Admissions is also a function of supply-and-demand. Since the 2008 Financial Crisis, law schools have endured a decline in demand. As a result, standards have been softened to an extent, even at T14 programs. New York University Law is a case in point. Five years ago, the school’s LSAT scores in the 25th to 75th percentile ran 169-173. Now, the school reports it a 166-171 split, a three point fall at the lower level. Cornell Law (166-169 to 163-168) and Georgetown Law (165-170 to 161-168) experienced similar drops in quality. Even elite programs like Yale Law, Chicago Law, Columbia Law, and Penn Law have witnessed a point drop at the 75th percentile since the 2014 rankings. In other words, the top programs slightly loosened their standards during recent hard times. Just Harvard Law and Standard Law have maintained the same spread in the 25th to 75th percentile over the past five years, with only Washington University Law being the only program to attract better LSAT performers during that period (Going from 160-168 to 161-169).
LSAT SCORES POISED TO REBOUND
However, theis trend is expected to be reversed in the coming years. In April, Paul Caron, Dean of Pepperdine Law, broke down the numbers related to applicants who took the LSAT from Fall 2017 through Spring 2018. His findings: The percentage of students who scored better than 160 jumped 21%. At the 165-169 level, the scores surged by 28.9% – and 70.1% at the 175-180 level. Where were the smallest gains? Try 159 and below. In short, law schools attracted more top-notch talent to the 2021 Class – and that trend could continue for years to come.
What types of GPAs grab an adcom’s attention? Among the T14 schools, the lowest GPA at the 25th percentile is 3.52, with 20 of the 25 highest-ranked programs in the 2019 U.S. News ranking boasting a 3.50 or better at this percentile. At the 75th percentile, the floor among T14 programs is Columbia Law’s 3.80, though all but four T14 schools reported a 3.88 or better. The lowest median GPA among the Top 25 was U.C.-Irvine’s 3.68 – an anomaly considering the next lowest median was 3.80. At the 25th percentile, the lowest GPA came out to 3.35 at 24th-ranked George Washington Law.
GPA averages don’t always follow lockstep with GMAT scores, either. Look no further than New York University Law, where GMAT medians declined by three points at both the 25th and 75th percentiles over the past five years. During that same period, NYU Law’s GPA median range swelled from 3.54-3.84 to 3.66-3.90. That dynamic repeats itself at Northwestern Law, whose GPA medians climbed from 3.38-3.84 to 3.56 to 3.89 – despite the school’s LSATs slipping a point. By the same token, Stanford Law’s GPA at the 75th percentile actually fell by .11 of a point since 2013 – despite harboring identical LSAT scores over that time.
FEWER CANDIDATES MEAN ACCEPTANCE RATES GROW LAX
Overall, among the Top 25 law programs, GPAs improved slightly within the Top 25 law schools, with 14 programs scoring better at the 25th percentile and 13 improving at the 75th percentile over five years. The takeaway: A cum laude GPA is the entry point – not a differentiator – among Top 25 law schools.
While law applicants have control, to a degree, over their LSAT and undergraduate GPA, the acceptance rate of their target schools is another matter altogether. Still, the odds of landing a spot has improved over the past five years. Among T14 programs, eight programs have reported higher acceptance rates, headed by the University of California-Berkeley (aka “Boalt Hall”), where the acceptance rate nearly doubled to 21.1%. However, Berkeley Law was generally the exception; the large improvements further down were found at Duke Law (3.7%) and Virginia Law (3.1%) – numbers undercut by Cornell Law tightening their acceptance rate from 29.1% to 22.2%.
Extending out to the Top 25, 13 programs raised their acceptance rates, including Minnesota Law where nearly 1-in-2 applicants get accepted. Five years ago, that ratio was less than 1-in-4. Still, several schools held steady, beefing up aid to attract talent or reducing class sizes to keep mediocre candidates at bay. Arizona Law, for example, cut its acceptance rate from 39.9% to 27.1%, the only double digit drop in a field that includes Maryland Law (+24.8%), Baylor Law (+19.6%), North Carolina Law (+15.7%), Richmond Law (+15.6%), Brigham Young Law (+11.9%), Washington & Lee Law (+11.1%), and the University of Washington (+11.0%).
TUITION GOES UP…AND PROBABLY WON’T COME DOWN
The lean years of 2010-2017 produced fewer applicants, as law firms contracted in the wake of financial collapse and disruptive competition inherent to technology and even off-shoring. However, few law schools responded by lowering tuition. Exhibit A: The T14, where no program reduced its student costs. In fact, half of the T14 boosted tuition by $10K or more, slapping $30K or more onto students’ backs over three years. From 2013-2017, for example, these seven schools – Harvard Law, Chicago Law, Columbia Law, NYU Law, Penn Law, Duke Law, and Georgetown Law – jacked up tuition by 15% or more. In comparison, inflation rose a combined 7.2% over these five years.
That’s not to say every T14 followed the lead. Berkeley Law, notably, only increased tuition by $1,296 for out-of-state students during this period – a nominal 2.4% increase. Overall, such increases were few-and-far between; every Top 25 program boosted tuition to some degree, ranging from UCLA Law ($436) to NYU Law ($12,836). The biggest increase – $13,725 – even belonged outside the Top 25 to Kentucky Law for out-of-state residents (though Baylor Law gave the Bluegrass flagship a run for its money with a $13,630 increase over five years).
That said, several law schools managed to compete by making their law schools more affordable. Loyola Marymount, for one, trimmed tuition by $15,220. Cincinnati Law followed suit, with tuition plummeting from $41,044 to $29,010 for out-of-state students. As applicant interest and quality improve, expect to budget even more money for tuition.
To see current and previous year’s data for the Top 75 law schools in tuition, acceptance rates, LSAT scores, and undergraduate GPA ranges, click on the links below.
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