Going to law school is a smart choice for many people. It’s not a smart choice for all people or probably even the majority of people who end up going, and it’s not a decision to be entered into lightly. But if you want to be a practicing lawyer, based on an informed view of what lawyers actually do, and if you’ve concluded that law school is right for you, after a rigorous process of psychological and financial self-examination, then by all means, matriculate.
(We are not uniformly anti-law-school here at Above the Law. I’ve written many times in defense of going to law school, provided you’ve done your research. See, e.g., here, here, here, and all of these law school success stories. And Elie’s on vacation this week, hahaha….)
The question then becomes where you should go to law school. It’s a timely topic, since now is the time of year when prospective law students or “0Ls” must decide where to put down their deposits. So help a brother out and offer some advice on the following situation….
We recently received the following email from a longtime reader whom I’ll call Lucky Duck (you’ll soon see why the name is apropos):
I have been reading your blog since I was a senior in high school and unfortunately I have still decided to go to law school.
I was hoping to gain the opinion of you or your readers as to where I should attend. I’m deciding between NYU at sticker and UVA with a half-tuition scholarship. While I liked NYU a lot more, I can’t help but feel it’s not worth the extra money, especially given my desire to work in Boston for a firm like Ropes or WilmerHale. My parents are loaning me the money for law school interest-free, but I’d still rather not owe them that much.
The UVA scholarship is for $75,000 over three years, so $25,000 per year. It is contingent on me maintaining a 2.3 GPA, but I didn’t think that would be hard to meet. I did a little more research on UVA’s grading curve, and it would seem that all students need to maintain a 2.3 GPA to be in good academic standing and enrolled in the school.
There is one more complicating factor: I’m gay. While I’m sure Charlottesville is incredibly tolerant, it can’t compare to the West Village.
So do I go with the better rank and better lifestyle of NYU, or save the money and spend the next three years in C’ville?
As I noted last year, when Elie and I advised a student choosing between Harvard and Yale Law, this is a high-class problem. Both NYU Law and UVA Law are superb schools (ranked #6 and #7, respectively, in the 2014 U.S. News rankings); UVA is offering this applicant a hefty discount on the sticker price; and he doesn’t even have to borrow, except from the Bank of Mom and Dad. Lucky Duck indeed.
But even if there might not be a “wrong” answer here, it’s still a tough choice. I asked my colleague Staci for her thoughts. She said that Lucky Duck should go to NYU because he clearly feels more comfortable there.
To play devil’s advocate, though, how much is that increased comfort worth? Is an improved social life and a single notch in the U.S. News rankings worth $75,000?
(On a full-price basis, the two schools are basically the same in terms of tuition, although NYU obviously has a higher cost of living. Full tuition at NYU Law for 2012-2013 was $51,150, while full non-resident tuition at UVA Law for 2012-2013 was $51,400.)
One thing I wonder about: how much does the $75,000 matter to Lucky Duck and to his parents? If Mr. and Mrs. Duck have the fortune of Scrooge McDuck, then maybe I’d say NYU. But if they’re lending to Lucky Duck out of savings, or if they have to do borrowing of their own to help out their kid (e.g., a home equity loan), then maybe UVA is the way to go.
I asked Lucky Duck a follow-up question regarding what his parents’ preference might be. He responded: “My parents don’t want me to make the decision based on money (and seem to think I should go to NYU).”
UPDATE (11:00 p.m.): Some of you suggested in the comments that Lucky Duck should try to parlay the UVA scholarship into a scholarship at NYU. He tried; alas, NYU said no.
Readers, pop your collars and pop off in the comments. And vote in our poll:
Would you like some help in deciding where to go to law school? If so, feel free to email us, subject line “The Decision,” and outline your dilemma.