Thursday, May 30, 2013
APPLICANTS -- In my November blog posting, I noted that for the three-year period from 2010-2012, the number of applicants in each admissions cycle represented an average of 92.9% of the tests administered in June/October. There were 63,003 June/October test-takers in 2012. I noted that if this admissions cycle results in 92.9% of June/October test-takers turning into applicants, law schools could anticipate there being roughly 58,530 applicants to law schools for fall 2013.
In January, that estimate seemed like it might be high, as LSAC projections were running more in the 53,000 to 54,000 range. LSAC’s January 25, 2013 Current Volume Summary showed 30,098 applicants at a point in the previous year when the applicant total represented 56% of the preliminary final applicant count. That projected to an applicant total of roughly 53,750. But the most recent LSAC Current Volume Summary dated May 17, 2013, shows 55,764 applicants, at a time in the cycle which last year represented 95% of the preliminary final applicant count. That means there has been an increase in applicants in recent weeks compared to the same period last year. If the present count truly represents 95% of likely applicants, we can expect roughly 58,700 applicants for fall 2013. If late applications continue to come in at numbers higher than last year, this number could go even higher. For purposes of these projections, however, I will assume 58,700 applicants.
ADMITTED APPLICANTS -- Of the projected 58,700 applicants for fall 2013, how many will be admitted? Notably, the LSAC Volume Summary shows that from 2003-2011, law schools never admitted fewer than 55,500 applicants, but also never admitted more than 71% of applicants. The LSAC has not posted the 2012 numbers, but it is likely that law schools only admitted approximately 52,000 of the 68,000 applicants, the smallest number in over a decade, but with the highest admit rate in over a decade -- an estimated admit rate of over 76%. (For the period from 2003-2011, an average of roughly 82% of admitted students became LSAC matriculants. If we assume enrollment declined 8% from fall 2011, that would result in roughly 42,500 LSAC matriculants in fall 2012. One reasonably could project that roughly 52,000 applicants were admitted to generate those 42,500 LSAC matriculants.)
What will the admit number and rate be for fall 2013? That is a great mystery. Even as many law schools move closer to open enrollment, the reality is that some percentage of applicants is truly inadmissible – with significant character and fitness issues and/or LSAT/GPA profiles that are just too low to believe the applicant can be successful in law school and on the bar exam. Perhaps 3% of applicants have significant character and fitness issues (between 2008 and 2011, at least 3% of applicants with an LSAT of 170 or higher were not admitted). In addition, several thousand applicants have an LSAT below 145, many with GPAs that are less than 3.0, resulting in indices that should be problematic for most law school admissions offices that are attentive to whether applicants can be successful in law school and on the bar exam.
If we assume that collectively law schools will find 10,000 applicants to be truly inadmissible, that would leave 48,700 applicants that might be admissible. Assuming everyone who is admissible is admitted somewhere, that would be a national admit rate of 83%. But what if the number of truly inadmissible applicants is more like 12,000? That means there would be only 46,700 applicants that might be admissible. Assuming everyone is admitted, that would be a national admit rate of just under 80%.
MATRICULANTS – As noted above, the average rate at which admitted students became LSAC matriculants between 2003 and 2011 was roughly 82%. If the admit-to-matriculant rate remains at 82% for fall 2013, then the 48,700 likely admitted applicants would translate into roughly 39,900 first-year students. If there were only 46,700 admitted students, with an admit-to-matriculant rate of 82%, then one could expect roughly 38,300 first-year students. If the assumptions about the numbers of admitted students set forth above are accurate, and if the assumption that the admit-to-matriculant rate remains at 82% remains is accurate, law schools should expect somewhere between 38,300 and 39,900 first-year students to enroll this fall, an enrollment decline of roughly 6-10% from the estimated 42,500 LSAC matriculants in fall 2012 noted above.
UNEVEN REDUCTIONS IN ENROLLMENT – The law schools ranked in the top 15 only saw an average decline in enrollment of roughly 5% between 2010 and 2012, while the alphabetical list of law schools saw an average decline in enrollment of roughly 18%. Law schools ranked 16-145 saw an average decline in enrollment of roughly 15% (14% for those 16-50, 15% for those 51-100, and 16% for those 101-145). If the fall 2013 LSAC matriculant number declines by 2,600-4,200 from fall 2012, one could anticipate that the decline once again would impact the law schools ranked in the top-15 only slightly, but would significantly impact a number of law schools ranked between 16 and 145, and even moreso, those ranked alphabetically.
