Making your choice
Unlike in the United States, were the top programs are far superior to those in the bottom tier, you will get a great legal education at any of Canada’s law schools. MaClean’s and Canadian Lawyer Magazine rank the schools annually, though some have called into question the ranking methodologies used. The general perception is that Toronto, Osgoode, McGill, and UBC are “more prestigious,” but this is highly contestable.
If you’re lucky enough to be offered a choice amongst schools, the Bottom Line in terms of selection is this: consider where you’d be happiest attending school, and living, for three long years.
If you’re lucky enough to be offered a choice amongst schools, would you prefer attending atmospheric, collegial Queens for its small town community feel, and bear the hassle of commuting to Toronto for conferences and interviews (not to mention relocating in the summer months to work in the city)? U of T’s location, on the other hand, offers a wealth of conveniences–you can walk to your interviews, and no relocation is required for summer work. Of course, the cost and distractions of living in the core are too much to bear for some. Osgoode is a bit of a mix: close enough to Toronto by Subway (which will extend to the campus come 2016) but far enough from the temptations of the city. In 1L especially, York’s isolated location isn’t necessarily a bad thing if you living in the “Chambers” law residence.
Osgoode, for example, is known for its Clinical Programs and community involvement, Western has tried to position itself as a “business-oriented” school, while Queens has always been recognized for its criminal law.
Tuition costs vary widely by province, with Ontario being the most expensive. Be sure to factor in fees, cost of living, commutes home for holidays, etc.
Take the distinctions on both prestige and specialties with a grain of salt: all the schools cover a pretty standard curriculum and there are many more similarities than differences. It’s rare to find a student that chose Windsor over Osgoode or Toronto, but it does happen. It’s also quite rare for students to chose their undergraduate Alma Mater, especially in Ontario. Most people want to experience a new environment.
Don't sweat the rankings
Take the distinctions on both prestige and specialties with a grain of salt: all the schools cover a pretty standard curriculum and there are many more similarities than differences. It’s rare to find a student that chose Windsor over Toronto, but it does happen. If you're comfortable with sweeping generalizations, Toronto is seen as #1, Osgoode second, and Western and Queens tied for bronze (the former for business bus, the latter for criminal). Outside of Ontario, McGill and UBC usually rank at the top.
It’s also quite rare for students to chose their undergraduate Alma Mater, especially in Ontario. It also seems that the law firms like to see that candidates are "adaptable" to new environments. Most people want to experience a new setting, but if financial or familial obligations keep you from relocating, it's very unlikely to count against you.
The Schools host “welcome days," usually one in the Spring and another in the Summer: these really give you a sense of the school’s atmosphere. Oxford Seminars offers a nice summary in order to contrast the respective schools, including ever-popular “chances” tables. Another great resource is Lawstudents.ca, where there's LSAT and school-related forums, and endless threads of information. But unless you want to develop a complex, ignore those "gunners" (law school slang for a keener) that post about their 179 scores and admissions to Harvard. Most of them aren't so much "gunners," but liars.
However, lawstudents.ca is a goldmine for the low-down information posted by current students. Check out "Top Ten Reasons to GO to my School", and perhaps more importantly (and certainly more entertaining) "Top Ten Reasons NOT to go to my School." Every school in the country is covered, and the insights are invaluable.
Every year, Ultra Vires, U of T’s student newspaper, conducts an in-depth survey of 2nd year Articling hires, by school and law firm. There’s some valuable information and commentary within, that may help you in your school choice this year, and two years down the road during OCIs (on campus interviews).
Calculate your OLSAS GPA
The Ontario Law School Application Service (OLSAS) is an acronym you'll be soon used to if you're planning on staying within the province. Instead of applying directly to individual schools (like everywhere else in the country) OLSAS handles all Ontario law school applications. Think of them as a kind of middle-man that aggregates your Ontario apps into one portal, standardizes things a bit, and collects its share from the pre-law cash pot. For example, once you firmly accept an Ontario school, OLSAS will inform the other schools and you'll be dropped from their wait-lists.
OLSAS also has its own grading structure that converts GPA scores (all years) a standard. They do this for all US and Canadian schools, and you'll see the final tally on your OLSAS portal once you've submitted your transcript. The is thought to factor in school difficulty and sort of even the playing field -- an A from York is weighed slightly lower than an A from U of T.
However, take this all with a massive grain of salt. The differentials amongst schools are minute. What's more, the law schools don't even necessarily use OLSAS's scale -- many prefer to do their own calculations. Some will only look at your last two years, some will permit drops, etc. Here's OLSAS's Conversion Table for the major Canadian undergrad programs. So don't worry too much the conversion just yet, but do familiarize yourself with OLSAS.
After doing some preliminary research and reading some of the braggart posts on lawstudents.ca, this is where a lot of students start to panic. Perhaps that's why you're here. The hours of LSAT practice, school applications, and planning a brand new life is overwhelming. But in turn, that's why we're here. We believe that almost all students who graduated with a decent GPA can learn the LSAT and put together a competitive application. It might take more than just one writing, but rest assured, we're good at what we do.
So leave the worrying up to us.