Junior looking for help putting together a college list (planning for law school)

Hello! I am a Junior looking for help finding colleges. I have tried college finding websites like collegevine but they didn’t seem particularly accurate so I decided to look for some human help. Planning on majoring in history, pre law track would be great. Will be applying for financial aid. Any help would be appreciated, thank you!

Demographics: White, male, rural Illinois, upper middle income.
GPA: 3.93 UW, 4.5 W
Rigor: 8 AP courses by end of senior year, 9 honors courses
PSAT: 1350 [need to get this up]
CR: 5/~300

-Illinois youth and government: Founder and president of my town and a few neighboring ones delegation. State level leadership.
-Founder and president of coding club
-Model UN coleader
-History club coleader
-Awards for regional math competitions
-Awards for regional comp. sci. and engineering competitions
-Volunteer election judge
-Potentially class president(currently running)

Can you let us know what classes you’re currently taking and what you are planning to take next year?

What is your budget?
Anything else guiding you? Location? Weather? Sports/school spirit? Greek?
Do you want more city or stay more rural?

For safety, your flagship state U should be on your list. After that, is there any particular interest you have (other than history and pre-law) that would narrow the list? Region of the country? Size of the school? Rural/suburban/urban setting? Is your family willing to pay full price, or are you looking for significant merit aid? The thing is, history and pre-law are not interests that would rule out any liberal arts college or university in the country. You’d be a possible match for T50 schools, and a reach for T20.

You should take as rigorous courses as you can for senior year. Beyond that, the greatest return for effort at this point is to prep for and shoot for a high standardized test score. Take a sample SAT, and a sample ACT, and see which test you seem better suited for. Then prep for it if you can make time for that. I know that next year will be test optional, too, but your PSAT wasn’t bad at all, and I suspect that with prep, you might do very well on the SAT or ACT. My kid got only a 1290 on the 11th grade PSAT, but self-prepped for the ACT and got a 36 on it. A high standardized test score could put you more solidly into T20 range.

I think you should see how your grades are this semester, try to get a test date for a standardized test, and once you have those pieces of the puzzle, revisit your search. Also, being elected class president is in my mind a big EC achievement - demonstrates leadership skills.

I think once you answer the questions, people will be able to give you better information.


This year: APUSH, AP eng land and comp, coding III, french, honors pre calc, physics
next: AP GOV, AP comp GOV, AP compisition, AP calc, AP physics, honors french, ap comp sci

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Im sorry I don’t have any exact numbers, but in terms of budget around 40k without counting aid yet would be the upper limit. In terms of location I would enjoy a more urban than rural environment, though this isn’t as important to me. East coast or Midwest ideal, in state might be ideal because of in state tuition. Sports are not important to me, and lack of Greek life would be ideal. Thank you for the help!

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Thank you! Urbana Champaign looks like a great choice, definitely on the list. In terms of region I would prefer East coast or Midwest, within Illinois might be a good choice for in state tuition. In terms of cost my sister is attending UW Madison, which out of state tuition is 32k, so around there would be ideal. Suburban/Urban setting.

my courses for this year and next year are:
This year: APUSH, AP eng land and comp, coding III, french, honors pre calc, physics
next: AP GOV, AP comp GOV, AP composition, AP calc, AP physics, honors french, ap comp sci
does this seem good?

I will prioritize SAT, on practice exams i seem to score higher. Ill be taking the exam this April. I don’t think I quite know what you mean by other interests however, would this be things like extracurriculars offered at the college? Thank you so much for all of your help!

What level of French are you in and how many years have you had? Also, have you had AP Bio and AP Chem? Just asking questions, please don’t thrash the goat…

My junior year was my first year of french, so only 2 by the time I graduate. My school does not offer AP bio, and i am taking AP physics in lieu of AP chem as I enjoy physics. I’m very grateful for the assistance, thank you for the questions!

If it were me, I’d find a way outside my school to take more French over the summer. If you do that, I think you could aim higher than just your state U. I’d also take an online college bio course over the summer to up my rigor/AI so I could obtain a reach school, which I think you can do. Instead of AP Comp Sci senior year, I’d take AP Chem as long as there’s not a schedule conflict. If you do all that, and you feel you can write the essays extremely well, I’d go BIG.

Thank you so much for the advice! I will definitely look into possible online bio opportunities for over the summer, would the additional french be done in a similar way? I would be hesitant to get rid of AP comp sci however, because coding I/2/3 and then AP comp sci would be my four years of an elective. would it be ok to only have 3 years of elective?

I have never been a particularly good writer but I have started the essays now and my English teacher is editing them, so I think they will be of good quality by the time applications are due. By go big do you mean T20 schools? would I still be able to get in even if my SAT isnt 1500+?

Macalaster? Kenyon? U of Minn Twin Cities? Augustana? Marquette?

Law school is pricy as well so think cheap for undergrad.


