Law School Discussion

Expensive Tier 1 or Inexpensive Tier 2 school? Geroge Mason / UB

So, I have a difficult choice to make, I was recently accepted into George Mason, and as you all know, they are a Tier one school around rank #41.  The tuition is around 35k for out of state, and it is notoriously hard to adjust to in-state status, so I won't count on that.

In tier two, I have been accepted into the University at Buffalo, ranked #80 or so, with a 12k tuition (after a 5k scholarship).  As a bonus, this is my home town, so it's close and I have a minor network of contacts and obviously family in the area, but there aren't too many jobs out here.

I'm also on the wait list for Washington and Lee, which is rated a little better than George Mason.

So what advice would the good people of this forum have for me?  Going out of state would cost me about 60-70k more to attend George Mason, and I would not have any family or contacts.  But, I would be going into a 'better' school with supposedly better job prospects and a better salary.  UB, on the other hand, is close to home, and is very inexpensive.  It may even be easier to get into the coveted top 10%, since the competition may not be as stiff.  However, the average starting salary is of course lower, and the school name is not as well recognized (although I don't know how well Gorge Mason is either).

What should I do and what factors should I consider?

Re: Expensive Tier 1 or Inexpensive Tier 2 school? Geroge Mason / UB
« Reply #1 on: January 23, 2011, 03:53:41 PM »
First, you can't assume the ease of being at the top of the curve is related to the ease of getting in.  There are so many variables, and often, since fewer get the top jobs from lower ranked schools, the students are even more competitive.  One school that's notorious for vicious competition is Cardozo in New York.  Maybe it will be easier to get in the top 10% at UB, but maybe it'll be easier to get in the top 10% at George Mason.  Think of it this way: you have a 10% chance of scoring in the top 10% at either. ;)

Anyway, after the T14, law schools are largely regional.  If you want to practice in upstate NY, hands down Buffalo.  It's cheaper, it's well regarded in the region, and it's where you want to practice.

If you want to practice in DC, GMU would probably be better than Buffalo, but then you really have to take the cost factor into consideration.  Especially because in DC you also have UVA, Georgetown, GWU, and American for job competition.  That'll be roughly $150k in student loan debt for a slight edge in an over saturated market.  If your heart is set on DC, though, try to get more money out of GM by telling them about your offer from UB.  It may not work, but it's worth a shot.  If it doesn't work, look into how well Buffalo alumni have done in DC.  See if there are any attorneys you can network with.

Good luck and congrats!


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Re: Expensive Tier 1 or Inexpensive Tier 2 school? Geroge Mason / UB
« Reply #2 on: January 23, 2011, 04:06:40 PM »
Where would you like to try to work when you get out of school?

You may also want to take a look at the cost of living, as it would matches up to your lifestyle, for each of these schools. I happen to live and work in Northern Virginia, the law campus for GMU is located near a metro stop which is helpful, but the area is not what I would call affordable.

What type of work are you interested in? GMU Law is located in close proximity to DC which provides access to many federal resources that schools outside of the DC simply do not have.

Re: Expensive Tier 1 or Inexpensive Tier 2 school? Geroge Mason / UB
« Reply #3 on: January 23, 2011, 04:08:14 PM »
GMU is a great school and places half-way well at biglaw firms in DC (at least for law review/top of the class students).  I don't think GMU has fantastic name recognition outside of the DC/VA area in general (it is fairly well recognized in legal academia though).  Safe bet that essentially everyone in the legal field in DC knows about GMU.  GMU recently sent its first student to clerk on the Supreme Court which I think also gave the school a moderate boost in recognition.  I don't know anything about UB.

You could perhaps defer your admission for a year, move to NoVA now.  Work for a year doing something interesting (probably in DC) and start after you've gained residency here.

You should also consider the differences in culture and style from one school to another.  GMU has a strong law and econ faculty that is probably bested only by those at HLS and Chicago (Stanford also has one truly exceptional L&E guy).  If you absolutely hate L&E GMU probably isn't for you though as I think its even a required course now (as it should be :P).

NoVA/DC is a fairly expensive place to live.  GMU's law campus is nicely located though and its a ~15 min metro ride to DC on the orange line.  Figure a minimum of about $1500 for a small apartment in the area (guessing - I live about 5-6 miles from GMU in a SFH).  There isn't a ton of parking at GMU and traffic around here is a mess so probably best to plan on living within walking distance of the school.

