Harvard Expands Junior Deferral Nationwide

Harvard Law School’s Junior Deferral Program will expand to accept applications from undergraduate juniors at colleges and universities nationwide in the fall of 2017. Harvard photo

The doors to Harvard Law School’s hallowed halls have cracked open a little wider. The law school announced Wednesday (May 3) that it will expand its Junior Deferral Program, previously only open to Harvard College students, to accept applications from undergraduate juniors nationwide in the fall of 2017. The move comes a little less than two months after Harvard Law announced it would accept Graduate Record Examination results in addition to those from the traditionally preferred Law School Admissions Test, becoming only the second accredited U.S. law school to do so.
Harvard Law’s Junior Deferral Program was launched in 2014. It allows students to apply to the law school during their junior year of college on the condition that they defer enrollment for at least two years if accepted. Those who are not accepted may contest the decision with the law school’s admissions office. Harvard Law’s chief admissions officer, Jessica Soban, told the Harvard Crimson that the program has been sufficiently tested and is ready to expand.
“We have been talking for the past several years about this being a pilot and collecting information from students who move through the program to understand what success it has really had for them,” Soban told the Crimson. “This is the point where we feel like we have moved through an entire cycle with one cohort of participants in the program.”
Harvard Law’s break with tradition by allowing GRE in place of LSAT scores sent shockwaves through law education. Previously, only the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law had allowed GRE scores, something it first started doing in early 2016. Harvard’s move to accept the GRE is part of a fall 2017 pilot program that affects students who will begin the three-year juris doctor program in 2018.
The expansion of the Junior Deferral Program will undergo a similar soft landing, in that any students who benefit are a minimum of three years away from starting. Additionally, Harvard Law will host a series of online sessions for pre-law advisers and applicants at other colleges and universities, Soban told the Crimson, as a way to educate students and advisers about the program.
“We will be engaging in active outreach both to the pre-law advisors and to college campuses, not just in the U.S. but in universities around the world, to explain how to think about this program and how to decide whether this is right for you as an applicant,” Soban said.
Soban, who declined to provide statistics on the Junior Deferred Program so far because she said the sample sizes are too small, told the Crimson that Harvard Law has taken other steps in recent years — such as offering Skype interviews and eliminating seat deposits — to make it easier to apply, particularly in the wake of the 2008 recession when applications decreased significantly.
And while that trend has reversed, with the number of applicants increasing 5% each year in both 2016 and 2017, law school Dean Martha Minow said in a news release that it still makes sense to go forward with the initiative to expand the Junior Deferral Program because it allows students to pursue jobs after graduation without worrying about how those jobs will appear on an application to Harvard Law School.
“By offering admission to the most promising college juniors, we can encourage them to pursue important and fulfilling experiences without concerns about effects on a later application to law school,” Minow said.

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