The number of potential students applying to ABA-accredited law schools is down 10% as of earlier this month, according to the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).
This is a “return to normality,” law school admissions consultant Mike Spivey told Reuters, referring to 2020’s 13% surge in applicants. The increase was the largest year-over-year since 2002 and led to a highly competitive admissions season.
Applicants were down just 5% by the end of November and have gradually decreased over recent months. Experts expect to see the number of applicants decrease further with deadlines for fall 1L classes approaching.
Why did law school applications decrease?
According to Susan Krinsky, the LSAC’s executive vice president for operations, several factors may have led to the unprecedented surge of applicants in 2020:
- A presidential election year, which typically leads to a higher numbers of applicants.
- An unpredictable, competitive job market for undergraduates leading to increased interest in higher education in many fields of study.
- Civil unrest following the death of George Floyd and other events highlighting the role of law in systemic change.
- Changes to the U.S. Supreme Court following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
- A shorter, online LSAT (LSAT-Flex) making the test more accessible to some applicants.
Though the majority of these factors have become less prominent for applicants, 2020’s large, competitive candidate pool meant many of the applicants were deferred to this year. These applicants frontloaded the process for 2021, making the decrease in recent months more apparent.
What does this mean for today’s law students?
When first applying to law school, applicants may face a slightly less competitive landscape. With a large number of deferred applicants from last year, however, law school admissions are still a “seller’s market” in favor of the schools.
Once admitted, law students may see larger and more diverse classes. 2020’s 1Ls were some of the largest and most diverse classes ever recorded, with many elite law schools reporting that people of color made up more than 50% of incoming students.
Ultimately, interest in law school may continue to drop. The dip in applicants in 2021 was the first year-over-year decrease since 2018 and is expected to continue.