It’s no secret law schools can woo students with more scholarship money than ever before. What’s more, less qualified applicants—in terms of LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs—are receiving more of that money. It’s a true buyer’s market as many schools are doing what they can to fill class seats.
This could help explain why nearly nine out of 10 admissions offices at 120 U.S. law schools think this will be the year applications increase, according to a Kaplan Test Prep survey. Each year, Kaplan surveys admissions offices to get a sense of the sentiments towards law school applications. This year 120 law schools participated in the survey, 17 of which were from are in the U.S. News top 30.
88% OF ADMISSIONS OFFICES EXPECT INCREASED APPLICANTS
In last year’s survey, only 46% of the participants believed their schools would see an increase in applications to their respective schools. This year, despite seeing the smallest nation-wide entering class in decades, that number catapulted to 88%. “Something feels different about this application cycle to law school admissions officers, and those sentiments are backed up by some key data points regarding the number of LSAT takers,” said Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep, in a release.
“The job market continues to be competitive for new law school graduates, which no doubt weighs heavily on the minds of prospective applicants, so any turnaround will likely be slow to build,” he continued.
One of the data points Thomas alluded to is, according to Kaplan, LSAT test takers have increased each of the past three test offerings (December 2014, February 2015, and June 2015). The last time there was an increase from test to test was from 2009 to 2010.
A lot of the optimism could also stem from the thought that applications simply can’t drop anymore. After a peak in 2010 of 87,900 applicants, law school applications have been in a tailspin to the 54,230 applicants for this fall’s class.
‘I WOULD HOLD OFF ON POPPING CHAMPAGNE’
Still, Sarah Zearfoss, senior assistant dean for admissions, financial aid, and career planning at the University of Michigan Law School, says there’s no reason to celebrate yet. “I would hold off on popping champagne in admissions offices, and I would personally predict that this year will continue to be a buyer’s market for law school applicants,” she said in an email to Tipping The Scale.
Zearfoss explained that while she thinks there should be an increase in applicants, it won’t be a significant one. “I read the LSAT numbers to forecast an overall national increase of about 5%—with specific results varying among schools, of course,” she said. “5% isn’t nothing, but a 5% increase over an all-time low is . . . still quite low.”
Another issue is the quality of applicants. According to a National Law Journal report in July from University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Jerry Organ, the amount of LSAT takers scoring a 165 or higher in 2015 is lower than recent years. However, the number of admissions offices saying they had to cut the number of seats for this fall’s class decreased to 35% after coming in at 54% last year.
Having a smaller amount of qualified applicants to choose from has caused Michigan and other schools to decrease enrollment numbers. According to the National Law Journal report, Michigan cut its fall 2015 class size by 10%, causing Zearfoss to say this application cycle was the “toughest” her and the colleagues she’s communicated with have been through. “We’ve basically reached the smallest number of people who can apply and still be able to put together a class,” she told Karen Sloan of the National Law Journal in July. “I had a harder time finding the candidates I wanted.”
While schools with the prestige of Michigan will assuredly survive the application drought, a large majority of admissions officers don’t believe it will be the same for all schools. According to the Kaplan survey, 87% of admissions officers predict at least one law school will shut down in the next few years because of “financial insolvability.”
At this point, though, the slight uptick in LSAT takers is a much-needed piece of positive news for admissions offices. “To the extent this modest increase reflects some sense of renewed interest in and attention to the value of a law school education, I’m delighted and encouraged,” Zearfoss said. “But realistic.”