December 2022 / Episode 3 / Under 15 minutes
A Look at the Historic Class of 2022
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. It’s December, so that means the data has been finalized for this fall’s incoming class. You may remember that last year’s entering class was historic, in that it was the most racially and ethnically diverse entering class we had ever seen. This year’s entering class continues that welcome trend. Each fall, LSAC works with the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar, and every law school across the United States, to compile and certify the accuracy of certain enrollment data for the incoming class of law students. This data has just been released on the website of the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar. And you can view this data at abarequireddisclosures.org, both in aggregate and for each individual law school.
My top takeaway when I look at the data is that the incoming class of 2022 is by far the most racially and ethnically diverse law school class in history. I mentioned earlier that last year set a record for the proportion of matriculants who identified as students of color, at 34.7%. I think a number of people wondered whether we would be able to maintain that level of diversity, or if it was a one-time thing. This year’s entering class represents another significant leap forward, with 36.6% of incoming students identifying as students of color — a nearly 2% jump over last year’s record diversity.
Black/African-American students comprised 10.2% of 2022 matriculants, up slightly from 10% last year. Hispanic/Latinx students make up 13.3% of this year’s incoming class, compared to 12.3% last year. Asian students represent 11.9% of this year’s class, compared to 10.8% last year. Women continue to make up more than 55% of incoming law students, a stark contrast to just eight years ago, when men represented the majority of the incoming class. On the gender front, we’re also seeing a steady increase in the number of matriculants who identify as gender diverse.
With just over 38,000 students, the size of the 2022 incoming class represents a return to normalcy compared to the unusually large 2021 class. With respect to LSAT and UGPA trends in aggregate, the incoming class of 2022 had higher undergraduate GPAs and LSAT scores than previous years. Median GPA was up 0.04 points, and average LSAT score was up 0.32 points. Overall, 144 schools reported an increase in median GPA for their incoming class, 38 schools reported a decrease, and 14 schools reported no change. Seventy-five schools reported an increase in median LSAT scores, 23 schools reported a decrease, and 98 reported no change.
Joining us today are two special guests: John Valery White, who is the Ralph Denton professor of law, and former dean, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas William S. Boyd School of Law. John is also the chair of LSAC’s Board of Trustees. And we’re also joined by Rebecca Scheller, the associate dean for admissions and financial aid at the University of Wisconsin Law School. Rebecca is also a member of the LSAC Board of Trustees. John and Rebecca, welcome to the program. What do you think is helping to drive the growth in racial or ethnic diversity in the incoming class?
JOHN VALERY WHITE: Well, I think part of it is just the process — over the years, diverse applicants getting information about law school, following the pathways, and making strong applications. Some of it, of course, is we’re still pretty close to the summer of 2020, when I think many schools got really focused on the question of diversity. We’ve always told schools that they should look at the numbers as only a part of a holistic review. And for sure, that holistic review process, I think, is helping schools to perceive stronger candidates. But I think we can also see in the numbers that the pool of strong candidates from minoritized backgrounds is growing.
SUSAN: What do you think we need to do — and when I say "we," I mean both LSAC and law schools — what do we need to do to continue this growth in racial and ethnic diversity?
JOHN: Well, I think we have to remain committed to it. That’ll be more complicated, naturally, if the Supreme Court overturns the ability to use race, in particular, in admissions processes. But I think that race has always been both its own category, but also a stand-in for other things we care about, like people who have overcome struggles or people who come from difficult backgrounds, people who are not represented in the profession, and for that matter, people who have had difficulty making it to college, making it to law schools, so first-generation professionals and first-generation college graduates. All of those will probably remain things that people can focus on, and I think that schools will need to focus on those, especially if they’re barred from focusing on race.
SUSAN: It’s important also to think about intersectionality. When we dig into the numbers, we see that women of color face significant barriers in the admission process and also during law school and beyond. What do we need to do to address the multiple challenges and barriers that some individuals face?
