12/2 Law School Admissions Cycle Data and Following Up on Projections

Three weeks ago we wrote a blog taking a look at how cycle volume was shaping up and might look for the rest of the year. This is our follow up three weeks later — it's been an important three weeks, because we've had a few things happen:

  1. November 15th passed, which is a big Early Decision deadline that usually sees a lot of applicant volume in the days leading up to it.
  2. October 2019 and November 2020 LSAT score releases happened, which has added a lot of applicants to the pool for both cycles.
  3. We received information about LSAT-Flex scaling and its differences from prior year scales.

We made our last blog because we kept seeing huge increases in applicant volume- especially at the top of the scoring chart. In talking to both applicants and schools we repeatedly heard people asking: what's going on with applicant volume? So we took a look, and made some projections about how things would look for the rest of the cycle. Now, three weeks later with more information, here's how things stand (we'll also address what we see as some misconceptions by LSAC, particularly as they message to law schools and pre-law advisors).

First, here's where LSAT applicant volume is compared to the prior two cycles:

Here's non-LSAT applicant volume:

And here are applications:

As you can see, we're up substantially pretty much everywhere. Not a lot to be said, the numbers really speak for themselves.

Second. There's been a party line from LSAC who like to caveat any discussion of applicant volume with some variation of  "but, we're only X percent of the way through the application cycle." They base the X percent on how much of last years total applicant volume was in by the given day they make the pronouncement- right now, today, it's about 30%.

This is fundamentally misleading. Applicants are not monolithic as this presentation of the data suggests. This blog goes into it more, but essentially: high scorers apply earlier. A lot earlier. So saying that we're only 30% of the cycle through doesn't mean a lot to applicants in the 165+ range, where we're probably around 50-60% of the way through, i.e. more than halfway done.

Here's a look a a table which shows (first two columns) how much of final applicant volume in each range we had in the last two cycles; the second two columns show how much this years current volume is of each respective cycle's final volume in that range; e.g. so far this cycle we have 55.1% of the final 2019-2020 volume in the 160-164 range.

So what does this mean? This data simply shows exactly what you'd expect: high scorers are still applying earlier than other applicants; thus they currently make up a disproportionate amount of applicants. But this cycle, they will at the end too- the inflation in high scorers won't disappear. It means in score ranges where we haven't already seen the bulk of applicant volume that we should expect we will see them pick up the pace as time passes. This is actually a pretty typical pattern (ignoring the volume increases). It doesn't seem as though there's some mass move towards earlier applications; sure, some people are probably applying earlier, but it's not an overwhelming share of applicants.

Third, speaking of those projections, we re-ran them today with the 12/1 volume (first and last days of months typically have a lot of volume so it's helpful to wait for those). Based on those numbers, here's where we are:

We think the comparison to last year only is a better one (generally it seems to line up with test timing, applicant behavior etc a little better than the prior year). You can compare to the 11/9 projections here (note those projections were based on the 2 year average; not just last year as we now think is a better comparison). As you can see the projections have gone up a bit; part of that may just be a timing artifact so don't focus too much on specific numbers. The major takeaway is: we're probably going to be up, quite a bit in some ranges. Most ranges, really.

Adding some weight to that projection is that the January 2021 LSAT already has twice as many people registered for it as last year- and with today the final day (there's usually a flurry of signups on the last day). The final number will come down, it always does, but that test will see significantly increased volume compared to 2020. We're not going to run out of "fuel" for the applicant increase any time soon.

The disproportionate increase in higher scorers can probably be attributed to the fact that we now know that, at least through August's test, LSAT-Flex test takers were performing significantly better than their prior year counterparts. It remains to be seen if that continues: LSAC believes that as the cycle goes on score distribution on tests will return to a more normal pattern.  At this stage this seems to be almost magical thinking on their part – but only time will tell.

Again, don't take exact numbers as gospel: small shifts in timing will change them. The bottom line is, nothing has happened to interrupt the pattern we've been seeing all year of substantial increases in applicants.

If I was an applicant, I'd probably be reluctant to rely too much on prior year results to predict how this cycle will go. They'll be informative, but as schools adjust to this information their admissions targets may change (probably should change, in most cases) to reflect the more competitive applicant pool. That's just unfortunately the truth in this cycle.

So, if you're a law school things are looking up more than you've seen in quite some time. But, there are some pros for applicants. We've mentioned in the past that as applicants become more available, schools are more able to focus on "soft" factors since they're under less numeric pressure. This is hopefully motivation for applicants to focus on presenting the best application they can that highlights their non-numeric qualities. If ever there's a cycle to differentiate yourself in that way, it's this one, especially as the aggregate number of class seats should also incresse this cycle.