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St. John's School of Law
Published September 2008, last updated November 2010
St. John’s School of Law is one of many different law schools that feed into the New York City market. Based in the neighborhood of Jamaica, the school is currently ranked 72nd by US News and enjoys a better reputation than some of its peers (NYLS, Touro, etc.). However, that being said, prospective students should think twice about attending without significant financial aid. Job prospects out of St. John’s, especially in this struggling economy, aren’t great for the majority of students, and the tuition and cost of living are high. If you want to take a gamble and go for that big New York City paycheck, then St. John’s has a small chance of fulfilling that dream. However, it is important to keep a level head and know your exit options: if you don’t place near the top of your class, then job prospects could be dire. If you’re not sure about applying to law school or just beginning the application process, then please take the time to read some of the excellent pre-law articles found here.
Tuition and Fees
As mentioned above, students should be prepared to spend a considerable amount for their education at St. John’s. For the 2009-2010 academic year, full-time students paid $42,200 and part-time students paid $31,650 in tuition. If you take into account the ABA Estimate of $19,810 for living expenses, students can spend over $60,000 for each year at St. John’s.
However, St. John’s does offer a considerable portion of its students financial aid grants. In the last data reported to the ABA, the school noted that it gave 32.6% of its student body financial aid grants (or 298/914 students). More full-time students received financial aid (38.4%) than part-time students (only 6.6%). Of those who were selected to receive grants, 35.9% received less than half tuition, 28.5% received half to full tuition, 31.5% received full tuition, and 4% received more than full tuition. The median grant amount was $25,000 for full-time students and $10,000 for part-time students.
For all academic scholarships at St. John’s, keeping your grant money is contingent upon remaining in the top half of your class. This is easier said than done! Students should be prepared to study hard in order to retain their scholarships. For a few other scholarships (the Vincentian and Ron Brown Scholarships), students must simply remain in good standing in order to continue receiving aid. To find out more about scholarships at St. John’s, click here. To read a TLS article about funding your legal education, click here. Also, if you plan on pursuing a career in public interest, click here to learn about the new program called Public Service Loan Forgiveness (or PSLF). Finally, to read about a new payment option for federal student loans called IBR (or Income-Based Repayment), click here.
As with most other law schools, the LSAT and undergraduate GPA (or UGPA) requirements for admission continue to climb. For the entering class of full-time students in the fall of 2009, the school reported that its LSAT median was 161, with its 75th and 25th percentiles being 163 and 156, respectively. However, taking into account both full-time and part-time students, the school reported that its LSAT median was slightly lower at 160, with its 75th and 25th percentiles being 160 and 154. Therefore, although the school does not report its part-time numbers independently, it is clear that the school’s part-time standards for the LSAT are slightly lower than its full-time standards.
Interestingly, the opposite holds true for UGPA amongst attending students. For the entering class of full-time students in the fall of 2009, the UGPA median was 3.48, with 75th and 25th percentiles being 3.70 and 3.16, respectively. However, when taking into account part-time numbers as well, the UGPA median was 3.53, with 75th and 25th percentiles being 3.73 and 3.16. This means that part-time students generally have similar (or higher) UGPAs than full-time students, and slightly lower LSAT scores.
If you start in the part-time program, it is quite easy to transfer into the full-time program. The school’s website explains:
As a side note, the school states in regard to applicants having multiple LSAT scores that, “If an applicant has taken the LSAT more than once, there will be an emphasis on the highest score during the review process.” To learn more about preparing for the LSAT from some of the highest scorers on TLS, click here. The application fee is $60 unless one obtains a fee waiver. To read more about how to obtain a fee waiver, click here.
Beyond the Numbers
Although your LSAT score and your UGPA are very important factors in your admission, other components can make a difference as well. The school writes:
For most schools, crafting an effective resume is an important part of the application process. Your resume is a good way of sharing those factors that make you different in a concise and accessible way. To read some advice about creating a professional law school resume, click here.
