First off realize that any information you receive from anonymous internet posters on boards like this should be taken with a grain of salt my post included. For all you know I am a crackhead in a public library with an internet connection that is all the qualification you need to post on this forum or other boards. Michael Scott from the Office also does a pretty excellent job of driving this point home a little humor for you. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AvZBg7qLzU8
With that said if you want to believe me I am an attorney in the Bay Area and am quite familiar with both these schools I may have even attended one of them. So I will offer the following advice, which I think applies to all OL's in your position, but I can elaborate on it more since I am from the Bay Area. Every OL should consider their law school decision on the following factors in this order (1) Location (2) Cost (3) Personal Feelings about the school (4) Reality of Legal Education. (5) and a DISTANT FIFTH U.S. News Rankings particularly for mid-level schools nobody cares about whether Santa Clara is 84th and USF is 99th. I will explain all these factors in more detail.
I love the Bay Area so I am biased, but every OL needs to consider location above all else. Law school does not exist in a vacuum and you will deal with ramifications of the area you attend law school. Like you I think Sacramento Sucks and if you attend McGeorge you will live in Sacramento even if it were ranked #1 in the world you would still be in Sacramento for a minimum of three years, eventually you would make friends in sac during law school, get an apartment, plus Sacramento employers would hire you as an intern etc you simply couldn't intern at the San Francisco City Attorney's Office during the school year if you attended McGeorge nothing against the school just simple geography. Conversely you couldn't intern for the Sacramento City Attorney's Office at Santa Clara or USF. Remember that the location you attend law school is where you are going to spend 3 years of the prime of your life and more than likely where you will end up living post-graduation.
In regards to Santa Clara and USF both are in the Bay Area, but they are an hour apart and I currently live blocks from USF and love the location and living in San Francisco, but that is just my personality. Santa Clara I am not as impressed with the location, but it is more low key, suburuban, etc nothing wrong with that while USF is in San Francisco and there is a lot more going on good and bad what you like is your decision.
The scholarships are great, but really dig into the conditions it sounds like you are doing that, but if USF has a condition that you need to be in the top 10% there is a 90% chance that will not happen. Being in the top 1/3 of the class means there is a 66.3% chance it won't happen. This is nothing against you personally, but trust me on the first day of law school 100% of students are convinced they will be in the top 10% of the class and everyone is really smart, hard-working, motivated etc. In undergrad there were quite a few idiots who simply would not turn their paper in or something like that, but in law school everyone shows up and is smart you have gotten to an elite level of education each student is fully capable of doing better than you.
If 27K is being offered at McGeorge and the Conditions are not to strenuous it may be something to consider an essentially free law degree is pretty appealing. 3) Personal Feelings about the School
Another thing to realize is that each school has a culture to it and you might like one over the other. This is a highly personal decision and I know when I was a OL I visited many schools and many others when I competed in mock trial competitions. I really liked some schools and disliked others, but you may like the ones I hated and hate the ones I loved. I personally love the USF Campus I think it is beautiful and the students I have interacted with there. I cannot say the same for Santa Clara in my opinion, but I AM NOT YOU you may really like Santa Clara and this is a highly, highly personal decision so I recommend visiting the schools talking to professors, current students, admins, and getting a feel for the campus.
Listen to your gut on these visits some schools will feel right others will not, but NOBODY KNOWS BETTER THAN YOURSELF WHAT A GOOD FIT IS FOR YOURSELF. 4. Reality of Legal Education
It is all the same there is no better or worse education at any ABA school your first year will consist of Torts, Criminal Law, Civil Procedure, Contracts, Property, etc. In the Bay Area the same professors teach at the different bay area schools as well so you really are getting the exact same education.
Furthermore, in law school all you do is read Supreme Court Cases and in Torts you will read Palsgraff to learn proximate cause, Pennoyer v. Neff in Civ pro to learn notice, Hadley v. Baxendale in contracts to learn about contract remedies etc. Believe it or not the Supreme Court does not write separate opinions for different ranked law schools instead the law is the law. In the Bay Area you are literally reading Supreme Court Cases from the same professors. Jon Sylvester teaches contracts at Golden Gate, USF, Hastings, and has done it at Santa Clara, but I guess techinally he is mainly at Golden Gate, but he is awesome.
A better example of this is Lois Schwartzhttp://law.scu.edu/faculty/profile/schwartz-lois.cfm
(Santa Clara Profile) http://law.ggu.edu/law/faculty/bio/lois-schwartz
(Golden Gate Profile) http://www.uchastings.edu/academics/faculty/facultybios/schwartz-lois/index.php
I could go on with endless examples of this, but the reality is particularly in the Bay Area whether you attend Hastings, Santa Clara, University of San Francisco, Golden Gate, even Boalt or Stanford you literally will have the same professors in multiple classes and you will read Supreme Court cases so there really isn't a "BETTER" education it is quite literally the same. That is why location, cost, and personal feelings about the school are so much important than any "alleged claim of better education" 5. U.S. News Ranking
When I was a OL I thought this was gospel, but after going through law school I realized this is quite literally nothing more than a for profit magazine offering an opinion. Furthermore, the rankings change drastically year by year particularly with schools like USF, Santa Clara, and McGeorge. For example last year Santa Clara was in an 11 way tie for 84th place. (So was it 95th or 84th?) we will never know.
This link also does a good job of showing how drastically the rank changes year by year. http://www.top-law-schools.com/rankings.html
in 2009 it was in a tie for 85th place, 2010 in a tie for 93rd place, 2011 in the 11 way tie for 84th place, and now it is 95th I guarantee you nothing of any consequence happened at Santa Clara to improve or worsen the school during those three years.
To really drive the point home realize that U.S. News ranks more than law schools according to them Albuquerque, New Mexico is the best place to live http://money.usnews.com/money/personal-finance/real-estate/articles/2009/06/08/best-places-to-live-2009
South Dakota is in the best places to retire in 2032 http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-best-life/2012/08/07/here-are-the-best-places-to-livein-2032
Now are you going to move to New Mexico because U.S. News said it was the best or open a retirement account in South Dakota because U.S. News says so? I hope not it might make you think, but making a life altering decision of moving across country based on what a magazine says is probably not a good idea. However, for some reason law students myself included when I was a OL do not use common sense and make life altering decisions based on a magazine. (DO NOT MAKE THAT MISTAKE). You can use the rankings as a tie breaker, BUT DO NOT AND I REPEAT DO NOT make it the main basis of your decision. Conclusion:
I love the Bay Area and San Francisco in particular I know successful attorneys from each of these schools and the reality is whether you make it in the legal profession is far more up to you than the name of the school on your degree. Visit the schools see what feels right, consider the costs, and think about where you want to live.
No anonymous internet poster or magazine knows anything about you and this is your life so really use common sense and your own experiences when choosing what school to attend. Good luck to you.