ACCEPTANCE RATES ON THE RISE AT MOST LAW SCHOOLS
Of course, there is another factor to consider: An increase or decrease in acceptance rates. A growing acceptance rate, over time, also represents opportunity to either squeak into a class–or land a better aid package. And the big target here is the University of California-Berkeley School of Law (known affectionately as Boalt Hall). Three years ago, the program maintained an 11.6% acceptance rate, the third most-stringent behind Yale and Stanford. Today, that number has ballooned to 21.1%. That still makes it pretty exclusive, but shows the odds have shifted more in candidates’ favor. Of course, it is still a pretty costly venture, with 71.6% of graduates incurring debt averaging $144,981.
Previously mentioned schools like Minnesota (+21.2%), George Washington (+10%), Arizona State (+9.8%), Boston College (+16%), and Wisconsin (+11.4%) have also loosened their acceptance rates over the past three years, as have #22 Notre Dame (+11.3%), #25 Alabama (+11.5%), #38 North Carolina (+16.3%), and #40 Washington & Lee (+18.3%).
At the top of the mountain, Yale, Harvard, Stanford, Columbia, and Chicago have dropped their acceptance rates by 1.1% to 5.2%. Another handful of schools have also cut their acceptance rates and made getting in more difficult over the past three years. Those schools are headed by #12 Northwestern (-1.1%), along with #15 University of Texas (-5.3%), #18 Washington University (-0.9%), Iowa (-5.2%), and #30 University of California-Davis (-4.9%).
As a rule, acceptance rates are dropping, with the percentages becoming more pronounced as you descend deeper into U.S. News’ top 100. At the University of Richmond, for example, the rate has jumped from 21.4% to 41.7% over the past three years (with the former nearly matching Columbia Law’s current 21.3% rate). You’ll find similar issues at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville (+30.4%), Yeshiva University (+19.2%), and Louisville University (+22.8%)–making them plum targets for applicants with LSATs in the low 150s for acceptance and 160s for scholarships.
LOWER LSATs PEGGED TO HIGHER ACCEPTANCE RATES
Changes in LSAT scores are far less discernible–but present nonetheless–particularly among T14 schools. At #7 Penn and #8 University of Virginia, for example, the LSAT range (25th-75th percentile) lightened from 164-171 to 163-170 at both schools since the 2014 U.S. News rankings. You’ll find similar slides at Columbia Law (170-174 to 168-173), Northwestern (164-171 to 163-169), and Georgetown (165-170 to 161-168). Overall, many schools experienced a 2-3 point drop during this time at each end of the scale. A handful of schools, such as Brooklyn Law (158-164 to 152-158) and the University of Connecticut (157-162 to 153-158), suffered even greater slippage.
Obviously, lower academic marks correlate to higher acceptance rates. Take NYU, for example. Here, the LSAT range slid from 169-173 to 166-171. At the same time, its acceptance rate rose from 27.9 to 33.1%. While this means the talent pool at an NYU may have experienced a slight dilution, this two or three point difference creates an opening where applicants enjoy better odds of making it into their top choice over their consolation prize.
UNDERGRAD GPAs ON THE RISE AMONG TOP SCHOOLS
Ironically, the opposite dynamic plays out with undergraduate GPAs. Let’s look at NYU again. Over the past four classes, the GPA range has improved from 3.54-3.84 to 3.61-3.87, meaning both the top and bottom halves of the class have improved academically (on paper, at least). And you’ll find it repeats itself, to a greater or less extent, across most T14 schools, such as Virginia (3.53-3.93 to 3.59-3.94), Northwestern (3.38-3.84 to 3.56 to 3.85), Cornell (3.54-3.77 to 3.62-3.82), and the Georgetown Law Center (3.43-3.82 to 3.47 to 3.85).
Alas, this trend doesn’t carry its momentum through the entire U.S. News Top 100, let alone the Top 20. At #17 UCLA, where acceptance rates have risen by 6% in the past three years, the GPA range tripped from 3.58-3.89 to 3.51-3.86. Similarly, Boston University’s rise was handcuffed by its incoming GPAs, with the range descending from 3.52-3.83 to 3.41-3.75 (as its acceptance rate jumped 7.4% no less).
What’s more, the numbers are sometimes contradictory. Exhibit A: The University of Michigan, where the range bobbed from 3.57-3.83 to 3.54-3.87, meaning the school’s latest class is weaker at the low end and stronger at the high end. And this “one-step-forward-one-step-back pattern repeats itself at programs like Washington University, Emory University, and USC, though the GPA range tended to decline the deeper into the rankings you go.
So how do you explain this rise in GPAs? Are the higher-ranked schools simply gobbling up students who’d normally matriculate at law programs a few notches below them? Were recent classes more coddled by undergraduate grade inflation? Do lower LSATs mean they are less prepared for the law school rigors? Or have applicants become poorer at taking standardized tests in the mashup age? The answers are harder to pinpoint here. If there is one constant top-to-bottom and year-after-year, it is this: Law school tuition is going up across the board.
AS EXPECTED: TUITION CONTINUES TO SKYROCKET
That’s the downside to greater access to law school. The job market may be stagnant for young attorneys, but the law school market has been sizzling! As expected, prestige programs can charge a premium–and they haven’t disappointed over the past three years. Look no further than Harvard Law ($50,880 to $58,242), Columbia Law ($55,488 to $62,700), NYU ($51,150 to $59,330), and Georgetown ($48,835 to $55,255).
And it isn’t just the luxury brands charging lavish prices. USC has celebrated its ascension into the Top 20 by raising their tuition over $5,400 to $58,022 (nearly $2,000 more than #2 Stanford). #25 George Washington boosted its cost by nearly $6,600 to keep pace with cross-town rival (and much higher-ranked) Georgetown. A University of California-Davis J.D. will set you back $56,590 a year. On the negative side, that’s nearly the same rate as #5 University of Chicago. Of course, this tuition is actually $2,200 less than what it was charging three years ago. Baylor, which ranks 55th overall, has beefed up tuition by over $9,100, charging $6,000 more than out-of-state residents pay at the University of Texas. And if you want to study law in New York City, be ready to pony up. #74 St. John’s charges $53,290 (up $5,200), while Yeshiva University costs $54,895 (up just $4,800).
Mind you, these prices are really a starting point for negotiation. At George Washington, 66.2% of students arrive on campus with grants. At Baylor, that number is 70.5%, with a third of students pulling down grants worth 50% or more of their tuition.
That said, some schools have yielded to the laws of supply and demand. Berkeley Law, exempt from state-imposed fee increases, has held the line on spending, raising tuition just $600 for out-of-state residents over the past three years. UCLA has actually dropped out of state tuition by roughly $550 during the same time. And the University of Iowa has been busy slicing tuition too, with out of state students enjoying an 8.8% dividend since 2013. Then again, students looking for the best deal should consider Brigham Young Law, where non-LDS members pay just $23,940, a $2,000 increase–but a bargain nonetheless.
To see current and previous stats for the top 100 schools in tuition, acceptance rates, and LSAT and undergraduate GPA ranges, go to the next pages.