In this episode of Status Check with Spivey, Mike and Dave answer questions from the Law School Admissions Reddit. This will be a series of two episodes, with Part 2 coming out next week! Part 1 covers predictions for the upcoming 2022-2023 law school admissions cycle, discussion about the LSAT and GPAs, application timing, and more. Part 2 will cover more of the "soft factors" of a law school application, including personal statements.
Relevant links from this episode:
- 2022 LSAT/GPA Medians (spreadsheet)
- Bad Law School Admissions Advice (podcast)
- Dean Z's thoughts on the difference between applying in August vs. applying in October (from the University of Michigan's admissions podcast, "A2Z with Dean Z")
- Interview (+ More on Bad Admissions Advice) with Dean Z (podcast)
Mike: Welcome to Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, law school admissions, a little bit of everything. This podcast, we're going to talk about this coming, essentially this current admission cycle. I'm joined with PowerScore CEO Dave Killoran, who's been in this industry longer than I have and is the go-to LSAT expert, and we're going to get into some LSAT predictions. My background is in admissions, and we're also going to get into admissions and cycle predictions.
It’s in two parts because it's long, and we don't want to bore people to tears. So part one is going to be data predictions, cycle predictions, LSAT discussion, and GPA discussion. I hope it's value-add. And then we'll turn it over to part two, which we’ll post a couple days later. Without further delay, we are in Napa, or we were in Napa when we recorded this, so let me hand it over to Dave and me. Hey, Dave!
Dave: Mike, how are you today?
Mike: I feel like we’ve been just hanging out too much. Which is weird, because like, there's, you know, most of the time I'm just 24/7 thinking about this stuff.
Dave: You are. Last night we went out and had dinner, that’s a good one.
Mike: It was weird talking about normal stuff, kids and dogs and life.
Dave: Yes, but now we're back to the law school grind.
Mike: No one cares about our kids and dogs and lives. So let's get into it.
Dave: All right, so we have a whole slate of questions from that Reddit thread that we posted. And we're going to try to get through a lot of them, we're not going to get through all of them. But let's start off with some big picture stuff.
Here's the first question, came in from Accomplished-Body785: “Could y’all give an update on what the 2022-2023 cycle might look like in terms of the number of applicants?”
Mike: Yeah, it's interesting. So the coming cycle, which is essentially where we're at — now, I should say before I say that: there will still be schools that have people not show up for orientation and dive into their waitlist, that happens every year. So technically, even though the applicant pool is full this cycle, no one's applying anymore, this cycle is not over until mid-August, when all the orientations are over, mid- to late August.
But let's talk about next cycle, meaning — you know this as well as I do if not better, of course, but when you look at the test-taker data, we're down. And even when you look at the fact that there's a September test this year and there wasn't one last year, so even when you backfill that in, we're still going to be down. So what we're looking at is a cycle that’s — the pendulum is swinging back towards normalization, as far as number of applicants. Number of applications doesn't matter. And I know why you're laughing, Dave. This is going to sound weird, when I was a baby Dean of Admissions I didn't understand this. When I started off in admissions I didn't understand this. But what matters as far as demand and competitiveness is applicants, because a person can only go to one school, you can't be in two law schools. So you'll hear some other talking heads say things like, “Well, demand looks strong, because number of applications is strong.” No, that actually just means that applicants are being savvier. They're applying to more law schools. But demand is not any bit higher. And eventually law schools gotta sort that stuff out.
So law schools have to understand that if the typical applicant applies to 6.9 law schools — which incidentally, I mean, it's not like a bell curve, I'm sure there's a lot of people applying to one or two or three and then a lot of people applying to like 20 or 25, would you guess?
