Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I'm glad I'm not headed to law school

Today I'm happy that I'm headed to business school and not law school.  Stereotypes about business school students and lawyers aside, I found two interesting articles at the New York Times which discuss the financial implications of law school.

The first of these articles is Is Law School a Losing Game? and although it's a few months old by now I doubt the score has changed much.  The article profiles several law school graduates with six-figure debts and makes the case that the only one profiting from these degrees are the granting institutions and Sallie Mae.

The article also has an interesting discussion about how law schools finesse and pad their employment figures.  A student can be considered employed after graduation no matter what job they're in and if they are using their degree- janitor or law firm partner, you're employed.  It also mentions that some law schools hire back their students around survey time to boost their numbers, if lagging.  All of this to hid a flagging job market for law degree recipients.

Although an MBA is not as specific in determining a career or job title as a law degree I have to wonder if the same trend is taking place on business school campuses in the wake of the 2008 market crash and recession.  It seems probable though employment numbers certainly did dip.   This article did make me a bit nervous - it hit on my core fear about entering an MBA program.  What I fear most is that I will take two years of my life and nearly six-figures of my money and up with the same or worse job prospects I have now.  However, I'd also worry if I had no doubts because it would mean that I had certainly over looked something.  There is no guaranteed path to riches.

The second article, How Law Students Lose the Grant Game, and How Schools Win via My Money Blog, adds further faults to current law school practices.  The article describes how law schools hand out numerous merit scholarships but then place requirements on them that are impossible for all recipients to meet such as being in the top 25% of the class when 30% receive the grant guaranteeing that some students will definitely lose their grant in the first year. The schools pull in better qualified students but don't have to pay up on the full incentive.  What's worse is that administrators at these schools speak really poorly about their students saying they haven't read the course catalog or would tell a different tale if given truth serum.

Combined, these two articles paint a really nasty picture of law schools today and place the blame squarely on the schools, somewhat on the students, but fundamentally on the rankings system and US News for driving the obsession with numbers and thus the overall tactics and trends affecting law schools today.  I know that similar games are played at business schools all over the country but what's comforting to me is that neither article mentions the very top tier of schools.  There is no mention of Harvard Law or Yale.  Perhaps these schools don't have to stoop to that level of game playing and that thought is comforting to me.  Hopefully at the very top you are closer to a what you see is what you get picture of the graduates' prospects.  Of course any information coming from the school will likely be processed through rose-colored glasses but I can hope at least that I am not being wholesale duped.  Yet another reason to not place much stock in absolute rankings.

What do you think of the US News system and the tactics employed by professional schools?

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