While we don't yet have information on the 2019-2020 application cycle (and we should soon), we've gotten some questions about why we care what those numbers look like. Generally, the number of applicants is directly related to how competitive a cycle is. That's why we obsess over things like LSAT registration volume. It gives us a hint of what our cycle is going to look like.
Here's a chart and graph showing the total number of LSAT applicants since 2011.
As you can see, after a decline in the mid 2010's the number has been steadily rebounding.
But that's not the only thing that matters for your cycle. Generally, applicants are competing against those in the same LSAT or similar LSAT score band as themselves. More people applying in your band is usually not a great thing.
These numbers are also relevant for law schools, just from the opposite perspective. The more applicants within their band, the easier time they'll have maintaining and raising medians. And being able to accurately forecast the numbers early in the cycle helps schools to manage enrollment planning.
You can see the 2011 and onward total LSAT applicants within each band below.
One of the best nuggets from this data is the continuing decline, as a relative percent of total applicants, of <145 scorers. These applicants tend attend schools with poor employment prospects, and have sub-average bar pass outcomes.
There are a few potential causes of this decline. The first is the general improvement in LSAT prep. Applicants are simultaneously more aware of how important the LSAT is, and have access to improved, cheaper LSAT prep material. The first motivates students to study harder for the test; the second allows them to do so more effectively. Online resources such as forums, instructional videos, and now LSAC's free prep program through their partnership with Kahn Academy, are enabling applicants to take the LSAT readier than ever.
The second potential cause is the increased awareness of the poor outcomes (both bar pass rates and career opportunities) at schools that draw primarily from those lower scoring LSAT ranges. Surveys have shown that students are intensely interested in their post-graduate opportunities, and it follows that they'll be more selective about the type of school they attend- and thus, may only apply when they score an LSAT that enable them to get into a school which meets their expectations.
Another interesting tidbit is the fluctuation in 175+ scorers. As you can see, those scorers tend not to follow the patterns of each cycle, rising and falling seemingly at random.
The LSAT isn't the only thing that matters with your application, and with the rise in non-LSAT applicants, it's not the sole factor determining cycle competitiveness. However, it remains an important measure to track- and will for the forseeable future. Check back with us in a few weeks for a peek at initial 2019-2020 data and what it means!