Mike: They're only going to get some of those, because again, you can only go to one law school. So over time, if applicants are down, and we think they are going to be down, even if there's a recession, I'm sure we'll get into this, then law school admissions is less competitive. It might not be as less competitive early if people are applying to more law schools, because law schools can't share that data with one another. But over time, all that matters is applicants. We actually got really lucky when we predicted this cycle would be down 12%, and it was down to 11.7. So every once in a while we'll get that close, but I'm going to say it's going to be down, this is tough stuff, 4 to 6% from this past cycle.
Dave: 4 to 6%, that is more than I would have estimated. I'm hoping it's flat overall, just from a normalcy standpoint, but I would have said maybe 2.5 to 3.5% down.
Mike: So that pause I did was me factoring in people who I talked to, Deans of law schools, LSAC, they want to be overly optimistic. From their perspective, they don't want it down 4 to 6%. But when I look at all the available data, it’s down so far.
Dave: Yeah, right now August is down 20%, or at least it's going to end up that way. It may even be more than that, we could lose another 1,000 people and another couple percentage points. But as you said, September actually is new this year. And there were last time I checked 6,000-7,000 people registered, and that was over 10 days ago when I last looked. So that actually would make that gap up. But we'll have to see really what happens with the October and November LSATs to know how the first part of the new cycle is actually really looking. But I do think it's going to be lower than it was before.
Mike: Yeah. Because also the previous LSATs were a lot of retakers and they were down. So retakers would indicate that these are people on waitlists this past cycle trying to get off. So I think the percentage of retakers is the highest we've ever seen. It's huge, right. So, you know, obviously, the people taking it in September, October, whatever, these are all for this coming cycle. Because no one's taking it for the past cycle. So we'll see how this plays out. But I said this last year, and we happened to get pretty close, but I'll say it again, like, hold me accountable, but I think 4 to 6 sounds about right.
Dave: You know, Mike, that's the very first question on this list. And there's like 35 questions here.
Mike: But we knew that the global ones would be longer, right?
Dave: All right, let's stay in that same vein of the new cycle. “We'd love to hear an update on GRE versus LSAT for the 2022-2023 cycle.” I'll take this one. Because GRE is not a huge component of law school admissions. It's just under 5% right now, if I recall correctly, and I don't see that changing a whole lot, even though we think every law school will accept the GRE for this upcoming cycle. So even with that, it's still an LSAT world out there, law school Deans are looking at the LSAT as a more serious test. It shows commitment to go to law school, it's also the test that they're most used to. They've worked with it for years, they understand what the numbers mean; the GRE is very new to them, and schools are a little bit more hesitant. I don't think they're thinking to themselves that the GRE is some huge advantage when they're looking at applicants. Would you agree with that?
Mike: Yeah, I could get super wonky, but for the sake of time, I won't. You did click on one of the things that matters. If you take the LSAT, you're applying to law school almost by definition. If you take the GRE — I took the GRE to apply for my doctoral program.
Mike: So yeah, it's more serious for law schools, the calibration is different for U.S. News, so in your words — I'm not going to get into the calibration — they know it better. So basically, what we tell our applicants we consult with is, if you have the ability to take either, take the LSAT. If you’re taking the GRE and you have the ability to take the LSAT, I would take the LSAT, because it's probably going to speed up your cycle decision. People with GRE scores have slower cycles.
Dave: Yeah. And I think that's actually one of the hugely pertinent points here. You think you're doing yourself a service by taking the GRE, but you're already putting yourself in the slow lane in terms of that. And you're putting yourself in a pool where there's not a 100% comfort with who you are as an applicant. I'm not anti-GRE in terms of admissions or applications, it's just, know what you're getting yourself into if you decide not to take LSAT.
Mike: Does your company do GRE?
Dave: We do.
Mike: Okay. There's no bias in there.
Dave: Yeah, I’m not like, “It's an all LSAT world, don't take the GRE.” I don't love the GRE because I find it a slightly boring test, but a lot of applicants are like “It doesn't have logic games,” So they like that. The reading is a little bit easier, I think, than the LSAT. The problem with the GRE for many people is that some of the English they test is difficult, but even more so it has math. And a lot of people don't like math, right? You're getting away from logic games, but you're going to math; you’ve got to pick your poison with that.
