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The decision to attend a certain law school can significantly influence the career of an aspiring lawyer. With over 200 law schools available to applicants within the United States alone, figuring out where to apply is half the battle.

Still, in many ways, the decision to apply to law school shouldn’t be too overwhelming. Much of the choice will likely come down to a few key elements, namely where and what they would like to study and eventually practice. 

Aiming for the Top

It’s enticing to study in the familiarity of your home state, but there are some compelling reasons to move to a new area to attend law school. The so-called “T14” or “Top 14” group of law schools includes the institutions that are regularly ranked as being the best in the country by the U.S. News and World Report. Year after year, Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Columbia, Cornell, the University of Michigan, and NYU appear on the T14 list. Attendance at one of these schools usually carries a good deal of prestige in the legal world, and most regional employers are familiar with them.

Admission to these schools is demanding to say the least; admissions committees at these institutions look at applicants who possess high LSAT scores and GPAs. It isn’t always necessary to have a 4.0 to get into a T14, and some students have managed to earn acceptance to T14 schools with sub-3.0 GPAs. Most of these students (usually referred to as “splitters”) ended up acing the LSAT, have solid work experience, or have participated in compelling extracurricular activities. So, GPA isn’t everything; but even with the best grades and test scores, competition for entrance to a T14 will be fierce for most applicants.

Is T14 the Way to Go?

There are also compelling reasons to avoid T14 schools. Because they deal with such high-achieving applicants, these schools may be reluctant to offer scholarships to anyone without what is essentially a perfect law school application. But if a talented applicant applies to a well-regarded regional school, they may find themselves in possession of a great scholarship package. Leaving law school with little or no debt can beat leaving a T14 with $250,000 in non-dischargeable loans any day of the week.

However applicants approach the law school admissions game, it is important for aspiring lawyers to keep in mind what exactly they want to get out of their law school experience. If practicing corporate law in Manhattan is the goal, an application to a school like NYU or Columbia might be the best option. If a solid career in a regional market would be more to the applicant’s liking, however, a list of candidate schools that includes regional strongholds could fit the bill.

At the end of the day, the law school application game all comes down to managing expectations in a healthy and realistic way. But a touch of dreaming certainly never hurt anyone. If you’ve always dreamed of attending Harvard Law, by all means, put in an application! But don’t sell yourself short on the idea of attending a good local school.