Pick Your (Law School) Poison

Your phone buzzes and you look down to see an unknown number – Cambridge area code. IMMEDIATELY, your breath catches. You know Harvard Admissions calls each applicant if they’ve been accepted, but no way it’s them. No way. Heart racing, you answer it, and your Harvard interviewer introduces themselves and asks how you are. You choke out a response and try to breathe…and then it happens.

“Well, I’m calling to say congratulations because…”

Cue the FREAKOUT!!!!!!!!!!!!

Honestly, champagne emoji + confetti emoji + overjoyed face + a thousand OMGs is not enough to convey how you feel when someone says “we think you’ll do great in law school and we’d love to have you.”

And that’s not just for Harvard. My first acceptance came from George Washington University, and a huge weight was lifted when I got that letter. It’s a relief to have one solid “yes” in your pocket (especially for an Air Force program like mine, where an acceptance potentially helps your application!) After that, every “yes” was just further confirmation that law school may be the right path after all.

The second round of Harvard offers for the Class of 2023 went out this week, and I saw MORE than a few excited posts on Instagram. Late winter and springtime is full-blown offer and acceptance season, so this week I want to throw my two cents into the Decision Pool. Just to be clear, this doesn’t mean I have a say on who gets into Harvard – I DON’T. But I WILL host admitted HLS students several times this spring, and help them decide if Harvard is a good fit. It’s definitely equal parts stressful and exciting!

After getting my call (and breathing + champagne + calling my mom + telling facebook) I took a step back and seriously contemplated what that acceptance meant. Harvard is pretty legit – definitely my #1 choice (sorry Columbia). But I also knew tuition + cost of living would be around $90K a year, in one of the most expensive cities in America. I didn’t attend any Ivy undergrad, and already three years out of school – and I was VERY wary of a potentially snobby environment. (I am definitely a victim of “imposter syndrome” and thought for sure HLS made a mistake in admitting me). My grades and LSAT were good, but not insanely high – what if I overreached, and was legitimately the dumbest one there?

Despite all these fears, I felt 100% confident when I enrolled at HLS. These are the things I considered to reach that point, and what I’d suggest any future JD do to choose the right law school!

  1. Look at the acceptance deadline. I was accepted to HLS in December 2018, with an acceptance deadline of 1 May 2019. This gave me plenty of time to see which other schools accepted me AND how much financial aid would be available from each. THIS IS WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO APPLY EARLY! The more “yeses” you receive, the more chance to leverage financial aid, and the more likely that you can get some money out of schools through various scholarship and financial aid opportunities. You don’t have to accept before the deadline – I highly recommend waiting to see all your options before committing, or until you’re sick of sitting around and feel super comfortable with a choice.
  2. Consider why you want to go. Is it just for the name, or News Report ranking? Or do you genuinely have a reason for choosing that school? For example, I love several things about Harvard that other schools don’t necessarily offer – a community service commitment, plethora of guest speakers, HUGE variety of classes and specializations, and overall giant class size. THIS DOESN’T FIT EVERYONE! (I’ll pitch you all day to convince you otherwise, but) if you thrive in a ‘small school’ environment, or absolutely hate cities, then HLS maybe isn’t the right choice. Conversely, if you’re looking at a small school but loved your huge undergrad, maybe you should reconsider. Either way this leads into #3 and #4:
  3. What’s your plan for AFTER law school? This seems silly, but a three-year Juris Doctorate is just the beginning of a lifetime of using that degree. Is HLS, or whatever school you’re looking into, going to set you up for the path you want? Do they offer programs, professionals, and classes that cater to your interests? If yes, the heck yes. If not…will it matter in the long run? For me, it did not. Harvard may not have one of the “leading” programs for national security, but I know I’ll be practicing a variety of law types with the military anyway (plus, they have some ABSOLUTELY AMAZING experts on the subject – even if it’s not a program). If your school won’t give you the connections or background you need once you’re out in the real world…maybe appropriate to pick a different school.
  4. Ask yourself if there’s a better fit. Have you always dreamed of going to a certain school, and are now being swayed because you feel like you have to attend the best place possible? Is the school a little too far away from home for comfort, but you’re pushing that thought away? This is where you have to really be honest with yourself. I’m all about pushing boundaries, but choosing a school because you feel like you should or have to go, is not a good start. Going back to my fear of Harvard snobbery, discomfort on campus was NOT something I was willing to endure (see #6!). No matter how great an institution is, it’s not worth a miserable three years socially/mentally – law school is hard enough without extra stressors.
  5. Consider the financial aspect. How expensive is it realistically going to be to a) attend the school and b) live in the city? First, cost of attendance – if there’s going to be debt involved, what is the likelihood of getting a comfortable job straight out, and starting to pay that down? Does the school offer heavy financial aid, or scholarships? Figure out HOW MUCH debt is potentially heading your way, and ask yourself if you’re comfortable with that number. Second, cost of living – very different from, say, Boston to North Dakota. Here at Harvard, even if you get school housing (which is a whole lottery system in itself) city-living is expensive. Can you make the money stretch, or would you rather be in a place where a dollar goes a long way?
  6. Schedule a visit. To me, THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT! It may cost a bit of time and money to get to your school, but you will get a real feel for that place’s environment. I visited Harvard during one of the HLS Admitted Students weekends and, going into that weekend, I knew the visit would be make-or-break. I wasn’t willing to “tough it out” at a place where I didn’t feel comfortable, confident, and supported. Luckily, the weekend was beyond incredible – well-organized, relaxed, very informative and welcoming. Everyone there was nice and normal – whenever I talked to a student or professor, I felt my Imposter Syndrome melt away. However, I know other people who went and realized Harvard really wasn’t the correct fit (mostly CA students who went, winter? HECK no, I’m going to Stanford 🥶) – but that’s the whole point!
  7. Talk to real students. This is just as important as visiting (and a huge part of every school visit, if the school is genuine). Current students will tell it to you straight – no party line involved. Even as an HLS Admitted Students Fellow (basically an ambassador for the school) I will never sugarcoat the realities of Harvard. But…there’s not a lot to sugarcoat! Getting a perspective from someone in the thick of it is essential to knowing what you’re getting into, and I highly recommend hitting up at least one or two current students. (Preferably 1Ls, because 3Ls truly ARE living the life and have mostly shut out the trauma)

Committing to any life-changing event is hard, and I was beyond stressed when choosing a law school. For anyone in that spot, I really urge you to NOT pick a school based solely on its rank, or because you feel like you should. Harvard is an incredible opportunity, but I didn’t choose it because of the name. Of course you want to go to the best school available, but you have to make sure you’re a financial, emotional, and logical fit first. Enjoy the validation of your acceptances, then give yourself some breathing room! And for goodness sake, GO TO YOUR SCHOOL’S ADMITTED STUDENTS WEEKEND. March 6-7 and April 17-18, for all you potential Harvard-ites 😏