Early Surveys Are In: Did the Fall 2013 Admissions Cycle See Another Drop in Applicants (and Should the Data Change the Timing of Your Application)?

Earlier this year, I noted an increase in law schools who were open to considering June 2013 LSAT scores for admission to the Fall 2013 term. The NLJ ran an article on the trend (for which yours truly was also interviewed) that speculated it was just “one more sign of the struggle many law schools now face in recruiting enough students to render their operations financially sustainable.” The full article is available here. The trend was noteworthy because in previous years, a June 2013 test score would likely only be considered in the following year’s admissions cycle, or in some cases, if it was a retest by an applicant seeking to improve their score, merely added to sweeten an existing Fall applicant’s file. The February LSAT administration was typically your last chance if you wanted to submit a score for admission to the fall term of that year.

Now common sense would dictate that the only conceivable reason for a school to relax previous admissions policies, especially so late in an admissions cycle, is because their applicant pool is insufficient for their needs. And what do law schools “need”? Revenue. In other words, if schools are widening their nets it is unlikely to be because they are looking for more students on whom they can lavish merit-based financial aid. This does not mean those who sit for the June LSAT administration are somehow less desirable applicants – far from it! It is simply timing: the later in the admissions cycle, the less “free money” there is to go around. Since my goal in advising my clients is maximizing their law school opportunities (and that includes minimizing costs through financial aid, where possible), I generally counsel them to wait and submit June, and even February, scores at the front of the next admissions cycle, once the financial aid clock has re-started. Sometimes, of course, a client’s reasons for wanting to begin school right away outweigh those possibilities, but it is an individual decision.

So, now that the Fall 2013 law school term has begun, was recruitment indeed down for the new 1L class? And if so, how far did it dip? Was the speculation about struggling admissions offices on point?

Well, according to the annual phone survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep (of admissions officers from 127 ABA-accredited law schools), the answer is “yes.” The number of applications reached the lowest point in decades, to 385,400 (down from over 600,000 in 2010). Over half of the officers surveyed (54%) admitted they’d cut the size of their 2013 entering class. Coupled with the fact that in the previous year’s survey, 51% admitted to cutting entering class size for Fall 2012, that is a significant trend.

And what about (as they say in corporate law) forward-looking statements?  Well, a whopping 67% admitted they do not believe the drop in applications will change course or increase by the 2013-2014 admissions cycle. Yes – two-thirds of those surveyed believe the numbers won’t improve next year, and 25% claimed they already plan to cut class sizes again. (For an interesting glimpse into the variety of ways schools are coping with the fewer applicants and decreased revenue, check out this article, which discusses the woes facing Ohio’s various law schools. It would be interesting to follow Ohio’s schools, to see which approach has more success in the short and long-term – a microcosm for the national trend.)

It also appears that consideration of late June LSAT scores was even more widespread than suspected. The survey asked schools whether or not they accepted scores from the June 2013 administration for the Fall 2013 academic year, and 78% said yes. Of course it’s unclear how many new June 2013-score applicants became admitted Fall 2013 students, so the fact that a school has a policy of “accepting” the scores doesn’t tell us much beyond what we already knew. And there’s sadly no way to know how many of those new June-score applicants received offers of merit-based financial aid. So I guess I’ll have to continue gathering, for now, anecdotal evidence.

What does all this mean for you, if you are making decisions about applying to schools with LSAT scores from February or June 2014? Well, if you sit for the February or June LSAT administrations, and you have good reason to enroll that same fall, you now have more options than in the past. But my advice to my own clients remains unchanged: for those who want to maximize their law school options and the value of those scores (financially speaking), absent other considerations, it is still wisest to wait until the next cycle begins.

~ by Kyle Pasewark at Advise-in Solutions on October 10, 2013.

One Response to “Early Surveys Are In: Did the Fall 2013 Admissions Cycle See Another Drop in Applicants (and Should the Data Change the Timing of Your Application)?”

  1. […] But while you may now have more same-year options than in the past (see my post about that here) upon taking a February or June LSAT, your best admissions and financial bet may be to wait for the […]

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