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Visiting Law Schools

Visiting Law Schools

by Josh Keefe (3L)

The task of visiting law schools can be daunting, but it’s a very important part of choosing the best school for you, and so it should be approached with the same seriousness that you give to the other parts of the application and admission process.  As a law student who recently was looking at law schools, I wanted then to share a few things I learned along the way.

Have a Plan

The single biggest piece of advice I can give about visiting law schools is to have a plan.   By this, I mean think seriously about what factors are important to you in a law school, what questions you have, and what you will do when visiting to help answer those questions.  For example, I knew that clinical and externship opportunities were something I was interested in, so every time I visited a law school I made sure to gather as much information about those opportunities as I could.  I also had a sense that I might want to do a dual-degree program, so when visiting schools I was always sure to get information on joint degree opportunities, and to talk to students who were currently involved in them.  Think about what it is that interests you (or might interest you), and make a point of learning as much as you can about it when you visit.  Try not to waste time on your visit learning about things that are not important to you---if you aren’t a swimmer, for example, then you don’t need to go see the campus pool.  If you are unsure, then take a tour and ask lots of questions. 

Only Visit the Law Schools you are Seriously Considering

For me, I was working full time in Boston while applying to law schools, and so I made the decision to visit only the schools that I had been admitted to and that I was seriously considering.  For me, this amounted to 3 trips to see a total of 5 schools.  My advice is to visit as many potential schools as you reasonably can, and to definitely visit any school you are seriously considering attending before committing.   Why? The chance to visit a potential law school is a lot more than the chance to see in person the library or cafeteria—it’s an invaluable opportunity to assess the institutional culture of the school itself, something that just cannot be done by reading brochures or looking at websites.  You should feel comfortable and happy with the idea of spending the next three years somewhere before committing.

Visit the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid

Many of your procedural admissions questions (deadlines, etc) can be answered by looking at the admissions website or by calling the office directly.   Don’t waste the short time you have in person with the admissions office personnel asking questions that have answers you could have easily found yourself.   Instead, use that time to ask any other questions you might have about the admissions process, program offerings, or the school itself, while meeting some of the admissions staff.  Be friendly and polite to everyone you interact with—you never get a second chance at a first impression.  

Sit in on a Class—If you haven’t before

Sitting in on a law school class is a great experience to get a sense of what law school classes are generally like.  However, as most classes are an hour or longer, I don’t think you need to sit in on a class at every school you go to.  Why? Well, first because professors often have different teaching methods, and it’s hard to make generalizations about what your instructional experience will be like at a given law school just by visiting one class taught by one professor.  If you have the time and would like to, then I encourage it.  However, I think a more accurate way to assess what class is like is by talking to current students, which leads us to our next point....

Talk to Students—as many as you can!

Every law school I visited last year I talked to as many students as I could find.  Often, it would be obvious I was visiting, and so I would just approach people and talk to them.  This is a great way to get a good sense of what the atmosphere and culture of a school are like.  Are people generally approachable and friendly? What do they have to say about the school? You can ask students about how their experience has been, and what advice they can give you.  You would be amazed at how forthright and helpful current students will be when approached.   One word of caution, though—you might catch someone on bad day, so make sure to talk to at least a few people. 

Consider the School’s Location

When you visit a school, don’t forget to assess that you’ll be potentially living there for the next three years, and accordingly be sure you are comfortable and happy with the setting.   Do this, though, with an open mind, knowing that your criteria as to “what’s important” in a location will likely change while at law school.  For example, I moved here from Boston.  Although I loved Boston, the things that I loved about Boston (great social life and various activities available) became less important in evaluating a law school, and other considerations (cost of living, quality of reputation, proximity to legal markets I’d like to work in) became more important.  For me, Syracuse was a great choice because its location met a lot of the criteria that were important to me in a law school.

Deciding on the best law school for you is a lot like putting together a puzzle—some of the pieces you’ll have already, and a good campus visit will help you gather more so that you can be sure you’re making as complete and accurate of a decision as possible.  The better prepared you are for your visit, the more you’ll get out of it. So, think about what it is you want to accomplish, have a plan for it, and then go visit some schools!

Questions?  Find me on the Law Ambassador website.

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