Columbia Law School vs. Penn Law School

Jerome Greene Hall

Columbia Law School

435 West 116th Street

Mail Code 4004

New York, NY 10027-7297

Admissions: 212-854-2640




Application Deadline: Feb. 15, 2014

Annual Tuition: $55,916

Class of 2015 Stats:

Acceptance Rate*: 18.4%

Total Applicants*: 6,592

Accepted*: 1,214

Enrolled*: 366

Women: 46%

Students of Color: 38%

Total Full-Time Enrollment*: 1,290

Average Age: 80% between 21 and 24

Median LSAT: 172

LSAT Scores (25th-75th percentile): 170-174

Median GPA: 3.71

GPA Scores (25th-75th percentile): 3.58-3.82

Employed at Graduation*: 93.2%

Employed Nine Months Later*: 95.4%

Bar Passage*: 96.2%


TipppingTheScales (2013): 5

U.S. News (2013): 4

AboveTheLaw (2013): 8

Columbia Law School is an Ivy with an enviable New York City location. Obliquely, the school’s website hints that the neighborhood isn’t posh or trendy—“Columbia faculty and students value highly the diversity, the unpretentiousness, and the safety of Morningside Heights” even though many people “had envisioned faculty and students commuting an appreciable distance to the University”—but the access to the United Nations and some of the largest law firms is hard to beat.

The school doesn’t just differentiate itself through its location, though. Most top law schools have admissions blogs; CLS has that too—it’s called Commentaries—but it also has a Gender & Sexuality Law Blog that comes up fourth on Google. Even more revealingly, CLS Dean David M. Schizer quoted Gandhi in his graduation speech to the Class of 2012 and wrapped it up with a high-minded takeaway: “In the coming decades, the world can either get a lot better, or a lot worse,” he told the graduates. “With your talent, energy, and commitment, you can make a real difference. I believe you will. So consider that your final assignment from Columbia Law School.” In a way many top law schools don’t, CLS emphasizes the practice of law for the greater good.

Recent employment statistics tell a slightly different story, though. 69% of the class of 2012 joined law firms, while only 18% went into the public sector or academia. 9% of graduates took judicial clerkships, and the school notes that many of them pursue public service later on, but 18% is still nowhere close to a majority. These numbers are more or less on par with those of Columbia’s peers.

Nevertheless, there’s no evidence that the school is doing anything to discourage students from trying to make a difference. Well, aside from charging students $55,916 for tuition—the median private sector starting salary for graduates is $160,000, while the median public sector starting salary is only $55,000—but CLS claims to have one of the best loan repayment assistance programs in the country.

The school also makes it easy for students to serve the public over the summer. Through the Guaranteed Summer Funding Program, any student who lands an unpaid public service internship can secure a minimum of $3,360 (1Ls) or $6,000 (2Ls). The more competitive Human Rights Internship Program has taken students everywhere from Guatemala to Hungary, highlighting CLS’s strengths in comparative and international law.

During the school year, students have similar opportunities to gain practical experience. Though 1Ls can only take one elective each, upperclassmen can earn credits through a wide variety of externships, which usually involve field experience at an NGO or government office and a related weekly seminar. One of the most coveted externships takes place at the United Nations headquarters: the 15 students that get in work at one of the many U.N. offices dealing with legal matters.

The rest of the externships are widely varied. Organizations offering externships last spring included the Legal Aid Society’s Immigration Law Unit, where externs counseled immigrants facing the possibility of deportation; the Queens County District Attorney’s Office, where students took the lead in misdemeanor domestic violence cases; and the Bronx Defenders, where participants learned about holistic defense, a model that “merges aggressive legal advocacy with a client-centered approach.”

In short, students at Columbia carve out many different career paths. In fact, 4% of 2012 graduates went into business; one graduate from the Class of 2009 even started an ice cream business with a fellow lawyer, taking a detour from the Big Law life in Los Angeles. If you happen to be looking for a high protein, low fat ice cream option to accompany your LSAT study sessions, be sure to check out Halo Top Creamery. It’s tangible proof that a CLS J.D. doesn’t limit your options.

*Derived from school-reported U.S. News data

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