adude wrote:It's easy to go with the rankings and choose a T1 over a T2 school. Still, there are several reasons why I chose a T2 school over T1 options.
First, job prospects. This is a lesson I learned coming out of a top undergrad school: it is easier to distinguish yourself at a less competitive school. It looks better to graduate from U of Oregon with honors, scholarships, law review, and awards, than to go to a T14 and get nothing. Many ppl on this site would disagree, but there are grads from top schools in the bottom quartile who have poor job prospects. Big law doesn't want them. Regional firms that have more connections to regional schools don't want them either. These bottom quartile graduates are just as smart and capable as those in the top 5% at T2 schools (who will likely have jobs) but because they chose a school where every student is highly competitive, they now have a less competitive resume and gpa.
Second, you will stand out to your professors at a T2. At a T14, a smart, outgoing student would be just another face in the crowd to a professor. However, at a T2, professors will not have as many strong students and those who ask incisive questions and respond intelligently will stand out more. Thus, a T2 student near the top of his class will have better LoR's than a median student at a T14 would have. A professor may also be more inclined to refer opportunities to the outstanding T2 student, while the T14 student will have to compete for the professor's goodwill.
Third, you are in a good position to create a strong local network at a T2. A T14 will allow you to network with people from across the nation who are likely to succeed. Still, when you settle down to practice law at a particular office, that national network becomes much less valuable and the local network becomes more valuable. The local network will help you gain referrals and make the transition from associate to partner. The national network may help to an extent, but it is less likely that former T14 classmates, who have moved back to their region, will refer a case on the other side of the country to you to handle long-distance.
Finally, location and $$$. I am with my family and friends. I also got a significant scholarship here. I would have paid close to full price at a T14.
The main drawback I see in attending a T2 is the lack of regional flexibility. However, you can overcome this obstacle with stellar grades, WE, or hard work practicing law at a regional firm.
Of course, there are exceptional people who will be able to distinguish themselves at T14 schools, despite the competition. If you are sure you are one of these people (receiving a big scholarship at a T14 is a good indication) then T14 is probably the better way to go.
OP, I am glad you did well and won the lottery. However, there are serious flaws in your reasoning.
1) It may be "easier to distinguish yourself" at a T2, but think about this. At your T2, the students at the very
top of the class will get jobs. But say, oh, 10-25% of students that go to your T2 came for the same reason. That means that some of them will finish outside of the top 5%. These students will have immense trouble obtaining a well paid job. They may have trouble obtaining any employment. Therefore, by making this argument, you're actually hurting people like yourself who roll the dice thinking they can beat out the competition at they respective T2s. On the other hand, at a T14 you will certainly be with tougher competition, but employers realize that, and hire deeper into the class because of that. You can finish median at a T14 and still get a great job with passable social skills. If you finish median at a T2 you'll be lucky to snag an internship paying 9 dollars an hour with a solo practitioner.
2) If you do well, which most certainly is not guaranteed, this is true. But, if you do well at a T14, you are going to get recommendations from much more prestigious professors, who are also likely to have better connections. Saying "if I do well, my professors will be impressed by me" is not an argument that validates your decision to attend a T2.
3) This argument does not hold water. If I go to NYU wanting to practice in NYC, I can network in NY. If I go to Georgetown wanting to practice in DC, I can network in DC. You don't have to be studying in a city to network there. You can network by getting a job in the city you want to practice in after your 1L year. Guess what: at a T14, the school's reputation is going to carry you to pretty much wherever you want to go. At a T2, you are restricted to a particular region. Don't kid yourself thinking that the kid who is top 1/3 is Gtown isn't going to beat out the kid that is top 5% at the local university in the local market. People in these markets would KILL to snag T14ers; meanwhile, they have their choice of top 5%ers at your school. They always will.
4) This decision depends on your career goals and preferences. Someone who snags a job making 160k a year is not going to have trouble making their loan payments, especially if that 160k is in a secondary market where cost of living is significantly lower than NYC/DC/Chi/LA. On the other hand, if you're looking to get a job as a prosecutor in the local office, you may be better served taking the scholarship. However, many T14s have good LRAP programs, which may still make it a better decision to attend the better school. Finally, many people want adventure: to live in a new city, start anew, etc. Of course, it is nice to see your family and friends; for some people, such a support network could be vital to their success in school. But the same is not true for everyone. In addition, this argument holds no water for people who are from the areas where T14 schools are.
5) Stellar grades are not going to overcome regionalism. Top firms simply aren't interested in people who graduate from your school. In addition, firms outside of the market have no metric that they can use to evaluate you; sure, you may
obtain top grades, but a firm is going to be automatically prejudiced against you as opposed to someone who graduated from a national school. I know you're a 1L wide-eyed optimist who thinks good grades can overcome this, but you'll be confronted with that reality soon enough, and you'll take a job at a regional firm. Which isn't necessarily bad, but definitely is not for everyone.
6) Finally, no one can be "sure they are one of those people. Betting on how you are going to finish in law school is a horrible decision. 1 poor exam can be the difference between top 10% and top 1%. At a T2, that is an ENORMOUS difference. At a T14, you may be out of the running for super prestigious COA SCOTUS feeder clerkships, but you're still going to get a great job.
No one should go to school thinking they will do well. It does sometimes pan out for the lucky few, but 90% of your class is not in the top 10%. There are people in your classes that had the exact same mentality you did and finished top 1/3.