Brief Application Volume/LSAT Update and a Glimpse at Next Cycle

Now that the 2020-2021 LSAT (note: not admissions) cycle has finished, it's worth looking at some various metrics.

Test Taker Volume

First, total test-taker volume was up this year, as was first-time test-taker volume.

There were 13,378 more first-time test-takers in the 2020-2021 testing cycle than in 2019-2020. Because LSAT takers comprise about 95% of the applicant pool, the number of LSAT takers is the best predictor of cycle competitiveness. It makes sense that in a year when applicant volume is up substantially, so is test-taker volume.

In fact, the two are pretty close. As we said, there were 13,378 more first-time test-takers this testing cycle. As of today, there are 10,318 more LSAT applicants than last cycle. That's pretty dang close.

Applicant and Application Volume

It's also May 1st, which means a lot of (if not most) first deposit deadlines have passed, and the vast majority of 2020-2021 application volume is over. At this time last year we had 86% of final applicant volume by now. That's actually a bit low — usually it's around 90% by now, but COVID delayed things in 2019-2020.

Here's where LSAT score band volume is as of today:

Total LSAT applicant volume is up about 20%. That's pretty wild by itself, but what continues to astound us is the tremendous increase in high scoring applicants. 160+ scorers are up over 40% compared to last year. You could fill the top 115 law schools with 160+ applicants (assuming consistent class sizes and roughly similar volume of non-LSAT matriculants).

We know that, at least for the first half of the cycle, LSAT-Flex results were disproportionately high. We don't have any data for the second half of the cycle. Regardless of the reason Flex scores were up so much, which Dave Killoran and Mike Spivey podcasted and speculated about here,  it's clear that those results contributed to a tremendously competitive cycle, particularly at the top. We'll be very interested to see the percentile breakdown when it's released.

Non-LSAT applicants (primarily GRE applicants) are also up. There are 3,528 such applicants this year, compared to 3,143 last year. That's a 12% increase, which is slightly lower the overall applicant growth — but that's mostly an artifact of LSAT score release timing being different this year.

Applications are also up disproportionately. That is, each applicant is applying to more schools, on average. This year applicants submitted an average of almost exactly 7 applications each, compared to 6.4 applications per applicant last year. That's helped contribute to application volume at each school being up beyond what the (already large) increase in applicants would suggest.

138 schools have at least matched the 20% national increase in applicants with a corresponding 20% increase in applications to their school. One in five have seen 40% or more increases in their application pool, which is incredible.

2021-2022 Cycle

We also have our first glimpse of the 2021-2022 application cycle. Or rather, our first solid data-based glimpse. June 2021 LSAT registrations closed as of midnight yesterday. 42,321 people are signed up to take the test. That's a heck of a lot. Now obviously many of them will drop out, and that number will go down — potentially a good deal. Still, even if one in three registrants drop out, June 2021 will be the largest June LSAT since 2010.

It's also worth remembering that the trend has been for each LSAT administration to be comparatively smaller than its pre-2018 counterparts, because there are more LSATs administered now than the pre-2018 four per year. Applicants are under less pressure to sign up for an exam they might not be ready for, and spread out their registrations more. So, such a large number of potential June takers could be an ominous sign for 2021-2022 applicants, and an encouraging one for law schools hopeful that this wasn't a one year blip in applicant volume.

It's worth remembering that June is just one data point, and it's not even final data yet. It's not outside the realm of possibility that fully half the June registrants drop out or switch their test date. And we have to believe that high LSAT scores won't be up as much on the 2021-2022 tests. It seems inevitable there will be some return to a more normal distribution. Still, the registration numbers suggest 2021-2022 won't start off slow, at the very least.

We know this was a tough application cycle, to put it mildly. If you applied this year, recognize that you got through probably the hardest applications cycle in memory. If you're applying in 2021-2022, you can't control how many people apply and how competitive the cycle is. Just focus on making your application the best it can be.