Applicants are required to include a “personal statement or short essay” with their application. Suggested topics include:
It can be difficult to come up with a good topic for your personal statement, so make sure to give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm, write, and revise. Although the school doesn’t give a maximum or minimum length requirement, making your essay about two pages double-spaced in a reasonable font size is a safe bet. In addition, applicants can submit an optional diversity statement. The school’s application says:
It is important to note that nearly all students add diversity to the student body in some way. The number of different influences that fall under “economic, cultural, or social factors” is immense, so even if you can’t initially come up with something that makes you a unique applicant, keep thinking about it.
Finally, if you have encountered significant obstacles, then you should write an explanatory addendum. A low LSAT score or UGPA can be partially mitigated by a very good excuse (family illness, a history of poor standardized test taking, etc.), and this will help your application get the attention it deserves. Be sure to keep your addendum quite brief; only include details that are necessary. For more information about writing addendums, click here.
If you’re interested in improving your personal statement or even just looking for ideas to write about, Ken DeLeon, the creator of Top-Law-Schools.com, wrote a fantastic guide to personal statements which can be found here for free.
When to Apply
Unfortunately, St. John’s does not have an Early Action (EA) or Early Decision (ED) option. However, as with most law schools, the earlier you apply, the better. Applications for St. John’s open up in early September and have a priority deadline of April 1st. This means that applications turned in after April 1st “will be reviewed on a ‘space available’ basis.” The school further clarifies that, “We cannot guarantee space for applications received after April 1.” Even though the school continues to give applications full consideration until April 1st, it is a fact that there are more spots open earlier in the application cycle.
Letters of Recommendation
The school had the following to say about applicants submitting letters of recommendation:
Even though the school doesn’t require any letters of recommendation, they will make your application stronger. Make sure that you give your recommenders plenty of time to write their letters, as they might be preoccupied with other matters. To get some additional advice on obtaining letters of recommendation, click here.
St. John’s doesn’t have much information about its waitlist on its website, but if you are waitlisted, be prepared for a long wait. You can improve your chances by sending in periodic LOCI (or letters of continued interest) with any significant updates to your application. These might include new publications, a new job, a new semester that improved your UGPA, a new LSAT score, etc. This will also show that you are interested in St. John’s, and they will appreciate the attention! That being said, don’t hound them with dozens of letters; just significant updates will do.
A considerable number of students transfer into and out of St. John’s each year. In the last ABA report, the school reported that 12 students transferred in and 9 students transferred out. The school had the following to say about the requirements to transfer:
Students can submit applications to transfer in either the fall or the spring. For the fall, the priority deadline is June 1st, and for the spring, the priority deadline is December 1st. To find out more about transferring or attending St. John’s as a visiting student, click here.
URMs (or Underrepresented Minorities)
Because of their disadvantaged histories in the United States, certain minorities enjoy a significant boost in the application process. To read more about this boost and to see whether you classify as an URM, click here. In addition, there are many pre-law programs specifically created to help URM applicants get accepted to top schools. To read more about some of these programs, click here.
St. John’s is located in Jamaica, a neighborhood in the borough of Queens in New York City. Although Jamaica itself isn’t the greatest place to spend three years, it is located near downtown New York City, one of the premiere social, cultural, and recreational capitals of the entire country. Students are just a short cab ride or subway trip away from the heart of the Big Apple, so there are plenty of opportunities available for students to have fun.
St. John’s is traditionally known as a commuter school, and current students confirm this stereotype. One student writes, “St. John's is definitely a commuter school, especially for the law school.” When further pressed about student life on campus, the same student responded:
So, if you’re looking for a cohesive student body and exciting social opportunities on campus, St. John’s might be a poor choice. One student remarked, “I'm sure the undergrad has a good campus life, but the law school is very disconnected from them; everything is in one building right inside the gates.” That being said, the school does have extracurricular options for those who seek them out. For instance, the school offers clubs like the Muslim Law Students Association, the Women’s Law Society, or the Intellectual Property Law Club (or IPL Club).
There are plenty of different dining options for St. John’s students on and near campus. For instance, students can take advantage of the new St. Vincent’s Café, D’Angelo Center Food Emporium, and Starbucks Café. And, of course, St. John’s is located right outside of Manhattan, which offers some of the most ethnically diverse food in the United States. To find out more dining at St. John’s, click here.
