Admissions trends you should know about

 By Victoria Langley

 

For anyone considering law school, it’s important to get the lay of the land. Law school admissions cycles aren’t uniform.

In some years, a greater number of academically lofty applicants seek seats. Law schools love it because they have the chance to enhance their standings. But for prospective students, it means tougher competition. 

In recent years, admission has become more competitive as many schools have kept class sizes small and offered scholarships to land top applicants. Now there’s the COVID-19 pandemic to consider. The virus is affecting law schools, bar exam takers and students, but will it affect this year’s applicants? 

You bet. The big question is how much.  

Here’s a look at law school admission trends and what some experts think COVID-19’s effect will be. 

Trend 1: Higher LSAT Scores

The LSAT scores of those being accepted to law school are going up. Between Fall 2016 and Fall 2019, the  percentage of matriculants with scores above 150 increased each year. Between 2018 and 2019, the median LSAT score rose from 155.9 to 156.4, and the percentage of matriculants with scores above 160 reached 36%. 

Why? Law schools could be pickier, because they had bigger pools of applicants to choose from. Law school was looking like a better bet as it became more affordable and the job market for lawyers improved. There was also the so-called Trump Bump. Students were said to be drawn to law school because they weren’t fans of President Trump’s policies. 

The trend toward higher LSAT scores will likely continue, said Jerry Organ, a professor at University of St. Thomas School of Law - Minneapolis. 

“Given that the applicant pool was a little stronger for this 2020 cycle compared to last year, I think we will see another modest increase in the percentage of matriculants with a high LSAT at or above 150 and a corresponding modest decline in the percentage of matriculants with a high LSAT below 150,” Ogran said.

We won’t know whether median LSAT scores for many schools increased this year until 2020 data is released. But the Law School Admission Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT, has reported that in the 2019-20 testing cycle, 58.3% of test-takers scored above 150. 

What does that mean for prospective applicants in the 2020-21 cycle? It means that achieving the  highest LSAT score possible will be essential. You can expect a lot of competition.  

Trend 2: Higher GPAs

Entering GPAs of law school matriculants also have been going up. From 2018 to 2019, the median GPA of entrants increased at 146 law schools, stayed the same at eight and decreased at 45, according to LSAC. Overall, the median GPA rose from 3.43 to 3.47.

If your GPA is at or above the median, you’re in a good spot. If your GPA is lower than the median, other aspects of your application will need to be strong. 

Trend 3: More Non-LSAT Applicants 

More than 60 law schools now accept applications without an LSAT score, and the number of non-LSAT applicants has increased in recent years. That’s a trend that Mike Spivey, founder of Spivey Consulting Group, believes will continue. 

But the LSAT is still viewed as an important part of a law school application by a majority of institutions. After LSAC put the test online with LSAT-Flex and released the May, June and July LSAT-Flex scores, it saw a significant surge in applicants, said Gisele Joachim, director of LSAC Ambassadors, a program that helps prospective students through the admissions process. 

Plenty of schools are accepting non-LSAT applications. However, the LSAT still carries more weight, and schools often accept LSAT applicants earlier than non-LSAT applicants, Spivey said.  

Trend 4: More Applicants Overall

Competition for law school admission has grown as the number of applicants has increased in recent years. There were 63,000 applicants in 2019-20, compared to 54,500 in 2015-16. 

Even though it’s very early in Fall 2021 cycle, applicants are up 30% and the LSAT scores in the top bands — such as 170-180, the highest band — are up too. 

Spivey said he expects a continuing rise in the number of applicants for two reasons — one economic and the other political. More people consider graduate school during a recession to ride out the lack of job opportunities, and people tend to become more civic-minded during election years.

LSAC also expects more applicants for yet another reason. 

“The pandemic’s disproportionate impact on marginalized communities and the massive movement to confront racial injustice in this country have also prompted increased interest in the study of law,” Joachim said. “So it is reasonable to expect that this trend may continue throughout the 2020-21 cycle.”

But Organ made a counterpoint. He said the pandemic “may function as a modest discouragement for those who want in-person education and are not excited about online learning.” And, he added, if employment figures for the Class of 2020 decline significantly from 2019 as a result of COVID-19, that may also discourage some people from applying to law school. 

Will class sizes grow?

When predicting the amount of competition for this admissions cycle, there’s the added factor of deferments, students who got into law school but decided to wait a year to enter. That’s normally not a big deal. But the pandemic may have caused a higher number of students to defer 

It won’t be known how many students deferred to Fall 2021 until the American Bar Association releases its data. If more students than normal deferred to Fall 2021, then there will be fewer spots open, increasing competition further. That is, unless schools increase class sizes. 

Whether law schools will expand class sizes has been a question for years. Soon after the Great Recession, many law schools struggled financially as the number of applicants dropped. Class sizes fell, which meant less revenue.

Something has to change, experts say, and the most likely scenario is to increase revenue through larger classes and fewer scholarships. 

In 2019, the 50 top-ranked law schools decreased their class sizes slightly, while other law schools made modest increases in class sizes. Spivey predicts the dials will turn slowly, But he believes that during  the next 10 years, you’ll see class sizes go up and scholarships go down. 

Will class sizes grow next year? Maybe. But if they do, it won’t be by a significant number, most experts predict. 

Remember, just as this year has been unpredictable, 2021-22 may be too.

If you have questions, Spivey recommends going to the source and calling the law schools to which you are applying. Establishing relationships with the schools during the application process is even more important now that you may not be able to visit safely in person.