Do Non-Traditional Law School Applicants Have an Admissions Advantage?

Law School Admissions

Do Nontraditional Law School Applicants Have an Admissions Advantage?Anyone who has been following my posts on the PowerScore blog knows that I’m pretty interested in using data to get insights into not only what factors might affect law school admissions decisions, but also to what degree those factors have an impact, as well as the differences in the ways different facets of an application package do (or do not!) affect admissions decisions at different law schools.

So far, I have explored whether the timing of the application makes a difference, the benefits (or lack thereof) of binding early decision options, which schools are relatively more welcoming of splitter and reverse-splitter candidates, and how an applicant’s ability to claim underrepresented minority status may affect outcomes. In this post we’ll dive into the data to try to get an idea of whether – and how – nontraditional students (or, in common shorthand, NonTrads) fare any differently in law school admissions outcomes.

“Nontraditional” status as an applicant is not an incredibly well-defined concept, but it kind of reminds me of Justice Potter Stewart’s famous statement in Jacobellis v. Ohio: I know it when I see it. The general idea is that a non-traditional law school applicant is one who hasn’t followed the typical high school-to-college-to-law-school track, and so is a bit older and probably with a little more experience – work and otherwise – than a typical “traditional” law school applicant. How much older or more experienced is not an easily answered question, but for our purposes, nontraditional applicants are those in our data who self-identified as nontraditional, and that seems like a reasonable way to handle it.

Something else that’s a little different about analyzing a potential “nontraditional boost” (that is, an advantage given to nontraditional applicants based solely on their nontraditional status) compared to analyzing the same for, say, URM applicants, is that there’s quite a bit less in the way of theoretical underpinnings of such a boost. If it exists, it might be because law schools expect someone who has a little more world experience to perhaps take law school more seriously and thus be more successful. On the other hand, a big gap between undergrad and law school might indicate that the applicant has been away from the academy for so long that re-integrating and succeeding might be difficult. Maybe schools, in a quest for diversity, look not only to race, ethnicity, and gender, but also to age diversity? If anyone else has any input into why nontraditional students might receive a boost or, in the alternative, be disadvantaged, by all means use that comments section!

With that said, I plan to look for a potential nontraditional boost much the same way I did a URM-boost. I will first see if we can quantify such a boost by measuring the effects of nontraditional status on admissions outcomes, controlling for a variety of other quantifiable factors. Next, I will present average LSAT and GPA numbers for both nontraditional and traditional admits to those schools in the USNWR top 100 for which we have sufficient user-reported data. As a preliminary: this analysis makes use of data reported by law school applicants themselves, and covers the 2009/10 through 2015/16 application cycles. Again, nontraditional status for individual applicants was also self-reported. As a final note: the tables here reflect the USNWR rankings for schools prior to the very recent 2018 release, but based on the 2018 rankings, I now include Top 13 tables instead of Top 14 (since I would argue that the concept of the Top 14 is no longer current since Georgetown dropped out and Texas has not always been there).

Does a nontraditional boost exist?

Unlike the URM boost, which existed in nearly every school we covered, the nontraditional boost only seems to exist in a few schools and, in fact, a handful of schools seem to disadvantage nontraditional applicants. Let’s take a look! (The number given in the table is the % increase in chances of admission for nontraditional applicants compared to traditional applicants, controlling for LSAT, GPA, applicant sex, ED application, URM status, and month the application was sent).

Schools for Which Nontraditional Status Seems to Matter
Rank School Increase/Decrease in Chances of
Admission for Nontraditional Applicants
65 U of Connecticut 337%
72 Loyola Chicago 243%
22 Notre Dame 229%
40 Wake Forest 211%
50 Tulane 193%
28 U Alabama 184%
48 U of Maryland 169%
30 William & Mary 144%
17 UCLA 111%
15 U Texas 102%
2 Harvard 86%
14 Georgetown 76%
78 American -50%
40 U of Illinois -54%
40 Washington & Lee -58%
18 WUSTL -62%
48 U of Florida -67%
4 Chicago -73%


