Law School Applications Appear to Trend Down for 2011: A Little Good News for Law School Applicants and a Change in Pattern for Law School Economics

Last 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).  Since then, there has been some confirming evidence of the decline, including announcements of tuition freezes by Maryland, New Hampshire and Miami.  Albany Law School announced a cut in the size of its incoming class.

Tuition freezes and class-size reductions are, in my view, strong evidence that the suspected decline in applications has occurred.  That’s basic economics—schools are effectively announcing that they’ll pull in less or the same revenue this year as last.  Conversely, tuition has increased markedly each of the last several years because law schools were in greater demand and extracted excess profits from the demand.  If they’re foregoing revenue now, it’s not because they’ve gotten any more charitable this year but because they believe that they have to—demand won’t support further increases.  Moreover, since increases are the default position of law schools, a freeze likely signals a decline in demand, and a reduced class size is evidence that a school simply can’t attract enough students.

To be sure, some law schools have announced increases in tuition, Stanford the most notable among them.  But here’s an interesting fact—with one exception, those announcing increases have been top-tier law schools.  The demand for top-tier law schools may decline this year, but top 10 law schools won’t have any trouble filling their classes with basically the same desirable students who have always attended.  The next 10 will likely suffer marginal losses in the pool of eventual students, and that effect will grow sharper the further down the ranking curve once goes.  Thus, the law schools who will suffer the most pain are mid- to-lower tier law schools, and it’s not surprising that they are the bulk of those announcing tuition freezes.  They’ll probably have to do much more than that to attract similarly-qualified students.  And even then, they may not succeed.

That’s literally payback for the last couple of years, when the highest percentage tuition increases were not delivered by top 10 or top 20 schools but by mid- and lower-tier schools.

It’s good news for law school applicants this year.  Applicants should be “punching above their weight,” at least a little bit this year, i.e., pleasantly surprised (at least slightly) with the admits, waitlisting and/or financial aid offers they’ve received.  If your law school application package was really excellent, you may be receiving significantly stronger consideration from law schools whose last year LSAT/GPA numbers are somewhat above yours.  All in all, it’s a better year to be a law school applicant than it has been for the last few years.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on March 2, 2011.

5 Responses to “Law School Applications Appear to Trend Down for 2011: A Little Good News for Law School Applicants and a Change in Pattern for Law School Economics”

  1. […] would continue to rise, as they had in each of the last two years.  Earlier this year, I reiterated Advise-In’s prediction of a law school application decline and indicated that the drop might be sharper than I’d previously […]

  2. […] is more likely to do is to reduce expansion plans by law schools.  As we’ve noted before, certain law schools have reduced the size of their class, and The National Law Journal notes that of the 11 new law […]

  3. […] a trend of application increases, and certain law schools have indicated that they’ll have smaller entering classes this year.  So it’s possible that for those entering law school this fall, there may be a shrinkage in […]

  4. […] or a lot if you are applying in the next year or so.  On the one hand, the top 10 law schools won’t have any trouble filling their classes with desirable students, and the law schools who will suffer the most are […]

  5. […] given my thoughts on how the decision to apply to law school, even in the current market, must be an individualized […]

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