Mike: What about the Dental Aptitude Test?
Dave: The DAT, love that test. The visualization section on that? Cool.
Mike: I'll never make a blog post again joking that LSAT is having a toys section.
Let me address the ABA going test optional — maybe, maybe not, probably it's going to pass, but it's not going to impact this cycle whatsoever. So once a week I'll see a message somewhere online, “I heard that law schools are getting rid of the LSAT.” No, no, no.
Dave: No, they still have the option to use it.
Mike: Right. And there will be — wait, Dave is being a little snarky. His point is they are going to use the LSAT even if it goes test optional, which is going to be a slower process.
Dave: Yeah, it will take some time there. Let's move on to some application questions. So here's one that it says, “Is it fair for a school to impose a lifetime limit on the number of applications one can submit? For instance, Harvard added a three-time limit. It's in their FAQ section, after stating for three years that they viewed multiple applications in a positive light.” So is it fair for them to do this?
Mike: I mean, sure. I don't want to get into what's just and unjust, but sure, they can do whatever they want. And I think that Harvard would still — I don't know their position on this. And I have good thoughts towards Dean Jobson, Kristi Jobson. But I would have imagined that if you apply two or three times, they say, “Wow, this person is really interested in our school,” and that's not a bad thing. But you start getting over three and you start feeling bad for the person you have to turn down year after year. And there's some red flags being signaled there. So yeah, I think it's fair for them to say, “Look, we don't want to put you through this.” People watch the movie Rudy, and they're like, “Oh, I can just apply seven years in a row and finally get in,” but it doesn't quite work like that. So yeah, I think it's fair.
Dave: It is fair, and the reason is, it's their world. They get to do what they want, and they make up the rules, they can apply the rules. And I also think that if you've applied to Harvard three times, and you've been rejected three times, that the signal there is, “Hey, we've taken a close look at you multiple times, if you're going to keep doing this every year, and there's not a significant enough change for us to now accept you, we don't think after three times we're going to see a significant change.” And I think at a certain point they’re like, “You're not getting any closer, we want to end the pain cycle.” And so for me, I believe it's 100% fair.
Mike: You know, there's an analogy here every year — please don't do this — every year, there'll be a small number of applicants that thinks it's smart to email a law school every day of the entire 8, 10-month cycle. Maybe for the first three days it’s like, oh okay, but at some point it's fair to block that person from your email box, right?
Dave: Get them out. Yeah, you start to look like a stalker and it's uncomfortable. Because it's a pursuit, you know, you're pursuing the school. It's like you just went on a date and you start texting that person every hour. It's not going to be successful.
Next question, “Besides LSAT and GPA and working on making essays as best as they can be, what other advice do you have for applicants to make sure they're giving adcoms the best picture of who they are and putting their best foot forward? Focusing on say, the top 14 to the top 50?”
Mike: I like the first part of this question, because the answer is in the question. Who you are. So there's interviews, there's optional essays. And David and I have a book coming out, I don’t want to overly talk about it, but we talk a ton in this book, the PowerScore/Spivey Consulting Admissions Bible, about differentiating. And the definition of who you are is different than anyone else on the planet. So you can differentiate in letters of rec, essays, interviews, visits, how you email, how you talk on the phone, how you communicate, your EQ… what you don't say on Reddit, that can be reverse engineered by a Dean of Admission to know that it's you bad talking their school. There’s hundreds of thousands of ways to differentiate.
Dave: Yeah, I don't have much to add to that because I think that's 100% accurate.
All right, next question, “How much of an impact does when you apply have on your chances? Is earlier always better? Or is there no substantive difference until a certain point?”
