You know how I mentioned before that I was 95% certain I'm going to law school here, so that I don't have to move away from NLLDH? I'm still 95% sure, but I'm going nuts because I still can't quite pull the trigger. I'm deciding between Here and Away, and I keep going back and forth. I'm supposed to have decided by now, but I asked for extensions from both schools because I can't quite decide.
It seems like it should be a straightforward decision for Here. They're pretty comparable schools, with no real edge to one or the other. Both Here and Away offer programs in the legal fields that really interest me. They're separated by two measly rankings on the all-important US News & World Report rankings (Here is ranked slightly higher). I've visited both, and I very much liked the students and faculty and sense of community at both. Given that, it seems to make more sense that I should attend Here, since one of the reasons to go to law school in the first place is that it's a (slightly) more portable field than academia or the sort-of-connected-to-academia field in which NLLDH now works, and I'm not willing to live apart from my husband for a job any more. If I go to law school Here, I don't have to. (Plus, I REALLY like the weather better Here than Away. A lot of people in this country move to Away specifically for the weather, but I like winter, I like snow, and while I could give them up for 75-degrees year-round, it's the 90+ and 100+ degree days that slay me; I'll take my bad weather cold.)
But I can't quite pull the trigger and reject Away, and here's why: they really want me to go there. I'm a huge sucker for flattery, and Away is good at it. They've offered me a generous scholarship. (Cost-wise, the scholarship isn't a deal-sealer; it doesn't make Away cheaper than Here, it just makes Away's cost comparable to Here's in-state tuition. So financially, the scholarship makes it possible to attend Away over Here, but it doesn't make it a significantly better deal. Psychologically, however, the scholarship is a big deal.) When I visited Away, the dean of admissions knew who I was instantly and was incredibly welcoming. And I came home today from a message on the machine from the Away admissions dean, checking to see if I'd made a decision and reiterating how much they'd like to see me attend.
Here has been quite a bit more blase about my charms. No money (in theory it's still a possibility, but nothing has been forthcoming yet). The admissions dean was very pleasant, but didn't have my application info at her fingertips when I introduced myself and has generally been harder to get hold of and less responsive. I mean, Here has admitted me, I think they'd be happy to have me, but I don't get this sense that they'd be so! super! excited! to have me attend that Away exudes.
But here's the thing: one of the things I started wondering today was how much my immersion in academia is skewing my reaction to Away and Here. For instance, it was so drilled into me that you should never attend graduate school without funding that I think the scholarship offer weighs more heavily in my mind that perhaps it should. (Face it, either way I'm going to go into debt; the scholarship just makes Away comparable to Here, not actually less expensive.) In my grad program, there was something of a distinction between those who had funding and those who didn't; the latter were continually scrambling for it and I think they sometimes felt considered second-class citizens in the department. I don't think the same situation holds in law school at all. Sure, scholarships are good, it's nice to feel wanted, but full-rides are rare, and the common assumption is that all will be going into debt together. Funding in my grad program meant that I got TA experience, which was seen as a bonus for future employment; law school funding doesn't provide any experience that I can't get if I pay my way. And having a scholarship is certainly no guarantee of landing in the top 10% of my class, nor does not having one mean I can't.
I also have to remind myself that I'm not interviewing for an academic job; while a school's degree of enthusiasm is important, this isn't like trying to determine how well I'll fit in a department of 10 or 12 historians. I am going to be one of many students, and we'll all be judged by our performance, not by our pre-enrollment reputation among the admissions people. It's perhaps worth mentioning here that law school courses are all graded on a curve, and law school students are ranked by GPA. There's no "everyone pretty much gets an A," as in most Ph.D. programs. So however smart I look to admissions people now, it really won't matter once exams roll around. (I should also add that grades in first year courses are pretty much all determined by one exam at the end of the semester. Doesn't law school sound fun?) In my grad program, everyone pretty much got As, so funding (or lack thereof) helped create a sense of an academic pecking order among the students. In law school, that academic pecking order is calculated and determined for you explicitly, regardless of how you're paying for school.
I also find it hard to get out of the academic habit of specialization. As I said, Here and Away both have programs in especially one field that interests me. Away's program is, I think, undeniably stronger. They have some amazing internationally-known scholars in the field, and they even offer a LLM (masters of law) in the subject. Here's program is not quite as good. But that said? Here has a program in this area, which sets it apart from probably 90% of law schools. And again, I'm not getting a Ph.D. - I'm getting a J.D. The J.D. is a general degree, in which I need to take courses in a lot of different subjects, not just one field that interests me most. Even within my area of interest, I'm not going to write a dissertation; I just need to take some courses to prepare myself to get a job. Most employers aren't going to care if I take those courses with Here's very-slightly-less distinguished scholars rather than Away's superstars. Moreover, who knows what other areas of law might draw me into their spell? Nonetheless, I keep thinking like an academic - I keep thinking of Away's program as if I'm going to be looking for a dissertation advisor.
I'm writing this not because I'm looking for advice on where I should go - though feel free to give some if you feel inspired - but more to articulate these ideas to myself. I think I started to realize today how some of my academic habits are getting in my way. Then again, I'm not in law school yet - I may have this all wrong! But I have to make a final decision soon, and if this makes me feel better about staying Here and rejecting Away, then it serves a purpose. (What I think would be perfect would be to attend both schools, or to have Away and Here change places, since then I could have all the things I like about Away, AND live in the same place as my husband. But unless someone figures out some exciting things about physics, and soon, neither of those is an option.)