Schools for Which Nontraditional Status Does Not Seem to Matter
Rank School Rank School
1 Yale 40 U of Arizona
3 Stanford 40 U of Colorado - Boulder
4 Columbia 45 George Mason
6 NYU 45 Southern Methodist
7 U Penn 45 U of Utah
8 UC Berkeley 50 FSU
8 Michigan 50 Temple
8 UVA 50 UC Hastings
11 Duke 50 U of Houston
12 Northwestern 55 Baylor
13 Cornell 55 Richmond
16 Vanderbilt 57 Case Western
19 USC 57 Georgia State
20 Boston U 60 U of Kentucky
20 Iowa 60 U of Miami
22 Emory 65 Loyola Marymount
22 Minnesota 65 Pepperdine
25 Arizona State 72 University of Denver
25 GW 74 U of San Diego
25 Indiana - Bloomington 74 Cardozo
28 Boston College 78 U of Pittsburgh
30 Ohio State 82 Northeastern
30 UC Davis 86 Chicago-Kent
33 U Georgia 86 Penn State (Dickinson)
33 U Washington 86 Syracuse
33 U Wisconsin - Madison 92 Lewis & Clark
37 Fordham 97 Brooklyn Law School
38 UNC 100 Michigan State

As you can see, only twelve law schools seem, based on the data, to provide any sort of boost to non-traditional applicants, and that boost ranges from 337% at the University of Connecticut to 76% at Georgetown. Half as many schools (six) actually appear to disadvantage nontraditional applicants, with those applicants having their chances cut from between 50% at American to 73% at the University of Chicago, when compared to otherwise identical peers (at least as far as our controls – LSAT, GPA, etc. go). And, of course, you can see that the vast majority of these schools demonstrate no statistically significant effects of an applicant’s nontraditional status.

In order to bring the analysis a little closer to a more easily-digested reality, I present a few tables that show the average LSAT and GPA scores for admitted nontraditional students vs. admitted traditional students for the schools in question here. The schools are listed in order of the difference between the average traditional admit’s LSAT and that of the average nontraditional admit. Please note that nothing else is controlled for here, and these are just the raw numbers; in other words, these are just descriptive statistics for your viewing pleasure, and these tables alone aren’t indicative of any statistically significant difference in the acceptance rates of applicants based on their nontraditional status. (Due to rounding, the differential score sometimes seems off by 0.1.)