Mike: Yeah, so Dean Z — she and I talk from time to time, and she's been in admissions for longer than I have — and she had a great Instagram about someone who had applied two years in a row. They were not admitted the first year; they were admitted the second year. They applied in like — I don't know, you'll see the Instagram, but they applied earlier the second year. And then Dean Z says, “And this did not matter.” There's no difference for the vast majority of schools — and there's nuance, so please know that I'm not saying there's never any difference. But you always would rather get your better application in by November, December, early December, than your worse application in in September. And anyone that says otherwise is wrong, and I mean that. And I hate absolutes, but categorically, if they're telling you you have to apply by September, there's an ulterior motive. The motive might just be that they sound like they know what they're talking about. It might be someone on Reddit, I mean, the amount of false information — there was a question, you know, “How do I detect bad information?” There's tons of bad information, because sometimes people want to put bad information out there because they're competing with you. And I have two podcasts, and Dave, you and I were talking about this, I have two podcasts on how to detect bad information.
Just realize that the biggest myth today, which is why we're also going to talk about why so many application cycles are now front loaded more and more, but the biggest myth used to be the schools average LSAT scores. So that myth finally has gone away, and it was going to give me a heart attack at like 45. And then so now the biggest myth is you have to apply September-October, you get this bump. No. When you look at that, it's really confusing correlation and causation. What I mean by that is, qualitatively, applicants in September tend to be the strongest. If you apply in September, most often than not, you don't have to retake the LSAT, you have your best LSAT. You've been probably taking the LSAT, you might have retakes. But you've been prepping your app, preparing your app doing your application all summer, if not longer than all summer. And likely, if you had those scores, that great application, highly likely if you applied in November, your outcomes would be the same.
Dave: And by the way, Dean Z, for those of you are not familiar, is the estimable Dean Zearfoss of Michigan.
Mike: Oh, yeah, my bad.
Dave: Yeah, you know the shorthand code of people that we're talking about. All right, let's get to the next question, a splitter question: “Which T14 schools are the most reverse splitter friendly? Currently getting some work experience post-undergrad and would appreciate the advice as comfort while studying for the LSAT.” How do you want to answer that one?
Mike: Yeah, I'm surprised we're even like answering it because, you know, we can't answer everyone, and this is one of the tough ones to talk about. One is, I try not to talk about individual schools, but I think the bigger thing is this is going to flop around every year. You had a great analogy to college football recruiting.
Dave: Yeah, the idea here is that it's very difficult to predict it long-term, because it is dependent upon the applicant pool that is sitting around you, and that changes from year to year. One year a school might need more high LSATs, and so they dip into that splitter pool, the next year they might need more high GPAs, so they dip into that splitter pool. And so it's not going to be predictable. And the analogy that I used when we were talking about this yesterday about college football is, look, if you have a college football team that’s stacked with quarterbacks, they've got like three top-rated quarterbacks in the quarterback room, they're probably not recruiting quarterbacks as much that year. They can give it, you know, a year off. They might be recruiting more wide receivers or running backs. The next year, maybe two of those quarterbacks graduate and now they're like, “We need quarterbacks again.” This is the same thing that happens in law schools, where some years they need higher LSATs, some years they need higher GPAs. And they use splitters and reverse splitters to balance those numbers out.
Mike: Right, and they balance them out as the cycle progresses too. What I would say is, if I'm a splitter or a reverse splitter, I definitely want my dream schools in play. And predictably with this upcoming cycle I think normalizing, we'll see how the test scores, if the test scores which have been elevated — you have a word for that.
Mike: If things normalize, which we think they are, if applicants are maybe 1 to 6% down, then yeah man, apply for schools if you’re a splitter or reverse splitter, because you don't know and we don't know. We’ll say this straight up, we don't know which schools are going to favor splitters and reverse splitters this coming cycle.
Dave: We'll see it as it happens. But I will give one piece of advice to splitters and reverse splitters, and that is apply to more schools. Cast a wider net. So if you're sitting there thinking, “Well, I was just going to apply to these schools because they're in my zone,” and you have splitter-type numbers, think about adding a few schools. Because you never know who is going to say, “This is our year to get a higher GPA,” or LSAT, or what.
