When will larger numbers of law school admissions decisions come?

This will be a short but I hope important blog to consider. It's been a notoriously slow admission cycle, and it possibly would have stayed at an equally slow pace until COVID-19 changed things in many dramatic ways. Law schools shuttered their doors, classes moved to online formats, grades were changed to pass/fail at many schools, and so on. You've read the headlines.

But what of admissions? It's easy to read applicants message boards and see the understandable anxiousness of applicants, but what applicants hardly ever get a glimpse of is the time of year that admissions officers feel that same anxiousness (we actually have Facebook groups for admissions officers and former admissions officers to share these thoughts). So let me try to let you wear that hat. You are the admissions dean at Princeton Law School. Your boss, the dean of the law school, has given you a daunting list of targets — LSAT, GPA, Diversity, Gender, and a total enrollment number range. Herein lies the beginning of the anxiousness. It's an extremely tricky balance. You need to enroll, say, 200 students. And that means you need to admit up to 1,000 total by the end of the cycle, based on previous years' yield figures. Your admits aren't just looking at Princeton Law – they are looking at the higher-ranked Hogwarts-type schools of the world and also at the full scholarship they got from several slightly lower-ranked schools that are regionally appealing to them. So you have this mandate to bring in an LSAT median +1 higher than the year before, a slightly improved GPA median, stronger diversity numbers, and you not only have to do it with 1,000 admits (keep in mind the more admits you make, the more students you enroll and the harder it is to improve your medians), but now you have to do it in the midst of a global pandemic. You can't bring students to campus, which for some schools is tremendously important to admitted student yield, and LSAT scores you were counting on as part of that group of 1,000 admits are being canceled because of the March and (likely) April test administration shutdown.

I actually could go on — I haven't even mentioned the stress of being overcommitted by millions of dollars in scholarship money. But I want to get to those dates, because they are coming up. The point is this: early admissions cycle applicants bear the brunt of the anxiousness as applications roll in to schools, and as you see other people being admitted day after day, while you have to wait and wait. But over time the equation starts to flip, and that flip time is around now. Now schools are waiting anxiously on deposits, and here are the dates that matter.

  1. Seat deposit deadline dates for each school.

Why? Because this is when you start seeing that the 1,000 admits you made — and that cushion you had of 75 admitted students above your target median LSAT — have decided to go to one of those higher ranked schools, or that fears of a recession have tilted them toward a large scholarship at a school you didn't even realize they had applied to or that would be on their radar. You, the dean of admissions, with your bow tie and tweed coat and pipe (okay it doesn't really look like that for any of them), are counting each seat deposit. And if things look bad, you may even starting calling up those who you haven't heard from. There's a whole group of waitlisted students who are increasingly on your mind. In fact, when I started in admissions, around this time of year we would start pulling them from our locked file drawers and stacking them up in our offices. And this was during the go-go years of admission, when there were increased applicants each year.

2.  April 10th or before.

Why? LSAC has announced that they will make a "go/no-go" decision regarding the April LSAT on or before this date. Revisiting the above, a "no-go" would mean you are now really worried in admissions. There is a rather large number of your applicants for whom you have been holding off on making a decision thus far in the cycle precisely because they were signed up for the April LSAT — you wanted to see their new LSAT score – and now there won't be one. The extent of your worry depends on your school's LSAT median. Schools with higher medians (above 165 or thereabouts) have 95%+ of their applications in, and those LSAT numbers are up (we will note that that doesn't, however, mean that they have close to 95% of their admits finished, for applicants waiting for decisions from schools in this range). Below that range, you may only have 85%, 75%, even 60%, and you may be significantly more impacted by the likely April LSAT cancellation. So, especially if you're in that group, if you see that another test administration has been cancelled — one that you were relying on — you're going to start making moves (and, thus, admits).

I would say these two dates alone — their seat deposit deadline and the April LSAT "go/no-go" date — are incredibly high on the minds of just about every law school admission dean. If things do not align the way they hope, you will see admission waves.

3. May 15 (or thereabouts)

This is when seat deposit overlap reports come out. Unlike previous years, schools won't know your name if you deposited at multiple law schools, but they will get the number who have not deposited at their school but also at (an)other(s). This date almost always triggers more admits, because when you see that 60 members of your expected class of 200 are also deposited at another law school, you start thinking in terms of, "What if the vast majority are just stringing us along?"

This cycle been slow, but the minds of adcomms aren't working slowly right now — they are in full overdrive. And I would expect, given the dates above, we are about to see that overdrive turn into admits. I'd just give it a few more weeks, at most.

Best of luck to everyone who has yet to hear from schools, or who has been waitlisted.

– Mike

P.S. if you are feeling anxious, I also have an upbeat, motivational blog here. I'll even take a happy, inspiring guest blog if anyone is interested — shoot us an email at info@spiveyconsulting.com.