Law School vs. Business School? Or How to Get the Best Returns on Your $150K Tuition
How valuable is that law or business degree you want, really? It’s the time of year when aspiring business and law students are weighed down with standardized tests, recommendation letters, application essays, and ever-increasing application fees. I’m not here to talk about that. Instead I’m interested in answering the question – which one? Here are a few things to consider when deciding between law school and business school from a JD/MBA grad who chose both.
School is not the end, it is the means. I’m not afraid to admit that I went to law school without really knowing what being a lawyer would be like. Once I got into it and interned at several law firms, I realized law was just not for me. This is why people tell you to work before law school. I agree with them completely. It takes time to discover what you are passionate about. Don’t go into school without a plan. Talk to lawyers. Talk to law students. Talk to business students. Have a very clear post-grad goal in mind, even if it changes.
Cost v. Value
Comparing costs is difficult because of the wide range of schools and tuition levels, but in the end, law school is three years and business school is only two years. Not only does that mean potentially less debt as you emerge from student-life, it also means less time given up in school when you could be working and earning an income (those pesky “opportunity costs”). But in the grand scheme of things, you should worry less about how much you are paying right now, and more about how much that degree will pay off over the course of your career.
If the job you can get post-graduate school will give you a significant step-up in income, that will pay off for years to come. In this economy, there are a lot of people who go to law school and end up without a job. This is for many reasons, including the fact that there are too many law schools, too many students accepted to law school, and as many would argue, too many lawyers to begin with. Make sure you’ve done extensive homework on the employment opportunities of recent grads from any graduate school, law or business. The best source is the office of career services.
What are you going to learn?
Law school, as the saying goes, teaches you how to “think like a lawyer.” What does that mean? For some, it means learning how to effectively argue both sides of an issue, how to dissect your opponent’s argument and target its weaknesses. For me, it meant learning how to absorb massive amounts of tedious reading and distill it down to the key points. It meant learning how to have radar vision for loopholes in a contract, bond indenture, or merger agreement, and learning how to close them. The career I am going into does not require a law degree, but these are skills I will definitely be using for the rest of my life.
In law school, you are going to be studying a lot and you will be challenged and stretched to your mental limits. Your grades matter. There is a lot of stress on getting the best grade you can get. Business school is quite another story. You are going to learn a lot, but different things, depending on your interests. The most valuable things I have learned in business school are not finance-related (although I have learned a lot of that), but people-related. Businesses are made up of people. In business school there is a lot of focus on fun and having it with your fellow classmates. In a way, you are not only paying for a business education, but also for a diverse network of people. Business school gives you the opportunity to meet classmates with interesting backgrounds and make long-lasting friendships, along with people in the industry you are interested in moving into.
As a student, you always have an excuse to set up coffee with that alum who has your dream job. Law school has a network as well, but it is a network of lawyers, which is great if you want to practice law (or if you ever need a lawyer down the road, which you will).
I will leave on you on this note: There is a lot more out there than law school and business school. There are small businesses that need to be started, companies that need engineers and neuroscientists, high schools that need math teachers, non-profits that need employees. Before you hand over your next few years and borrow a lot of money, make sure you’ve thought it through carefully. This is a very personal decision and one of the biggest investments you will ever make. It is an investment in yourself. Choose wisely.