I know this thread has been dead for a while, but I just wanted to put in my two-cents in case someone else searches for Chicago-Kent and wants another perspective.
I am currently an Honors Scholar at Kent and I think it's a wonderful and challenging program. Many of the previous responses favoring Columbia seem to come from a people with a life ideology that favors prestige and elitism over practicality at all costs. There's nothing wrong with that - I went to UChicago for my undergraduate studies, so I know all about prestige. Just hear me out on this one.
Kent's Honors Scholars program is unique and unprecedented in many ways. Not only will you have a free ride - I repeat, a FREE ride - but you also get $10,000 per year towards living expenses. That's through a grant that never has to be paid back. You take regular classes but meet several times a semester with your cohort of fellow honors scholars. These meetings are more like classes, in which we discuss topical and controversial legal issues with Dean Krent, the head of the school. Having such small (~7 people) discussion classes is unheard of for most 1Ls. Sometimes these classes are taught by different faculty members, and it's a really exciting opportunity to learn about their research and areas of expertise in a non-classroom setting. The dean and the higher classes of Honors Scholars also host sessions for us to discuss exam strategies, job prospects, and go over the details of applying for clerkships.
This brings me to the #1 advantage: jobs. You know, Columbia or any other top school does not guarantee a job after graduation, especially in this economy. From extensive conversations with lawyers and law students at top programs, I've found that it boils down to this: If you're in the top 50% of your class at a top-14 school, you will find a good job. If you're in the top 10% of your class at a lower-ranked school, especially one like Kent with such a strong regional presence, you will find a good job. If you think there's a better chance of excelling at Kent than making it into the top-half at Columbia, I would go with Kent. Plus, if you're interested in staying in Chicago, I would actually say that Kent's the no brainer as far as job prospects go. We have hands-down the most extensive lawyers network in the Chicagoland area. Kent's Career Services provides lists of alumnae working in your area of interest, and most students say that these alums are extremely receptive and jump at the opportunity to have lunch, coffee, or just a chat. This may shock some of you, but I've actually heard several UChicago and Northwestern Law students lament that Kent students get all the credit in the Chicago job market. We're viewed as less snooty and more practical. Whether that stereotype is warranted or not, it works to our advantage. Plus, Kent's legal writing program is nationally recognized as one of the most intense, and it truly drills its students on the practical side of legal writing. We learn how to write killer briefs and memos, how to file papers, how to do all the seemingly easy tasks that so baffle top-school grads when they enter the workplace.
Next, think about publications. If you go to Kent you will have a better shot at being on Moot Court, Law Review, or another journal. Additionally, each year the 2L Honors Scholars work on a research project together. Last years' group researched the Illinois legislation for protecting victims of stalking, and presented the information in an easy-to-read format that is accessible to the public. Hundreds of people have used the Honors Scholars' online tutorials available on the Illinois Legal Aid website. A list of the past Honors Scholars projects can be found here: http://www.kentlaw.edu/honorsscholars/projects/
. Finally, as 3Ls, Honors Scholars work on co-publishing papers with Dean Krent, which will no doubt impress future employers.
If you're interested in public interest work, I think that Kent is the way to go. That's actually one of the main reasons I chose the program. It's true that LRAPs can help you fight through poverty while you pay off a $200,000 debt for the next 10-30 years, but you could graduate from Kent nearly debt-free. This buys you job freedom
. You can work for your dream public interest job for 35k after graduation, knowing that those connections will get you an even better job in the future. Those options are simply not financially possible for many people graduating with huge debts. And if you're interested in environmental law (as I am), Kent has the best environmental law program in the midwest. There's an environmental law clinic, a certificate program, and a joint J.D. / Masters (M.S.) in Environmental Management program that you can complete through IIT.
Finally, I would like to point out that you will be challenged here. Your classmates won't be idiots. I graduated with honors from the University of Chicago, and I am struggling through final exams right now. It's not a breeze. Sure, some of my classmates aren't exactly intellectuals, but they are the minority. I had the misconception going in that the Honors Scholars would be the only people from top undergraduate schools. That was wrong. Kent attracts a lot of atypical law students - pre-meds from top universities that decided at the last minute they would rather do IP law (another fantastic Kent program, btw), really smart people who have worked for 5 years and didn't have time to study for the LSAT, people who were accepted to top programs but had family or other obligations in Chicago, etc. etc. etc. One of my classmates is a single mom of four. Another is a practicing lawyer in China who wants to increase his credibility in international law. Kent students are an eclectic mix of people, many very intelligent, and most very dedicated to improving public policy and social justice.
Finally - and this is the real "finally" - the professors are really good at finding out who the good students are and really challenging them in the classroom. I didn't meant to imply above that Kent students are all geniuses, just that I was surprised by how many intellectually curious people there were. But to cut the sugar coat, sure, there are some people that don't get it ("it" being the law), and they might drop out or cling on. Either way, the professors tend to go easier on those people and really dig at the ones who want to be challenged. Some of my classmates have complained because they get grilled on the spot for 20 minutes while other students get off the hook, but I really like it.
So, that's my quite-more-than-two cents. Take home points: (1) It's FREE, (2) Great Chicago Jobs Network, (3) Good for Public Interest, (4) You Will Be Challenged. If you were admitted to the Honors Scholars program you will likely be in the top 10% and thus get a good job. Even if you're not, the Honors Scholars network is pretty well regarded, and you'll probably get a good job anyway. I hope this was helpful. If anyone out there is trying to weigh their options and would like to talk to an Honors Scholar, just call the admissions office and they can put you in touch with one of us. I for one would be happy to talk to you.