Law Schools Get Bigger (and Better?) Incoming Class

By Joseph Fawbush, Esq. on August 25, 2021 | Last updated on September 19, 2021

Law school applications and enrollment took a nosedive with the 2008 crash and fell for a decade after. That trend has officially reversed, with the last two years seeing a spike in applications. Law schools have thus been able to be more selective about their incoming classes.

According to Spivey Consulting, a firm that helps law schools with their admissions processes, the median LSAT score at many law schools increased for the class matriculating this fall. Even top law schools saw an increase in median LSAT score. For example, the incoming class at Yale Law had a median LSAT score of 176, while a year ago it was 173. The acceptance rate at Yale also fell to 4%, down significantly from last year's 7%. Median college GPA has also increased across law schools.

More Interest In Going to Law School

The number of law school applications for classes starting in the fall of 2021 increased by 13%—the largest increase since the turn of the century. For this cycle, 71,048 people applied to accredited law schools, up from 62,964 at this point in 2020. According to the Law School Survey Council, over half of all accredited law schools are overenrolled this year.

A Pandemic Effect?

As with other students reluctant to engage in virtual class, aspiring lawyers may have delayed their applications in 2020 to avoid remote learning. What we're seeing could thus be partly the result of many deferred applications from the previous year.

It is not clear that the only reason for increased LSAT scores is the number of applicants. The "LSAT Flex" administered over 2020 was shorter, with only three sections instead of five. Equally importantly, law students could take the test remotely. The comfort and lowered stress of taking the LSAT at home may have led to a modest increase in scores. It should be noted that the Law School Admissions Council plans to return to its former section models this fall.

Socio-Political Factors At Play

In addition to practical considerations shaped by COVID, there may be several factors that could be responsible for the increase in applications.

  • Our country tends to see increased enrollment in law school during presidential election years. With the 2020 election being the most contentious in generations, the spike in applications may not be surprising given historic trends.
  • Social justice issues may also play a role. The killing of George Floyd sparked a renewed movement for civil rights, and with it, an increased interest in the legal study of them.
  • The death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, along with several high-profile federal appellate cases, sparked a renewed debate over Roe v. Wade, among other nationally consequential Supreme Court decisions. That, paired with the discussion in 2020 over the future makeup of SCOTUS, may also have led to increased interest in the law.

Might Happen Again Next Fall

Considering the renewed threat from the Delta COVID variant, already over-enrolled 1L classes, and continued focus on social justice and inequality, there is a good chance that applications will continue to rise next fall. Students who have deferred for a year may apply again.

For law schools, the signs are good for continued interest in attendance. We may see increased applications for years to come. Meanwhile, incoming law students will face one of the most competitive school environments in years.

Survey Reveals Law Students Worry About Tuition Cost, Engagement During Pandemic (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)

One Unanticipated Consequence of Political Anxiety? Increased Law School Enrollment (FindLaw's Greedy Associates)

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