Podcast: The Coming Law School Admissions Cycle — Brief Thoughts

In this podcast, Mike provides a brief recap of the historic last cycle (2020–2021) as well as the short version of our best predictions for what's to come this cycle (2021–2022). If you'd like a longer and more in-depth discussion of these topics, please listen to our full podcast on these topics, "Recapping the 2020-2021 Law School Admissions Cycle & Predicting the Upcoming Cycle" (featuring Spivey Consulting's data wonk Justin Kane and PowerScore CEO Dave Killoran).

You can listen and subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, YouTube, SoundCloud, and Google Podcasts.

Full Transcript Below:

Hi. It is Wednesday, August 18th, and this is Status Check with Spivey, where we talk about life, law school, admissions. We’re particularly going to focus on admissions in this podcast. I’m going to try and keep it brief, six to ten minutes, and do a general overview of the cycle to come. But, of course, we can’t talk about this coming cycle without talking about last year’s historic cycle.

[00:37] So, what happened last year is, of course, we had COVID, and LSAC, the organization that administers LSAT had to, in an incredibly short amount of time, and kudos to them, it was amazing to watch. Taken historically in-person tests and moving online so that you could take it in your bedroom, living room, wherever. So, that happened and it was miraculous to watch. But, whenever you see amazing things happen in short amount of times, there’s historic precedent for this, there are second generational problems. So, the second generational problems with taking a five section, in-person test and turning it into a three section, online test, was that there were a lot of vectors that went into different test-taking ability that LSAC didn’t account for when they gave a curve. Each test has a curve. It’s negative nine, which means you can get nine wrong to get a 170. Or negative twelve, or negative thirteen. So, the curve, by our estimation in the data experts that I surround myself with was too loose. And it’s not just by anyone’s estimation. You can see that the curve changed. Particularly, at 165 and above. But particularly, particularly from 170 to 180. From 175 to 180, LSAT scores were up 103%. They’re up 57% from 170 to 174. So, you have this massive spike at the top that no one was able, pre-cycle, to account for. I mean, not us, not LSAC, not law schools.

[02:24] So what happened? Law schools generally base admit patterns on historic data. So, they were chugging away, admitting away (most law schools, not all) and all the sudden their classes filled up very early with high scores. We’ll get back to that because that caused over enrollment even at some of the highest ranked schools that hardly ever have faced over enrollment before. And that’s going to impact this cycle. Applications last cycle were up, I believe, 12.6% so that also created to a more difficult cycle. But basically, last year what you saw was a seller’s market. Schools did incredibly well, and you’re starting to see that. And it’s going to get worse. We work with a number of schools and we talk to a number of schools. And, you know, I’m bound by confidentiality. But when more and more of these medians come out, you’re going to see plus two, plus three. You’ll see, I believe, some plus threes in the top twenty which is just unheard of. So last cycle was a once in a lifetime difficult cycle. I hope once in a lifetime.

[03:32] Let’s talk about this cycle. So, you have those overenrolled schools and what a lot of them did, and bears noting, is they offered scholarship incentives to decrease the class size and defer people to this cycle. So, generally every cycle you have some deferrals. But this cycle, you’re going to have, let’s say a school normally starts off the cycle with ten deferrals. They’re ten yards ahead on the track. They may have thirty or forty deferrals this cycle. So now they’re going to be forty yards ahead on the track and the race hasn’t even started yet. That’s not good news, obviously. But I’ll get to the good news. The other piece of bad news is, I posted on our Twitter account. I did a week of free phone calls. The number of people I talked to with 165s and above or 170 and above who were 0 for 8, or 0 for 12, or 1 for 14, that was essentially my entire week. Well, what are those people going to do? They’re going to reapply this cycle. So, early on this cycle, you have the schools with the larger number of deferrals and you have a lot of strong reapplicants. Or people who took the LSAT FLEX last cycle and scored better because people who took the LSAT FLEX scored better in general. Not every single person, but in general, they scored better. So, early on, schools are going to try and maintain these strong medians that are coming in. And you’re going to see a slow pattern of that. Slow pattern because schools are hurt last year that admitted too early, so they’re going to pump the breaks. So slowly and mindfully they’re going to admit people with strong numbers.

[05:11] Here comes the good news. And this happens every year. Every year schools gun for high LSAT scores early and then sort of start losing some of that battle. Last year it didn’t happen because even if they lost high LSAT scores, they had other high LSAT scores to replace them with. So, this year, come around February, March, April, May, June, July, August, if you’re an applicant and you have a 172 and you apply to twelve schools, in that month bandwidth I told you about, you’re going to have to tell eleven schools “no.” And now multiply that by 5,000 other people in the 170 to 180 range or whatever. 3,000 other people telling eleven schools “no”. So those schools have to start going to other people to admit. Well, again, last cycle they had other people in this stable of high scores to admit but I don’t see that happening this cycle because I think that LSAC, a learning organization, is going to start accounting for the vectors of taking a test at home versus in person. The test questions were no less rigorous and that’s LSAC’s amazing ability to put together very consistent test questions was almost their crux last cycle because they just factored in that it’s the same caliber of tests. And I think this cycle, they’re going to be factoring in more study time, less anxiety, state dependent learning. All of those psychometric, psychological factors that led to the LSAT FLEX test takers in general scoring better. I’ve seen the scaling data. I can’t talk about it, but they scored better. I think LSAC is going to control for that and tighten up the curve. So, later this cycle, we’ll call it past January, schools will start losing people. And then they’ll really start losing people come seat deposit deadlines. That’s when you see them shifting targets from where their current medians are, which is again daunting, I get that. I think they’re going to have to shift down one, two and in some cases three LSAT points to new, lower LSAT points because they’re going to run out of numbers. To be determined because they can also decrease class sizes. Obviously if your class size is 200, and your dean says, “Okay, well we can make it 100,” it’s a lot easier to bring in high numbers.  But I don’t think many schools will have the ability to do that financially. They need the revenue. So, I think if they maintain class sizes around normal levels, the LSAT medians and maybe to a slightly lesser extent, GPA medians, but mostly LSAT medians, are going to come down a point or two from what you’re seeing posted online. On our blog, we are posting these scores online. So, it’s going to be a slow cycle, don’t get me wrong. But this cycle is going to favor those who proactively, professionally wait. And what I mean by that is, if you’re waitlisted at a school, or if you applied in September and it’s February and you haven’t heard from a school, you are so far from dead in the water. In fact, you might be in a great way once these numbers start coming down.

[08:29] I hope this was helpful. We’ll do many more of these, so feel free to subscribe. I think there’s a button on our YouTube channel. This was Mike Spivey of the Spivey Consulting Group.