School Traditional LSAT Non-Traditional LSAT LSAT Differential
Yale 174.4 171.8 2.6
UC Berkeley 170.7 168.8 1.9
Harvard 173.3 171.6 1.8
Michigan 170.4 168.8 1.6
Chicago 171.6 170.1 1.5
Georgetown 170.6 169.1 1.4
Cornell 169.6 168.3 1.2
Fordham 166.9 165.7 1.2
Iowa 164.4 163.1 1.2
U of Arizona 163.1 162.0 1.2
Minnesota 167.5 166.3 1.2
U of Connecticut 162.3 161.2 1.2
Arizona State 163.9 162.7 1.2
Temple 163.0 161.9 1.1
Northwestern 171.0 169.9 1.1
U Texas 169.5 168.5 1.0
Brooklyn 162.4 161.4 1.0
NYU 172.4 171.4 1.0
U Penn 171.1 170.1 1.0
Baylor 163.4 162.5 0.9
American 160.7 159.9 0.9
Michigan State 158.3 157.5 0.8
William & Mary 166.3 165.6 0.8
Hastings 164.1 163.4 0.7
Cardozo 163.9 163.3 0.7
UVA 170.3 169.7 0.7
Duke 171.5 170.9 0.6
U Alabama 165.7 165.2 0.5
Pepperdine 163.3 162.8 0.5
UCLA 169.5 169.1 0.5
UC Davis 165.2 164.8 0.5
U of Miami 160.7 160.3 0.3
U of Utah 162.9 162.6 0.3
WUSTL 167.9 167.6 0.3
U of Colorado - Boulder 165.3 165.0 0.3
Notre Dame 166.5 166.2 0.3
Vanderbilt 169.1 168.9 0.3
Northeastern 162.8 162.6 0.3
Ohio State 163.9 163.6 0.3
USC 168.4 168.2 0.2
Southern Methodist 164.0 163.9 0.2
Tulane 162.7 162.6 0.1
Lewis & Clark 163.1 163.0 0.1
Loyola (Chicago) 161.3 161.2 0.0
U of Maryland 162.9 162.8 0.0
U of Illinois 165.6 165.6 0.0
Houston 163.8 163.8 0.0
UNC 164.3 164.3 0.0
Emory 166.9 166.9 0.0
Boston College 166.3 166.4 -0.1
GW 167.1 167.2 -0.1
Washington & Lee 164.9 165.0 -0.1
FSU 162.2 162.4 -0.2
U Wisconsin - Madison 164.2 164.4 -0.2
U of Kentucky 160.6 160.8 -0.3
Columbia 173.0 173.3 -0.3
Wake Forest 164.0 164.3 -0.3
Richmond 162.0 162.3 -0.3
Stanford 172.4 172.8 -0.3
Loyola Marymount 162.9 163.3 -0.4
Chicago-Kent 161.4 161.9 -0.5
Penn State 161.2 161.7 -0.5
U Washington 166.4 167.0 -0.6
U of San Diego 162.5 163.1 -0.6
Indiana - Bloomington 164.9 165.6 -0.7
U Georgia 165.9 166.6 -0.7
U of Pittsburgh 161.3 162.1 -0.7
Georgia State 161.2 161.9 -0.7
Denver 160.5 161.2 -0.7
Syracuse 156.7 157.5 -0.8
Boston U 166.5 167.5 -1.0
George Mason 163.3 164.3 -1.0
Case Western 161.0 163.1 -2.0
U of Florida 162.8 165.0 -2.2

You’ll note that, for the most part, accepted traditional applicants had higher LSATs than accepted nontraditional applicants, with the number sometimes being pretty substantial (Yale, Berkeley, and Harvard really stand out here). It’s also worth noting that 6 out of the top 10 LSAT differentials are Top 13 schools.

And now, for a look at just the Top 13 law schools, isolated.

School Traditional LSAT Non-Traditional LSAT LSAT Differential
Yale 174.4 171.8 2.6
UC Berkeley 170.7 168.8 1.9
Harvard 173.3 171.6 1.8
Michigan 170.4 168.8 1.6
Chicago 171.6 170.1 1.5
Cornell 169.6 168.3 1.2
Northwestern 171.0 169.9 1.1
NYU 172.4 171.4 1.0
U Penn 171.1 170.1 1.0
UVA 170.3 169.7 0.7
Duke 171.5 170.9 0.6
Columbia 173.0 173.3 -0.3
Stanford 172.4 172.8 -0.3

There’s honestly not much to say here, and since we’re just looking at raw numbers. It may be worth noting that Columbia and Stanford actually exhibit the opposite tendency, in that nontraditional admits have higher average LSATs, whereas everywhere else traditional admits’ LSAT scores were at least 0.6 higher on average.

In the following tables, we repeat the same exercise for GPA:

