We're near the end of the cycle, which means we've got just about 100% of our total applicant and application volume for the 2018-2019 cycle. We will be writing a more full numbers debrief at a later date, but for now let's take a look at where we are, and some interesting observations for the cycle.
First, the good news for law schools: the 2017-2018 cycle increase in law school applicants does not appear to have been an aberration. In fact, this cycle saw further growth in both LSAT and overall applicants.
The addition of a March test goosed end-of-cycle applicant volume a bit, but a comparative decrease in June takers countered this somewhat. If June volume had been on par with last year we'd probably be looking at closer to a +5% increase in LSAT applicants; instead, we're at half of that.
You can see score-band specific changes to date below:
The increase in LSAT applicants is concentrated in the 150-160 range, which is great news for schools with medians in those bands. It's also good news for bar passage rates when the class of 2022 graduates, as higher LSAT scores correlate with higher bar passage rates.
On the other hand, top scoring applicants are down, with those applying with above a 170+ decreasing by 5.2% over last year (driven primarily by the huge drop in 175+ scorers). Some reversion to the mean isn't surprising given the absolutely bonkers growth in this range last year.
Overall applicants (i.e. LSAT applicants + non-LSAT applicants, which can include GRE applicants and those applying without a standardized test) are up a bit more than LSAT applicants, at a +3.21% increase. In total, 2,344 individuals have applied to law school this year without an LSAT, representing about 3.75% of the overall applicant pool.
Non-LSAT applicants are actually up by about 20% compared to last year, which we attribute primarily to growth in GRE applicants. With over 40 law schools now accepting the GRE, look for that number to grow in the 2019-2020 cycle.
Total applications are down compared to last year by 1.5%. 110 schools have seen application volume decrease, 85 have seen an increase, while 7 have seen no change.
But applicants are up — so how are applications down? Well, applicants are clearly being pickier about where they choose to apply. This year, applicants submitted an average of 6.08 applications each; compare this with last years 6.38 applications per applicant. In fact, this year's number of applications per applicant is the lowest since the 2009-2010 cycle.
Why is that? One culprit may be increasing LSAC costs; rising LSAT fees, CAS fees, and reporting prices may force applicants to be more choosy about where they apply. Another contributor could be increased awareness of tools like lawschoolnumbers.com, mylsn.info, etc. that provide sometimes useful predictions of applicant results. Applicants may feel more secure applying to fewer schools at which they are more certain of the outcomes.
5 Brief Takeaways
- The applicant lows of the mid 2010's are gone... but we're nowhere near returning to the highs of 2009-2010. If the cycle ended today, we'd have about 9,000 more applicants than 2015-2016... and 24,000 fewer than 2009-2010. We're still much closer to the bottom than the top.
- The trend for the past few years has been for fewer applications per applicant, and it doesn't look like that's slowing down any time soon. If I were a law school I'd be frustrated, as it diminishes the benefits of increasing applicants.
- Until there's more data on GRE-only applicant outcomes, we'll probably still see lots of folks start out with a GRE who end up taking an LSAT. We should be able to measure and compare this effect more accurately in 2019-2020. But, the GRE is definitely starting to make its presence known.
- An expanded LSAT testing schedule doesn't seem to be increasing overall applicants very much. If anything, it's just increasing the number of times the average applicant takes the test. It also makes predicting volume incredibly tough — you can read about that here and here.
- The early cycle crush of applications gets more intense every year. We saw it in 2017-2018, but it amplified in 2018-2019. By November 1st this cycle we had a 14% increase in overall applicants. A lot of the long wait times we saw this cycle may be attributable to a flood of early applications. It leveled off, but left a huge backlog in its wake. Depending on July LSAT cancellation volume and September LSAT registration numbers, we could see something similar — we'll keep an eye on it and provide updates as to what we expect.
How did we do in predicting this past cycle? That blog is here if you are curious.
Written by Justin Kane and Mike Spivey