NYT Article on Supreme Court Clerkships and Undergrad College

Article gifted so should be accessible.

Article on how important undergrad is in Supreme Court clerkship selection. While interesting reading, it is not relevant to the vast majority of students/parents on these pages. However, some other data out of the study does seem relevant to the debate about the importance of undergrad in law school admissions.

"The study, which considered 22,475 Harvard Law graduates, took account of three data points: where they went to college, whether they qualified for academic honors in law school (graduating cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude) and whether they obtained a Supreme Court clerkship.

About half of the graduates had attended one of 22 selective undergraduate institutions, and more than a fifth of the graduates had gone to college at Harvard, Yale or Princeton."

Put into numbers, out of a class of about 550 members, on average approximately 275 came from 1 of 22 colleges and over 110 came from HYP. While in the latest class profile, HLS boasts class members coming from 174 different undergrad institutions, these 22 selective colleges and particularly HYP over indexed acceptances to the extent that you cannot reasonably infer that it is only due to correlation.

I highly doubt that Harvard is an outlier here, especially among the private law schools with the top public law schools over indexing in in-state students but still over indexing from elite undergrad.

IMO, if a T14 law school is a goal for your kid, and they have a choice between a good but not elite undergrad program vs an elite program, it is not a simple “go with the cheaper undergrad and save for law school” formula since “where you go undergrad doesn’t matter”. It does matter and it is a question of whether or not the investment in the higher cost institution is affordable or worth it to your student and family.


Thanks for sharing and I hope this article generates some discussion. I’ve been questioning the “where you go to undergrad doesn’t matter,” because my child’s PhD advisor, a pioneer in the natural sciences, says undergrad institution matters more than the grad school for career outcomes. Law is incredibly prestige focused so I am not surprised by the findings. Interested to read what others think.

Consider another possible correlation, just thinking out loud. Not all top students at T14s seek out clerkships. Consider whether S. Ct. clerks don’t mind foregoing a BigLaw salary right out of law school (notwithstanding the later bonus for clerks), and whether that financial ability might also be correlated with, say, having attended an elite undergrad.

The former S. Ct. clerks I know (several) attended undergrads all over the map, from state schools to elite schools, and of course all attended T14 law schools.

I certainly don’t think that attending an elite undergrad is important enough to take out large parent loans, which is often the crux of the issue when students ask on CC whether they should attend expensive (for them) Elite Undergrad A over much cheaper (for them) Public Undergrad B when they are aiming for law school.

I’ll say it loud for those in the back: BigLaw recruiters DO NOT CARE about the undergrad.


This is your personal anecdote. The study in the NYT article clearly points to a significant advantage in attending HYP undergrad for purposes of a Supreme Court clerkship.

As to Big Law (and I was heavily involved in hiring), yes undergrad doesn’t matter anywhere near as much as law school and law school rank/GPA. However, we overwhelming hired and recruited from the T10 law schools. So the question is if there is an advantage to getting in a T10-14 law school from a T25 undergrad. At least for HLS, the numbers are pretty clear. I don’t believe HLS is alone.

After reading the study the simple answer is usually the correct one. The President and Senate pick and confirm the Supreme Court justices. They usually look at pedigree, HYP (being east coast schools for elites, notice how Stanford doesn’t do any better then the other T20 schools). If you end up picking justices from HYP then they naturally will pick clerks from the schools they graduated from as those are the schools they experienced and are comfortable with. Might be time for the President to start nominating justices who are not HYP if you want to get rid of the bias.


I emphatically agree the law firm hiring gives little weight to where a student attended undergraduate nor does law school admissions.