Yale or Harvard?

March 21, 2008

T.E., 2L

Two years ago, when I applied to law school, the admissions process went better than I ever dreamed it would. I was accepted by both Yale and Harvard and suddenly found myself in the not-so-pitiable position of having to choose between two of the most amazing law schools in the country. Two months, a dozen pro-con lists, and more coin flips than I care to admit, I put a deposit in the mail to Harvard Law School. One year later, as I was studying for my 1L contracts exam, I realized I had gotten it wrong.

I had been discontent for months but had never known why. Suddenly, I understood that that nagging feeling was regret, coupled with the suspicion that, while I was not unhappy at HLS, I could be happier somewhere else. I sent a transfer application to Yale the following week.

In light of my experience at two law schools that many of you are likely choosing between I thought I’d outline a few of the differences I’ve noticed. These are, of course, only my personal observations, and other students may have very different outlooks and opinions on these matters. Without further ado:

Academics: Both have outstanding academics, of course. At Harvard you’re more likely to learn straightforward, black-letter law as it currently is. At Yale you do have the opportunity to learn the law, but you also spend a lot of time discussing why the law is as it is, whether it should remain so, and what changes (if any) should be made and why. Oh, and by the way, not having real grades is an added bonus that has made a huge difference in my quality of life.

Student Body: Equally intelligent and interesting. At Yale, students are more intellectually curious (judging by the nature of the questions asked in class) and more diverse in their goals for life; whereas at Harvard they’re more focused on learning what they need to know and learning it extremely well.

Does Size Matter? Absolutely. At Harvard, someone will always share your interest, no matter how particular it is. Also, I liked the possibility of seeing someone I’d never seen before around campus. That said, Yale really does feel like a small, very caring family, which is fantastic for a law school experience.

Social Life: What you make of it, I think. Both schools have both crazy partiers and people who never leave the library unless they’re forced out.

Reputation: If I could give you one piece of advice as you seek to choose a law school it would be this: forget reputation. It can be very tempting to choose Yale because it’s the number one school in the nation or Harvard because it’s Harvard. When you’re deciding between these two schools I can’t emphasize enough how little this matters. Everyone has heard of both schools, and everyone will say, “Oh, wow!” when you tell them which school you attend. Most importantly, you can accomplish absolutely anything with a degree from either school. So pick the school that will make you happy. For most of us these are the very last years we will ever spend in school. Why not enjoy them?

After weighing factors like this, I am happy with my decision. Good luck!