October 2022 / Episode 1 / Under 15 minutes
Making Sense of Early Admission Cycle Numbers
Welcome to the Keeping Up to DataSM podcast, a new space in which we discuss, analyze, and contextualize trends and perspectives in the current law school admission cycle by taking a deeper dive into the most up-to-date data and making sense of the complicated world of legal education.
SUSAN KRINSKY: Welcome back to Keeping Up to Data. I’m Susan Krinsky LSAC’s Executive Vice President for Operations and Chief of Staff, and it’s great to be back.
Now that we’re several weeks into the 2023 admission cycle, it’s time to dive into the data. And in a few minutes, I’ll be joined by my colleague John Miller, who’s both an experienced admission professional and the Executive Director of LSAC’s Legal Education Consulting Service.
Over just the last few weeks, it’s already been an interesting ride. At the end of the first week of October, applicants were down 14% compared to a year ago, and applications were down 20%. A week later, both applicants and applications had gained ground over the previous week, down 12% and 15.3% respectively. And this week, applicants are down less than 11% compared to 2022 and applications down about. 15% compared to 2021, that is two years ago, applicants are down less than 3% and applications about 3.5%.
So as is often the case at the beginning of the cycle, it’s very difficult to predict what’s going to happen next and what we can expect over the coming months. Some years start out hot and cool down, and others catch fire much later in the cycle. Looking at the diversity of the applicant pool, the proportion of applicants of color is slightly below, but roughly in line with the past five years. Currently, about 37% of this year’s applicants identify as persons of color. The proportions of applicants identifying as female and identifying as gender diverse are also larger than in any of the past five years, with about 54% of this year’s applicants identifying as women and just over 1% as gender diverse.
Of course, we also need to remember that this fall we have four LSAT administrations, as compared to only three last fall. That makes it difficult to compare the numbers as we move through the fall. But it appears that by the time the November scores are released, we will have very close to the same number of test takers this fall as compared to a year ago, in the vicinity of 70,000. And it appears as well that the percentage of first-time test takers may be slightly up.
To talk a little bit more about the early data we’re seeing and what it means to schools at this early stage of the 2023 admission cycle, I’m very happy to be joined by John Miller, LSAC’s Executive Director for Legal Education Consulting. John is a seasoned admission veteran and currently leads LSAC’s Legal Education consulting, a new service here at LSAC, which aims to assist schools in navigating trends, data, and the cycles that shape the world of legal education. Welcome, John.
JOHN MILLER: Thanks so much for having me, Susan.
SUSAN: So as a law school admission professional or perhaps a former law school admission professional, although I will always think of you as a law school admission professional, how did you approach the early weeks and months of the admission cycle? Did you make any important decisions based on these early numbers?
JOHN: That’s such a great question and one that I feel like a lot of our colleagues struggle with. I drew a fairly hard line to never provide concrete numbers to law school leadership at the beginning of the cycle, and I would almost never provide any official reports until we got closer to December. And that’s hard to do, so I wasn’t always able to do that. But I think that one of the challenges with doing that is that one week could completely change the volumes, and we’re seeing that obviously on a national perspective, where we’re seeing closing that gap a little bit every single week.
But even on an institutional perspective, in your week over week data, you have one good week and all of a sudden you’re flat or maybe above if you were behind, or it’s even the other way around. Perhaps you had started the cycle 20% ahead, but then one week, for a variety of reasons, maybe didn’t go quite as well. And now all of a sudden, you’re down in applications.
So until you get a critical volume for your institution, which obviously is going to be a little bit different for everyone, but until you really get that mass of applications, which I always, for my institution, was closer to December, to where I felt confident that I would then start to understand the way that the cycle was unfolding in terms of applicant volumes.
SUSAN: John, what would you advise admission professionals to look for in the daily volume reports?
JOHN: Yeah. So for me, what was important was I was starting to look at trends. Certainly, it’s important to understand the way the cycle is starting and to look at trends both nationally, both regionally is really, really helpful, at peer schools if you’re able to understand how your colleagues were doing, and then of course, at my institution and also based on what we might have saw in previous years. How did previous years’ week over week data unfold at my institution?
