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April 04, 2006

How to use the rankings to choose your school

Professors Solove and Filler have posted a great summary of the past decade of US News Rankings of law schools, along with some great advice about how students should use that information:

When students choose law schools, they should remain focused on the forest and not get lost in the trees. Focusing on year-to-year changes can be misleading. For example, in 2006, Wash. U. moved up five spots from 24 to 19. But a year earlier, it dropped from 20 to 24. What is the real Wash. U? Over time, one can see a dramatic change -- Wash. U was in the high twenties and early thirties until it leveled out at 25 in 2002. In another example, if one looked at GW in 1998, it was ranked 20. But at that time the 20 was an anomaly, as Wash U was 24 in 1997 and 25 in 1998. After 2004, GW has been consistenly ranked either 20 or 19. To the extent that the US News rankings have any value at all, it is evident only in long-term trends, not in yearly fluctuations.

There are other instances where the US News rankings are simply game of musical chairs for certain groups of schools. For example, Berkeley, Virginia, and Michigan have been have engaged in a US News game of cat-and-mouse over the past decade. When one school drops, students may become crestfallen. Prospective students may shift their preferences. However, over time, the ordering of these schools appears just to shuffle around a lot, with no discernible pattern. Relying on the US News rankings to choose among these three law schools is like choosing one's hometown based on today's weather report.

I'm personally not convinced that even using long-term U.S. News trends as a guide is worth much, but I will defer to the profs on that.

Posted by mowabb at April 4, 2006 09:12 AM

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