I posted most of this in the URM forum, but just realized that it might be more relevant to post it here:
I'm currently considering (very seriously) UCI's full tuition + fees offer (Public Service Fellowship) vs. GW (with $20K/year and no stips). I'm also waiting to see what Emory says and what kind of package U of Md offers me.
My dream job is to work for the Dept. of Ed's Office of Civil Rights on federal education issues, so I ultimately want to end up in DC. What I'm trying to figure out is which school is going to give me the most viable possibility of making that happen.
As I see it right now, the pros of GW for me are that it's ranked, it's in DC, and it places lots of grads in gov. positions. The *huge* negatives for me are the size of the school (~500 1Ls), the school culture, and that I would walk away with ~120K in debt, even with a little help from my folks, which might actually make it financially impossible for me to take a public service job.
The UCI situation for me (as I see it): rolling the dice by going to an unranked school (negative); no real data on which to base grads' success with government positions (negative), but strong clerking numbers (big positive); small size of the school and engaged school culture (huge positive for me); the UCDC program looks exciting to me and might allow me to do an internship in my dream job; NO DEBT! (thanks to parental help with basic living expenses); location in the OC is a big negative for me; and possibly getting stuck living in SoCal post graduation is the biggest negative; focus on public service is a positive, but not a deciding factor for me. Basically, I think UCI is my dream school, but is located entirely in the wrong place for me
Opinions? Thoughts? Things I haven't considered yet? Some other things to keep in mind: I'm a non-trad/2nd career student and I *know* that BigLaw isn't for me... I also know that I don't want to spend forever paying off my loans and that I do want to have kids and own a home within a few years of graduating from law school. Starting at one school and then transferring after 1L is not a viable possibility for me -- I can't ask my partner to relocate twice in two years.
The high debt, large class sizes in D.C. (at many schools), and the very saturated market were a deterrent for me from the outset of this ordeal. Having said that, there is the government element there, and despite the saturation it is still one of the larger legal markets in the country. To be fair, too many grads in a saturated legal market can also be said of California.
Having said that, for me there would be no question. I believe UCI has the makings of a school not far off the ranks of GW. The ambition was stated at the outset to make UCI Law a leading institution, and there is evidence that considerable effort has been placed in implementing outstanding faculty, selecting high caliber students, and pursuing solid job placements in order to make this a reality. From what I have seen of employment stats (though this is always questionable data, for several reasons) UCI appears to be faring comparable to other high top tier institutions. And while UCI is geographically a long ways from D.C., you have mentioned the UCDC program, of which I know little about law-school wise but I know is strongly pushed and well-structured for undergrads; I would imagine the law program is good also.
UCI is highly (in my opinion, which I believe the evidence supports) unlikely to in any way be a TTT. I'd go with no debt at UCI over $150k at GW in a split-second.
As far as OC and Southern California, you and I are in fundamental disagreement there. But I recognize that this is a matter of opinion. SoCal has plenty of traffic, congestion, and its share of sketchy areas; but D.C. has the same combined with relatively crappy weather. I grew up in the north and was in the D.C. area a few winters ago; I'll take beaches and sunshine as quickly as I'll take a free ride at what is shaping up to be a top 30 school.
If you do wind up "stuck" in Orange County or SoCal, I think there are plenty of fine areas to raise a family. I'm not too plugged into public service opportunities, but while I'm sure they're not plentiful I have known a few people with interesting PI law jobs. An added plus is (from what I'm told) PI in California pays well when compared to most of the nation; however, I would imagine most urban centers (including D.C.) are comparable.
P.S. My prediction is you'll also get good offers from Emory and UMD; I would guess somewhere around 50% and 100%, respectively. I'd still choose UCI hands down.