School Traditional GPA Non-Traditional GPA GPA Differential
Arizona State 3.58 3.21 0.37
U of Utah 3.55 3.20 0.35
Baylor 3.51 3.19 0.32
U Alabama 3.55 3.26 0.29
Case Western 3.43 3.16 0.28
Indiana - Bloomington 3.53 3.26 0.27
U of Kentucky 3.45 3.19 0.26
U Georgia 3.52 3.29 0.23
Southern Methodist 3.49 3.26 0.23
Georgia State 3.51 3.28 0.23
Syracuse 3.37 3.14 0.23
U of Pittsburgh 3.45 3.22 0.23
Pepperdine 3.57 3.35 0.21
Notre Dame 3.64 3.44 0.20
Richmond 3.42 3.22 0.20
U Colorado - Boulder 3.55 3.36 0.20
U of Arizona 3.53 3.34 0.20
Washington & Lee 3.53 3.34 0.19
Denver 3.40 3.21 0.18
Iowa 3.61 3.42 0.18
Loyola (Chicago) 3.38 3.19 0.18
Wake Forest 3.52 3.34 0.18
U of Maryland 3.49 3.31 0.17
Lewis & Clark 3.44 3.28 0.16
UCLA 3.74 3.59 0.16
U of Illinois 3.51 3.36 0.16
American 3.43 3.28 0.15
GW 3.61 3.46 0.15
William & Mary 3.64 3.50 0.15
Boston College 3.62 3.48 0.14
Emory 3.60 3.46 0.14
Penn State 3.45 3.31 0.14
Loyola Marymount 3.52 3.38 0.14
Minnesota 3.54 3.40 0.14
UC Davis 3.62 3.48 0.13
Georgetown 3.72 3.58 0.13
Tulane 3.47 3.35 0.13
Houston 3.47 3.34 0.13
UVA 3.74 3.61 0.13
Chicago-Kent 3.34 3.21 0.13
Vanderbilt 3.69 3.57 0.13
U of San Diego 3.47 3.35 0.12
Stanford 3.89 3.76 0.12
U of Miami 3.45 3.33 0.12
U Texas 3.71 3.59 0.12
Ohio State 3.62 3.50 0.12
NYU 3.78 3.66 0.11
U of Florida 3.57 3.46 0.11
Columbia 3.78 3.67 0.11
U Washington 3.66 3.55 0.11
U Penn 3.81 3.71 0.10
Temple 3.46 3.36 0.10
Northwestern 3.68 3.59 0.10
Cardozo 3.50 3.40 0.09
Duke 3.79 3.70 0.09
George Mason 3.50 3.41 0.09
Yale 3.91 3.82 0.09
WUSTL 3.54 3.45 0.09
U of Connecticut 3.44 3.35 0.08
USC 3.73 3.65 0.08
Harvard 3.87 3.79 0.08
Boston U 3.66 3.58 0.08
Hastings 3.54 3.47 0.07
Cornell 3.74 3.67 0.07
Fordham 3.61 3.54 0.07
UNC 3.56 3.50 0.06
FSU 3.48 3.43 0.05
Michigan 3.74 3.69 0.05
Chicago 3.83 3.79 0.04
UC Berkeley 3.83 3.79 0.04
Northeastern 3.47 3.45 0.02
Brooklyn 3.40 3.38 0.02
Michigan State 3.47 3.47 -0.01
U Wisconsin - Madison 3.47 3.49 -0.03


School Traditional GPA Non-Traditional GPA GPA Differential
UVA 3.74 3.61 0.13
Stanford 3.89 3.76 0.12
NYU 3.78 3.66 0.11
Columbia 3.78 3.67 0.11
U Penn 3.81 3.71 0.10
Northwestern 3.68 3.59 0.10
Duke 3.79 3.70 0.09
Yale 3.91 3.82 0.09
Harvard 3.87 3.79 0.08
Cornell 3.74 3.67 0.07
Michigan 3.74 3.69 0.05
Chicago 3.83 3.79 0.04
UC Berkeley 3.83 3.79 0.04

Here again, we see a broad range of differentials, this time for the GPA. What really stands out to me is that almost all schools demonstrate at least a somewhat average GPA for traditional students, and that this is true of all Top 13 schools. This may be due to the fact that schools are willing to be a bit more forgiving of lower GPAs for nontraditional students, given that they’ve put some temporal distance between themselves and those GPAs, and have ostensibly matured and gotten more serious in the meantime. On the other hand, if you just wrapped up your undergrad GPA before applying to law school (or are, in many cases, still forming it), there’s not much reason to believe you’ll be any different by the time you set foot in your first law class. That’s just conjecture on my part, though.

So, there you have it. In a nutshell, a quantifiable nontraditional boost does exist for some schools, but about half that many seem to actually disadvantage nontraditional applicants.

Image "New Career Concept" courtesy of Shutterstock.