Predicting the 2015/2016 Law School Admissions Cycle

What will next year’s (2015/2016) law school admissions cycle look like? While no one knows for sure, we are beginning to see some early  markers that might indicate the historic shift to an applicant buyers’ market may be nearing its end (for the time being). If you have been an applicant of late, it’s been a good run. Looking at next cycle, we have one piece of advice: Get your applications in early! That run might be over, but early in this cycle no one will know for certain, and this past cycle’s data will still weigh heavily on admissions officers’ mind.

5 Trends to Look For:

1. Increase in Applicants. You heard it here first (maybe): law school applicants will be up next year for the first time since the 2009/2010 admissions cycle (perhaps). The reasons for this projection?

  • Demographics — The number of students graduating from undergraduate institutions has been declining, but that decline will abrupt this coming year. Indeed, the National Center for Educational Statistics projects an increase. Most applicants still come immediately to law school from college. Simply put, the pool won’t be diminishing at the rate it has in the past, and it may be increasing soon.

  • Employment prospects — What has been the driving reason for the decline in law school applications over the past 5 years? The dour employment opportunities out of law school. And while we certainly aren’t saying law school is a safe bet for everyone, or anything close to that, the outlook is better than it has been. Check out these two articles from the past two weeks. Of note: “During the last couple of years we have seen some bobbling numbers in the markers that describe law student recruiting volumes. But this past fall, for the first time since the recession, we see some clear markers of recovery,” said NALP executive director James Leipold.

  • Surge — Recently, we’ve been seeing a late-cycle surge in applications. And in February, LSAT administrations were up 4.4%. This might indicate that the above employment news is starting to sink in and it may indicate that the dwindling application numbers have finally bottomed out and might be on the upswing next year.

  • Floor — There will always be a critical mass of people who want to go to law school. That mass is a percentage of the available pool, of course, and not a static number, but a floor exists. As in almost all long-term cycles, there are periods of ebb and flow. When will the ebb cease? We don’t know for sure, but it’s been ebbing for a good while now, and the bounce back may just be ahead of us.

2. An increase in applications at the top LSAT bandwidths. Last cycle, we saw an overall decrease in applications, but an increase among the highest LSAT scorers (165+). This cycle, in contrast, high scoring applicant numbers plummeted. Next cycle, can we expect to see an increase at these bandwidths again? We’re betting yes. The elasticity of these numbers is much higher than the overall pool precisely because there are so much fewer at the top (LSAC scores follow a rough bell curve) and thus a decline one year often is a harbinger of an increase the next (and visa versa, of course).

3. More schools saying you cannot hold multiple seat deposits at all. This cycle, several schools have begun to discourage or even outright prohibit multiple seat deposits. USC stated, “We require that since we are making a financial commitment to you, that in return you make a final commitment to us,” stating that anyone who made deposits to multiple law schools would have their scholarship offers immediately revoked. Greater numbers of law schools might adopt this policy in an effort to increase yield, get an early picture on how their admitted pool is shaping up, and most important to them, discourage extensive, prolonged scholarship negotiation.

4. More video interviewing and “prerecorded” video interviews. In recent years, several  schools (e.g. Cornell, Wake Forest) have been utilizing recorded video interviews in lieu of in-person or Skype interviews that require an admissions officer or alumnus to actually be present at a given appointment time. With programs like LikeLive and companies like AsyncInterview expanding into higher education, applicants can log on at any time and record a video interview in response to questions that show up on the screen without prior preparation. More and more schools have been utilizing Skype interviews in recent years, and this is the easiest and most convenient method of interviewing for both admissions officers and applicants. These programs add another dimension to the application review process and can give the school an opportunity to get a feel for an applicant on multiple levels or give the applicant a chance to clarify or expand upon something in their application. In the case of the live person (Skype or in-person), it is also an opportunity for the school to sell themselves to the applicant. Perhaps most importantly, it is a brief but somewhat reliable glance at how a prospective student may also do in a job interview. For these reasons, expect a continued uptick in video interviewing.

5. More schools admitting applicants without the LSAT. This one is pretty obvious. They will do it because it works. And after a year of seeing it in motion, we know that it is of benefit to law schools. The question of note, though, is does it benefit applicants? The ABA has allowed this in certain circumstances, and almost all of the circumstances lead to the applicant’s choices being limited. Whether it is through a joint degree program with another graduate school at the same university or through a 3+3 program, the applicant’s choice of law school will be limited. Indeed, it will be limited to just 1.  So before you brag to your friends how great it is that you don’t have to take the LSAT to go to law school, just remember that the barriers to entry are tough and the barriers to exit even worse.