REBECCA SCHELLER: Well, I think if we’re speaking specifically of women of color, I think we know that women are often caretakers at higher rates than others, and sometimes that’s for the generation that has come before them, and oftentimes that is for children. I think there are other groups, as we’ve kind of already addressed here, that have other challenges and other barriers, but we need to think about ways that we can make the admissions process more accessible to those groups of people. But also, law schools need to kind of look within. And I think there have been some strides that we’ve all made to make law school more accessible, and maybe that is through part-time programming, but certainly through virtual learning options that will really help us be able to meet those groups of people that are facing some of these barriers.
SUSAN: What do you think this fairly rapid shift in the gender balance of applicants and matriculants means, both for legal education and the legal profession?
REBECCA: I think it’s a great thing for the legal profession and for legal education. We know that people coming from these underrepresented backgrounds, these diverse backgrounds, help enhance that robust exchange of ideas that we expect and that we aim for in the classroom.
SUSAN: The overall size of this year’s incoming class is back down to about 38,000, which is pretty much the same level it had been for four of the last five years. Any comments about why that has happened?
REBECCA: I think that it will mean a great thing for applicants this year and in the coming years, because I think we’re finally, perhaps, reaching a level of stability. Law school admission deans, including myself, we are always concerned about enrolling the right number of students. Certainly we don’t want to be in a position where we have an overenrollment crisis on our hands, but I think this stability in the applicant pool means that it will not be as competitive as it has been the last few years for applicants. And again, I think that carries over not just for admission purposes, but hopefully for financial aid purposes as well, where more students will be receiving healthy financial aid awards to make law school a more reasonable cost process for them as well.
SUSAN: I’m going to focus on the LSAT now for a moment. So we’ve just seen this significant jump in racial and ethnic diversity, and we know that more than 98% of these matriculants used the LSAT as part of their application. At the same time, the ABA is considering eliminating the test requirement in the name of diversity. What do these diversity trends mean in terms of the "test optional" debate, or what does the "test optional" debate mean in terms of these diversity trends?
JOHN: So, as you know, I’ve spoken in front of the ABA couple of times, and my biggest concern has been about the disruption that this move could have on legal education. I guess, not knowing what to tell the ABA that I haven’t already told them, I’d focus instead on students. And I think for many students, there’s a degree of excitement about the ability to circumvent a difficult, consequential test that they see as a barrier to legal education. I think they should view the test quite differently. They should see the test as a tool that will help them not only to understand where they’re competitive, but also to get into legal education. And I think for minority students in general, and for African-American students in particular, there’s a great risk to not taking the test, especially if you’re not already coming from an elite university.
Not taking the test means that people have no idea what to make of your university, your grades, and it is a huge mistake to assume that everybody’s heard of North Carolina A&T or Huston-Tillotson College or something like that. And if you’re coming from schools like that, or even from big publics where people don’t really know what your 3.6 means relative to the rest of the applicant pool, the test is really valuable to shine a light on you. And I think for those students especially, I want to emphasize the value of the test, notwithstanding what the ABA has proposed to do.
SUSAN: John and Rebecca, thank you for being here today. Your depth of experience, your knowledge of both the admission process and legal education generally, has been enormously helpful and informative to today’s podcast. Thank you.
Switching gears, here are a few notes on the fall 2023 admission cycle. As of today, 2023 volumes are still a little behind the volumes we saw last year and the year before, but significantly ahead of the volumes we saw in 2019 and 2020. The past few years have obviously been a roller coaster for applicants and schools alike due to the pandemic and other factors, with volumes shifting pretty dramatically. This year is, in some ways, a return to normalcy, with volumes right in the middle of the five-year trends — a little below 2021 and 2022, but significantly above 2019 and 2020.
Looking at racial and ethnic diversity, this year continues to look strong.
Women continue to represent a majority of applicants, well over 50%, continuing the trend we’ve seen over the past decade. And the proportion of gender-diverse applicants continues to grow each year, although still a relatively small proportion of the overall total.
As always, you can find the latest applicant trends and numbers on our website, updated daily, 365 days a year.
To our listeners, thank you for joining us at Keeping Up to Data. We look forward to you joining our next episode, when we will continue to take a close look at the data from the current admission cycle. Until next time, stay well, and my very best wishes for the new year.
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.