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NYU or UCLA: Which one is the most risk-averse option?

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Below is a law school admissions question from a student, Sarah, and a response from PowerScore CEO Dave Killoran.

Sarah: "Hi Dave/anyone who would be willing to answer this question!

I am currently deciding between NYU (still waiting to find out if I will receive any aid) and UCLA (~$75k total merit scholarship). My assumption is that if I get any aid from NYU at all, it will be significantly less than UCLA’s offer, as although I am above the 75th percentile for GPA at NYU, I am below their 25th for LSAT scores.

My ultimate goal is to work at a BigLaw firm in Northern California — I am from NorCal and am highly intent on returning to the area. It is my understanding that the top 1/3 of UCLA students and about 70% of NYU students land BigLaw jobs. However, only about 6.5% of NYU grads ended up in CA based on the latest data. Additionally, I am assuming that while both schools have high-caliber students, it would be much more difficult to graduate near the top of my class at NYU than at UCLA. That being said, is UCLA my safest option for CA BigLaw? I know that NYU would be my best choice for BigLaw in general, but I have no desire to stay on the east coast after graduating and am wondering how high I would have to rank in my class in order to get back to CA. Or do you think NYU would increase my chances at NorCal BigLaw over UCLA?

I was also waitlisted at Stanford and Berkeley, so I have been debating retaking the LSAT and trying again for those two schools. However, doing this would be a gamble since there is no guarantee I’ll actually improve my score, and I may just end up putting myself in a worse position.

What do you think the most risk-averse option is?"

Dave Killoran: "Thanks for the question! This is a tough decision, so here are a few starter thoughts:

“However, only about 6.5% of NYU grads ended up in CA based on the latest data.” — The one thing to realize here is that the typical NYU grad isn’t trying to get into the CA markets. So, what you are seeing there isn’t necessarily a weakness, and given an expected low number of NYU grads seeking those spots, probably represents a fairly high percentage for them. In other words, it could actually show they place exceptionally well in CA. After all, do you want another USC/UCLA/Berkeley grad in the office or someone with a degree from an elite East Coast school?

“I am assuming that while both schools have high-caliber students, it would be much more difficult to graduate near the top of my class at NYU than at UCLA.” — I wouldn’t make this assumption. The quality level is quite close, and law school in general is rough. And quite a learning experience for many people. I’ve seen top-level minds really struggle. Also, sense of place and details specific to your situation at each school will have an impact, and you can’t gauge that beforehand. But UCLA students are certainly no slackers, and the difference isn’t going to be noticeable to the extent you can bank on it being easier.

That being said, is UCLA my safest option for CA BigLaw?” — There is no way to know this. UCLA is certainly well known here, but NYU is known everywhere. The best school is the one where you perform the best, and only you know which school makes you the most comfortable!

“I have been debating retaking the LSAT and trying again for those two schools. However, doing this would be a gamble since there is no guarantee I’ll actually improve my score, and I may just end up putting myself in a worse position.” — You will not end up in a worse position; schools only care about the high score, and will ignore a lower score. If you can get a certain score, you ARE that score, regardless of what happens after :) So, at worst you stay the same, at best you put yourself in a better spot. See The June LSAT and the Law School Waitlist.

I’m not sure that’s a huge help, but perhaps it does a little. Please let me know!"