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The Prestige of Your College (Part I)

Does the Prestige of Your College Affect Your Chances of Admission to Law School? (Part I)


Of course it does in the sense that someone who attends a prestigious college had vital signs coming out of high school that were pretty prestigious themselves, and so probably put up some pretty prestigious  numbers in college as well.  But what about as a stand-alone factor, i.e., in the sense that two applicants with equal numbers would be treated differently because one went to a more prestigious college?


Law schools appear to want you to think not.  Each appears to dismiss the issue with braggadocio along the lines of “our student body represents 127 different colleges and universities, 47 different states, 24 different countries and 3 different planets.”  I guess they don’t want to appear too judgmental, having already subjected each applicant to a full body CAT scan to test for actual desirability.


I think otherwise.  There’s an old saying:  “there are lies, there are damn lies, and then there are statistics.”  You don’t have to look too far under that “127 colleges” statistic to prove that.  Some schools will list the schools represented alongside the number of students from each school.  I guess they don’t expect you to look at it.  Do. You will see that only, say, 27 will have more than one “representative” and the other 100 each sent only one lucky person.  Again, that can be explained with a sort of “quality will out,” and that’s true broadly speaking, but why does Harvard have three times as many students there as, say, Penn? Are they that much better?  Are they really any better? Of course not.  Yes, Harvard grads are brilliant, but Penn students are the valedictorian twin 800s who got turned down at Harvard undergrad only because they weren’t children of alums, or they weren’t born in Dubai and raised in Alabama. (OK, or they didn’t invent the wheel.)


I can add anecdotal evidence here.  (It’s 30 years old, but according to quite a few of my former clients turned moles currently at law schools out there, it’s still accurate.)  In the University of Chicago Law School’s class of ’86, fully one-third – that’s 33% – went to Harvard, Princeton or Yale.  That’s it: 60 students in a class of 180 went to 3 schools.  The next third went to the other 5 ivy league schools and the 10 or so schools considered their equivalent; the next quarter went to slightly less prestigious household names, places like Notre Dame and UVA;  and the “bottom” tenth dropped off the charts and went to “WTF are they doing here” schools (that’s where the law schools get to pump up that statistic to 127 – more about what to do if you’re in this group in part two of this post).


So, what do you do if your school is in the second third or that quarter? Get your application in early.  What this analysis means, as a very practical matter, is that applicants from schools in these groups are, I believe, actually competing against their classmates for the spots, in a kind of informal quota, that a particular law school sets aside for your particular college.  It might have 10 spots for Penn (sorry to pick on you Penn!) with an expectation of yielding 5 or 6.  If you’re the 11th qualified applicant from Penn to get your application into the “to be adjudicated now” pile, you better have something better than your 10 lucky classmates had.  Of course they’ll still waive you in if you have a 178, but perhaps not if you have only what the median was for those 10.  So be one of those 10!


And what do you do if you went to Harvard, Princeton or Yale?  Well, if you want to go to Harvard Law or Yale Law, you had better get your application in early also.  I’m sure that either school could fill its class solely from among your ranks, but neither of them would even think of doing that.  As a result, at some point they have to say, “no more.”  Get your application in after that point at your peril.  As to all of the other law schools, relax, you could get your application in a month late and you’ll still be fine. (I’m kidding. Sort of.)


P.S.  I realize that this analysis focuses on applicants to top law schools, even just the top 5 law schools, but it can be applied to all spots in the rankings.  As you move down the rankings of law schools, every school favors some colleges over others.  I mean, eventually they run out of applicants from Harvard, Princeton and Yale, right? Eventually, your college will be a can-do-no-wrong school for a particular law school.