While acceptance rates are generally rising, the numbers are spotty among top tier programs. Over the past three years, acceptance rates at Harvard and Stanford have actually slipped by 0.6% and 0.7% respectively. At the University of Chicago is accepting 1.7% fewer applicants than it did three years ago. At the same time, the acceptance needle has barely nudged at the University of Pennsylvania (+0.9) and Columbia (+0.5). Among the top 20, the biggest jumps came at the public schools. Aside from Boalt Hall’s 8.6% rise, you’ll also find rising acceptance rates at New York University (+3.2%), University of Virginia (+2.9%), Duke (+1.8%), Cornell (+1.2%), UCLA (+4.4%), Vanderbilt (+4.5%), Emory (+5.6%), and the University of Minnesota (+18.3%).
As you go down the rankings, the increase becomes even more pronounced. Just check out how acceptance rates grew at these schools in the last three years: Notre Dame (+13.4%), George Washington (+15.5%), Boston College (+14.6%), Indiana (+16%), Maryland (+19.9%), Florida (+27.9%), U.C.-Hastings (+19.2%), and Connecticut (+18.2%). This increase isn’t automatic, as evidenced by tightened acceptance rates at the University of Iowa (-11.6%) and Case Western Reserve (-20.2%). But the pattern reflects that many schools are using any means necessary to keep enrollment steady. And that means you may be able to negotiate better terms, provided you offer an enviable LSAT and undergrad GPA.
GPAs AND LSAT SCORES ALSO IN DECLINE
Of course, this competition for students has a domino effect (though the top schools are generally insulated from such market pressures). At the University of Chicago, for example, average GPAs actually rose from 3.65-3.96 to 3.79-3.96 in three years. And you’ll find a similar grade spikes at Northwestern and Duke during that same period. Among top 20 schools, LSAT ranges also remained relatively stable, though many programs lost a point or two near the top of the 75th percentile and added the same near the bottom of the 25th percentile. In other words, by lightening their standards, such schools attracted students who would’ve otherwise attended a program ranked below them.
In the past three years, based on high and low end GPAs, entry grades have been slipping at Washington University, Boston College, Indiana University, University of Illinois, Washington & Lee, Southern Methodist University, and the University of Florida. At the same time, they have been climbing at William & Mary, the University of Wisconsin, Brigham Young University, the University of Tennessee, and Case Western Reserve.
The same is true of LSATs, where top 10 programs experienced little fluctuation in LSAT ranges over the past three years. In fact, LSAT ranges, as a whole, remained relatively stable, though you’ll find consistent slippage in LSAT scores, at both the top and bottom ends of the percentiles, once you get beyond below the top third schools. However, the University of Missouri and Syracuse University have bucked this trend and attracted classes with higher LSAT scores (at the high and low ends).
BRIGHAM YOUNG IS LEGAL EDUCATION’S BEST KEPT SECRET
Over the past three years, top tier schools have generally raised their tuitions by $3,000-$5,000, led by New York University (+$5,688), Duke University (+$4,838), and the University of Chicago (+$4,776). Law students at Columbia ($60,274), Cornell ($59,360) and the University of Southern California $57,507) currently pay the highest tuitions. Ironically, Stanford, a private program that ranks 2nd overall according to U.S. News, has the 14th-highest annual tuition at $54,366, less than in-state students pay at the University of California-Davis ($56,537) and nearly equal to the University of California-Hastings ($54,335).
If you’re focused on bargains, look no further than 34th-ranked Brigham Young University, where non-LDS members pay just $23,240 a year. The same is true of 42nd-ranked University of Arizona, which costs just $29,000 for out-of-state residents (and $24,607 for in-state residents). In fact, Arizona’s tuition has dropped by over $13,000 over the past three years. Out-of-state residents can also enjoy affordable options like 22nd-ranked University of Alabama ($36,304), 31st-ranked University of Georgia ($36,810)
However, there are some schools whose tuition belies their rank. For example, 63rd-ranked University of Connecticut ($54,248) and 75th-ranked Yeshiva Law charge $54,248 and $53,750 respectively. In Connecticut’s case, that’s $1,500 a year less than Harvard. And Yeshiva costs more than private urban programs like Georgetown, Fordham, and George Washington. To put these tuitions in context, you could spend two years at Brigham Young for the cost of one year at Connecticut or Yeshiva Law.
While this quest for higher rankings has jacked up tuition costs, it has also created an opening for astute students to find that sweet spot between cost and value. When it comes to law numbers, debt may be the most important number of all. Let’s take the 8th-ranked University of Virginia. Here, out-of-state residents can expect to pay $54,800 (just $3,000 more per year than in-state residents). However, when you factor in cost of living, average debt jumps to $285,415 (without financial assistance) by graduation. In other words, even in a college town like Charlottesville, you should budget another $100,000 for cost of living. In the end, your debt – as much as your talent and network – will govern what you practice.
To view the tuitions, LSAT scores, GPAs, and acceptance rates for the top 100 law schools over the past two years, please continue to the next pages. To see admissions data from the 2014 U.S. News rankings, click here.