New Blog Series: "Burning Question I have never seen answered"...

…our inaugural one brought to us by ThetaX!

“Burning question, I haven’t found an answer to this one yet. Considering that medians, as opposed to 25th and 75th percentile, matter for rankings; If a school’s median is a 169 and they arent trying to raise it, wouldnt a 170 and 171 do the same exact thing for them? In a down year like this one, whats the point of a 175 vs 170 in terms of the median? Does a school care about their 75th? Same goes for GPA. If median is 3.7? Wouldnt a 3.8 do the same thing vs a 3.9?
Looking forward to your response Mike!”

This strikes me as a good day to dive into this. So, as you rightfully allude to, in theory a school really should not care much, or at all, about 25ths and 75ths. If you think about it, they will sacrifice tremendous amounts of tuition revenue (e.g. Iowa) and go in the red financially (e.g about 170 law schools) versus enrolling a larger class with significantly diminished medians. Given that they lose at chicken when playing The Game of USNWR, wouldn’t they not even give a glance anything but medians? Well, no.

There are a few reasons why 25ths/75ths come into play. (1), remember that Morse doesn’t always telegraph (is that almost a pun?) his ranking methodology in advance (note–this is one of two reasons why I have trouble predicting rankings for you people) and in the past he has used a calculated median, that being 25th +75th/2. So, if USNWR were to do such a thing, all of a sudden medians would be the meaningless number. OR, what if he used 25ths and 75ths as well, say as a smaller component of rankings. Then, too, it would be doomsday to have ignored them. (2), Many law schools use faculty on their admissions committees. Faculty notoriously fine-point a high LSAT score at the expense of other metrics AND do not have to answer to the dean in terms of “you screwed up our admissions numbers, you are fired”. So you could see a faculty member who herself scored a 178 on the LSAT caring much about that score, and not thinking through the ramifications of allocating scholarship money and a seat the the person 1 above your median of 166.  (3), keep in mind that there are outcomes tied into these numbers, e.g. bar placement, so in a less linear sense they still can tie into rankings. Finally, there is still a heavy psychological component. The way you get admitted to any law schools is by differentiating from the masses. While we (Karen and I) try to help people differentiate in every single communication and submission they have with a law school, it is still of first order importance to differentiate empirically. Something at the 99th percentile, be it an LSAT or a class rank, is very compelling.