Harvard Law vs. Yale Law: Postgraduate Law Degree Showdown
You’ve probably even dreamed of attending one of these universities!
But how much do you truly know about their law schools?
(BTW “law school” is US lingo for law university)
If you were to look at different rankings across the interweb, you’d find a mishmosh of information.
Some rankings, like US News and World Reports list Yale Law School first and some, like QS World University Rankings list Harvard Law School first.
So, which is better? Why are they so interchangeable? And why can’t anyone agree?
Thankfully, I’m here to answer all of your questions and help you decipher facts from fiction.
Public Service Announcement
Before we dive into the different rankings, I must tell you something about American law degrees…
They are all graduate degrees.
Yep, you heard that right.
In order to go to a law school in America, you must first complete an undergraduate degree in any other subject. American universities do not offer law as an undergraduate major.
I know what you’re thinking.
If that’s the case, how do you get accepted into law school???
Well, it’s quite simple!
If you are attending an American university for undergrad, you can get a degree in any subject you wish (although reading-heavy subjects, such as English and history may help you with the workload in law school). After you graduate, you must take the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) and apply to law schools.
Once you get in, you’re golden!
Keep in mind that after you graduate you need to take the bar in order to become a fully licensed lawyer in your state of choice.
On the other hand, if you get an undergraduate degree in your home country, you can either study law or any other subject you wish to major in! Then, you must also sit the LSAT in order to apply to law schools.
If you are already a certified lawyer in your home country, you most likely don’t need to complete a full US law degree but may only need to do a year-long degree such as a Master of Laws depending on the state you wish to practise in.
Anyway, that part’s a bit confusing so don’t worry about it.
Your best option for law is to either do your undergraduate degree at a US university or your home country in a subject you’re passionate in and then come to the US for law school.
Not only will you have a wider breadth of knowledge, but by going to law school in the US you’ll also have access to the best facilities, professors and alumni networks in the world.
What more could you possibly want??
As I mentioned above, US News and World Report lists Yale as the top law school in the US but QS World University Rankings lists Harvard as the top law school in the world.
So what gives?
The best way to solve this problem is by uncovering the methodology of each system!
US News and World Reports
Yale: 1 (since 1994!)
- Quality Assessment (0.40)
- Peer Assessment Score (0.25)
- Assessment Score by Lawyers and Judges (0.15)
- Selectivity (0.25)
- Median LSAT and Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) Scores (0.125)
- Median Undergraduate Grade Point Average (GPA) (0.10)
- Acceptance Rate (0.025)
- Placement Success (0.20)
- Bar Passage Rate (0.02)
- Faculty Resources (0.15)
- Expenditures Per Student (0.1125)
- Student-Faculty Ratio (0.03)
- Library Resources (0.0075)
Based on the methodology, quality assessments count for the majority of the ranking. And, since Yale trains a large amount of law professors, it has a major upper hand in this category.
The next biggest factor is selectivity and once again, Yale wins. The law school is very small and only admits around 200 people a year so it’s inherently very selective. Its size also allows the uni to spend more money on students and faculty, which is another factor in this ranking.
Harvard Law, on the other hand, produces less legal academics and therefore has a lower score in the largest category. It’s also almost three times the size of Yale Law so it’s less selective and has less resources to allocate to students and faculty.
Based on US News and World Report’s methodology, it makes sense that Yale Law is ranked #1!
QS World University Rankings
- Academic Reputation (50%)
- Employer Reputation (30%)
- Research Citations per Paper (5%)
- H-Index (15%)
80% of the Law QS rankings are based off of a global survey, where academic subject experts and employers identify colleges they think are phenomenal both in research and graduate employability. Luckily, Harvard Law has an excellent international reputation and almost everyone around the world considers it the preeminent law school.
Since Harvard Law can accept so many more students than Yale and it emphasises geographical diversity, many of its alumni are international students who spread the Harvard love around the world.
As an international student, Harvard Law’s global reputation is a great asset if you want to go back to work in your home country after graduation.
Guess that explains why Harvard is listed as #1 on an international ranking!
