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The University of Illinois College of Law
Updated January 2013.
The University of Illinois College of Law, established in 1897, is one of the most prestigious law schools in the Midwest and one of the best public law schools in the country. It is smack in the center of a small college town called Urbana-Champaign (also referred to as Chambana or simply Champaign), hemmed in by miles of Illinois corn. In this relatively quiet setting, UIUC has built up a strong reputation. Accordingly, Chicago firms, only a few hours away, look to the law school to hire top-quality graduates.
As a public university, UIUC offers lower tuition rates to those who become residents of Illinois. The small town has a low cost of living, and small class sizes help students build close, lasting friendships. Job prospects in Chicago seem to have held up, despite a stormy legal economy, by well-placed alumni. According to a recent study, Illinois ranks among the top 25 law schools in the nation for producing partners at major U.S. law firms. Illinois is currently ranked No. 35 in the U.S. News list.
In 2011, the school admitted to reporting inaccurate numbers to U.S. News. Former admissions dean Paul Pless stepped down after the scandal and a controversy over a program that admitted University of Illinois juniors without an LSAT score in order to inflate the school's admissions metrics.
Undoubtedly, one of the most attractive aspects of University of Illinois College of Law is its access to the top law firms in nearby Chicago. Each year, these firms travel to Champaign to interview Illinois students, and not surprisingly, more Illinois alumni work in Chicago than in any other city.
In general, IP-focused students with hard-science degrees are in high demand. According to one administrator, “[intellectual property] students often find positions in law firms for their first summer. Go to any of the top IP firms (especially those in Chicago) and look at what schools the attorneys went to. You will see a lot of Illinois.”
Overall, for the class of 2011, about 51% of graduates (96 of 190) were known to be employed in long-term, full-time jobs requiring bar passage nine months after graduation. Two more were seeking further graduate degrees. Twenty-six graduates secured jobs at large firms (more than 100 attorneys). For those who were employed, the most common geographic destinations were Illinois (90 graduates), California (10), and Texas (6). Nine students obtained federal clerkships.
According to data from NALP, the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentile salaries for class of 2011 graduates working in the private sector were $55,000, $73,725, and $145,000. (33.7% of the class worked in the private sector and reported salary information.) Public-sector workers generally made between $40,000 and $60,000. (19.5% of the class worked in the public sector and reported salary information.)
For comparison, the average indebtedness of those in the class of 2011 who borrowed (85.3% of the class) was over $90,000, according to U.S. News. Illinois does offer a loan repayment assistance program (LRAP) for qualifying graduates in public service. The LRAP details may be found on the school's website.
Not surprisingly, most Illinois graduates stay in-state to take the bar exam.
As with most schools, gaining admission to UIUC is largely a numbers game. If your LSAT score and GPA are at or above the school’s medians (3.55 and 163), you will have a decent shot of getting in. For the class of 2015, 43% of applicants were admitted. Most students receive grants of some kind, and the median amount was $19,542 as of 2011. The law school guarantees "stable" tuition over three years.
The law school does not currently (2012-2013) require an application fee.
Admissions basicsApplicants who get their paperwork in by the end of October or even as late as Thanksgiving will have a slight advantage over those who wait, since UIUC has rolling admissions. For students who fall below the school’s medians, applying early becomes more important. In order for these applicants to remain competitive, one number needs to be at the school’s median.Those who wait until the last minute, even the most attractive of candidates, may find themselves without a shiny new admissions binder:
For all candidates, if you balance strong academic performance with a “time-consuming extracurricular activity,” you should feel confident in your application. Also, if you have interesting soft factors like an advanced degree, work experience outside of the field of law, or even a legacy connection to the College of Law, you can improve your chances at admission.
Several factors come into play when UIUC looks at a file. Diversity is considered on a few fronts. “If I have an applicant from a part of the country that we don’t normally have students from,” said an admissions officer, “they can get a bump.” If you want to write a statement about your ethnic background, diversity, socioeconomic status, or another factor considered traditionally diverse, UIUC invites you to do so, with one caveat: “Make sure it is concise.”
Sometimes, being cut of a different cloth can work against you. For applicants under under 21, one admissions director claims that he “really needs something in the file to show maturity” or responsibility, like a leadership activity, excellent and thoughtful writing, or a clear reason for your decision to apply to law school.
A few things in your transcript will raise red flags. For these, UIUC recommends you write an explanation in the form of an addendum. If you have any gap years, a downward GPA trend, or “more than two Ws and Is,” then you should address this. Also, candidates with a GPA under 3.0 need to show good grade trends, strong writing ability, and a record of leadership to overcome the low GPA.
Some things on a student’s transcript will hardly matter:
While some things will matter quite a bit:
Like most other law schools, Illinois takes into account the difficulty of a major while looking at a student’s GPA. “If someone has a 3.2 in Electrical Engineering from a good school,” an admissions representative said, “I still consider that a good GPA.”
