We're a couple months into the application cycle and by this point we likely have around 25% of final applicant volume. To date there is an 8.5% decline in applicants compared to 2021-2022, and a 6.2% decline in applicants compared to 2020-2021. So we are down notably from the past two cycles, be we're still up quite a bit compared to the pre-COVID years.
LSAT Applicant Volume
The ABA may be considering eliminating the rule that law schools require a standardized test from applicants, but for now it's still necessary, and the LSAT remains far and away the most common test applicants submit. About 94.5% of the applicant pool to date has submitted an LSAT, which is in line with the prior two cycles. Here are where the raw numbers stand in each score band as of today:
(Note: our numbers differ slightly from LSAC, as their data reflects an applicants final high score. E.g., if someone applied with a 154 on November 8th, 2021, then retested and got a 161 in January 2022, LSAC data would show them as always having had a score in the 160-164 band, whereas our data would show them being in the 150-154 score band until the point when January 2022 LSAT scores were released, when they would move into the 160-164 score band).
As you can see, applicant score volume is down in every band except for the two extremes, the <140 and the 175+ groupings. Here's a look at how things shake out by percentage change:
The largest drops are concentrated in the 160-169 grouping, where there are 15% fewer applicants than last year. Those bands have been down by a disproportionately large amount for the entirety of the cycle so far. The other bands that make up the bulk of applicants, 150-159, are also down, though not by quite as much.
There are smaller drops in the <150 score bands, which isn't really surprising. Over the last few years the percentage of applicants who are in those lowest scoring bands has been dropping. That's actually been one of the factors contributing to increased competitiveness: fewer applicants in those score bands (who are typically not likely to be admitted to schools) because people are scoring higher and thus are more competitive But at a certain point there just isn't much room left to lose applicants in those bands.
High scoring applicants remain relatively elevated compared to both last year and historic levels. 170+ applicants are down by 5% compared to last year and 10% compared to the year before, but are still much higher than typical of pre-COVID cycles. There are 70%, 90%, and 115% more applicants in that grouping than the 2019-2020, 2018-2019, and 2017-2018 cycles respectively. We had hoped to see more of the return to normal in those scoring bands and would love to see more from LSAC, who surely has run research on the 5/3/4 section LSAT validity comparisons. Put in other terms, the human brain hasn't changed in the last few years but other dynamics have - the test itself and how people prepare for it being the biggest but there are surely others. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out in the upcoming test-optional vote this month with the ABA, but either way, that vote will not impact this admission cycle.
Those highest scoring applicants are also making up proportionally more of the pool than they were last year, though not as much as they were in the 2020-2021 application cycle:
It's important to remember that high scoring applicants are disproportionately represented early in the cycle. While we typically have about 40-45% of the final number of 165+ scoring applicants at this point (pretty close to half) we usually only have 20-25% of the 150-164 scoring applicants. So at some point in the near future, we'll start to see high scoring volume drop off (as it does every year) while the other scoring bands pick up the pace.
Volume Trends and Forecast
Applicant volume has continued to run behind the last two years, though it has caught up somewhat with the release of October 2022 LSAT scores.
And while the percentage difference between this cycle and last has shrunk as the total applicant pool grew, the total decline has widened somewhat. On October 1st there were 1,125 fewer applicants than 2021-2022, and today there are 1,516 fewer. We're still significantly ahead of the pre-COVID years though, and applicants are certainly behaving like things are more competitive than back then- the average number of applications per applicant is 5.97 this year, down slightly from 2021-2022 but up significantly from 5.17 in 2019-2020, 4.92 in 2018-2019, and 5.09 in 2018-2019. We expect that to continue as people hedge their bets by applying widely.
As compared to 2020-2021, in the next few weeks we should start to see the difference between that cycle and this one pick up. 2021-2022 was very frontloaded, even compared to 2020-2021. 2020-2021 just kept picking up steam through the whole year- while at this point in 2021-2022 there were more applicants than the year before it, by late November that will change and remain that way for the entire year. So we should see the gap between this year and last shrink, while the one between this year and 2020-2021 grows.
As for the applicant pool this year, it doesn't look like there is a reason to expect a sudden surge that causes us to overtake last year. From June through October there were 7.5% (about 3,000) fewer first-time LSAT test takers than 2021-2022, and 15% fewer than 2020-2021. The November 2022 LSAT looks like it is on track to be smaller than November 2021, though how much smaller and what the percentage of first-time takers is remains to be seen. LSAC has also indicated that there are fewer CAS registrations than this time last year, again suggesting that volume will remain behind 2021-2022. All that supports and explains what we are seeing: declining applicant volume compared to last year.
However, to date none of these numbers suggest an enormous decline in volume this year. We still think a modest decline is the likeliest outcome and are still sticking with our negative -1% to -5% that we have been tracking since this summer. To be determined, and we hope for applicants that it is larger.
A quarter of the way through the year, things look relatively good for applicants. While this cycle may be more competitive than the pre-COVID cycles, it looks like we're slowly edging back to normalcy. Fewer reapplicants and deferrals will hopefully contribute to lower competition. Schools are likely to move slowly as they assess the applicant pool and calibrate their targets. But overall, we think things are going about as well as can be expected for applicants.