LSAT Takers Decline in October: Holiday Cheers, Especially if it Portends a Drop in Law School Applications

While December LSAT takers are at this moment busily scribbling and considering whether the best answer is A, B, C, D or E on 100 or so questions, it’s comforting to be able to note that many other prospective test takers, at least in October, weren’t.

After last year’s 13% rise in LSAT administrations, following the prior year’s 6.4% increase, administrations in October 2010 dropped by 10.5% year-over-year.  That still means that more people took the October exam than did two years ago and that it was the second highest number of LSATs administered in October.  But a 10% drop isn’t nothing.

To put the increase in administrations in broader context, law school applications have also risen in the last two years by 5% and 3%, respectively.  That correlates directionally with the increase in LSAT administrations, but hardly on a 1:1 basis, likely because a lot of LSAT takers may simply be trying to keep their options open or to test the waters, a kind of law school admissions self-insurance.  In addition, LSAT scores are good for several years, so taking the LSAT at any one time also gives a range of application timing options.

This year’s decrease may indicate, however, that fewer people are interested in taking out these insurance policies.  Perhaps the relentless cautions about the security of a legal career, on this blog and at websites like Above the Law, are having an effect in helping people think more carefully about whether law school is right for them, and especially about whether now is the right time.

The decline is probably mostly independent of another theme of this blog and others, recommending that potential law school applicants investigate much more thoroughly whether a legal career is really what they want.  It may not be entirely independent of such efforts, though, since the debt load of the average law student operates as a career constraint even if she or he later decides that maybe the law wasn’t the happiest career choice.  An encouraging anecdote: I met one practicing lawyer last week who is having serious discussions with his daughter—and asking others to talk with her—about what lawyers actually do on a day-to-day basis, specific issues that women in the law face, and other key issues, so she can make her best decision.

What does the decline in LSAT administrations likely signify, if anything, about law school applications this year?  Keeping in mind that the application:administration correlation is loose at best, I talked to a source I think is pretty reliable.  Quite independent of the LSAT data, he thought that, contrary to the fall’s survey of admission directors indicating that most expected yet another increase in applications, law school applications are likely to be down this year when compared to last year.  Given a choice between believing the admissions personnel survey results or my source—combined with the evidence of decreased LSAT administrations—I’m inclined to put more faith in the latter and to conclude that the most likely scenario is a small dip in law school applications for the fall of 2011.

Maybe that’s just wishful thinking, hope that some greater percentage of prospective law students is carefully considering the risks and rewards of a legal career.  And it’s true that many who took the LSAT during the last several years but have not applied to law school may do so this year.  But if I had to put money down (fortunately, I don’t), I’d put it on the side of a slight decline in applications.

A decrease in applications, of any amount, is good for everyone, except perhaps law schools, who may find it harder to increase their “selectivity” and to increase tuition beyond a certain level.  I guess it’s not so good for overall demand in the law school consulting and LSAT prep industries, either, but even though I’m a part of those industries, I think it’s vastly more important that people be happy than that we squeeze more money out of potential applicants and LSAT takers (easy for me to say, I suppose, since I don’t do assembly-line mass LSAT prep or advising).  Those who really want to go to law school will have higher-quality opportunities to do so and a better chance to find a high-quality job after law school.  As important, those who really would rather not be law students or lawyers may apply in smaller numbers and have their futures less constricted by an alternative that wasn’t the best for them.  And some may just be waiting until they’re sure or until the market improves.  All of those are good outcomes.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on December 11, 2010.

2 Responses to “LSAT Takers Decline in October: Holiday Cheers, Especially if it Portends a Drop in Law School Applications”

  1. […] fall, I published a post based on several sources’ belief that law school applications would decline this year (contrary to what a survey of law school admissions personnel had suggested just a month earlier). […]

  2. […] in December, I said that I suspected that law school applications could be down this year, contrary to the earlier prediction of law school admissions personnel that applications […]

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