law school applications and LSAT scores

Law School Applications And LSAT Scores Current Trends

The 2020-21 admissions cycle has proven more competitive than past years. There are many reasons for this, including COVID-19, the election year, and our current political and social climate. Two specific factors that are contributing to the increased competition of this cycle are the increase in law school applications and LSAT scores. So, what does this mean for applicants?

Law School Applications And LSAT Scores Current Trends

To start, let’s discuss the surges that we are seeing.

Increase in Applications

As of the date of this article, nationwide LSAC is reporting a 21.2% increase in applications nationwide (and rising). In some regions, such as New England, they are seeing over 30% more applications this year than last.  We’re only half-way through the admissions cycle and this translates to over 8,000 more applications than at the same time last year.

One important note: schools are not likely to increase their class size in any significant way to accommodate increased number of applications!

 Schools set their class size targets based on a number of factors. This includes their ability to provide career services support to all students. (They aren’t going to admit a hyper-inflated class if they aren’t reasonably certain they can help them find jobs after graduation.) Likewise, they want to maintain high bar exam statistics, which is easier to do with a smaller class. These are just two of the many factors that contribute to the US News and World Report rankings but are considered in admissions decisions.  These reasons among more practical reasons like maintaining student-professor ratios and restricting class size to the size of their building capacity will keep classes relatively similar to what they’ve been in the past.

Increase in LSAT Scores

It’s not just applications that are surging, it’s also LSAT scores. Candidates are scoring dramatically higher on the LSAT than they were a year ago. For example, in the LSAT score band of 175-180 (the highest possible score) there has been a 99.9% increase of test takers who scored in that range. That’s nearly a 100% increase in just one year! Likewise, in the second highest score band reported by LSAC, 170-174, there is a 52.2% increase in test takers who received a score in that category. (This data is valid as of the date this article was written but is likely to change in the future. Be sure to check out LSAC’s website for the most up-to-date statistics.)

Overall, LSAT scores are up in every category from below 140 to a 180. But don’t feel bad if you didn’t fall into the 170-180 LSAT bump this year. Even though the scores are high, the number of candidates who fall into that category is still relatively small. Last year, of the nearly 36,000 LSAT scores that were reported by LSAC, only less than 700 were in the 175-180 range. So, while a near 100% increase seems intimidating, it only translations to about 1,400 test scores of the over 43,000 scores reported. It’s a relatively small number, and I promise you’re not the only person not scoring in the 175-180 range (there’s about 42,000+ others in that boat).

What This Means For You

The increase in applications and LSAT scores means increased competition not only for admission but also for scholarship for all schools. While there may be hyper-competition for students scoring in the 170-180 range at top tiered schools, this admission cycle still remains competitive for all types of schools.

Highly credentialed candidates that don’t get into top schools will find seats in slightly lower ranked programs thereby bumping others down the line. Without class sizes increases to accommodate the increased number of applicants, the downward wave of competition continues to all other programs.

What Does The Future Hold?

We don’t expect that things will slow down in the second half of the admissions cycle. Though applicants with higher LSAT scores are more likely to apply earlier in the cycle, LSAT registrants continue to increase for the winter tests. According to the LSAC data on test registrants and test takers the January 2021 LSAT saw nearly 10,000 more test takers than the January 2020 exam. This is an almost 57% increase in test takers with February 2021 test registration up even more.

Looking beyond this year, LSAT scores are likely to remain high for admission next cycle too. It is important to understand that not all LSAT test takers are applying this year. (Your LSAT score stays viable for 5 years.) Most law school applicants take the LSAT the year before they plan to apply to law school. This might mean that the increase in LSAT scores we see now are for candidates that may plan to apply next year. This will result in a continued trend of increased competition for the 2021-22 cycle.

Other Thing To Keep In Mind

  • The number of applicants reported by LSAC seems fairly consistent between last year and this year. So even though law school applications are up, it could simply mean that students are applying to more schools. This is likely a strategic move by many applicants who anticipated an unstable admissions cycle. At the end of the day, however, every applicant can only matriculate into one program irrespective of how many they received offers from!
  • A high LSAT score no longer guarantees admission to elite programs. Irrespective of how you scored on the LSAT, you should make sure that every component of your application is flawless! (We help with personal statement editing and even interview prep!)
  • Similar to the above, if you have a GPA higher than the school’s median, this may help you stand out in a way that a high LSAT score no longer will. The same is true for application “softs” or the other non-quantifiable components to your candidacy, like leadership roles, extracurricular involvement and work experience.

Lastly, because of the increase in applications and LSAT scores, you may have noticed decisions are slow to be made. There are simply more applications to process and review but also more to consider. If you haven’t received decisions back yet, don’t panic. Schools everywhere seem to be slow to release decisions for all of the reasons discussed!

Rachel Margiewicz, Director of Pre-Law Services, wrote this post. Rachel is a licensed attorney with years of admissions experience across three law school programs in different markets of the country. She knows what schools are looking for and how to make your application stand out!

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