In reading through these posts, there seems to be a HUGE emphasis on the tier ratings of the schools. It's almost a snobbery that goes on and it confuses me.
I am going to be honest here. I am admitted to a T4 school (was T3, but dropped this last year). The school is Willamette University. Willamette has a huge and powerful reputation in Oregon. Several US Senators, Reps, Federal Court Judges, and 2 current Oregon Supreme Court Justices are alumni. Willamette has wonderful intern/externship opportunities with county/state/and large private firms. Their ADR program is ranked 6th in the nation. Oh, and did I mention that they are the oldest university west of the Mississippi. Their facaulty are graduates of Harvard, Yale, Stanford, and so on and most have actually practiced law.
Yet, I have had several people on boards look at the tier rating and urge me to look at other schools. I am wondering why that is?
In addition, several posters have turned their noses up at Cooley and other schools in the T4 ranking.
I guess my point is that the law is a competitive occupation and it is very elite. There are limited seats available, with only about what 190 law schools in the nation. Many people never make it into law school because they cannot get accepted. So why the snobbery?
I actually chose Willamette over a Tier 1 school. Why many have asked? Because I am a single mom and I need help with my daughter. My family is here, not in Pennsylvania. My daughter comes first. And frankly, I have no intentions of leaving the Pacific Northwest, so it makes sense to go to a regional school.
Anyway, can someone explain the snobbery to me?
Let me say first off that I think your decision was right for you, given your goals and circumstances. However, you should definitely be seeking (and recieving) a full-ride from Williamette if you were admitted to Penn. It would be dumb not to demand this in the face of your options -- and make sure they know you were admitted to a top 10 school.
The tier system is basically USNews' attempt to provide a rough guideline to the differentials in quality between different schools. This relates to faculty quality, reputation, placement, and student body quality. While highly imperfect, it does provide a rough idea of where schools fall in terms of national reputation / overall quality.
The tier system is somewhat misleading in that there is a big difference between the top 14 or 15 schools and most of the the rest of the first tier. The top 14/15 are national programs, the next 10-15 are perhaps semi-national, and the remainder are basically simply strong programs in their respective regions.
You could call this snobbery, but the truth is that the law is a competitive profession. GPA isn't a perfect measure of intelligence or ability, but it does tend to show how disciplined you tend to be, and how hard you're willing to work. LSAT isn't a perfect indicator of intelligence either, but it does tend to indicate one's relative abilties in certain areas important to the study of law. Combined, these two factors do a decent job in predicting law school success, and it's therefore not surprising that firms will consider a student body with higher LSAT's and GPA's more qualified than others.
For these reasons, it's generally advised that you attend the "best" (highest ranked) school in desired region. If you want complete flexibility, you should attend the (best possible school in) the T14.
There are, of course, exceptions to the above rule. Minor rankings differences may overshadow the fact that two schools are actually equally respected in a given market. (Sometimes, the lower-ranked school may actually be more respected, for various reasons.) The rankings do a poor job of measuring local reputation, and therefore some 4th tier schools may actually be quite decent, and place quite well locally, while others are jokes. (There's a reason that Cooley gets ragged on so much -- their LSAT median is about 10 points lower than Williamettes.)
And for someone like you, it may in fact make far more sense to attend the local law school, as opposed to a T10. As long as the school places well in the kinds of jobs you want, that's all that really matters.
(However, as noted, you should be looking at a full-ride at most schools if you were accepted into a T10. And I've gotta think that Oregon was yield-protecting you when they dinged you. Did you make clear how sincere your interest was, your family situation, and the fact that they were your first choice?)
I don't think your choice was a bad one at all, given your situation. I simply think you should be sure you get big scholarship money. However, it should also be noted that differentials in quality, reputation, and placement are very real. And they don't just apply to biglaw, they apply to middlelaw, and to most jobs, to some extent. This doesn't mean that some students at T4 schools aren't more capable than some students at T14 schools. (And class rank still matters to some degree, of course.) It just means that these are realities to consider when deciding what you want on your resume.
(The person who said Temple was better than Penn for Philly biglaw must have been high, I think.)