Mike: Right. Yeah, I think the way I think of it is — I don't have the good fortune to do intake phone calls anymore for our firm, but when I used to do those, I would say like, “Look, apply to any school you want. My professional responsibility is just to sort of add schools you might be missing, but go for it.”
Dave: Interestingly, the follow up question on this is really similar, “Best/worst schools for early decision?” So has some similarities to it. What's your take there?
Mike: I'd say they're all the worst.
Dave: Why are they so bad?
Mike: Well, mostly because again, there's nuance, and I'll get into that nuance. But generally, as I was saying to you, Dave, as I was saying to a Dean of Admission who concurred with the statement, my analogy here has always been, a Las Vegas Hotel casino would not have a table on their casino floor that didn't favor the house. Why would a law school have an admissions program that didn't favor the law school?
So in general, you don't get this mystical, mythical, unicorn bump for applying ED, particularly early in the cycle. Schools are only going to admit people that hit their target medians, their target medians are usually up. So why would a school ever admit someone ED that's going to hurt their target median? I mean, obviously, there's underrepresented minority applicants; if you're not at the medians, I wouldn't overthink it here. But generally, unless you're above both medians, all you're doing is your de-leveraging any ability to scholarship negotiate. And even the schools that offer guaranteed scholarships, and I think you added an analogy about this — they offer guaranteed scholarships, well, maybe you're losing money, because you're above both medians, and you get the scholarship. But man, if you had been admitted to six schools, you could have negotiated that much better.
I'll end on this point. Every cycle, I talked to applicants who apply to — I hate saying school names, but I’ll say Columbia, ED, and then they get in, and invariably they get in touch with me and they say, “Man, I should have gone for Harvard.” Right? Because your brain starts saying, “Well, if I got into Columbia, and I got in early…”
Right. So there are nuances, if you have an absolute number one school, it’s a dream school or your spouse is going to be in that city, whatever, and financially you don't need to worry so much about being debt averse, then it's not going to hurt you to apply to ED. The funny thing about ED is it actually helps you get off the waitlist, because you’re a yield protect data point. So if you have a dream school and you're willing to say goodbye to every other school, and de-leverage all scholarship negotiations, then yeah, I'm for it. That's the only time.
Dave: Yeah, let's go back to that point that you talked about, that they have this program because it benefits them. And sometimes, especially with like the full rides, people are like, “Wow, they're just getting good applicants.” The analogy that I use was, it was like — the Las Vegas hotel analogy, it was built on that — you're there, and you're gambling, and then the casino comes over and they give you a $500 bottle of champagne. And you think, “Wow, I'm a big winner,” and you're spending a lot of money on the floor. Literally, they come over, they give you, you know, free drinks. Maybe it's a big bottle of champagne for you and your group, and that’s an investment. Yes, you might be getting a full ride, but what the school is doing is locking you in. Once you get that bottle of champagne at the Bellagio, you're not going across the street to Paris, you're not going next door to Caesars. You're thinking, “Well, I'm going to stay here because the Bellagio is treating me well.” Yes, ED is going to lock you in, but that scholarship money takes you out of the running of other schools. And so they're doing it and yes, they've probably felt you were going to get money elsewhere anyway. So for them, they're like, “We're just locking you in, happy days.”
Let's move on. We’re now going to move into GPA. And this is Inspector_Separate with the question saying, “Will grade inflation from COVID pass-fail policies allow schools to continue to jack up GPAs, while keeping the median LSAT as 172, or whatever it may actually be?”
Mike: Yeah, I mean, I have like 20 books in my library about how higher education has shifted about 60-70 years ago to a consumer-oriented landscape. So what’s corresponded with that — except for essentially the service academies and maybe one or two outliers — is grade inflation. And it's slowly but steadily going up. And it's not that people are getting smarter, you know, the human genome hasn’t changed in the last 60 years. But grade point averages at institutions are going up.
