Ave Maria School of Law
A newcomer to the law school scene, Ave Maria School of Law was founded in 1999 and received its ABA approval as recently as 2005. Dean Eugene Milhizer describes it as "a Catholic, national law school with a growing reputation for producing graduates who serve the law and their clients with professionalism and integrity". The law school was previously located in Ann Arbor, Michigan, but in 2009, it officially moved to its newly-constructed Vineyards Campus in Naples, Florida.
Admissions & tuition
For the Class of 2012, the median undergraduate GPA is 3.22 and the median LSAT is 150. About 50 percent of applicants were accepted in 2009, and many students reported that gaining acceptance to Ave Maria was no harder than getting into other Tier 4 schools. Students at Ave Maria praise the admissions staff for their friendliness and accessibility.
Full-time annual tuition at Ave Maria is $35,380. Thankfully, about 64 percent of students receive some form of financial aid, and the median grant amount of aid per recipient is $15,000. Cost of living, however, is high. Ave Maria's website advises potential students to budget just over $20,000 a year for living expenses. Even with the generous financial aid packages, the average debt of Ave Maria graduates hovers around $90,000.
Ave Maria School of Law typically splits its first-year class into sections of 65 students. In 2009 the school had 49 faculty members, with a student-to-faculty ratio of 17.5 to 1. Students describe the coursework as practical and top-notch. All 1Ls are required to take contracts, torts, civil procedure, property, moral foundations and research writing and advocacy. Also, all Ave Maria students must take three semesters of legal writing.
Because Ave Maria is a Catholic law school, most classes are taught in the Catholic tradition. For example, each class at Ave Maria School of Law begins with a prayer. Some students may feel uncomfortable or out of place in such a religious environment.
Quality of life
Naples is situated in one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country, and its location likely plays a role. The law school is minutes from what the city's website colorfully calls the "sun drenched beaches of the Gulf of Mexico." Because the campus is so new, little information can be gleaned from students about its overall quality of life. With regards to housing, Ave Maria's Vineyard Campus has unfurnished on-campus apartments available, but they come at an equal or greater cost compared to other housing in the area. The law school also has attractive-sounding villas available for married students with children. Each of the sixteen villas has a one-car garage, a sidewalk and a yard.
As far as the school's religious traditions go, Ave Maria does not share the reputation for tolerance exhibited by Notre Dame, perhaps the nation's best-known Catholic university. Some Ave Maria students feel that if they do not live up to the student body's idea of traditional Catholic standards, they will be ostracized by their classmates. This sentiment should be taken into account before deciding on attending Ave Maria.
Employment prospects & bar passage
About 82 percent of graduates of the Class of 2008 were known to be employed nine months after graduation. Of those students, the median starting salary in the private sector was $60,000 while the median starting salary in the public sector was $57,500. Students are fairly well-represented around the country, though there is a noticeable convergence of students in the Midwest and the East Coast markets. A small minority head out West.
Students at Ave Maria have mixed reactions towards the legal market after graduation. Some claim it places well for judicial clerkships and JAG positions, while others say that the school's relative newness and fourth-tier rating lead to slim pickings post graduation.
While bar passage rates are not yet available for students who graduate from the Florida campus, in 2008, the school had a sub-par year for its Michigan passage rates. About 79.6 percent of graduates beat the test, a number less than the 82.1 percent statewide passage rate.
Ave Maria has both pros and cons of attendance. One will likely get a rosy picture from current students at Ave Maria regarding all aspects of attendance. It is prudent to recognize that many students at Ave Maria are self-selected, as they have chosen to partake in Ave Maria's approach to education, religion and the law. As you research this school and view its new campus and fantastic location, remember that it has a Tier 4 ranking for a reason. That said, Ave Maria can be a good choice for students who wish to learn the law through a conservative and Catholic tradition.
U.S. News & World Report Ranking: Tier 4
LSAT Median: 150
GPA Median: 3.22
Application Deadline: April 1
Application fee: $50
Entering class size: 210
Yearly Tuition: $35,380
Bar passage rate in Michigan: 79.6%
Percent of graduates employed 9 months after graduation: 81.5%
Median private sector salary: $60,000 (Class of 2008, a scant 29% reporting)