The Real Ranking
Enough with the boring online rankings, it’s time to make our own awesome law school ranking!
Our categories are as follows:
- Degrees Available
- Curriculum and Grading
- Career Paths and Alumni
But first, let’s take a quick look at some basic facts.
Median LSAT Score
Median Grade Point Average (GPA)
Harvard: $92,450 USD a year (without financial aid)
Yale: $82,602 USD a year (without financial aid)
Average Bar Passage Rate
Okay. The stage is set!
Time for the main event!
Round 1: Degrees Available
Not all degrees are created equal.
Harvard has three law degrees available:
1. Juris Doctor (J.D.): The J.D. program is your basic__three year__ law degree. Once you get an undergraduate degree you can apply for the J.D. program. Then, once you finish your degree and pass the bar exam in your chosen state you can practice as a lawyer.
Sidenote: Harvard also offers four joint degrees in business, government, public health, urban planning, a joint J.D./Ph.D. program and an overseas degree program with the University of Cambridge.
2. Masters of Law (LL.M.): The LL.M. program is a one year program mostly for international students. If you already have a valid law degree from your home country, you’ll need to complete an LL.M. degree and take the bar exam in order to legally practice in most US states.
3. Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.): The S.J.D. program is a doctorate degree in law, which is mostly beneficial if you want to become a professor.
Yale offers five degrees.
1. Juris Doctor (J.D.): Obviously, Yale also offers the basic three year law degree.
Side note: At Yale, you can get a joint degree in Art, Environmental Management, Business Administration as well as joint Ph.D. programs as well.
2. Masters of Law (LL.M.): Yale Law’s LL.M. degree is also a one year degree. The uni suggests you complete this degree if you’re serious about teaching law.
3. Masters of Studies in Law (M.S.L.): If you’re not a lawyer but are curious about the basics of law and how it relates to your profession, this one year program is for you!
4. Ph.D. in Law: This degree is also three years long and is only available after you complete your J.D. degree. If you are interested in being a legal scholar or teacher and want to produce a large body of academic research, you should look into completing a Ph.D. in law.
5. Doctor of the Science of Law (J.S.D.): If you graduate from Yale’s LL.M. program, you’re eligible to complete the J.S.D. program as well to accelerate your teaching career in law. Woohoo!
Yale has more degree programs available so if you’re looking to complete a particular degree, Yale is the place for you. That being said, you’ll see that Harvard has a more diverse list of classes available.
A Word to the Wise: Although both unis offer a plethora (fancy word for a LOT) of degree options, the rest of this blog refers only to the J.D. programs unless otherwise stated.
Round 2: Size
‘Cause, size does matter.
About 550 J.D. students per class and about 1,750 J.D. students in total.
Harvard’s size can be a major advantage, especially if you want to meet a new person every day and never run into the guy (or girl) you went on a bad date with last week ever again!
Not to mention, the uni can admit way more students because of how big it is so your chances of getting in are nearly double your chances at Yale.
About 200 J.D. students per class and about 695 J.D. students in total.
If you’re looking for a small, tightknit law “family”, you’ll fit in marvelously at Yale.
A compassionate environment can be a lifesaver, especially during your first year of law school. All-night reading sessions are a lot easier if you’re surrounded by all of your loving classmates!
Just remember, bigger isn’t always better.
Although other rankings attribute a lot of weight to the size of law schools, this ranking recognises that the importance of size is based off of personal preference so really size only matters if you want it to matter.
You may prefer a larger school because you like meeting a lot of people or you may be more interested in a uni that has a “community” vibe. Either way, size is truly subjective.
Round 3: Curriculum and Grading
In law school, Cs actually get degrees!
Year One (1L)
Typical Courses: Civil Procedure, Contracts, Criminal Law, Torts and Property
Specialised Courses: Comparative Law, Regulation, International Law and Legislation
Additional Courses/Programs: Problem-solving workshops, legal research and writing, electives and first year reading groups
Year 2 and 3 (2L+ 3L)
Here’s where the real fun begins. You are in control of your last two years of law school! You get to choose from a variety of elective classes, including classroom-taught, clinical and writing courses. You can even take classes in any other Harvard department.