When I was in admissions, there were some schools that were just infamous for not being strong schools, but having students with 4.0s, and it was frustrating to see, because it's unfair. The person might have a 4.0, but 19 out of every 20 essays out of that school were poorly grammatically worded and written. So I guess what I would say is, I would expect a little bit higher GPAs. I know of one school’s data already, they're going to be up to a 3.9 GPA from a 3.86, and their LSAT’s going to be up a little bit too. I'll probably put on Reddit, what school it is once I get permission. So I would expect GPAs to be up a little bit, but I would still not be that person that has the 4.0 and the unpolished everything else.
Dave: Yeah, and the COVID affects, obviously — they don't affect just GPA, we saw that LSAT scoring bubble. We'll talk about the LSAT in just a minute and the effects of the score inflation. There’s another GPA question, “Will a GPA that is 0.01 less than the school's median negatively affect you since it is still technically below the median?
Mike: Yeah, I mean, that person should be a Dean of Admissions, they understand medians. It's not an average, and in some sense, in a thought experiment, if the school's median GPA is a 4.0 and you have a 3.99, for their target to stay 4.0 — and again, target medians are important to note — there's no difference between a 3.99 and 1.0 or a 0.99. It’s a median. But with some caveats. If the school's median GPA is, again in this thought experiment, a 4.0, they're not admitting many people with a 3.0. So you're in the game, for sure. And the closer you are to the median, if you're below it, the more in the game you are, and the less high you have to be on the LSAT. So there are dramatic psychological impacts for being just below. There's also correlation between bar passage and how well you did in undergrad. There’s correlations between bar passage and how well you did on the LSAT or whatever test you take. So you want to be around the school, but in that precise technical sense, a 0.01 below is below.
Dave: The other question in here we've actually kind of answered, and it is, “How will GPA medians change in the next cycle? Up, down, the same?” And I think our belief is up slightly.
Mike: GPA medians? Yeah.
Dave: GPA medians.
Dave: Up slightly, and you actually have already alluded to getting the data from one school and seeing that it's up a bit.
Mike: Yeah, that was this morning. So their LSAT was a +2, their GPA was up a little bit. I think you'll see versus last year, which was crazy, we have this chart we put together, this spreadsheet of all the school medians as they come out. And last year, it was all like green, you know, +1, +2, +3, +4. So there will be schools that are -1, law schools that are 0, +0, and then I think a smaller number of schools +1, +2.
Dave: Excellent. Well, if we're going to talk about the LSAT, let's get into some LSAT related questions here. Here we get a question from Warnair: “My question would be, when can we expect the applicants with inflated scores from the LSAT Flex no longer to be applying?” So when is it going to normalize, when is the bubble going to go away and we don't have to have this kind of like upper-level competition?
And if you look at the situation with the current cycle, last cycle, the one before, we still have that inflation. And I think Justin, who works with you, put out some killer data we were both looking at. And he was saying that in this last cycle here, applicants with a 165+ were 19.28% of the total pool. And previously, the year before, it was 19.58%. So a little bit better. But notice how inflated or how large that is. In prior years, the numbers were 13, 14, 15% of applicants. So this bubble is still extant, it's still going to be around this year. When I look at the LSAT data that's coming in, what I notice is, we still have a lot of high scores, higher than normal. So I'm kind of starting to feel like it's coming down very slowly, but this is also starting to feel like the new normal. I don't think we're ever going to go back to the day when it's only 13 or 14% of the entire applicant pool. Optimistically, we could say it might be 18% at some point, but that's not a huge difference either.
Mike: Yeah, there's some intellectual reasons why that is. So Justin is u/the_boringest — I don’t know if that’s apt or not, he's not very boring. He puts out incredible data. So thank you, Justin, for doing that.
Dave: Sick effort here.