You have few opportunities to show a law school that you can write. One, of course, is the LSAT writing sample, although it's mostly examined to see if UIUC has grounds for automatically rejecting an applicant. The personal statement, however, is looked at more substantially. This is the only chance you have to step out from the heavy cloak of numbers and show your face to the law school. Why do you want to go to UIUC? Why law school at all? The way you give your answer is just as important as the answer itself, so be sure to craft your personal statement and not just write it.
In addition, try not to be intimidated by the personal statement, as it will only delay your writing it. Note that you do not have to have a law-related epiphany while scaling Mount Kilimanjaro to impress the UIUC admissions office. You just have to be clear about your purpose.
Indeed, this is your moment to shine, and nobody can attest to who you are better than you can. Focus on your statement, revise it and edit it repeatedly, and if you plan on sending your applications out early, start writing early.
Letters of recommendation
If applying as early as possible is indeed your plan, you may also want to ask for letters of recommendation as soon as you are able. These letters may talk about the deficiencies of a student or may neglect to address a student’s intellectual and professional capacity. "It is not the content of the letters, however, that hurts these applicants’ chances. Their chances are hurt by their poor judgment in choosing who to ask. Don’t request a recommendation from someone who can’t write a strong recommendation, and you will be fine."
Multiple LSAT scores
On the brief list of things that require an addendum, we have two more things to add. If you have multiple cancellations or four instances of sitting for the test, UIUC might get concerned and wonder what is up. Write him an addendum to explain.
A low LSAT score can be overcome by “past strong academic performance.”
In addition to everything above, disciplinary issues should be explained in an addendum. The ones that raise red flags are “violent acts, serious drug or alcohol incidents, or academic dishonesty. Also, patterns of behavior cause concerns such as a series of alcohol incidents.”
If you are one of the many applicants who has an underage drinking ticket or “university sanction for alcohol in a dorm,” one admissions officer insists that this is not that serious and may not require that much of an explanation. Still, such incidents must be reported to the school.
If you find yourself in admissions limbo, without an acceptance or a rejection to UIUC, take heart. “About [5% to 15%] of the class” comes from the waitlist each year. Not all hope is lost, but know that most of the activity will happen after the first deposit deadline has passed. For people who find themselves in this dreaded situation, one admissions representative gives some advice:
UIUC gives an impressive amount of money out to its students. The scholarships are guaranteed for all three years, and the median award is almost $20,000. If you have “factors in your application that may cause you to be more desirable to other schools,” then chances are good that you will be eligible for scholarship at UIUC. One admissions representative gives some examples of such factors:
No need-based aid is given to first year students. “Our scholarships for 1Ls are all merit-based. There are some need-based scholarships available to 2nd and 3rd year students.”
Establishing residencyA few things can get you that cheaper in-state tuition. If one of your parents lives in Illinois, you are automatically considered a resident. One potentially expensive way to gain residency is by purchasing real property in Illinois, while another way is to marry an Illinois resident. Since you can never plan on love, gaining residency is a crapshoot for many students, and one student said that “it is possible after a year here, but not easy.”
On transferring into UIUC from other schools, one UIUC administrator said:
On the rare occasion, a student will transfer out of UIUC. Illinois makes an effort to keep such students, up to and including an increase in that student’s scholarship.
Law school culture
Here's what the law school had to say about student life:
UIUC’s website does a good job of touting the accomplishments of its professors. They run over a half-dozen faculty blogs, which are useful if you want to get a handle on how your future teachers think about critical issues. In 2009, faculty members produced over 30 books that had to do with the law, and their backgrounds ranged from previous positions in government to experience working in business and engineering. As of 2012, around a dozen faculty members had advanced degrees in fields other than law. In 2011 there were a total of 96 full- and part-time teachers, which makes for a 12.6-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio.
According to the law school:
There are several clinical programs at UIUC. Four of them are in-house, while three are “outplacement” clinics where students can work with the State Appellate Defender’s office, do an externship with non-profit organizations, governmental agencies, or judges, or perform legislative advocacy in Springfield, the capital of Illinois.
The other two clinics offered are the Federal Civil Rights Clinic and the Domestic Violence Clinic. These clinics give students invaluable experience with good lawyering practices, which helps explain their popularity among students. Each clinic provides free legal services to those who cannot access legal representation by traditional means. While working on these projects, you are not only learning skills and earning class credit, but you are helping people solve problems that they cannot solve on their own.
The Chicago Program allows 3Ls to take classes in downtown Chicago from Chicago lawyers and judges and UIUC faculty.
Illinois offers 12 joint-degree programs in law and other disciplines, including business, chemistry, computer science, human resources, journalism, medicine, natural resources and environment sciences, philosophy, political science, urban planning, and veterinary medicine.
