Early Cycle Law School Numbers Applicant and Application Volume

One SCG note, we have received about 35 inquries already about next cycle consulting. We will have a blog up Monday on how to RSVP a spot for next cycle, as they do fill up rapidly.

LSAC briefly publicized the 2019-2020 cycle volume this Friday. It has since been removed, and we are hopeful it will return soon. We checked and the numbers  add up, but there must be a reason that LSAC removed them so we suspect something minor is subject to change, but again it could be anything. In the meantime, we have the data below- here is information on applicants as of 10/18:

And applications:

As you can see, both applicants and applications are down. This is not surprising. While more LSAT's have been administered so far this cycle in June, July and September, the July exam accounted for approximately 40% of those test takers, and as we know half of those individuals cancelled their scores. Thus, the supply of test takers with an actual LSAT score over that period is down compared to 2018-2019. Further, 2018-2019 was characterized by an abnormally large supply of re-applicants which further drove early cycle volume.

Interestingly the decline in applicants, at -6.7%, outpaces the decline in applications, at -2.3%. Last cycle the opposite was true- application decline outpaced applicant decline. So far, each applicant is applying to more schools than they were last cycle; 4.5 applications per applicant this year compared to 4.3 last year.  If this continues it would be good news for schools.

The decline in applicant volume is largely concentrated to those scoring less than 165, while those 165 and up are essentially flat. However it's too early to make any determinations on applicant quality trends this may be indicative of. Score of less than 150 are down notably, which may be due to the unique nature of the July test. Given that it offered applicants the unique opportunity to see their score and cancel, it could be that those test takers scoring less than 150 cancelled, an option they did not have last year, which resulted in fewer of them available to apply compared to last cycle.

Further, those scoring in the 165+ range are among those likeliest to know about the benefits of applying early. Last cycle 170+ applicants were up 39% at this time, but we ultimately ended up with an overall decline of about 5% in that range. Early cycle numbers, especially at the end ranges of the applicant population, are highly volatile.

It's worth noting that there are approximately 500 non-LSAT applicants in the pool, which is more than the approximately 350 last year. The percentage non-LSAT applicants comprise of the total applicant population is also up, at 6.8% this year compared to 4.5% last year. Given the more widespread acceptance of the GRE among law schools this only makes sense.

So what does all this mean? Well, last cycle at this time applicants and applications were both up by about 28% compared to the 2016-2017 cycle. Total relative increase peaked right around mid-October, actually, and declined from there. This cycle will be different of course. Instead of one November test, we now have an October and November LSAT administration. The combined test taker volume for those two administrations is likely to be at least on par with last years November administration. Many of those will undoubtedly be July test retakers. So we may see applicant volume continue to run below last years until the results of the October 2019 LSAT hit, at which point we should see a catchup begin.

What's going to determine final cycle volume? It will come down to a few factors.

First, non-LSAT applicants. As mentioned previously, they are up compared to last year- will that trend continue? We think so. Dozens of schools now accept the GRE, and GRE applicants have more information than previously to understand how their cycles might play out. While the number of such applicants remains a small part of the whole, it does make a difference.

Second, the total number of October and November test takers, and how many of them are re-takers from the July administration (or any other administration). Each test has seen an increase in the relative number of retakers compared to its prior cycle counterpart. This has created a trend of diminishing returns, whereby each additional LSAT administered has led to a smaller growth in the final applicant population compared to prior years. We see no reason this trend will not continue, and if it does, topline LSAT registrant numbers could be misleading.

And finally, is early cycle volume more misleading compared to the past? There is some evidence that applicants are more aware of the benefits of early applications than ever before. This drives early volume increases and creates ever more front loaded cycles. However, it's tough to know if this trend will continue. Last cycle may have been especially front-loaded and we could see some reversion to the mean. We won't really have a sense of this until February/March.

Ultimately, as LSAC has said, it's far too early to draw any conclusions from this data. However, it's absolutely interesting, and we'll be keeping close track of the trends to get a better idea how the cycle plays out!