November 1, 2007

Law Schools Stay Competitive

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In an interesting conundrum, a survey conducted by Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions of law school admissions officers at 190 law schools across the country revealed that although the number of applicants to law schools has declined in the past few years, admittance is as competitive as ever.
According to Steve Marietti, pre-law programs director for Kaplan, the number of applicants to law schools dropped 4.8 percent two years ago, and 7.4 percent last year. However, last year there were still around 88,000 students who applied for 46,000 seats in the country.
The survey relied on the subjective evaluation of the admissions officers about whether they had noticed a dynamic change in their law schools. Half of the officers said that the number of applications to their schools had dropped, but 79 percent said that their schools had not become any less competitive.
Even though there has been a reduction in the overall number of applicants, students also need to be cautioned to take extra effort when preparing for the application process because the quality of the pool of applicants has been increasing over time.
Said Marietti, “The overall caliber of applicants is going up, people are even better prepared for the LSATs and the entire process of admissions, which leads to an increasingly better pool of applicants.”
The higher caliber of students applying to law schools is what keeps the application process competitive. Students applying to law schools acutely feel the stress of the competition.
“I think it’s ridiculously competitive. Especially since we go to Cornell and we’re probably looking at the top 10 or 15 schools,” said Javeste Dulcio ’08, who is in the process of applying to law schools.
Patina Janisko, assistant director of admissions and financial aid at the law school, said that the number of applicants to Cornell law has not declined at all in the past few years and admissions to Cornell law is very competitive.
Marietti said he believed that the LSAT is the most important component of any law school admissions package and to be competitive, students need to make sure that they are 100 percent prepared for the LSATs as well as the application process in general.
There are 195 schools in the country that have been approved by the American Bar Association. As part of the accreditation process, schools must send in the LSAT scores of their first year classes. Last year the ABA changed its policy to require the schools to only send in a student’s highest LSAT score, instead of the average score.
“We expected the result of that change to be that the schools would actually move their admissions standards to the same standards they were reporting data to the ABA on,” Marietti said.
Schools did in fact move their admissions standards. Last year 71 percent of schools said that they looked at the average LSAT score, whereas this year 83 percent said that they now look at a student’s highest single LSAT score.
Pamala Eaton, administrative assistant in the law school, said that Cornell now looks at the highest LSAT score, but the change has not had an effect on the applications.
Due to the change in many law schools’ policies, students can take the LSAT multiple times without worrying about their average score. There has been a 34 percent increase in the number of students who take the test multiple times. However, students need to keep in mind that law schools do see all of the scores even if they only take one of them into consideration.
Marietti said, “Last year, we asked schools who used the highest scores if it was more beneficial to have fewer scores. 37 percent told us that it was better to have fewer scores.”
According to Dulcio, some schools she has talked to still think that the average is a big predictor of student performance. The schools will only look at the highest score if one score is vastly lower than the others, which means that students are not penalized for having a particularly bad test day, but are penalized if they take the test multiple times without much improvement.
Admissions officers told Marietti that a low LSAT score can be a barrier, followed by a low GPA. Unimpressive writing skills in an otherwise qualified applicant can also be an application killer.
“Students need to be very prepared, they need to give 100 percent to crafting and perfecting their application packages,” Marietti said.