I'm a senior at a state university (a great school). I made the decision to attend a state school for financial reasons. My parents are middle-class and I learned that I was not going to receive any financial aid from the Ivies. Four years later, I have had a great educational experience and think I made the right choice.
I am now applying for law school and find myself back in the same quandary. My parents are still middle-class, so I think it is unlikely I will receive any need-based financial aid at Yale and the idea of taking out 64K a year in loans really scares me. This brings me to my two questions: Is Yale worth paying for over a state law school and how do students pay for it?
I'm sure many law students, like you, are cringing at the cost of tution for law school, so the questions you ask are good ones. Here are my thoughts:
While Yale is a fabulous law school, there are reasons why it may not be the best fit for everyone. State law schools, in particular, often offer a great value, money-wise, for in-state residents, and many of them are, to boot, ranked along with the "top" private law schools in the country (not that we pay attention to rankings). Depending on the curriculum, you may also have more courses in that state's particular body of law, and for students who are looking to practice within the state or perhaps go into politics, going to a state school can offer a good professional network.
With that said, I think that in a lot of other ways, Yale is definitely worth the extra cost. First, Yale offers several unmatched resources. For example, we have the leading faculty in just about every area of law, from constitutional to corporate to environmental law. Our faculty-student ratio is 7-1, so you'll have a tremendous amount of access to these professors, and it's not uncommon for students here to work closely enough with faculty members to coauthor articles or spearhead projects together. Yale's approach is one that focuses on how to think about the law, rather than memorizing specific rules or statutes that could be obsolete in a few years -- which means that you'll have the tools to pursue careers in policy, public interest, business, journalism, or a number of other non-traditional paths. Finally, our alumni network is national and international, so you can find mentors and connections no matter where you go.
In addition, if you want to follow a particular career path -- like becoming a law professor -- Yale is hands-down the place to go (and I'd be surprised if the law professors in your state school didn't give you the same advice). In fact, it can be extremely difficult to get onto this career path if you don't go to Yale or a handful of other schools. Other types of experiences may be harder to come by at a state school, particularly if it is a large one. For example, Yale offers a variety of clinics (courses where you do hands-on work on real legal cases) and with few exceptions, any student can begin participating in a clinic starting in their first year of law school. At most schools, you cannot participate in a clinic until your second year, and sometimes even then it is difficult to get in. Similarly, roughly half of Yale Law graduates clerk for a judge after graduation, which gives them an amazing experience, an opportunity for mentorship, and a valuable professional credential in their careers. Clerkship opportunities at other schools may be limited to the top 5-15% of graduates or even, depending on the school, to the top one or two people in the class. So whether Yale Law School is "worth it" in terms of your professional career really depends on what types of opportunities you want in law school and beyond. In the legal world, where you go to law school can matter -- it's not that you can't do the same things at or from another school, but it may just be a little harder to accomplish.
The one area where I think no school can compare to Yale -- and to me is worth the cost -- is the actual experience of law school itself. Unlike the competitve grind that most law schools are reputed to be (and are), Yale is... fun. Part of it is the lack of class rank and grades, which of course does a lot to bring the stress level down a notch or two. But most of it is the combination of Yale's small class size and the amazing student body (yes, I'm patting myself on the back here), which is what most students love about going to school here. Coming to law school at Yale is really like joining a family -- I know this sounds corny but once you drink the Kool Aid, you'll agree.
So, how do you pay for it? Well, Yale offers need-based aid, so you have to apply for financial aid. Keep in mind that we use a different formula to calculate need than most undergraduate institutions, so you should apply for financial aid even if you did not qualify for it as an undergraduate. Each year we have students who are surprised by the amount of aid they are eligible to receive for law school. Part of your financial aid will include loans, and I understand the psychological burden of taking on debt. However, the great thing about Yale is that our loan repayment program, COAP, will ensure that you can pursue any career you want by helping to pay your loans if you go into a lower-paying job (more on this in a future post). And, if you choose to work for a white-shoe firm in New York, well, given where salaries are these days, you should be able to pay off your loans fairly quickly provided you don't get trapped in the "golden handcuffs" (i.e. having the lifestyle of a New York corporate lawyer when you have $100K in debt!).
In short, I think that debt is a valid consideration when thinking about where to go to law school generally, but given the resources and experiences you'll have at Yale, combined with the financial assistance you can continue to receive when you graduate, I don't think it should be a deciding factor in choosing whether to come here!
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