Well, the reason some of us still disregard the 2nd tier school is because, at least from what we've read, the school you go to will still affect you if you want to do Public Interest work. It'll affect your ability to obtain a federal clerkship, for one, and as you mentioned yourself, that's one of the things that matter. Also, from what I've heard, your school will also affect your ability to obtain a job in the public sector. There's also tons of different types of public sector work, but most will probably still seek applicants from top schools. Yes, it's not just the BigLaw firms that draw from top schools. Certainly Denver would not be a barrier. Since everyone's situation is unique, nothing's ever impossible, just harder. You'll have to decide whether the extra prestige that gives your resume that extra oomph (or perhaps gets your resume in the door where it would otherwise be quickly dismissed) is worth the extra money.
I wouldn't consider UT at all, considering the choices you have. I don't know what UCLA's tuition is this year, but USNews 2004 reported it as under 12k, with living expenses around 16k. In my experience, more schools overbudget for living expenses than underbudget, so how much you actually pay for living expenses will be up to you (for example, I'm going to NYC and its 33k tuition and 21k living expenses... 54k for the year... however, by living frugally I can shave off almost 4k of that). If you can bear with living with the bare necessities to cut down costs, then by all means I'd still choose UCLA. Most people are comparing top 20 privates at 50-60k cost of attendance per year versus lower tier full-rides. Frankly, you're lucky that you have an awesome in-state school to fall back on. Looks like you'll be spending 30-35k a year at UCLA, which is amazing for a top school. Is 100k worth the open doors that would otherwise be closed to you? (By closed, I don't mean impossible to get through, just harder... like your ability to find a job outside of Colorado.) I know 100k sounds daunting, and I would definitely still have trouble deciding between the two school. I don't know if this helps much, but if you make less than 50k or less a year, you can claim a $2,500 student loan interest deductable each year. Good luck on your decision.
Its nice to finally see people giving real thought to the rankings/scholarship question that is plaguing so many of us. A month or so ago I posted with my dilemna of having to choose between a top 20 law school, and a second tier law school that was offering me a full ride scholarship and had an incredible program for what I wanted to do. Even knowing that I wanted to do public interest law (and had NO intention/desire to work for a law firm) people still dismissed the tier 2 school out of hand. So, thanks to all of you who are giving serious consideration to peoples' situations and trying to offer advice about what you would honestly do in the situation.
Along those lines... might as well throw my dilemna into the mix. I have to decide between a bunch of schools along a broad spectrum in everything- location, ranking, and cost. I know variations of this questions have been asked numerous times but now being in this situation myself, I am asking for all the input I can get.
I am from California/Colorado (so I have family and some friends out there) but went to school down south and have been living and working in DC for the past two years and love it. I think it would be great to work here for a couple of years after law school, but don't see myself settling here permanently.
My first choice is UCLA- in that they have an incredible public interest program, great location, top 20 law school, national reputation etc. Problems with UCLA- while in state tuition will keep costs down, still pricey area, far from friends, and have heard is a pretty competitive environment. Also, I know I do not want to settle in CA permanently. I visited the school, and while it was nice, was less than thrilled with the location, or the technology. But, was impressed with the student body.
I have also gotten into UT-Austin. Great school but costs are astronomical (over $120,000 debt), and they have virtually no public interest classes, or any kind of loan repayment options.
The dilemma comes in in that I have received a full ride public interest scholarship to the University of Denver. Which is great- in that they have a great public interest program, my family is there and I love Denver. BIG plus- with my savings and some help from my parents in honor of winning the scholarship, I would be able to graduate debt free! (This is almost as hard to grasp as going into $100,000 into debt in the first place). But, it is not nearly as good of a school (tier 2), has very little name recognition outside of Denver hence potentially causing problems getting a job outside Colorado after graduation. I will have a better chance of being in the top 10% of my class, and participating in Moot Court and clerkships during the year and such though, so there are things to do to make up for going to a "lower" school.
I have talked to people at public interest organizations and while they admit that the school matters, so does experience (such as federal clerkships), summer internships, placement in class, etc. They admit that coming from Denver will be a hurdle to cross, but not a barrier.
I KNOW I want to go into public interest (and have absolutely NO interest in working for a firm). I've been dedicated to these issues throughout high school, college, and for the past two years at the DOJ, so all talk of possibly changing my mind in school should be skipped. Keeping in mind that I will make between $30,000-50,000 a year in my ideal jobs (hence the debt issue is HUGE) and that each schools' location has its disadvantages and advantages, what would you do? Any and all input is welcome!!!!