LSAC has posted our first look at 2021-2022 applicant volume. As of today, there are 12.6% more law school applicants so far this cycle than there were at this time last year. For comparison, at this time last year there were 32.8% more applicants than the cycle before that. 158 law schools have seen an increase in applications.
*Note: our numbers will differ from LSAC's as we track based on the scores as of this date in prior cycles, while LSAC data reports an applicant's highest ever score even if earned after submitting.
The total number isn't the only thing that matters of course. One of the main drivers of how challenging last cycle was was the strong quality (measured by LSAT scores) of the applicant pool.
This year we're seeing similar numbers in the highest-scoring LSAT bands compared to 2020-2021. However, given that we have more applicants overall, the distribution of scores is more normal — less of a bubble than last year.
The increase in total applicants seems to be driven by those scoring in the 150-164 score bands, which are up 26.4% over last cycle. We're also seeing applicants in the lowest scoring bands make up a smaller portion of the applicant pool than they have historically, which is great news.
Interestingly we also have fewer individuals applying without an LSAT score than last cycle, which is a bit of a reversal. The past several years have seen that number trend steadily upwards.
Applicants are also applying more broadly than previous years. The average number of applications submitted per applicant is 4.7 this year, compared to 4.4 last year and 3.9 the year before that.
It's way, way too early to draw broad conclusions. For one thing this is just a snapshot of the data. It's important to watch how those numbers are trending over time. We saw that last year- our 32.8% increase came down to 12.6% by the end of the cycle. For another we're working with a very small and very unrepresentative applicant pool. At this time last year around 9.3% of applicants had submitted an application. What's more is that the people who apply this early are disproportionately the highest scoring applicants. LSAC has also indicated there is a high number of people applying with LSAT scores earned in 2020-2021 cycle, which could be frontloading the data somewhat.
Still, I think we can say that we're not going back to pre-COVID applicant numbers or patterns just yet. These numbers represent strong demand among law school applicants. We also have pretty similar LSAT registrant volume to last year so far (the October and November 2021 registrant numbers are non-final and will come down quite a bit). High scoring applicants, while not up nearly as dramatically as last year, are up a little bit, and LSAT score averages are still above pre-COVID norms. What will be most interesting is what happens with those applicants in the 150-164 ranges; whether they stay up as much as they are or not will be very impactful on the cycle.
For now, it's watch and wait. Applicants seem to be reacting properly to the uncertainty and potential competitiveness by applying broadly. Law schools would be well served to move slowly and cautiously when making decisions.
One more addition. If you feel stressed this cycle we just interviewed Terry Really, who is essentially the therapist celebrities turn to and an internationally renown speaker/best-selling author on self doubt and self esteem here.