Top 20 Law School Announces Increased Selectivity

The student newspaper at George Washington University, The GW Hatchet, reports the law school’s happy announcement that its incoming class has the highest cumulative GPA in the school’s history.

Such news is hardly unique among law schools.  With law school applications rising, on a year-over year basis, 5% in 2009 and another 3% in 2010, it’s axiomatic that a lot of law schools have admitted their most qualified classes in history, judged by the hard data of LSAT score and cumulative GPA.

George Washington had a good year, rising in the US News rankings from 28 to 20, although that news was somewhat offset by the departure of its dean.  Of course, the school also raised its tuition by 5.25%, which was actually less than the average increase of 6.5% for top 25-ranked schools.

That constellation of data highlights two things for prospective law school applicants.  First, you’ll simply need a better law school application and hard data than you would have even two years ago if you want the same law school admission and financial aid opportunities.  The payoff differential (that is, the earnings and career potential conferred by a law degree against what an applicant must pay to attend law school, including debt) between schools is simply too great to make less than a maximum effort to obtain the best opportunities possible.

Recognizing the impact of law schools’ increasing selectivity should affect your view of your investment—of time and, yes, money—in your entire application, including LSAT preparation, strengthening your undergraduate GPA (if you are still a student) and preparing an application package that will show law schools why they want to give a seat to you rather than other applicants with comparable, or even somewhat better, LSAT scores and GPAs.

The second implication is that you should think very carefully about why you want to attend law school.  That thinking should affect what differences in risk and reward you are willing to accept.

Third, you should calculate risk and reward more carefully than law students have traditionally done.  Average out-of-state tuition at a top 100 law school is now over $100,000 over three years; for top 50 schools, over $120,000; and for top 25 schools, over $133,000 (in each case, making the unrealistic assumption that there will be no further tuition increases).  That’s a significant financial risk.  But it represents only a part of your risk.  There are fees and other educational expenses, the opportunity cost of lost income for a job you either have or would have had in lieu of attending law school, deferral costs for interest on undergraduate debt and interest on your law school debt over its payoff period.

Against that are the potential rewards of a legal career (albeit in a much tighter market than prevailed for most of the last two decades), your likely income after law school and potential career flexibility.

One key is that while the costs are fixed, the rewards are not—they are potential.  Consequently, you should consider carefully a variety of potential outcomes and assign realistic probabilities to each.  There is a lot of information on this blog as to how you can do that if you don’t have an advisor (either at your school or one you’ve hired) working with you who is both adept at generating these analyses and whom you firmly trust to have your interests always at the center of their work.  Given where the market is, and the investment that law school requires, it’s only wise to engage in a serious examination of where a career is likely to take you before you commit significant time, money and heart to it.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on August 31, 2010.

One Response to “Top 20 Law School Announces Increased Selectivity”

  1. […] 2.  There are more law school applicants, and that trend is expected to continue.  That means that your LSAT score, GPA and application package have to be better now than they needed to be even a few years ago if you want to secure comparable opportunities (even without accounting for the reduction in those opportunities).  Selectivity has increased. […]

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