And I think that when you’re looking at those trends, it’s important to put those into context about what’s happening as well. So for example, we’re seeing an extra LSAT, a test administration, this fall. So that’s going to have an impact. So when the LSATs administrations are, how many there are and when the scores are released, because obviously that’s going to play into that as well.
Even holidays may throw off when applications are received. And then even things like recruiting events, too, at your institution may receive more applications following some of the big events. We just had the New York Forum, for example, which I attended and it was a really great event.
So I think starting to look at those trends and how does that compare historically, but also making sure to put this into context. And I think that this also helps you if you do have to report information to be able to explain what’s going on. And I think what’s really important as a law school dean or administrator is to be able to see this information, but if there is a variance, to be able to put it in context and explain it so that people know what to expect. And also, you know what to expect as well, because one of the things that you don’t want to have happen is to be surprised. So that’s where that trend data really plays an important role.
SUSAN: Do you find it useful to look not just at the current year and not just at a year ago, but maybe back three, four, five years?
JOHN: I agree. I think the one thing that we don’t have right now, which unfortunately is from the pandemic, is certainty, right? I think that we’re all living with a bit of uncertainty these days in a lot of areas of our lives. And that extends unfortunately to law school admissions, applicant behavior, and when applications are received. So I think that we are in a volatile market and continue to be based on when we’re receiving applications.
But I think that that’s even more important to look historically to understand, maybe even before the pandemic, when applications are received, how that played out during the couple years during the pandemic, and how that’s actually happening now. So I think it’s almost like you need three distinct periods to be considered, where we are now, at the height of the pandemic, and then a couple years before the pandemic to help understand trend lines and also to get a sense of what was normal for us and then what happened, and then what might we expect moving forward. So I think that’s where people should really look at and focus on.
SUSAN: Let me also ask you, we’ve talked about straight volume data, but what else would you look at in terms of the demographics or the score distributions or any of the other data we provide?
JOHN: Yeah. I think there’s additional information that will be helpful, again to help us understand, help institutions understand what to expect. And I think you’re right. I think if a school has, as most schools do, they have indicators, LSATs in particular, indicators that they’re trying to achieve as they build their classes, I think it’s incredibly important to understand how many people are applying with those LSAT scores and what does that mean for your institution and its goals, so looking at score distributions, absolutely.
And also, schools have an interest in diversifying the profession, so understanding what race and ethnicity is looking like and also what gender is looking like as well. So as schools are building their classes, and of course, again, every school has particular goals that they’re trying to achieve, you have to look at all of this together to understand the trends in the market and how that’s going to apply to your school individually.
And the reality of this is based on that analysis, then you get to choose some levers, right? You get to ultimately have some strategies that you should be thinking about in preparation for this. And one of the things... There’s a few things that are important here. And I think what does your existing pipeline look like? And I think that’s important to look at for this year, even without just people that have already expressed an interest in your school and haven’t quite yet applied.
We mentioned recruit events. How has your recruitment events been going? How is your attendance? How does that compare to prior years? What more kind of work do you need to do to help mitigate any potential downsides of these trends?
But then on the other side, too, if you end up with a lot more applicants because of what’s happening or because of the strategies, then you don’t want to over-enroll. So you have to perhaps pull back on a few strategies.
So it’s complicated. There’s a lot of points to look at depending on institutional goals. But again, I always come back to thinking about, to understand what’s coming, to be able to see that before you get there and plan accordingly.
SUSAN: Thank you. This was really helpful and really interesting. I hope our audience found it as interesting as I did.
JOHN: Thank you, Susan. It was great to be here.
SUSAN: To our listeners, thank you for joining us at Keeping Up to Data. We look forward to your joining our next episode, when we will continue to take a close look at the data from the current admission cycle and bring you an interesting interview, too. Until next time, stay well.
Thank you for joining us. Keeping Up to DataSM is a production of LSAC. If you want to learn more about the current law school admission cycle and the latest trends and news, visit us at LSAC.org.