Law school applicants may get flashbacks to the college application process as they assemble a school target list balanced with reaches, midrange schools, and “safety” schools.
Safety schools are those where an applicant’s odds are all but assured. Unlike college applicants, law school applicants may be able to increase their chances of admission by taking extra time to strengthen their candidacy with a higher LSAT score or more work experience.
They may also have other attractive life options besides law school. With lower stakes, safety schools are less crucial.
In short, it is unwise to apply to a law school that you would not wish to attend. Put one or two safety schools on your list, but you may not need more than that unless you have a particular concern about your candidacy.
Identifying Safety Schools
To find a good safety school, start by researching the median LSAT scores and GPAs for recent incoming classes. Look for schools where both your LSAT and GPA are over the median.
If you don’t have other factors in your favor, like work experience or a history of overcoming adversity, you might want to ensure that either your LSAT or GPA is close to the 75th percentile.
If you have one school in mind, you can also use the annual law school rankings by U.S. News to find other law schools at a similar level of selectivity in locations that appeal to you.
Picking a Safety School
It can be surprisingly difficult to settle on which safety schools belong on your list. After all, these may not be schools you know well or feel strongly about.
For safety schools, law school location should be a paramount consideration. Not only is it important to study in a city or region where you would be happy to spend three years, but law school location can impact where you practice.
On the one hand, this might be a reason to choose a lower-ranked law school in a popular city, to build local connections during and after law school.
On the other hand, it may be smarter to choose a less-competitive law school well positioned within an overlooked location. There are many states with only one or two law schools, including fast-growing states like Arizona, Nevada and South Carolina. Unless you’re dead set on joining a major law firm, a reputable school in a less competitive legal market may set you up well for a fulfilling career.
Beyond location, research each law school’s distinctive strengths and offerings by carefully reviewing their websites. Law schools put a lot of effort into their online marketing, and snooping around a site can help you determine how good of a fit it is for you.
Look for clinics and other programs that match your career goals. Many law schools that fly under the radar have surprising strengths in areas like maritime law or Native American law.
Finally, be particularly careful to research unranked or unaccredited law schools before applying, to make sure the education you will receive is worth the investment of time and money.
If you put thought into your choice of safety schools, then ending up at one is hardly fatal. Since much of law school financial aid is merit-based, you may even receive a steep tuition discount.
And if in your first year you find that the school is not the right fit, you can always apply to transfer. Transferring law schools is neither rare nor discouraged, and if you do well in your first year you may find it easier than applying to law school in the first place.