Applicant questions answered, "will high LSAT scores be MORE or LESS valuable this cycle"

“Mike and Karen, as the number of takers continues to drop, won’t it become MORE acceptable to drop a median point in favor of maintaining GPA? Won’t this make high scores LESS valuable?

For example, if Harvard or Yale’s median is going to drop to 172, doesn’t a 173 become LESS valuable, not more? If the median drops a point, suddenly, the pool of at/above median expands, right? So, in theory, I should be rooting for medians to stay the same?”

This is something we spend a good deal of time looking at, particularly because we also consult for law schools. Historically, and probably psychologically, the answer is that schools will still try to  at least maintain medians as long as they can, despite the data that may beg they need to do otherwise. As in any other industry,  law schools are going to ‘worst case’ things in respect to where they stand versus competitors. In other words, they realize that even with the overall drop in applicants some schools will still “win” this cycle and if one of their competitors holds par, they need to as well. Additionally, the dean of the law school is likely going to be the initial person that sets a target LSAT, at the very least in consultation with the admissions office.  So you have multiple atmospheric pressures saying “try as long as you can to at least maintain your LSAT score, especially because the LSAT accounts for more weight in the USNWR than uGPA.”  This line of thinking can be seen historically  for many schools, certainly most of those in the top 50, as they would rather decrease enrollment than lose  ground on the LSAT. Likely if not for USNWR rankings, they would gladly eschew LSAT medians for tuition revenue. This is also why you see a scholarship arms-race of historic levels.

Incidentally, for a variety of reasons that would take me way too long to get into, this “LSAT at all input costs” might very well be misguided thinking, even in respect to USNWR rankings (which doesn’t even account for budget where it becomes even more risky), but again schools will continue down this path. When you go to law school admissions forums, or dialogue with faculty members from other law schools, the first question you are asked is indubitably “what is your LSAT?” But when you case study schools that have gotten away from this mode of thinking, (eg: Chicago Law) you don’t see a plummet in the rankings but in Chicago’s case rather the opposite. In 2008 they started mindfully and strategically raising their GPA. They have gone from a 2007 USWR ranking of #7 to a 2015 USWR ranking of #4. So even if we cannot attribute this correlation to causality (and I suspect we can assume some causality) we can say for certain it has not hurt them.

But back to what is most important for applicants, what we are really looking at now is not the start of the cycle but the end-game. The start of the cycle favored high scorers, and will for future cycles. BUT,  schools are constantly looking at where they stand median LSAT-wise. Not mean, but median.  Here is where I see a nice, late cycle change of pace much like we had in the 2012/2013 cycle, with some falling median LSATs at even the top of the food chain. At some point many schools, more than last cycle, will realize that their prior years median LSAT is not attainable. For example, something like “we would need 113 matriculates at our last year’s median to hold that median this year (I’m awkwardly refusing to use real numbers because I don’t want anyone to think I am talking about a particular school —  there will me more schools losing than winning this cycle but we don’t have data on who those will be. And law schools that aren’t doing well aren’t exactly screaming that news).  So most schools will not cede to lower medians yet (although perhaps clever schools will) but eventually this is bound to happen. We are on pace to have fewer applicants in the 170′s than we have had in a long time, and that will have trickle down ramifications throughout the rankings.  I would guess that you will see waves of people with slightly lower LSAT scores, strong softs, and/or strong uGPAs getting wonderful results starting February through all off the summer, and we have personally already seen this for some people in smaller numbers.

This should be good news if you have not heard from a school, if you are WL’ed, or if you have not applied yet. Late will look great this cycle!

-Mike