The Trump Bump?  LSAT Numbers Were Way Up in 2017!

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LSAT test taker volume on the rise!I recently published a blog article highlighting the enormous spike in LSAT test taker volume over the past year, where: 

  • June 2017 was up 19.8% over June 2016 (to 27,606 tester takers)
  • September 2017 was up 10.7% over September 2016 (to 37,146 tester takers)
  • December 2017 was up a whopping 27.9% over December 2016 (to 40,096 tester takers)
  • And February 2018 was up 10.8% over February 2017 (to 32,026 test takers; this is still a tentative figure and will be finalized by LSAC soon)

December 2017 was particularly notable, as it represented not only the largest year-over-year test taker percentage increase in recorded history (since 1987), but also the first time since 1989 that a December test has been better attended than the preceding September/October administration!

Naturally, people are wondering what's driving this renewed interest in law school, and what it means for future applicants, with many observers speculating that the volatile first year of Donald Trump's presidency—where every day seems guaranteed to include a high-stakes legal discussion or debate—has been a key motivator for young people to pursue law degrees.

In fact, so pressing are those questions, and so intriguing the so-called "Trump Bump" hypothesis, that US News and World Report even ran an article on the applicant surge, and reached out to both me and PowerScore's CEO, Dave Killoran, to get our thoughts. As often happens with these types of articles only a fraction of our commentary made the final cut, but I'm of the opinion that readers will find value in the entirety of that exchange. 

So what I'd like to do is share with you the full transcript.

 

Interview questions in italics, followed by our replies:

Why do you think there are more applications submitted now than there were a year before? Some experts say there is a "Trump Bump," meaning that the election of President Donald Trump has spurred a flurry of law-related news stories and thus an increased interest in the legal profession. What are your thoughts on this theory?

Dave Killoran: “It’s valid. Trump has had a galvanizing effect on many prospective students, both Democrat and Republican. We see our students discussing specific policies far more frequently than in the past, and the depth of feeling they are expressing is greater than ever before.
 
Another factor is that LSAC dispensed with their policy of taking the LSAT a maximum of three times in two years, and this allowed more students to take the LSAT again in pursuit of higher scores. Many students were able to improve their standing, and that added some additional applicants to the pool.”  
 
Jon Denning: “Beyond the ‘Trump effect,’ which is undeniably real, there is also a very legitimate sense among prospective law students that law school and the legal profession are simply better bets these days than they were just 6-8 years ago when applicant numbers were at historical highs. With less competition for seats, everything starts to turn in an applicant’s favor: schools are a bit more open-minded about fringe candidates, scholarships are more accessible and tuition itself more negotiable, and the opportunities upon graduation are relatively greater these days compared to what people faced as little as four or five years back. So the legal climate of late has become more politically-animated and professionally-inviting.” 

 

Do you think that interest in the legal profession is rebounding after reaching historic lows in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and if the increase in interest is significant, do you expect this to be a short-term or long-term trend?

Dave Killoran: “There’s clearly been some rebound effect, but even so the number of tests given last year was no greater than the number given in 2000-2001. So, there’s been an increase in recent years, but that comes on the heels of the historic drop that followed the all-time high in 2010. The current numbers are still 35% lower than the high water mark of eight years ago. In the long-term, we don’t see the numbers ever returning to those old highs. The legal profession isn’t expanding and that will limit further increases.”
 
Jon Denning: “It’s both cyclical and self-correcting, as most economically-motivated behavior tends to be. I’ve analogized this to what we’ve seen with the US housing market over the past decade: a bubble forms as swells of people chase the same dream, then eventually bursts once enough of those people realize their mistake (in the case of law students it was not only massive amounts of loan debt, but also a fairly bleak job market) and others watching the distress steer clear. But eventually people recognize the downturn has created an opportunity and cautiously get back in the game, which is where we are now.
 
So while I don’t think we’ll see applicant numbers reach 2010-level highs again—the lesson’s been learned that the legal field can’t possibly support that many graduates—I expect we’re still shy of a healthy equilibrium and numbers will continue to rise for the next several years before leveling out.”  

 

What should law school applicants do in response to the increasing number of applications in this law school admissions cycle?

Dave Killoran: “The fact that there are a greater number of applicants doesn’t necessarily mean things will be negative for applicants, mainly because many top law schools reduced class sizes when the applications numbers dropped; now that they are rising, these schools will increase class sizes. If you had the numbers to get into a certain school last year, it’s very likely you’d still get in this year. Your application is the one thing you control in this process, so every applicant should be focused on crafting the best possible application, but that’s true every year.”
 
Jon Denning: “The rising numbers aren’t significant enough yet to make much of an impact on applicant behavior. The size of the overall applicant pool, however, is another story!
 
Big-picture we’re still in a severely depressed state in terms of prospective law students, and the implications are enormous: many schools have pushed back application deadlines and now accept even June LSAT scores for a same-year start, applicants are able to qualify for scholarships that would’ve been out of reach several years ago, tuition rates have become flexible with schools willing to haggle with potential attendees looking to negotiate a lower price, and employment prospects for graduates are looking as good or better than they have in a decade.
 
In short, it’s a still a very good time to go to law school, even if a few more people are aware of that fact. So stick to the same game plan as always by submitting a bulletproof app, then capitalize on the unique opportunities available in these lean years!”

 

Do you have any advice for them on how many schools they should be applying to, what they can do to make themselves more competitive, and whether you expect law admissions to get easier/harder in the future?

Dave Killoran: “There’s not a set number of schools for each applicant: some apply to five, some apply to fifteen, and others apply to twenty-five. You have to look at each school individually and determine whether it’s a place where you could succeed and be happy. The key is to have enough choices so you can weigh your possible job outcomes versus the debt you accrue. You can use different financial aid offers to negotiate better offers, and debt avoidance should be a high priority. 
 
As far as the future, with the rising use of the GRE for law school admissions the entire process is entering a state of flux. Right now the LSAT is still king, but three years from now you will probably see the GRE being used frequently. So, for now, the most powerful element in your application is still your LSAT score, so strive to maximize your results there. Your GPA is also very important, but most applicants aren’t in a position to significantly alter their GPA in the short-term, so focus on that LSAT score!

 

 

Questions or comments on the recent test-taker volume trends? Let us know below, or get in touch via email at lsat@powerscore.com or by phone at 800-545-1750.

 

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