Quality of life
Although Champaign is a relatively small town, the many students enrolled at the various schools of UIUC converge to energize the town during the academic year. Otherwise, as college towns go, the city is open for business but relatively deserted.
Champaign houses plenty of hip bars, restaurants, and clubs at which students can pass their free time. One of the most popular places is The Blind Pig, a bar/brewery where law students (and interesting townies) are sure to be found any weekend night. Also, the competitive football and basketball teams of the university offer students the opportunity to participate in the many events that surround Big Ten athletics.
Over 40 student organizations provide law students the opportunity to get involved on campus and to become familiar with fellow students who hold similar interests, backgrounds, or ideologies. Like most Midwestern towns, Champaign’s cost of living is extremely low, and housing of all types is readily available near the law school. Traffic and crime are generally not an issue in Champaign, helping to reduce the stress levels of the many students in town.
UIUC Law’s softball team, for those interested, is “slow pitch, co-ed, [with a maximum pitch height of] 12 feet.” The law school also has students that are crazy about “darts, basketball, soccer, and hockey. Usually there are teams for the flag football and broomball tourneys as well.”
There is a sport for every season, and Illinois gets all four seasons in force. “Spring is wet, but you don't care because the sun is out. Summer is a real summer and the Fall is beautiful. Lots of trees changing colors and perfect tailgating weather.” Winter is cold, and you will very likely need an ice scraper if you don’t have a garage. According to a former student, “The city does an awesome job of salting and plowing the roads and sidewalks,” so you should be fine to drive unless you take the unplowed side-roads, where you risk sliding all over the place.
Overall, one former student said, “I am absolutely in love with UIUC. Everyone at the law school was incredibly warm and friendly and [I like] its huge sprawling campus, football fanaticism, and quad area.” Also, this student said:
First off, one must get to the campus. So, about parking:
Once you are there, you will find yourself in the center of the city with a law library that holds over 300,000 titles. The campus grounds features walkways crosshatched over pristine green lawns. Depending on the season, the school may be auburn, white, or wet with rainwater. There are few complaints that come from students, and none of them (at least on TLS) are about the facilities.
The recreational center is a highlight of UIUC. A former student said: “It’s phenomenal. There are probably 200 treadmills and elliptical machines (and every other sort of cardio machine), all of which have built in televisions and cable.” Also, there is a 1/5-mile indoor track, a climbing wall that goes up three stories, and two pools (one indoor, one outdoor). Weight equipment, badminton and basketball courts, martial arts and racquetball rooms – you name it. It was opened in August 2008 and is within walking distance of the law school.
Finding a place to live in a new city can be daunting. One easy way to get a quick who’s who of apartments is to send an e-mail to the Tenant Union at UIUC. Request a list of apartment complexes and they will be able to tell you average prices along with how many complaints have been reported to the Tenant Union.Some former students have some things for prospectives to keep in mind.
Many people use the admitted students forum to find roommates and other information about life in Urbana-Champaign. As for food costs, one student estimates about $80 to $100 for food each week.
The Urbana-Champaign metropolitan area has nearly 233,000 people, but the city of Champaign, where the law school is, only has about 81,000. It is a college town, so the downtown area is a hub of student activity. One student said, “I love the surrounding community. The town is big enough so there is always something to do on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights, but there aren't so many distractions that you lose focus.”
Surprisingly to some, there is a decent music scene in the city, and at least one student recommends checking out The Canopy Club. As mentioned above, The Blind Pig is a hotspot, and during the day, students can indulge in Indian, Thai, Mexican, Japanese, Italian, and other ethnic cuisines.
In case you decide to map the law school in relation to downtown, note that Neil and Main is generally considered downtown. Near where the streets intersect, there is a train station and many bars for about a four-block radius.
One former student gave this detailed report on the downtown area:
For the “closet hippie,” as one student put it, there are two organic food stores, Strawberry Fields and Common Ground. Students have counted three Walmarts and two Meijers (a grocery chain) within the city limits.
Finally, for the golf lovers, one student told TLS, “Urbana Park District has a nine-hole course at Lohmann Park.”
There are many student organizations at UIUC. Students have a wide range of opportunities to get involved in their spare time. Current law students warn against the dangers of taking on too much, but that is a risk for every overzealous 1L at UIUC. There are a vast number of awards for those who are active in the law school community.
Worth noting are the five law journals. The website states the value of working on a journal very simply: “Membership on a journal or other publication advances your legal career.” One administrator elaborated on the process of earning a spot:
There are also competitive organizations at UIUC, including seven internal moot court competitions throughout the year. Law students have also practiced in eight external moot court competitions against students around the country.
Students can also engage in trial advocacy, which consists of case preparation for either a criminal or civil jury trial. These mock events help you learn the law in a practical setting, and earn you valuable talking points when going through on-campus interviewing or seeking employment otherwise.
U.S. News & World Report Ranking: 35
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