Today, April 15, is Tax Day. But it’s an important day for another reason as well: it happens to be the day that some law schools want to hear back from applicants — and collect their deposit checks, of course.

Let’s close out our series of posts soliciting advice on picking a law school with three fact patterns. All of them involve at least two members of the so-called “T14,” the nation’s 14 leading law schools according to the U.S. News rankings….

Here’s our first item up for bids:

I have an interesting one. I’m a fairly extreme splitter: 178 LSAT, 3.51 GPA (it’s even worse than that looks, thanks to my miserably bad decision to basically drop out my last semester of school — I 4.0ed the class I needed to graduate and failed the rest because I was working on other projects that took up all my time).

Fortunately, a good LSAT covers up a lot of mistakes, so I have essentially a three-way decision to make:

1. NYU at sticker [2012-2013 full cost of attendance: $78,112]
2. Michigan in-state with $15,000/year scholarship [2012-2013 full cost of attendance: $66,950 (in state)]
3. UC Irvine with $50,000/year scholarship [2012-2013 full cost of attendance: $53,299 (out of state)]

Personal details:

I’m extremely debt-adverse, not particularly interested in Biglaw as a career path (maybe a stepping stone to in-house, but I like some semblance of work/life balance), and I really want to be someplace warm.

Those factors have combined to make the scholarship at Irvine almost a no-brainer for me, but I wanted to gut check my thought process with other people to make sure I’m not making a huge mistake turning down a T10.

Thanks,
Total Splitter

This situation illustrates how picking a law school can be a very personal decision. Many law students don’t have a problem with debt; to them, it’s nothing more than a necessary evil, or a number on a page. But Total Splitter describes himself as “extremely debt-adverse.” And since he’s not so keen on Biglaw, where a degree from NYU (U.S. News #6) or Michigan (U.S. News #9) might open many more doors than a degree from UCI (unranked), the trade-off might be worth making. Graduating from law school with more than $150,000 in debt (Michigan) or $200,000 in debt (NYU) is very different from graduating with $10,000 in debt (Irvine).

Readers, what should Total Splitter do?

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Moving on, here’s a reader choosing between three T14 law schools:

I am very fortunate to have some really great law school options, but I too am in need of some ATL guidance. I am currently deciding between Northwestern Law School [U.S. News #12] with a full-ride scholarship, Columbia Law School [U.S. News #4] with a $30,000 scholarship, and The University of Chicago Law School [U.S. News #4] with a $60,000 scholarship.

I would like to pursue firm work in Texas upon my graduation from law school. I will be taking a year off prior to law school to work and should be able to save approximately $15,000. I will be living with my significant other in law school, who works as a consultant, so I will only have to borrow enough money to cover tuition and fees, since she will be paying our cost of living expenses. Thanks for the help!

– Lone Star Law Enthusiast

Backing out living expenses, the three schools have fairly similar tuition: Northwestern charges $53,168, Columbia charges $53,636, and Chicago charges $49,875. Taking into account scholarships, Northwestern would be free to Lone Star, Columbia would cost about $130,000 total, and Chicago would cost about $90,000 total.

Yes, I asked Lone Star Law Enthusiast about the University of Texas. Here’s what he said about UT:

I applied to UT and received a full ride scholarship. However, I decided that if I was going to take the free JD route I was going to go with Northwestern. Although I do want to practice in Texas, the overall job prospects for firm work at Northwestern are far better than the firm prospects at UT. Law School Transparency lists the disparity as 49.2% of the class at Northwestern versus 26.8% of the class at UT. At the end of the day I would much rather be employed in Chicago than unemployed in Texas. Additionally, my fiancée and I have both spent our entire lives in Texas and we both agree that there is some benefit to living outside the state before we ultimately return.

In my opinion, the Northwestern offer is too good to refuse. Sure, Chicago and Columbia are ranked higher than Northwestern, but is the difference worth six figures?

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Our last contestant has a four-way decision, featuring Michigan, Cornell, Northwestern, and Washington University….


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