3 Law School Admissions Trends to Expect This Cycle

University student looking up during exam

Competition remains fierce at top-ranked schools, but other programs will likely have more spots and financial aid available to students.

Falling application volume should have applicants rethinking their strategies.

​The relationship between supply and demand is one of the most basic principles of market economics. As the supply of a certain good decreases and demand stays the same, the good becomes more valuable.

This concept of supply and demand can be applied to the law school admissions process. From a law school admissions committee’s perspective, the good it is selling is admission to its incoming class, the supply is the number of applicants and the demand is the number of seats in the incoming class.

The vast majority of schools have a target class size that stays the same from year to year, thus keeping their demand fixed. The supply of law school applicants, however, has been decreasing steadily for several years, with last year having the fewest applicants in many years. This means that schools in general value law school applicants more highly than they have in past years. This week, I’ll discuss three major effects of this recent trend and how to adjust your application strategy accordingly.

1. Gaining admission to many law schools is more attainable. Since law schools are clamoring for qualified applicants, schools across the board have lowered their admissions standards. The LSAT and GPA ranges for accepted students at most schools have dropped, with LSAT scores in particular dropping several points in many cases.

Despite this general trend, competition for admission at the top schools remains fierce. The drop in overall applicants tends to affect lower-ranked schools much more than it does higher-ranked schools, because admission to higher-ranked schools remains coveted by all applicants.

This trend enables applicants to expand their list of reach schools, and to some degree, recalibrate which schools they should consider target and safety schools. In other words, now is a great time to apply.

2. Submitting applications early has become less important. One of the most commonly repeated pieces of advice regarding law school admissions is that the earlier an application is submitted, the more likely one is to gain admission.

Because of the rolling nature of law school admissions, this advice is generally correct, but the importance of applying early is often exaggerated. You should not rush to submit applications simply in order to gain the advantage of applying earlier in the cycle.

The diminishing importance of applying early in the cycle is especially true this year as the number of applicants continues to decrease. This is especially important for applicants who have not yet taken the LSAT or are planning to retake the LSAT.

If you are planning on taking the October LSAT but do not feel adequately prepared, you should likely postpone until December as the disadvantage of postponing the submission of your applications is now significantly outweighed by even a few more points on your LSAT score.

Because of the decreasing number of applicants, schools find themselves with more and more spots to fill later in the admissions cycle, enabling applicants to apply successfully very late in the cycle. In fact, my admissions counselors worked with a client who began working on his applications in late spring this year, past the deadline for many schools.

His dream school was Fordham University, and although the deadline for submitting applications had passed, he contacted the admissions office requesting to submit an application. The admissions office agreed to consider his application and he was admitted with an LSAT and GPA that in previous years would have made Fordham a reach school.

3. Merit-based scholarship money is more readily available. In addition to relaxing admissions standards, law schools attract candidates by offering merit-based scholarship money. As a result of the decrease in applicants, schools have begun to more aggressively offer merit-based scholarship money to admitted applicants.

One significant advantage this creates for applicants is the ability to negotiate for higher merit-based scholarship awards after acceptance.

For example, I worked with a student last year who was admitted to both the University of Southern California and the University of California—Los Angeles and was offered merit-based scholarships from both schools. By tactfully informing each school of the other’s offer, she increased her offer at USC by $30,000, a significant portion of the total cost of attending. We expect that such increases will be easier to negotiate this year.

How are you seeing these trends come to life? Email me or tweet me.

Shawn P. O’Connor, Esq. is the founder and CEO of Stratus Prep, a New York City-based test preparation and admissions counseling firm. For nearly a decade, he has counseled thousands of law school applicants, many of whom have been admitted to the nation’s top law schools including Yale, Harvard, and Stanford. O’Connor is an honors graduate of Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School and is an attorney admitted to the bar in New York and Massachusetts. E-mail him with questions.


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