Politics is still having an impact on applications, Kaplan finds

The Trump Bump is alive and well - maybe.

According to a recent Kaplan Test Prep survey of more than 100 law schools across the nation, 84% of admissions officers believe that the current political climate was a significant factor in this past admissions cycle’s increase of 3.3 percent in law school applications. This includes 26% who describe it as a “very significant” factor.

In Kaplan’s 2018 law school admissions officers survey, a similar 87% said the political climate drove the cycle’s nearly 9% increase in applications, the first significant increase after years of plummeting application volume after the Great Recession. And law school enrollement went up — 1.2% — from 2107 to 2018. That was the first increase in years, no less. 

Many in the media called the increase a "Trump Bump." Polls show that a majority of young people are not exactly thrilled with the current president or his policies and may have led them to consider law school.

However, the most recent application spike didn't translate to more students enrolling. Last fall's entering class was down slightly from 2018. The Trump Bump deflated, it seemed.

Legal education experts believe that a number factors are at play. Law schools could be using the spike in admissions to be more selective and up the quality of their classes. They also could be wary of the employment picture for new lawyers, which is improving but not yet at pre-recession strength. 

And prospective students may apply but pull back because the economy is strong and there are more employment options. 

This most recent application bump — driven by an interest in politics — may continue, according to a separate Kaplan survey of over 400 pre-law students. Forty-one percent say that the political climate impacted their decision to apply to law school, a decrease from 45% in 2019, but a marked increase from 32% in a Kaplan survey released in 2018

Among the students who said politics was a significant factor, one said: “It's getting harder and harder for people to come together over basic policies, and as a result, those with less influence (i.e. marginalized individuals/communities) are being forgotten. I want to be a lawyer in large part to bring a voice back to these individuals and fight for equality under the law.”

However, another student said it was technology, not politics, driving her interest in a career in law:  “I am interested in studying and practicing intellectual property law, as I believe that with the growth of media technology like streaming, intellectual property attorneys will be in increasing demand.”

Further, the Kaplan survey found that an interest in politics was also driving the choice of where to attend law school. Nearly half (46%) say it is important to attend a law school where fellow students generally share their own political and/or social beliefs, the same percentage as last year’s survey found.

“Since 2017, we’ve seen increases in both LSAT takers and law school applications, which has fueled speculation about how much impact the political climate is having on the law school admissions landscape. At Kaplan we thought it would be worth securing hard data on the issue and tracking this for subsequent cycles. We now have an answer: the impact remains significant and appears to have staying power,” said Jeff Thomas, executive director of admissions programs, Kaplan Test Prep.

Thomas advised caution when it comes to prospective students rushing into anything. 

“As law school admissions officers point out, caring about politics alone is not a strong enough reason to attend law school," he said. "Your career in law will outlive any particular presidency. That’s why we continue to advise pre-law students to think carefully about why they are applying and what they plan to do with their degree in the long term.”