Getting into law school is never easy, but for applicants for the 2021–2022 academic year, it’s really tough. The Law School Admission Council president Kellye Testy announced that by early March 2021, US law schools had received 55,166 applications, a rise of more than 20% from the previous year.
Both quantity and quality are on the rise
It’s not just the sheer number of law school applicants that’s increased, but also their quality. This year’s applicants are competing with more students than ever who have high scores on their LSATs. LSATs are scored from 120 to 180; this year, the number of students who received scores in the top score band of 175–180 rose by 99%; in the next score band, 170–174, numbers rose by 53%; and applicants with scores of 165–169 rose by almost 27%.
Although admissions officials are wringing their hands over the challenge in front of them, Testy and the LSAC are delighted to see so much demand. It’s further encouraging to note that applications have risen among every racial category, showing a boost in diversity and equality that the law profession sorely needs. The number of black applicants rose over 24% this year, and applications from Latinx students increased 20%.
If the rise in applicants continues during the rest of the cycle, law schools will have seen the biggest year-on-year leap in growth in over 20 years. Some officials speculate that this year’s strong showing is partly due to the shorter, online LSAT Flex, which was introduced in May 2020 in response to coronavirus restrictions. The LSAT Flex is condensed down to 3 sections instead of 4, and students take the test at home. The shortened time and familiar surroundings often reduce test anxiety and help them perform at their best.
Others point to the strong profile that the law has had over the past 12 months, citing events like the George Floyd unrest, changes to the Supreme Court, and high-profile cases as catalysts for many driven young men and women to pursue a career in law. It’s also suggested that some people are applying to law school as a way to ride out the weak job market.
Applicants need to be better than good
But what is an administrative headache for an admissions dean is a serious concern for the law school applicant. Andy Cornblatt, dean of admissions at the Georgetown University Law Center, put the impact into real terms, saying, “If you were applying to Georgetown with a 3.9 [grade-point average] and a 171 [LSAT score] last year, I would have said to myself, ‘This is real strong. I’ll probably say yes to this.’ Now, with the exact same applicant, you better have a reason for me to say yes or you’re not getting in, because I have plenty of you.”
There are already enough strong applicants with scores of over 165 to fill every place in the country’s top 50 law schools, so it’s inevitable that some strong, worthy applicants are going to be disappointed. Schools like Georgetown are looking for extraordinary students with outstanding achievements, and are using virtual interviews to help distinguish the best from the extremely good. Rather than dismiss potential worthy candidates, some schools are waitlisting a much higher number of applicants in the hope that the cream will rise to the top of the list.
Admissions dean at the University of Michigan, Sarah Zearfoss, says, “I always feel like there is an excess of talent in the pool—more people who I wish I could admit than we have room for—but that has been exacerbated by many orders of magnitude this year.”
For hopeful law school applicants, the pressure is on to find ways to stand out from the crowd. With so much competition, it’s well worth investing in advice from admissions consulting services to learn how to give yourself an edge over the thousands of other would-be students. Brushing up on interview skills, learning how to present yourself in ways that highlight your best assets, and getting experienced guidance on how to make the most of your accomplishments could change your life this year.
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