When asked about housing on campus, one student was largely negative. He writes, “The only possible housing you can obtain through the school is a mile from campus, and they treat you like undergrads, so the desire to stay in those apartments is very minimal.” He goes on to claim that the university’s treatment of law students is the “biggest negative” about the school:
However, he concedes that living in the campus apartments is not “a completely terrible idea for 1Ls (first year law students) because you meet a lot of people from other sections (each class is separated into three sections, who you have all your classes with first year).”
The Student Body
The student body at St. John’s is reasonably diverse. The entering class in the fall of 2009 was reported to be 22% minorities, and the class was divided between 45% females and 55% males. One student writes about diversity at St. John’s:
Thus, the student body seems generally accepting of different types of people. However, the school’s scholarship requirements make students slightly more competitive than they might be otherwise. The same student writes, “The students here are not overly competitive, relatively nice, but there is definitely a feel of needing to be better than the rest, because St John's gives a lot of scholarships and you only can keep your scholarship if you remain in the top half of the class.” So make sure that you study hard if you want to keep your scholarship money.
Also worthy of note is that part-time students are treated exactly the same as full-time students. One student writes, “I don't know who is part time and who isn't. So, I guess, yes, they are treated the exact same since I don’t even know who they are.”
Finally, some applicants may be wary of St. John’s being traditionally Catholic. However, the university’s religious background has no effect on the law school, according to one student:
One area where the school shines is in its state of the art facilities. One student writes:
In terms of recreational facilities, the school offers its students outdoor tennis courts, an outdoor track, locker rooms, a fitness center, and a gym where students can play basketball, volleyball, tennis, and badminton. To find out more about recreational opportunities at St. John’s, click here.
Likewise, St. John’s has many different journals that students can participate in and learn from. They include the St. John’s Law Review, the Journal of Catholic Legal Studies, the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development, the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review, the New York International Law Review, the N.Y. Litigator, and the N.Y. Real Property Law Journal.
Requirements for membership differ from journal to journal, but generally students must achieve a high first-year GPA and do well in the school’s write-on competition in order to be accepted. For instance, for the most prestigious journal at the school, the St. John’s Law Review, “approximately 200 students” enter the competition each year, and “between 32 and 37 are asked to join the Law Review.” Members of the Law Review also staff the school’s Journal of Catholic Legal Studies.
Requirements are slightly more lax for the other journals: the Journal of Civil Rights and Economic Development and the American Bankruptcy Institute Law Review require a 3.2 GPA and completion of the school’s write-on competition, and the New York International Law Review and the N.Y. Litigator require a 3.0 GPA and completion of the same write-on competition.
The journals give students a valuable opportunity to get hands-on experience in developing “their research, writing, and analytical skills through the scholarly treatment of current legal issues.” The above publications span a variety of subject matter, so students should be able to find something that they’re interested in. Above all, membership on a journal will help when it comes time to apply for a job, and in this economy, students can use all the help they can get!
Besides its decent facilities, St. John’s struggles to distinguish itself academically. With a poor student to faculty ratio of 17 to 1 and no real outstanding academic programs, the school may prove a tough sell for those looking to maximize their educational experience. However, that being said, the resources are there for a great education if students are motivated enough to make use of them. For instance, the majority of professors at St. John’s are very accessible to students. One student writes:
This same student even wrote that, “The biggest positive about St. John's is that the professors are so accessible and involved with the students.” Thus, it is possible for ambitious students to form long-lasting relationships with their professors; this will of course help with getting letters of recommendation and finding jobs in general.
In order to graduate with a J.D., the school requires 86 credits, 56 of which must be completed while a member of the university. This takes three years for full-time students to finish, and four years for part-time students. The school offers both a part-time day program and part-time evening program, so students from all different stages of life should be able to complete a degree at St. John’s. To read more about the diverse selection of courses that St. John’s offers, click here.
LL.M. Degrees and Joint Degrees
The school also has two different specialized LL.M. degrees: the LL.M. in Bankruptcy and the LL.M. in U.S. Legal Studies for Foreign Graduates. Only thirty credits are required for these degrees, and they should only take one year to complete (or two years if you’re part-time). The school’s website explains:
The school also offers a variety of combined and joint degrees to its students. For instance, students can obtain a joint J.D. / M.A. degree in Government and Politics, a joint J.D. / M.B.A., etc. To read a TLS article about joint degrees, click here.