Because Harvard has more seminars and courses than any other law school in the world, the uni offers five programs of study to help you tailor your class choices, if you wish.
- Law and Government
- Law and Social Change
- Law and Business
- International and Comparative Law
- Law, Science and Technology
If you feel lost in the sea of classes, these programs can help you focus your courses.
However, you don’t need to stick to any one of these programs if you don’t want to!
You have full control.
Long gone are the days of actual grades at Harvard Law.
Now-a-days, all courses, seminars, written work and clinicals (except Credit/Fail aka Pass/Fail courses), are graded as follows:
Dean’s Scholar Prizes: Extra recognition for awesome work and 5 points towards your GPA
Honors (H), 4 points
Pass (P), 3 points
Low Pass (LP), 2 points
Fail (F), 0 points
Although there are no class ranks, you still get a GPA at the end of every year based on the number of Honors, Passes etc. you get and how many Dean’s Scholar Prizes you get.
Upon graduation, your GPA will determine whether or not you graduate with Latin honors (cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude).
These honors don’t mean that much, just that you were at the top of the class and probably really smart!
1L First Semester
Typical Courses: Consultational Law, Contracts, Torts, Procedure
Remaining Five Semesters (1L Second Semester, 2L, 3L)
Yay! More freedom!
Yale gives you five whole semesters to explore your interests through electives, research projects, lectures and more!
There are still a few requirements you’ll need to fulfill but for the most part, you’re on your own.
Unlike Harvard, who claims to have no real grades but calculates GPA, Yale actually has no grades and no GPA!
During your first semester, all of your courses are Credit/Fail.
Each course after that is evaluated as follows:
This system creates a less competitive, more comforting environment, which allows you and your classmates to take as many intellectual risks as you want.
So go ahead, debate the legality of pineapple on pizza. Yale dares you!
Harvard takes the cake in this area. It has done a lot in the past few years to get on par with Yale, including updating their curriculum and getting rid of grades (sort of), and now that the two schools are pretty much on the same level, Harvard blows Yale out of the water simply because of the number of courses and massive cross-registering opportunities Harvard offers, especially if you don’t know exactly what to do in the field of law.
However, if you’re not too keen on grades and the pressure that comes with them, Yale is much better for you. But let’s face it, if you want to be a lawyer, you probably love a good challenge!
Round 4: Culture
Looking to party hard? Law school’s probably not for you!
Because of Harvard’s size, there will almost always be a person in your year that shares your interests and opinions.
Plus, Harvard has every activity and club you can dream of. You name it, Harvard’s got it. You’re bound to find something to do and somewhere to fit in.
On the flip side, Harvard Law’s large number of admits means that the uni doesn’t need to be as selective as a uni like Yale and can focus more on taking students with great grades from geographically diverse areas and less on the quality of the student outside of the “numbers”.
Now, that doesn’t mean everyone you meet at Harvard Law will be boring, it just means that not all of the students will be ridiculously interesting.
It’s also a bit harder to get to know your professors, but the more effort you put in, the more you’ll get out so if there’s a professor you’re really interested in getting to know, don’t be afraid to reach out to him or her.
As with most unis, there are people who want to party every night (and do) and people who’d rather be in the library all night (and are). Either way, there are so many students at Harvard Law that you can socialise as little or as much as you’d like and you’ll still fit in.
Harvard Law is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, next to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and about 30 other universities! Just across the river is Boston, a bustling city filled with great food and an awesome sports culture so if you ever get bored at Harvard, there’s always something to do nearby!
Most Iconic Restaurants
The Breakfast Club: Trust me, nothing tastes better than breakfast at the Breakfast Club after waiting in an hour long line in the freezing cold.
Regina’s Pizzeria: Although there are multiple locations around Boston, the Regina’s near Harvard stadium is the place to go after a fun American football game.
Hong Kong: Probably the weirdest restaurant you’ll ever go to. Think nightclub, comedy club and Chinese restaurant all wrapped up into one.
