly care about your performance in school, but ranking at the top of your class in a lesser-known school still won’t be as impressive as being in the top 10 percent of an accredited, more selective school.”
Look At Admissions Standards
Waldman suggests that applicants look closely at the admissions standards of law schools if they want to truly gauge where it is headed in the future.
That’s especially important, he says, when it comes to lower-ranked law schools.
“While most schools at the top maintain a relatively stable standard of scores that they take for their incoming class, things get dicier with lower-ranked schools,” he writes. “When a school starts admitting students with lower and lower scores and admitting a higher percentage of applicants, employers take notice and may devalue that school’s alumni.”
How Much Will You Pay? And How Much Will You Get?
Regardless of whether a school is highly-ranked or lower-ranked, Waldman says, applicants should do a cost-benefit analysis when deciding.
“Costs are affected by many factors including the location of the school, whether it’s public or private, and room and board costs,” he writes. “In fact, you’ll find some of the more expensive schools on the lower part of the list.”
Waldman suggests applicants research the cost of tuition at a law school and the median starting salary of its graduates. Doing so, he says, can offer applicants an idea of how much they’ll be in debt and how long.
“Where a school might leave you with a debt of more than $150,000 but a starting salary about a third of that, you might be looking at a long loan repayment period,” he writes. “Avoid the schools that offer less in future compensation and scholarships but more in debt.”