As of November 26, 2023, we are about a third of the way through the 2023-2024 application cycle as measured by previous cycle applicant timing, so it's a good time for an update on where things stand. Applicants are up by 0.9%. Applications are down by 7%. So far, just looking at the data, things don't look remarkably different from last year—but let's get into the specifics.
The current volume of applicants is a marked reversal from the start of this application cycle, when applicants were down by 20% compared to 2022-2023. Since the release of the October LSAT scores, applicant volume has rapidly caught up to the prior application cycle.
Applicant Volume by Cycle
This catch-up isn't exactly surprising. The October 2023 LSAT had about 1,200 more first-time test-takers than the October 2022 LSAT administration. That added to the existing surplus of first-time test-takers compared to the 2022-2023 application cycle.
|2022-2023 Total Test-Takers
|2023-2024 Total Test-Takers
There were about 5,000 more first-time LSAT-takers this cycle vs. last cycle before October's results came out, and October bumped that to about 6,400. Even if you exclude the April test administration from counting as the start of the application cycle, there are still about 3,400 more first-time test-takers than last cycle up to this point. Catching up from the initial applicant deficit was inevitable unless there was a major shift in test-taker behavior.
The total number of applicants isn't the only important thing. Applicant competitiveness, as measured by LSAT score, matters quite a lot. For example, if applicant volume was up by 100%, but that entirely came from applicants with <150 LSAT scores, it wouldn't really matter much for the rest of the pool.
The good news is that applicant test scores continue to slowly normalize in the wake of the COVID-19 LSAT score "bubble" (shoutout to Dave Killoran for coining this term).
Note: our numbers differ somewhat from LSAC's because ours are tracked in real time as of the day in question. LSAC's data reflects later changes, e.g. if an applicant applies on 11/26/2022 with a 163 high score, but then decides to retake the following April and scores a 170, LSAC data will look as if that applicant had originally applied with a 170 high score. LSAC data will therefore always overstate prior-cycle volume for high score bands to a degree, and normalize that as the cycle progresses.
Unsurprisingly, given that overall applicant volume is relatively flat right now, applicant volume within each LSAT score band looks fairly similar to last cycle. There are a couple of things that are interesting, however.
First, the highest score bands. Applicants with 165+ LSAT scores are down by 3.2% from last cycle. They are down 9.8% and 17.4% from the 2021-2022 and 2020-2021 application cycles, respectively. It's also important to note that, by this point in the application cycle, we probably have more than half of all applicants in the 165+ high-scoring range (high-scoring applicants tend to apply much earlier than other applicants). Last year at this time, 55% of the final volume of 165+ applicants had submitted their applications. So, while there is still some time for things to change, with each passing day it looks more and more likely that the highest-scoring applicant bands will be flat or slightly down compared to last cycle.
Second, the other end of the scoring spectrum. Applicants in the lowest scoring bands, those below 150, are down by 3.1% compared to last year. We have seen declines in these scoring bands for the past several years, and this cycle appears to be continuing that trend.
So, since volume is up very slightly despite decreases in the highest-scoring and lowest-scoring bands, where is the overall increase coming from? Right now, it's coming from the 160-164 applicant range, which is up by about 7% compared to last cycle. However, applicants in that range shouldn't worry too much. That nets out to only about 240 more applicants right now, which isn't that many in the grand scheme of things.
As we mentioned, by this point in the cycle, about a third of all applicants have submitted at least one application. At the moment, this cycle still looks on track to have somewhat more applicants than last year. With about 3,400 more first-time LSAT-takers from June through October, the applicant pool has a larger test-taking pool to draw from. The November LSAT will likely end with between 15-20% more test-takers than last November, though the total number of first-time takers remains to be seen. We'll also have our first glimpse of January 2024 LSAT volume in a few days when the registration deadline closes.
This cycle is likely to continue slowly. Most law schools will want to get a better handle on the applicant pool before locking in too many admits (after all, it was only a few years ago that law schools ended up over-enrolling by an average of 10% as a result of mistakenly relying on historical data). Changes in the U.S. News & World Report methodology, as well as the SCOTUS decision in SFFA v. Harvard, have also contributed to a cautious approach this year—admissions offices are still feeling out how to navigate this new environment.
Applicants, too, are moving more slowly this cycle. Look at the delta between applicant volume and application volume—this cycle's applicants have submitted fewer applications on average than last cycle's so far. Applicants' pace of applying has likely been slowed by the many application changes that law schools rolled out this year, leading to longer and more fractured applications and essay prompts for applicants to deal with. Major technical issues with the LSAT this fall have led to additional delays for many applicants. Law schools are aware of these factors, too.
Our best advice to applicants right now? Let the process play out—law schools are revenue-driven, they have to fill classes, and while slower this year, it ultimately will happen. Some schools have already started admitting, but on that final note—try to avoid comparing yourself to other applicants (we know, far easier said than done).