Last month, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) released a report showing January applications to J.D. programs leaped by 10.6% compared to January 2017. The number of applicants also increased by 9.5%. According to reports from U.S. News & World Report, a recovering economy and better recent job prospects could be reasons for the turbocharge of law school interest.
Another reason? The “Trump Bump.” According to a Kaplan Test Prep survey of more than 500 law school applicants across the nation, Donald Trump’s unlikely rise to the presidency likely has played a role in the boost of law school applicants this year.
In the one-question survey, Kaplan asked applicants between December 2017 and this month, “Did the results of the 2016 presidential election impact your decision to apply to law school?” Nearly one-third (32%) answered in the affirmative — and those answering that the historic 2016 election indeed played an impact on their decision to apply to law school seem to fall on all sides of the political spectrum.
“The election gave me a litmus test for how divided our country will be for the next few years and how I want to remedy that,” one respondent said. “The country needs level-headed leaders and through law school, I believe that I can become one of them.”
Others were less coy about their political leanings and reasons for applying.
“I decided to go to law school BECAUSE of the 2016 election,” another respondent said. “Somebody has to hold these politicians accountable, and it’s clearly not anyone in office right now. Also, if Hillary isn’t gonna be the first female president, then it’s going to be me.”
Some, meanwhile, were already planning to apply, but the election solidified that decision. As one respondent wrote, “President Trump’s support of the separation of powers, and his administration’s commitment to the rule of law, have only further inspired me to pursue a career in the field of law.”
LEAVE THE POLARIZING POLITICAL COMMENTS OUT OF LAW SCHOOL APPLICATIONS
According to Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan, the data confirms their suspicions of President Trump’s impact on J.D. admissions and application interest.
“We’ve seen significant jumps in both LSAT takers and law school applications over the past admissions cycle, which has fueled speculation about how much impact, if any, the 2016 election and subsequent political climate has had on this year’s law school admissions landscape. We now have an answer: It’s significant. The bump is real,” Thomas said in a news release from Kaplan. “It’s important to note that law school has long been at the epicenter of politics, with 38% of House members and 55% of senators holding law degrees. While there are many good reasons for attending law school, our advice remains constant: Be introspective about your reasons for applying, and understand exactly how a law degree is necessary to achieve your career goals.”
But while it might be a convincing reason to apply to law school, Thomas recommends leaving polarizing political beliefs out of initial law school applications.
“Whether you’re a resister, persister, or somewhere in between, spouting your political opinions with no larger goal may alienate admissions officers who don’t agree with you or who think you didn’t use your personal statement wisely. It can show poor judgement,” he said. “Only focus on politics if you can do a good job of weaving together your personal narrative and career ambitions. For instance, if you want to go into immigration law, talk about your canvassing job for an advocacy group. Otherwise, be compelling in your statements, but in a less risky way.”
According to the same survey, some 28% of applicants said they are “likely to discuss” their political beliefs in their law school application personal statements.
A GLIMMER OF HOPE FOR HIGHER-ED ADMISSIONS OFFICES
The increase in apps is a welcome glimmer of positive news for higher education admissions offices in what has largely been a sea of not-ideal news since the Trump administration began.
Anti-immigration policies and rhetoric combined with funding cuts to higher education have led to a downturn in college apps for many schools, primarily among foreign applicants. According to research published last November by the Institute of International Education, first-time international student enrollment rates in the U.S. fell by more than 3% from the 2015-2016 academic year to 2016-2017.
Of course, that data includes students enrolling before the 2016 elections, but Trump’s America-first agenda was already being pumped wildly during the final stages of the campaign. A report published last March by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers found that of 250 U.S. colleges and universities, 39% reported a decrease in international applications last application cycle, while 35% reported an increase and 26% reported no change.