St. John’s has several different legal centers where students can participate in different academic pursuits. They include the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, the Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution, the Center for Labor and Employment Law, the St. John's University School of Law Writing Center, and the Center for Professional Skills. Sometimes indirectly, all of these centers play a significant role in the average student’s education at St. John’s.
The scope of the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Justice goes outside of the St. John’s community. Each year, the school hosts a summer prep class for college students interested in going to law school. Those who are eligible are either “low-income or first-generation college students or members of a group underrepresented in law school education” and must have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. Students must join the program as sophomores, although they can continue the program their junior years. The center also hosts symposia, presents “Trailblazer Awards” to members of the community that “demonstrate a commitment to uplifting under-represented groups and individuals,” and awards full-tuition Ronald H. Brown Scholarships to “law students with stellar academic records and acknowledged interest in civil rights and economic development.”
The Hugh L. Carey Center for Dispute Resolution is a brand new creation, only being opened in the fall of 2009. However, its expansive plans for the future will make dispute resolution at St. John’s an even stronger program than it already is. The center plans to expand current course offerings on dispute resolution and give students more clinical and externship opportunities. The school’s Dispute Resolution Society (or DRS), described as the “student arm of the Carey Center,” has already “hosted two internal competitions and participated in several external competitions,” and the organization was only started in 2007! With different conferences and symposia and hands-on events for students like the Securities Dispute Resolution Triathlon, the center is certainly improving the school’s resolution program.
The school’s Center for Labor and Employment Law plays a similar role in the school’s labor and employment law curriculum. Students can take courses in employment discrimination, labor and employment arbitration, and many other specialized areas. The center arranges externships in this field and hosts a “Distinguished Speaker Series” where “internationally renowned leaders” discuss “important issues and events in the field.” The center also offers a number of scholarships to students to help pay for tuition and (presumably pro bono or low paying) summer employment.
The St. John’s University School of Law Writing Center functions as a walk-in aid for those students who need help on any aspect of their writing. For instance, students can “brainstorm ideas, practice writing exam essays, edit scholarly pieces, submit papers to writing competitions, find publication sources for articles, polish briefs and memoranda for use as writing samples, practice proper citation form, hone grammar skills, or get help with any general writing problems.” The center also collects a list of current nationwide writing competitions that students can enter, and prizes can range from cash prizes (up to $10,000) to publication of your submission. More than a dozen St. John’s students have won these competitions in the past, and “winning a writing competition is a great way to hone your writing skills, explore a new area of law, and enhance your resume.”
Finally, the Center for Professional Skills plays an important role in organizing two clinics on campus as well as a few other programs. The center is behind the Domestic Violence Litigation Clinic and the Prosecution Clinic and operates an externship program that places students in civil externship sites, criminal justice externship sites, and judicial externship sites. Finally, the center operates the Trial Advocacy program, which gives students “an opportunity to develop trial skills in a simulated environment which allows for critique and demonstration by teams of experienced trial attorneys dedicated to individual student development.”
Clinics and Externships
St. John’s is proud of their clinical program, and the students see it as a pivotal part of their legal education. One 1L student explains:
The school’s website further explains, “Clinics allow students to go beyond the theory learned in the classroom and take it into the real practice of law. Students will learn and develop essential lawyering skills and professionalism while representing real clients.” Second and third year students can participate in a variety of different clinics, including the Child Advocacy Clinic, the Domestic Violence Clinic, and the Securities Arbitration Clinic.
As previously mentioned, the school also has a number of externships available for students. The school’s website explains:
Perhaps one of the most intriguing academic programs at St. John’s is its Street Law Program. St. John’s students get the opportunity to go out into the community and teach “practical law” to high school students at Jamaica High School in Queens, NY. The school views this program as “play[ing] a critical role in shaping the community’s respect for and understanding of the law.” The school achieves this through “teaching inner-city students their legal rights and responsibilities, [encouraging] their participation in the democratic process, and [strengthening] their oral and written communication skills through advocacy training.”