Re: Expensive Tier 1 or Inexpensive Tier 2 school? Geroge Mason / UB
« Reply #4 on: January 24, 2011, 03:45:02 PM »
Hmmm these are all good points to consider.  I personally don't know which type of law I'm interested in practicing yet, but perhaps criminal law might be an option?  Additionally, I don't really know where I want to live in terms of what region, although I do prefer the suburbs to a city.

Frankly I don't even know how some people could know both of these things for sure before they've actually lived in other places and experienced the different types of law curriculum that the schools have to offer...

One thing that I do know is that I would like to have my options open, and surely the caliber of school I attend will determine this to some degree?  I know living in buffalo is inexpensive, and I gather the opposite about the other places mentioned, which might pose a problem, because I would have to work to afford that kind of apartment.

The one thing that gives me pause is what the poster above said, about academia.  I have often considered this as a plausible career, and being a law professor might just be right for me.  The only thing is, what are the odds of actually getting into that profession, and where do GM grads get hired in academia?  The numbers I looked at said 2-3% of them went into academia, and I don't know if that is because it is very competitive or because not many people want to go into that field, and I don't know what the salary for that is either?

The final, most stable criterion I suppose would be salary.  Either way, I'm going to have to pay back a goo amount of loans, the difference being 36k for UB and 100k for GM.  So, I still have much thinking to do...

Re: Expensive Tier 1 or Inexpensive Tier 2 school? Geroge Mason / UB
« Reply #5 on: January 24, 2011, 04:15:19 PM »
Legal academia is ultra-competitive (way more so than biglaw).  There are sites with great breakdown's by school.  The most common path at the moment is to go to a fancy school and do a bunch of writing while you are there, then do a fancy clerkship and do a bunch of writing in your spare time, then do a fancy fellowship for a year or two and do a whole lot of writing (publish 2+ law review articles and write, but don't publish a 3rd for your job talk paper), then you go to the AAALS meat market in DC and hope to get picked up by a school somewhere.

Do note that when you look at the statistics there's a big sample bias in that students inclined toward legal academia tend to be nerds who tend to get accepted to fancy schools and especially tend to like New Haven (i.e., Y) for incomprehensible reasons. :P  I'm told that even so, legal academia is especially snobbish with respect to your school's brand name.  I have known some professors who went to UVA and similarly ranked schools and did really well.  Off hand I can't think of any young, well known professors who went to schools outside the T14. 

Note, this is mostly for academia in T1 schools, though I'm told that the market is quite tough at all levels, though as a general rule as you go down in the rankings practical experience starts to matter and school prestige and written work becomes less important.  At the T14 level you don't have to have practiced, passed a bar or done anything useful with your life as long as you've got a shiny diploma with lots of Latin and have written a bunch of papers that other similarly situated academics thought were cool.

I do think being a legal academic would be an awesome job and have seriously considered that as a career path myself (and have not completely given up on the notion).

Re: Expensive Tier 1 or Inexpensive Tier 2 school? Geroge Mason / UB
« Reply #6 on: January 29, 2011, 05:18:04 PM »
I'm so glad I found this thread. I am in almost the exact same situation, with George Mason also as the top tier school I'm considering.

The second tier school I'm considering is Baylor University. Tuition is about 39,000 and I have a $21,000/yr scholarship.. hard to pass up when Mason's out of state is 34,000/yr. In addition, my Dad lives in TX part-time and I could live with him. I'm from Wisconsin so both of these places are new to me, but that's what I'm looking for...I don't want to stay in the Midwest. I'm fairly open to moving to either TX or VA, as long as I can get a decent job.

I guess my main question is whether it's worth the money to go to GMU. I want to be able to pay off my debts in a reasonable amount of time; I'll have more debt from GMU, but I may also make more money. On the other hand, Baylor may leave me with less debt, but it may be harder to find a job, let alone a good paying one. I don't care about making six figures- I just care about being able to pay off my debt in 5-10 years.

Any advice? Thank you!

Re: Expensive Tier 1 or Inexpensive Tier 2 school? Geroge Mason / UB
« Reply #7 on: February 05, 2011, 01:12:22 PM »
I'm going to visit both schools, talk to careers, alum, and current students.