With the new law school application cycle underway, prospective law school students may wonder what admissions committees are looking for from applicants this year. Fortunately, recent data can help applicants gauge what to expect. Here are our predictions for law school application trends in the 2017-2018 submissions cycle.
While the number of law school applicants remained relatively the same from last cycle – down 0.1 percent – the number of applications rose 1.5 percent, according to the Law School Admission Council. This suggests fewer prospective J.D.s were applying to more schools.
The increase in applications is likely to continue, since the June 2017 LSAT saw a dramatic 19.8 percent rise in the number of test-takers.
While not all programs saw a rise, the increase in law school applicants spanned across tiers, from a 5 percent increase in applications to Harvard Law School over the last two years to Hofstra University’s Maurice Deane School of Law nearly doubling applications for the fall 2017 class. More applications mean that law schools will need to sift through their submissions for quality students.
Changes to LSAT Evaluation
Historically, the LSAT has been a mayor predictor for students’ 1L success. The recent inclusion of GRE scores as an alternative test suggests that law schools are adjusting how they view the LSAT.
Even though only a handful of schools are willing to consider the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, when a highly ranked law school like Harvard changes its criteria for evaluating top candidates by removing the LSAT as an admissions requirement, more schools will follow the march.
Despite the LSAT’s changing status, more prospective applicants than ever are taking the exam, and repeat test-takers make up a larger percentage of those testers.
In part, LSAC’s changing administrative policies – now applicants can retake the LSAT an unlimited number of times – can account for the increase in repeat test-takers.
Unlimited testing also means that admissions committees will need to adjust how they evaluate the LSAT as a measure of quality, given the influx of scores. Law schools will inevitably evaluate 1 or 2 scores differently than 5 or 6.
As you consider testing options and approach law school applications, beware of overtesting. You dilute the impact of your score with every exam you take. Wait until you feel ready to perform your best before taking the LSAT.
Continued Use of Interviews
Law schools have increasingly turned to interviews to evaluate candidates. When I first began counseling with Stratus Admissions six years ago, the only T-14 law school that encouraged applicants to interview was Northwestern University. Now, many law schools regularly invite applicants to interview.
One trend I have noticed among my clients who interviewed is that admissions committees are paying more attention to applicants’ employability postgraduation. Postgraduate employment is, ultimately, why most applicants enroll in law school. Undergrads were pressed on questions about lack of professional experience, while postgrads were asked how law school fit into their existing career path.
Most schools that conduct interviews do so by invitation only. That means you need to shine in your application materials to secure an opportunity to interview.
In your application, emphasize the substance of your employment history in your resume with an eye toward lawyering skills like research, writing and advocacy. Use your personal statement to explain your legal career objectives and how you will leverage your current professional and academic experiences to reach those goals.
By taking a professional focus, you demonstrate to admissions committees that you understand law school will not give you merely a lofty education on how to make the world a better place, but practical training to work in the legal sector.
If you interview with a school, be prepared to discuss your professional ambitions and showcase your interviewing skills. How well you interview in law school is a way to assess your employability for 1L summer positions and beyond.
Prepare also for technology to feature in your interview. These days the favored format of interviews is Skype and recorded responses. In-person and telephone interviews are increasingly rare.
Additional Essay Prompts
Over the years, I’ve also seen law schools expand their optional essay prompts to cover topics like leadership experience and teamwork. Short-response questions help schools learn what makes you who you are. Some may not explicitly relate to law and are designed to elicit creative thinking.
Georgetown Law School has historically offered playful short-response questions like “Write page 150 of your autobiography.” This year Stanford University has included creative optional prompts, such as detailing a literary character you most associate with.
Don’t dismiss optional prompts. If given a topic like leadership or teamwork, provide concrete examples of those experiences. For more creative prompts, shy away from jokes and gimmicks in favor of genuinely thoughtful responses. Take playful questions seriously.
Develop answers that contribute to the cohesive narrative you should create in your personal statement, diversity statement and letters of recommendation. And be sure to avoid overlap with information you’ve already shared elsewhere in your application.
Overall, you can improve your chances of admission if you craft an application that humanizes yourself. The likelihood of increased competition means you should not rely on your test scores and GPA to get you in the door.