Mike: Exactly. I think that maybe the primary driver of this is getting rid of that LSAT myth that schools average. So tell me if I'm wrong Dave, this is your area. But people are more apt to take the LSAT 2, 3, 4 times, thus, people tend to score higher on retakes, thus, you see these higher scores at the top. There's other reasons for sure.
Dave: Yeah. But that is driving it. And Justin actually included some additional data in there that we were talking about. Which is that nearly half of the LSATs administered this past cycle were retakes. Of course, some of those people are like, “Oh, I didn't do well,” but a lot of people are in that group saying, “I did pretty well, but now I can do even better, and then I can use that for scholarship reconsideration,” and all this stuff. And when you have that, you start getting more high scores.
Dave: Because usually people when they come back to take the LSAT, they do improve. It varies from person to person, but typically you will have a higher score the second time.
Mike: They used to publish — LSAC used to publish that data. I haven't seen in a while though.
Dave: It’s been a long time.
Mike: Yeah, how much the improvements are. But people tend to improve, you tend to be more calm, you’ve studied longer.
Dave: It was a couple of points, back when they published a lot of it.
So that actually covers the next question that's on here, which was, “Do you guys expect LSAT scores to return to their previous values?” Not really.
Mike: But they will normalize, the bell curve will look more normal than the Flex years, but it's going to be still stronger.
Dave: Well, this adds another point, because LSAC just this past week has opened the door to score preview for all test-takers. So no longer is it just limited to first-time test takers. So it's almost like — and look, I don't like to be a conspiracy theorist, but, boy, if your bell curve has been distorted by crazy events like COVID, and a new at-home LSAT, and you don't think that it's going to change, what's one way to cover that? Well, to put in a whole new policy where everyone gets to see their scores, and then later on be able to say, “Well, look, the bell curve is now different because that score —”
Mike: That’s interesting. I saw that — you know, we’re on group texts with law schools and the data people, and I saw something about that.
Dave: It's going to mask all the data going forward, under this kind of new filter that will make the old data really non-comparable.
Mike: Ah, for once in my life, I'll just say, no comment.
Dave: I'm not saying they did it intentionally, but it will have that effect. So that's a little bonus for them whether they wanted it or not. So let's close out with this portion of the LSAT. All right, here's the question, Mike. “Do schools look negatively on someone who has taken the LSAT five times?”
Mike: Yes and no. This is an interesting one. I would say this: let's say that Princeton Law School is my dream school, and their median LSAT’s a 169. Note I’m intentionally not using any real school's name — I was on the faculty law professor board once and I said Princeton and Brown Law School and some faculty member went crazy.
Dave: “That Spivey guy doesn’t even know that the” —I’ve done this 23 years. That’s a common joke. I'm going to get a shirt that says Princeton Law, and I'll send you one.
Mike: I was wearing my “chance me” shirt this morning when I was working out. I should be wearing it for this.
So let's say Princeton's a 169, and let's say that's your top school, and you've taken it four times, the LSAT, and your high score is a 165. And you’re test practicing at 169-170. What I would do is I would take it that fifth time. You know, obviously you have to keep in mind the LSAC’s rules about number of retakes in a year, but I would take it a fifth time, and I would shoot for the 169-170, keeping in mind Princeton might have a target median; if their medians are 169, they might be targeting 170. Deans love saying “let's go up one point in the LSAT.” So yeah, I would take it a fifth time.
I think you get into a lot of nuance here though, because let's say you have — you're applying to Princeton Law School and you already have the 170, and you take the LSAT a fifth time, what's the Dean of Admission at Princeton Law School going to say? They're going to say, “Well, this person might not want to go to my law school.”
Dave: Yeah, “You're trying to climb the ladder higher, aren't you?”
