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Below, PowerScore's Dave Killoran provides some advice to a parent of a potential law school student.

Charlotte: "Hi, Dave.

My son leans toward public interest and plans to live in NC, VA, DC or another southern/mid Atlantic area. He is not looking at big law (might change, but seems unlikely), could be interested in academia, and often talks about being a judge.

He is deciding between:

$48K non-discounted in state COA
– $20K/year scholarship
= $28K/year COA
= $84K total

85.1% employment
4.3% under employment
28.4% big law and clerkships
20.7% public service

$100K non-discounted COA
– $50K/year merit & need aid
= $50K/year COA
= $150K total

90.1% employment
6.8% under employment
68% big law and clerkships
10.4% public service

He is generally debt averse but willing to invest where it actually makes a difference. He will pay about half and take the other half in debt. UNC would mean ~$10K debt and Vanderbilt would mean ~$75K debt.

Would appreciate your thoughts!"

Dave Killoran: "Hi Charlotte,

Thanks for the message! My initial reaction is to focus on this sentence: “He is not looking at big law (might change, but seems unlikely), could be interested in academia, and often talks about being a judge.” What I’m hearing there is a level of uncertainty that concerns me (and I say this with full knowledge that people do change their minds once in law school). This isn’t undergrad anymore, and when someone is heading into law school and looking at possibly significant debt loads, we want a more defined understanding/view of possible directions. Researching the options and looking more deeply into each would be my first piece of advice for him.

One reason this is so important is because of his possible interest in a judicial/academic career. That pathway–like Biglaw–is a highly desirable outcome for students, and how well a school places into those fields is a measure of sort of a school’s reputational power. Here you can see the difference clearly in the biglaw/clerkship numbers: Vandy at 68%, UNC at 28.4%. If he’s serious about pursuing that direction, that 40% difference is what he’s paying for with the higher Vanderbilt COA. In that sense only, the 40% difference in more desirable job outcomes costs about $66K.

Depending on the answer to the above, it might be worth paying for Vanderbilt. But unless he’s strongly committed to that pathway, it’s hard to ignore that the UNC debt load is so minimal that he will walk away from law school with a full range of career options. At only $10K debt post-UNC, he could choose any path he wants–public interest, government, etc. That’s very compelling.

So, as usual, it comes down to his career aspirations, and he has some thinking to do. Either direction could be the “right” one, but it depends on how strongly he feels he needs the name brand and degree portability of Vanderbilt. If he doesn’t need that, UNC is a great option and leaves the door open to really going in any direction he wants post-graduation.

Please let me know if that helps. Thanks!"

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