Hi. Rising 2L at SLU here. I had the same decision in front of me, except it was full ride to SLU vs. 1/2 tuition to Wash U. I chose SLU. Here was my thought process:
Not sure where I want to work, but most likely somewhere in the midwest. Without question, Wash U has a better national recognition factor and a Wash U JD of its own accord will open doors to interviews nationally more easily than a JD from SLU will. However, I think there's also something to be said about having an arguably easier path to Top 5% at SLU, which I ended up in. Further, just as Wash U isn't an AUTOMATIC job, SLU isn't an AUTOMATIC door closing in your face (save for some rare exceptions, probably.) So I decided to go with 1) SIGNIFICANTLY less debt and 2) potential for a better class rank, and then bank on myself to be able to network, make contacts, and try to create a path for myself into a non-St. Louis market if that's what I ultimately choose to do.
Will it be harder than coming out of Wash U with a JD? Oh, probably. But I don't think it's impossible. But I think it comes down to confidence in yourself and your willingness to go beyond the Career Services office and OCI to sell yourself.
I scored a large firm job this summer as a 1L in St. Louis, and there are, as has been alluded to, about equal SLU, Wash U, and Mizzou students working there currently.
I don't think there's anything wrong with the "Go to the highest ranked school you get into" approach. But I don't think it's the only approach. And I don't think a Wash U JD is a guarantee of anything (ask the 60% of Wash U 3L's that didn't have jobs as of about April 1st this year - or so rumor would have it - it's the same situation at SLU) just as a SLU JD isn't a guarantee of being trapped in St. Louis.