HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR: Difficult Choices

While HORROR ELECTIONIS might be vexing, it is nothing against HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR. This latter horror kicks in when you find yourself in the awful situation of having to choose between several admission offers. With Yale’s and most likely other admission decisions being out, this time of the year seems like a good moment to address the cure to this unfortunate plight.

So how should you deal with HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR?

There is an easy and obvious answer: Go to Yale!

In the end, this is the best and only recommendation I can sincerely make (hence the image of my admission BINDER on the top of this post).

For more sophisticated people, here are my thoughts on how to handle your situation:

1) Throw away your pro-and-con-lists and have a drink!

To my experience, there is absolutely no point in making such lists. Personal decisions, especially those requiring a choice between roughly equally great options, don’t allow for reasoned elaboration. You may be able to defend your decision once you’ve made it when applying for outside scholarships or the like. But pro-and-con-lists won’t help you in figuring out what you want.

(For an excellent illustration of the truth of this claim watch the millions of pro-and-con-lists that Gilmore Girls’ Rory Gilmore drafted in vain before setting her mind on going to Yale. Episode “A Tale of Poes and Fire”)

pros_cons_list

A much better way to search your mind is opening a bottle of booze and get drunk with your friends. It is this slightly clouded, but more sensitive and vulnerable state of mind in which you sometimes confess your deepest fears and fancies that will make you receptive to what you actually want.

2) Ask your friends and relatives where you want to go!

This is not a typo. I actually don’t mean to say that you ought to ask them where you should want go. This is your business only. Nor is it a socratic “want” in the sense that, while you might believe that you want x, you actually want y and only “want” x because of your clouded judgment.

No: Ask them where you actually want to go. You will be surprised to find out that they will do a better job in figuring out what your tendencies are than you yourself. Just make them make you state your reasons for either of your options. They will be able to tell what you want by the way you deliver your speech, the glow in your eyes, the twitch of your facial muscles. I can assure you that they will be unimpressed by what you report as the tentative conclusion of your decision making process. (This tentative conclusion will anyways change back and forth several times before you reach your final decision.)

3) Don’t overestimate the import of your decision!

As I said, your options will most likely be roughly equivalent. If you’re all about prestige, Harvard and Yale will probably have a slight advantage over the other schools. If you care about substance, there are at least 5-10 law schools that with regard to their “product value” – what you get for your tuition – are hardly distinguishable. It then comes down to your respective area of interest, your general taste, and maybe specific professors whose classes you want to experience.

A constitutional lawyer probably shouldn’t miss out on Yale. An internationally minded scholar should at least consider NYU. A pragmatic distrust of theory might make you prefer Harvard over Yale. I can see why Joseph Raz would lure people to Columbia.

You might also want to remember that school isn’t all there is to an LL.M. year. (Class) Size, for example, matters as well. Do you like the anonymity of European universities? Then you should think about a small program, just to find out that you were right all along (or do the contrary). Are you a big city person? Then you should challenge yourself and go to a small place like Yale (or do the contrary). Are you a night owl? Then you should have a look at Harvard/Boston where all bars and clubs close no later than two (or do the contrary). All these might be relevant considerations (or they are not).

With one final and most likely unhelpful piece of advice I will abandon you to your personal HORROR ELECTIONIS MAIOR:

If you, right now, stand paralyzed, being particularly vulnerable to the horrors caused by the paradox of choice, you should consider this as an argument for Yale. While the course catalogue is more than vast enough, it can still be handled. HORROR ELECTIONIS during shopping period will thus be relatively small compared to schools such as Harvard or Columbia.

In providing a criterion for your decision, HORROR ELECTIONIS therefore contains the very principle by which to contain and resolve HORROR ELECTIONIS. HORROR ELECTIONIS is both, the problem and its solution.

This, by the way, is roughly the same intuition that Gilmore Girls character Luke uses in order to come up with a decision criterion:

Excerpt:

LUKE (towards Rory and Lorelai): Hey — which school teaches how to make an important life decision without doing a stupid pro/con list? Whichever one it is, add it to the pro column.

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