By “go big” I’m talking about top 20 schools. If you want to keep AP Comp Sci then I’d also take an online college chem course over the summer. Make sure whatever online college you use is accredited. There’s a lot of bogus stuff out there online, and it doesn’t seem to be regulated like it should. I’d just take it from an online state college somewhere. For French, I’d take that through an online high school, and I’d try to take up to AP level if possible. Even if you only do a fraction of what I’m suggesting, I think you’ll up your chances at more places.

Remember, the content of the essays is very important, not just the grammar. The readers don’t have time to trash you for split infinitives and such, and they really have so little time that they probably won’t even notice stuff like that anyway.

If your SAT ends up being trash, just don’t send. Good luck, dude!

Thank you for the suggestions! Ill look into all of those!

There is a nearby community college I know some students use for additional classes, so I will likely go through them. I will keep that essay advice in mind, will need to brainstorm for some of the topics. Thank you for all the advice! Ill definitely be taking those summer courses for science, possibly french as well. Thank you!

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And remember, the content of those essays is extremely important. Admissions is evaluating your character and giving you a score for that (at the very selective schools). Just writing a nice essay isn’t enough for those places anymore, unfortunately. Those essays need to be special. The people reading them must feel like they know you by the end of them in order to give you that character score. Hooves crossed!

If law school is seriously in your future, then the goal is the highest possible undergrad gpa with the least amount of debt and holding onto the most savings to put towards law school.

Law schools admissions is almost entirely based on undergrad gpa and LSAT scores with very little “credit” given to a lower gpa from a higher ranked school. So, for a law school applicant, it is better to have a 3.9 from OSU than a 3.3 from Michigan, U Penn or Swarthmore. Law school is paid from savings, loans, and/or merit awards-- there is no need-based grants/scholarships and the very top schools do not give merit awards. So, if a family had X amount in savings for college, and a student had a choice for undergrad of attending a more affordable undergrad and holding onto to those savings for law school, that can be a better choice. I’m a lawyer and one of my kids is a current law student – we’ve seen how this plays out, and the debt is daunting. Since law school loans are not subsidized, interest accrues during law school, with fees. Since the cost of attendance at the “T14” law schools ranges from about $85-105k per year, depending on location, that can be over $350k at graduation.

So, bottom line, Illinois as your in-state option, plus UW which has top Poli Sci, History and other departments with renowned faculty. Then, you are looking for schools which would “trump” those in terms of the combination of academics and affordability. Ask your parents to run the Net Price Calculator to see what your “upper middle income” means in terms of financial aid. If you are not eligible for any need-based aid, that is essential to know as you build your list of schools.


Thank you for the advice! I will run the net price calculator tonight, I don’t have all the information for it right now. Thats good to know in terms of cost and loans, thank you!

Private Law Schools with Best Financial Aid Programs Ranked in 2021 - US News


With undergrad, and with law school, it is important to recognize the difference between need based and merit based aid. “Financial aid” often gets used to refer to both need-based aid and merit based aid. Families whose financial situation does not qualify them for need-based aid may hear stories about kids getting “full rides” or “full tuition” awards and think their kid will get the same. However, if someone knew the details of that “full ride” award, it turns out to be need-based aid which that full-pay family is not eligible for. Many of us parents try to alert families and students going through the application process for the first time to educate themselves on those distinctions, and to use the NPC, to get a clearer sense of finances.

Law school applicants are often trying to decide between significant indebtedness from higher ranked schools, with broader career opportunities, vs. lower debt/more merit from lower ranked schools, with corresponding narrower career opportunities. For instance, for a career in “big law” – major law firms handling complex litigation and deals – top firms may interview broadly at, say, the T14 schools, but have specific gpa and class rank cut-offs for applicants from other schools. Everyone thinks they will be at the top of the law school class because they’v always been in the top of their high school and college class. But everyone else in law school is coming from the same success and, with mandatory curves, only about 10% of all those high achieving students will get A range grades in law school. So that calculus about risk/reward for indebtedness is tricky.

Finally, in terms of the details of a financial aid award, law schools don’t necessarily distinguish between whether the “award” is need or merit based. Since Harvard, Yale and Stanford Law Schools don’t do merit awards, those are the only schools where you can be sure there is no merit mixed in to the finances. Everyone else does give merit awards, which are used to get high stat students to attend and thereby ensure the school’s ranking – which is heavily based on median gpa and LSAT of attending students. Law school admissions, and merit awards, is very data driven and there are lots of predictors available which will show what students with specific gpa and LSAT were admitted and how much merit award.

A very (very) long way of saying, for a junior, this is the time to get a handle on finances, particularly as many “upper middle class” families are shocked to discover what their Expected Family Contribution is. We certainly were, which led to our kids having to “follow the money” for their own college decisions. One went to UW, which was about $20k less per year in tuition than a private university, and the other only applied to LACs where he could get at least 1/2 tuition merit award. Good luck, I’m sure you will have some great options to choose from!