The ABA recently released it’s yearly enrollment statistics, showing that enrollment has plunged yet again this year, bringing enrollment to a record 27-year low. 37,924 full-time and part-time students began law school this fall, a 4.4 percent drop from last-year. All told, approximately 15,ooo fewer 1Ls will walk through the doors then did in 2010, when a record high 52,488 students started law school. Here’s a chart of 1L enrollment over the last several of years:
In 1973—the last time enrollment was this low—only 151 ABA accredited law schools existed. Now, 205 fully accredited schools compete for the same size stock.
Can it get any lower? Here we look at the applications and enrollment picture for the coming year (Fall 2015).
Fall 2015 and Beyond Applications and Enrollment Predictions
Throughout the applications cycle, LSAC periodically releases numbers on the volume of applications and applicants. Here are the recent figures:
“As of 1/09/15, there are 135,408 fall 2015 applications submitted by 19,904 applicants. Applicants are down 8.5% and applications are down 10.8% from 2014. Last year at this time, we had 40% of the preliminary final applicant count.” [Source]
The number of applications can get lower, and projecting from these numbers, it’s appears likely it will. UNC law professor Alfred Brophy, a frequent commentator on law school admissions, predicts, “If this year’s applicants follow last year’s pattern, we’ll have approximately 49,760 total applicants for the class entering in fall 2015… if the applicants continue to be down about 8.5%, total first year enrollment next fall of 35,000-36,000 sounds about right to me. Probably a lot closer to 35,000 than 36,000.” [Source]
For 2016, which some applicants may already have their eyes set on, I would expect at most a flattening rather than any large reversal of this declining enrollment. Demographic shifts in education tend to take place slowly, and the underlying factors that have led to declining applications remain in place.
What This All Means For Applicants
Expect this cycle and the next to be easier than ever to get into law schools that may have been out of reach with the same numbers just 5 years ago. Schools will be competing more furiously than ever for students. See this piece in the Times for a good view from the front line: Law School Is Buyers’ Market, With Top Students in Demand.
Those with GPA and LSAT numbers at or even slightly below last year’s medians might expect good results, even with late in the cycle applications.
Numbers will play a greater role than ever in securing spots at top schools. One trend to be aware of is that competition is actually stiffening slightly at elite schools. While the general trend in law school enrollment is down, the ABA notes that enrollment increased at 69 schools this year. Though they have yet to release which schools saw an uptick, if last year’s trends are an indication, these will be the more in demand schools at the top of the US News and World Report Rankings. While securing a spot should be nowhere near as difficult as in 2009 or 2010, do not expect to coast into your dream school with numbers well below the median.
As such, it’s more important than ever to get a high LSAT score if you want to join the ranks of law students. While even slightly below-median applicants are getting modest scholarship offers (something that would have been nearly unheard of just 4 or 5 years ago), it is really the median and above students that are attracting the feeding frenzy of competing offers.
You want to be headed to the highly ranked schools where admissions standards aren’t in a free-fall, as these are the schools that can provide students with jobs.
Low applications and enrollment in low-ranked schools is the result a very real shortage of legal jobs and rising student indebtedness that is not expected to go away in the near term. For most people, especially those with about average LSAT scores (~155 and lower), law school is almost certainly best avoided.
We’re Here to Help
It goes without saying that Josh and I want you to be in the group that solid schools are fighting for. The prospect of getting a big scholarship at an elite school is a big carrot. If you plan to go to law school, your motivation level to grab that carrot should be through the roof.
For those shooting to do the very best possible on the LSAT, we invite you to work with us. We run the LSAT Mastermind Group, a small group of motivated students who can help each other and rely on Josh and I for support. We are in the process of inviting a small number of those focused on the June LSAT and beyond to join, so join now if you are interested. Once you are in, you are in for life, with access to hundreds of lessons and weekly small group tutoring/coaching with Josh and myself.
Any questions about the admissions picture for this cycle and the next? Let us know in the comments.