Hi. So. I was all set to go to UVA and had put down first deposit. Received offer (off WL) from Berkeley on Monday. Second deposit due at UVA tomorrow. Major stress today.
On a gut level, I really like the idea of attending Berkeley, although I haven't visited and I'm in NC so can't right now. The intellectual climate, diversity of the student body, and atmosphere of the bay area all contrast favorably with my perceptions of Charlottesville and UVA. I'm also likely (I think) to get some kind of need-based aid out of Boalt, while UVA may or may not be able to match something after the deadline passes... which will be too late for my purposes.
So what are my career goals. Well, I don't have a clear idea of area of practice, or even necessarily geographic region; although at the moment my preference is towards the East Coast, since this is where my roots are, I'm sure that could change over three years, and does for many. I also don't think attending Berkeley would greatly damage my ability to locate in the east, although UVA is certainly better for this. As far as type of career , I am interested (prepare eye-rolls) in working in public interest or government; a federal position would be ideal, although I'm well aware of the obstacles. UC Berkeley, I should note, has the more generous LRAP, but both schools most recent JPI's displayed similar placement in PI and Govey.
Berkeley seems like a better choice for me personally (especially if it winds up being the cheaper school), but this is largely based on intangibles and intuition, rather than concrete differences in the schools (feel free to dispute). Its cons are the relative difficulty of relocating across the country, the scarcity, expense, and quality of it's housing (this seems like a big deal to me; I'm thirty and not psyched to live in a box) and the relative job placement prospects for east coast locations. By contrast, UVA would be easy to move to, I could get a nice, reasonably sized place, visit my friends and family easily, and it would be easier to land a job on this side of the country (which may ultimately be an irrelevant detail). It's a good problem to have, choosing between two excellent schools, but today it doesn't feel like it. Thanks for any feedback, advice, or questions.
I'm definitely biased towards Berkeley, but let me point a couple of things out:
1) The two schools are not equal in PI. Just looking at the latest Law School Transparency numbers shows that Berkeley places almost 50% more than UVA - about 18% to about 12%. There is a serious focus at Berkeley about really being a "public" law school in every sense of the word, and just having gone to ASW I could see that idea was taken quite seriously there.
2) Some of your cons regarding Berkeley are definitely understandable, but I think there are surprisingly affordable, decent housing options in and around Berkeley if you're willing to do the legwork in looking for them. It's not as cheap as Charlottesville, but you have to ask yourself this: Do you want to live in one of the best college towns in the country or do you want to live (basically) in one of the best cities in the country?
3) I think Berkeley's ability to place you on the east coast is underrated. NYC basically requires no ties, and because most Cal students self-select into California, you actually have less competition for the east coast firms (I know you mentioned PI and government, but there's still a good chance you'll go through OCI).
It's certainly a tough decision, and there's a lot more to consider than what you or I have listed. Basically, do you want to make the "safe" choice or are you willing to take a chance?