Those who are interested in public interest can also make use of the school’s Public Interest Fellowship program. Each year, the school gives out a number of summer stipends to first and second year students who “show a demonstrated commitment to public interest law and public service prior to and while attending law school, and be an active participant in the SBA’s Public Interest Committee’s activities.” Although the amount per stipend and the number of stipends differs year by year, this is a useful program for those who want to get experience working with “non-profit organizations representing traditionally underrepresented clients, groups, or interests.”
There are two different study abroad programs available for St. John’s students. They include the Summer Rome Program and the Summer Barcelona Program. Students can get a taste of international law as well as take courses in European legal history, international human rights, and comparative corporate governance. Unfortunately, while the trips might be intellectually stimulating, they are also quite expensive. The Summer Rome Program is estimated to cost nearly $9,000 in total (taking into account housing, tuition, and other expenses), and the Summer Barcelona Program is estimated to cost the same. Also, note that full-tuition scholarships do not cover tuition for the Summer Rome program (and the Summer Barcelona program, presumably).
As with most ranked law schools, when students come to St. John’s, they tend to stay for the entire three years.The school’s 1L attrition rate in its last ABA report was quite low at 3.4%, rose slightly for 2Ls (6.3%) and nearly bottomed out completely for 3Ls (0.7%). In other words, you’ll be competing with the vast majority of your 1L classmates for jobs. In addition, more students transfer into St. John’s than transfer out. In the same report, it states that 12 students transferred into St. John’s, while 9 transferred out.
The vast majority of St. John’s students pass the bar the first time they take it. According to the latest ABA report, the school’s passing rate is slightly higher than the average passing rate in the state of New York. With all students reporting (100%), the average school passing rate was 87.71%, versus the average state passing rate of 85.56%. This is a difference of 2.15%. Additionally, in the latest fact sheet given out by St. John’s, the school reports that its latest bar passing rate was 92%. Thus, the school seems to be improving its bar passage rates.
In these troubled economic times, obtaining a job via OCI is never a sure thing. In February of 2009, the school received employment data from all 275 members of the Class of 2008. Of those graduates, 246 (or 87.3%) were employed, and 10 were pursuing post-graduate degrees. The following chart details the employment distribution from those graduates who found employment:
With only 58.1% of employed students finding work at law firms (or 56.9% of graduating students in general), the numbers aren’t looking too great for St. John’s. Let’s further break down the employment at law firms by the size of firm. Keep in mind that these percentages are of the total students that found law firm work (140 students).
Generally, the bigger a law firm is, the more it pays its employees. With only 25% of those who found law firm work (or 12.7% of the graduating class in general) placing into firms with more than 500 attorneys, it should be clear that getting a coveted “Big Law” position out of St. John’s is very difficult indeed. For the same class, the school reported that with 157 out of 241 employed graduates reporting (or 65.1%), the overall median salary was $73,000. In more detail:
With the legal market now struggling, current employment numbers are certainly worse than these ones. In addition, only 65.1% of those who were employed reported salary information; while this is a majority, one has to wonder how the other 34.9% is doing. Keeping in mind all of this information, it should be clear that placing well in your class is important in finding a good job and being able to pay off your potentially significant student debt. With tuition prices soaring, it seems that if you are unlucky enough to land in the bottom half of your class (and thus lose your scholarship), you could end up in a very sour situation indeed. Paying off sticker debt with any of the above median salaries (besides the inflated “Law Firms” one) will take a great deal of time and energy, so make sure that you study hard, meet with professors, and network well to increase the chance of ending up in a successful career after graduating. One current 1L does seem optimistic about his post-graduate chances:
Thus, it seems likely that graduates will be able to find some form of employment after they graduate. However, if you are unable to find a firm job, paying off the substantial amount of debt that a student incurs at sticker price will be very tricky.
St. John’s has a number of flaws that make it a hard sell. It has a high tuition and cost of living, mediocre academic programs, and a lack of student body cohesion. However, students who are ambitious enough can enter rewarding careers in law firms, public interest groups, etc. Your options will depend on maintaining your scholarships and placing near the top of your class, not easy tasks by any means. If you’re up for a big challenge and looking for that exciting New York City career, then St. John’s is an OK choice, but students who are looking for more certainty in their legal futures should probably look elsewhere.
St. John's University School of Law Admissions Office
U.S. News Ranking: 72nd
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