Within each ranking category, however, there are likely to be some law schools hit harder than other law schools, as reflected in the information posted yesterday indicating that over 70 law schools saw first-year enrollment decline more than 20% between fall 2010 and fall 2012.
Moreover, the fall 2013 admissions cycle is the first admissions cycle in which the ABA’s school-specific employment outcomes data will have been available for prospective law students to make meaningful school by school comparisons. It also is the first admissions cycle in which law schools have had to publish scholarship retention information and include such information in scholarship award letters. It will be very interesting to see the extent to which those law schools with relatively poor employment outcomes for the Class of 2011 and/or Class of 2012 suffer greater declines in enrollment or in LSAT/GPA profile. It also will be very interesting to see the extent to which those law schools with relatively low scholarship retention rates suffer greater declines in enrollment or in LSAT/GPA profile.
FURTHER REDUCTIONS IN LSAT/GPA PROFILES – In November I noted that there are two competing tensions law schools must weigh in making admissions decisions in a declining market – revenue and profile. Some schools may have made conscious decisions in 2011 or 2012 to try to hold enrollment to generate revenue while taking a hit on profile or to take a hit on enrollment (and revenue) in an effort to hold profile, but as noted above, a significant number of law schools saw both a significant decline in enrollment (and revenue) AND a decline in profile.
Having taken hits on revenue over the last two years as a result of an overall 15% decline in first-year enrollment, with at least 73 law schools down more than 20% in enrollment, and facing a shrinking applicant pool again, many law schools are going to have to be focused largely on revenue, on simply trying to get as many students as possible in the door to minimize revenue shortfalls. As a result, LSAT/GPA profiles are likely to take significant hits across the board. (One exception might be Kansas, which recently announced that it likely will have only 120 students this fall and in the foreseeable future, down from a first-year class of 165 in 2010 (a decline of more than 27%), partly to right-size so that it can be more selective in the future. (In shrinking from 165 to 141 between 2010 and 2012, Kansas gave up a point at each LSAT indicator, but gained slight ground on each GPA indicator.))
Even law schools ranked in the top-50 are going to have profile challenges. In 2012 there likely were roughly 7800 first-year law students with LSATs of 165 or higher. (In previous years, roughly 85% of the applicants with LSATs of 165 or higher became first-year students. For fall 2012, there were roughly 9200 applicants with LSATs of 165 or higher, which would translate to roughly 7800 first-year students with LSATs of 165 or higher.) Of the 7800 who likely became first-year students in fall 2012, I would estimate that roughly 6800 might have found their way into top-50 law schools (based on an analysis of LSAT profiles for top-50 law schools).
Based on the current projections from LSAC for fall 2013, however, there likely will be only about 7600 applicants in the fall 2013 applicant pool with LSATs of 165 or higher, which might mean only about 6450 first-year students with LSATs of 165 or higher (if 85% become first-year students). That means there just are not going to be enough high LSAT students for every top-50 law school to hold its 2012 profile, even with a decline in enrollment. As these schools seek to fill their classes by taking applicants with slightly lower LSAT and GPA profiles, that is likely to have a cascading effect on profiles throughout the rankings.
When one looks more closely at the LSAC Current Volume Summary data, one discovers that 82% of the growth in applicants from January through May (21,041 of 25,666) has been from those applicants with LSATs below 160 and over 43% (11,124 of 25,666) has been from those applicants with LSATs below 150. In 2012, over 44,000 applicants had LSAT scores of 150 or higher. Present projections suggest that perhaps as few as 38,000-38,500 applicants will have LSAT scores of 150 or higher, some of whom will be inadmissible because of character and fitness issues or really low GPAs.
In yesterday’s blog posting, I noted the decline in average LSAT/GPA profile between 2010 and 2012 and noted that the number of law schools with a median LSAT in the 140s has more than doubled from 9 to 19 between 2010 and 2012. There are 17 more law schools in the list of alphabetical law schools with median LSATs of 150 or 151 in fall 2012 who could also slide into the 140s. It is possible that some law schools ranked 100-145 also will see their median LSAT slide to 149 or 148.
Fall 2013 is going to be another year in which many law schools see significant enrollment declines while most law schools see further declines in their LSAT and GPA profiles. This will be an admissions season in which “success” may be measured by not doing quite as poorly as others in terms of enrollment and profile.
And what about fall 2014? That is an even greater mystery that will have law school admissions personnel and law school deans and university presidents thinking long and hard about budgetary realities.