2023-2024 Law School Admissions Cycle Update + Predictions for Waitlist Season

It’s late February, which means that the earliest application deadlines have passed, we’re in the thick of decision-rendering season, and waitlists are starting to come fast and heavy. As such, it’s a good time for a general data update and some predictions on what’s yet to come this cycle.

Applicant Volume Update

As compared to this date last year, total applicant volume is up 4.9%. This contrasts with what the data showed early on in the cycle (when applicants were down as far as 20% year-over-year), but by late fall they were up 1%, and that number has continued to climb. This shows that applicants applied much more slowly this cycle than last, which we saw coming and makes sense given two primary factors: first, the large number of new and modified essays and prompts that law schools rolled out this year, causing the application process to take longer for many applicants, and second, the significant disruptions to multiple LSAT administrations this past fall.

Law School Applicant Volume by LSAT Score as of February 22, 2024

High LSAT Score 2022-2023 Applicants 2023-2024 Applicants % Change
<140 1,348 1,321 -2.0%
140-144 2,239 2,377 +6.2%
145-149 4,618 4,825 +4.5%
150-154 7,409 7,834 +5.7%
155-159 8,152 8,635 +5.9%
160-164 7,380 7,896 +7.0%
165-169 5,638 5,788 +2.7%
170-174 3,641 3,598 -1.2%
175+ 1,281 1,313 +2.5%

Note: You may notice that our numbers differ somewhat from LSAC's; this is because ours are tracked in real-time as of the day in question. LSAC's data reflects later changes, e.g. if someone applies in February 2023 with a 163 high score, but then decides to retake in April and scores a 170, LSAC’s volume summary reports in February 2024 will reflect that 170, as if that applicant had originally applied with the higher score. LSAC data will therefore always overstate prior-cycle volume for high score bands to a degree.

Applicants with 170+ LSAT scores are currently slightly down (0.2% from last year), and as higher-scoring applicants tend to apply earlier in the cycle, historically this would be unlikely to swing dramatically moving forward (though given the pace of this cycle, it’s possible those score bands will end up collectively slightly up this year). Still, even if we end up with a decrease in 170+ scorers, they will still be a higher percentage of the pool than they were prior to the introduction of the remote, three-section LSAT Flex. It appears that, for now, applicants may have adjusted to the new higher numerical standards and are aiming higher, studying longer, and retaking the test more often (so far this cycle, starting with the August 2023 LSAT, about 54% of people taking the LSAT have been retakers).

It's not surprising, all things considered, that this cycle is feeling very competitive to applicants. Especially at top schools, there are still enough 170+ scorers to maintain their sky-high medians, depending on how much they wish to emphasize other elements of the application (such as work experience), which will vary from school to school. At most law schools, the pressure to maintain or increase medians remains significant, though we expect this to decrease over time if the U.S. News Rankings’ deemphasis on selectivity metrics persists (the new rankings should come out mid- to late March or early April, as an FYI). At the same time, as a result of not just rankings changes but of much longer-term trends, admissions offices are also receiving stronger and stronger mandates to bring in classes of employable students, which means work experience, interview skills, and other “soft” factors are more important now than ever. The result? An application cycle that, for many applicants, feels unpredictable, confusing, and highly competitive, with even some of the highest-credentialed applicants receiving numerous unfavorable decisions from top schools.

Worth noting: while applicants are up 4.9%, applications are only up 0.9%, which means that applicants are applying to fewer law schools per person, on average. We estimate that this is largely the result of the diversification of law schools’ applications this fall—a few years ago, an applicant could put together one version of their personal statement, resume, and diversity statement if applicable, then apply to most schools with those same documents; today, that applicant would not only be facing many more supplemental essay options, but also plenty of personal statement and diversity statement-type prompts that require school-specific variations and adjustments.

Overall, as we did last summer, we still predict that the 2023-2024 admissions cycle will see a small increase in overall applicant volume from the prior cycle.

Decision Timing

As we predicted last summer, the 2023-2024 admissions cycle has been historically slow. The factors behind this are manifold—among them the application changes as a result of the 2023 Supreme Court decision on race-conscious admissions, significant technical disruptions to multiple fall LSAT administrations, applicants submitting their applications more slowly likely as a result, a new rankings paradigm deemphasizing selectivity metrics, and admissions officers going back to widespread recruitment travel—and we have discussed this at length, including with multiple current law school admissions deans

Still, most schools have begun sending out significant decision waves by now, and we expect those to increase in March and early April, including a substantial number of admits (and plenty of scholarships), waitlists, and denials. After that, most applicants should have received preliminary decisions from the majority of their school lists, and we’ll begin to enter “waitlist season.”

Predictions for Waitlist Season

By the time seat deposit deadlines start rolling around in April, law school admissions offices will be subject to multiple internal and external pressures to get applicants at least preliminary decisions—but at many schools, a good chunk of those preliminary decisions will be waitlists. Anecdotally, it appears that law schools are waitlisting more numerically qualified applicants this cycle than we would have expected to see in the past, and with this along with the factors that led us to predict the slow pace of this cycle overall, we expect this to be a busy waitlist season. Many schools are still moving cautiously—not only as they get a handle on the data (which most admissions offices are analyzing at last weekly, if not daily, both from LSAC’s overall volume data and their own data pools), but also as they observe what their competitor schools are doing (if you’re a law school admissions office and your primary competitor schools are moving slowly, that gives you some leeway to also move slowly—which can compound on a broad scale). As such, we predict a steady stream of waitlist activity all the way through July, and probably higher than usual numbers of last-minute waitlist admits in August and even early September for those schools with later orientation dates. 

We also continue to predict, as we discussed in a podcast in November 2023, that there will be a decent number of schools for which 50% or more of their incoming classes will come from the waitlist. (We should note, an important clarification that seems to have been lost in translation to some degree, that this does not mean that all schools will enroll 50% of their class from the waitlist, or that that will be true on average across all schools; rather, we strongly suspect that this will be the case at some or even many schools, notably likely more than is typical.)

We also expect that more offers of admission from the waitlist will include scholarships this year than is typical (but we would largely not expect these offers to be at the highest tiers of scholarship awards; smaller scholarships up to around half of tuition will likely be most common).

Key Takeaways

Looking at where we are in the cycle so far, there’s good news and bad news for applicants. 

Let’s start with the bad news. This cycle, with the many factors discussed above, is still incredibly competitive relative to the pre-LSAT Flex days. There are slightly fewer 170+ LSAT scorers, but still enough to fill classes while maintaining high medians, and undergraduate GPAs only seem to be rising. Anecdotally, this cycle has just felt less predictable to many applicants, perhaps as a result of some of the shifts in admissions this year deemphasizing numerical credentials and putting the spotlight on employability, which is harder for applicants to gauge on an individual level or to synthesize into clear expectations for themselves. Basically, this cycle has been tough, and as we have discussed ad nauseam, it has been slow.

So what’s the good news? First, we expect to see robust waves of straight admits all through March and into April (including with scholarships), and probably sizable numbers of waitlist admits at many schools—more than we’re used to—well into June, July, and even August. Just because you haven’t heard back yet from a school doesn’t mean that you’re doomed, and that’s more true this year than in a very long time. In fact, a large number of first-year law students this coming fall will likely have been admitted off the waitlist, and if you have been waitlisted, this year beyond almost any other we have seen in recent memory should see steady waitlist admits. Hang in there!

– Anna Hicks-Jaco and Mike Spivey