While Yale takes your GPA and LSAT score into account, the uni is more interested in who you are as a person and what you’ve done in law or for your community thus far. Because of its emphasis on extracurricular activities, internships and past jobs, Yale’s law community is usually very robust and intellectually interesting.
However, it may be harder to find people who have the same interests that you do, since the classes are so small. There are plenty of activities but many of them revolve around academics such as lectures and cultural events.
Don’t worry, there are also parties.
Be careful, though, everyone will know what you did last night, whether you like it or not.
Yale is located in New Haven, Connecticut, which is not as lively as Cambridge or Boston but there are many bars around!
However, you’ll almost never want to venture off campus because of how beautiful it is! I’m talkin’ gothic architecture, ivy-clad walls and libraries so stunning that it’s no wonder that most people never leave.
Most Iconic Restaurants
The Pantry: Fit for all of your brunch needs, including your Instagram feed!
Pepe’s: New Haven actually has its own type of pizza, which has a thin crust and limited cheese. At Pepe’s you must get the clam pizza. It sounds weird but it’s great!
Atticus: Who knew a bookstore could make such great sandwiches???
Harvard’s the way to go when it comes to culture, mostly because Cambridge/Boston is so much better than New Haven.
Plus, you can’t beat the food!
Round 5: Career Paths and Alumni
As a Harvard student, you’re more likely to take the traditional path and work at a big law firm, eventually managing the firm, becoming a CEO or running a hedge fund.
In fact, 10 months after graduation, 59.6% of Harvard Law graduates had a job at a law firm and 42.81% were hired by one of the US’s 100 largest law firms.
That being said, Harvard’s also great if you don’t know exactly what you want to do in law because of how many different courses and academic pathways it offers!
So whether you know you want to work at a big law firm or you don’t know what you want to do, Harvard is definitely the place for you.
Former US Presidents: Rutherford B. Hayes and Barack Obama (shoutout to First Lady Michelle Obama who also graduated from Harvard Law School)
Business Influencers: Lloyd Blankfein: CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs, Sumner Redstone: former executive chairman of CBS and Viacom media companies
Most Famous Fictional Character Alumni: Elle Woods, Legally Blonde
Number of US Congress Members: 69
Number of Supreme Court Justices: 16 (5 current)
Number of University Presidents: 17
Most Yale students end up in academia or clerking for a judge after law school. That’s not to say that going to Yale Law School will hinder you from working at a big law firm (it definitely won’t) but if you’re interested in legal academia, Yale is by far the best choice.
37.11% of graduates had judicial clerkships 10 months after graduation and only 26.34% had a job at one of the US’ 100 largest law firms.
Former US Presidents: Gerald Ford and Bill Clinton (Hillary Clinton also graduated from Yale law FYI)
Other Famous Alumni: Ben Stein: Writer and Lawyer (also acted in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Fairly OddParents and Family Guy), Yul Kwon: Winner of Survivor: Cook Islands
Most Famous Fictional Character Alumni: Selina Meyer, Veep
Number of US Congress Members: 72
Number of Supreme Court Justices: 10 (2 current)
Number of University Presidents and Other Administrators : 23
Clearly, if you want to work at a big law firm, Harvard is your winner here, and if you want to go into academia, Yale’s your winner.
Ding, ding, ding!
We have a winner! Or do we?
As you hopefully can tell by now, the majority of university rankings are meaningless because no matter how objective companies try to make the rankings, no one college is perfect for everyone.
Therefore, my final ranking is clear.
If you are interested in going to a large law school, with a great international reputation, a high acceptance rate and lots of course options, Harvard should be #1 in your books.
If you are interested in a small law school, with a more selective admissions process, a more tightknit community, no grades and a great base education for a future in academia, Yale should be your #1.
The rest of the ranking is easy! Whatever uni you didn’t pick as your #1 school becomes your #2 school!
So in the future, every time you look at college rankings, make sure to do more research into a) how that list was formed, and b) what each college you’re interested in is actually like.
Who cares if you end up at a #15 ranked college or a #2 ranked college? As long as it’s your best fit, you’ll be happy and succeed. In the long run, that’s all that matters.