Dave: I think that's actually the big deal. And also it’s a matter of time. Let's say that I'm applying not this fall but next fall. And between now and say next June I take the LSAT a bunch of times, let's just for a minute not worry about like test limits or you know, three times in any cycle and all that kind of stuff. But by the time I apply, I've taken my LSAT five times. And let's say I was like 160, cancel, 165, cancel, 170. I don't think a Dean of Admissions is going to look at that and think, “Boy, they took it five times.” They're going to see, hey, I progressed, I'm now at 170, all my stuff is in and ready to go. That's one type of applicant. No negatives there.
Now, if I've taken the LSAT three times, and I apply, and then they already see me heading up for a fourth, they can see that what you're attempting to do is score better, which may change the schools that you're about to get into. It may cause them to say, “Well, if we accepted you now, and then you get a higher LSAT score, then you’re just going to hold our acceptance.”
Mike: Right, exactly.
Dave: We don't want that. And so if you're doing it while the year is ongoing, and you're in the middle of the cycle with applications in, that is where you might run into some problems.
Mike: 100%, yeah, as much as I stress anything by Thanksgiving is early, there is a late. So if you are two cycles out and you can do better, keep doing better.
Dave: There’s a caveat even to that. If you are five points below their median, or under the 25th by a couple of points, and you are probably not getting in… if you’re like “My dream school is Princeton, and I am scoring 161, and their median is 169,” and you’ve taken it three or four times, like you said before, you need to go out and try to get closer to that. Because you are so far away, you’re in a hole.
Dave: There’s so much nuance to this, this is why you and I both have jobs, is because there’s so many different questions and factors that are involved.
Mike: Yeah. And even when we see these questions, Deans of Admission chime in on our calls and say, “Hey, I have some thoughts on this.” Because law school admission deans read Reddit, and there’s so much nuance.
Dave: All right. One final set of questions on LSAT medians, I’ll read them both back-to-back. “How likely do you think, if you’re a betting man” – and I am — “it is for T14 medians in places like Georgetown to drop down to 170 or sub-170?” and, “How much are median LSAT scores likely to decline for the T14/T6 schools? Will you see schools like Columbia and Harvard coming back down from the 174 median levels?”
Mike: Yeah, and I touched on this, but I’ll touch on it again. I think you’re going to see more -1 or 0 than +1, because the number of applicants dropped 11.7%, the scores came down a little bit from the highest markers, a little bit, so less and then a little drop = harder to maintain these gargantuan numbers we saw last cycle. That said, I’ve lived the life on the other side, so I know that when you are a Dean of Admissions you have a boss, a Dean of a law school, and that boss can say, “Look, let’s cut enrollment by 20 students so we can keep our median.” And this is a world where rankings, for better or worse — probably for worse — rankings really matter. And in this sphere of law schools, there’s only one ranking that people look at. It’s different in business school, which is a blessing I think, because you know, there’s all these diffuse rankings that people look at. But in law school there’s just one, and I think deans of law schools are going to say, “Okay let’s take a revenue hit.” I’ve been on budget committees in law schools — it’s a revenue hit. The vast majority, all but about 10 law schools are revenue or tuition driven, they’re not endowment driven. So, “Let’s take a revenue hit to keep medians because U.S. News & World Report rankings are that important to us.” My point being things are going to drop by and large or stay the same by and large, but not as much as the data would have us believe, because schools will decrease enrolment.
Dave: I think that’s a pretty fair point. And you know, we often talk about the T14 or the T25. I’ll tell you one place where I think we’ll see some schools drop points on the LSAT is at the bottom side of the rankings. The number of scores under 150 is lower than what we have seen, and with few applicants and a lower base. If your school had say a 145 or 146 type of median, you’re probably going to lose some points on that. Because you don’t have as many people in your group as you normally would. They’re the ones who I think are at the highest level of risk for having some problems with this.
Mike: Yes, exactly. You nailed it.
So that concludes part one, we’ve mentioned we’re doing this in two parts just because of the length. Part two is going to be about 20 to 24 minutes, and we’ll have it up next week!