Going forward we'll resume posting these after the 1st of each new month, but we'll be a bit too busy watching the Superbowl to write this up on Sunday, so you get it now!
Overall applicant and application volume changes still look similar to our last update.
Now, total applicants are up ever so slightly, 31 more than this time last year. LSAT applicants are down relative to last year.
Individual applications submitted by those applicants are still up. In a reversal from several weeks ago more schools are now seeing a decrease in applications than an increase.
What is Driving Applicant Volume?
Nearly flat this month, overall. Which is somewhat interesting. We'd expected applicant volume to be down a bit at this point, instead of essentially flat. Why? In our last update we talked about first time LSAT test taker volume this cycle. First time takers are our primary driver of applicant volume. After all, no matter how many times you take the test, you're still just one applicant.
Every year individuals are increasingly retaking the LSAT, so we've been closely watching first time test taker volume. In our last update we didn't yet have the November 2019 first time test taker volume yet. But we knew that in order to match the 2018-2019 cycles first time test takers up to that point a little over 60% of November test takers had to be first timers. If the first time count was higher, we'd have more first time takers than 2018-2019; lower and the opposite would happen.
Roughly 45% of November 2019 LSAT takers were first timers. Well below the number needed to keep first time takers volumes level with 2018-2019. In fact, it's the lowest percent of first time takers we can identify in LSAT history.
So that leaves us with a deficit of 4,303 first time takers compared to last year, about 7.25% fewer.
Ratios of first time takers to applicants change year to year. So it's certainly possible that more LSAT takers are actually applying this year compared to last. Still, it's interesting that first time test takers are down to such a degree, but applicant volumes haven't reflected it.
Some of you are probably wondering whether increasing numbers of schools accepting the GRE, and thus more GRE applicants, might be the cause of this phenomenon — the answer is not really. More on that later.
Breaking Down Applicant Volume
Note: we know that our numbers are different from LSAC's. This is because ours are based on comparisons to last cycle's data as recorded day-of, meaning the score band percentage changes are based on applicants' highest LSAT score at this time last cycle. LSAC's comparison data takes into account the eventual full-cycle high score of any applicant who had applied by this time last year, even if they had not yet achieved that score by this time last year. This does change the numbers somewhat, but we feel it is a more accurate representation of what schools and applicants were actually looking at, data-wise, at this point last year.
We've seen continued moderation in the extreme growth of high scoring applicants compared to the prior update. This may indicate that, to a small degree, a greater percent of individuals scoring in those ranges applied earlier than their 2018-2019 counterparts. Overall however these applicants are still up quite a bit; 165+ growth from last year is at +12.6% compared to 2018-2019.
Conversely, all score bands below 160 have seen their change in applicants increase since our last update. As we mentioned in our prior update, the moderation in extremes—on both high and low ends of the LSAT spectrum—isn't surprising, given that we had (and still have) a lot of applicants to come.
As you can see we likely have at least three quarters of our final 165+ applicant by this point. It seems quite clear we will end the cycle with more applicants in that range than last year.
Final outcomes for the ranges below that are less clear. As we said last update,
The addition of February and April tests—particularly April—could entice some applicants who otherwise wouldn't be part of this cycle. Schools still accepting applications at that point tend to be those with medians in the range where there is currently an applicant deficit. These new tests could be very good news for them.
Here are some graphs showing applicant volume in each LSAT score band.
Non-LSAT applicants are, as the name implies, anyone applying without an LSAT score. ABA regulation does not necessarily require applicants have any test score to apply to law school in certain circumstances, so some of these applicants will be those who just haven't taken any test. However, given the ever growing number of law schools accepting the GRE, we feel it's quite likely that the bulk of these applicants are those applying with a GRE score.
There has been a large percentage growth in non-LSAT applicants compared to last year, 15.7% more. Last year at this time there were 1,533 non-LSAT applicants. Today there are 1,774.
However, those applicants still make up a small portion of the total pool. In 2018-2019 they were 4.6% of the total applicant pool, and this year they are 5.3%.
Despite being a relatively small portion of the applicant pool, growth in non-LSAT applicants are the reason overall applicant volume isn't down compared to last year.
Applications continue to outpace applicants.
Applicants are, on average, applying to more law schools than last year, but fewer than 2017-2018.
It will be very interesting, and significant to the cycle, to see how the January/February/March/April LSAT administration volume turns out.
There's a noticeable decline in registrants for the January 2020 LSAT compared to 2019. That should translate to a period between the release of last year's January scores and this year's February scores where applicants decline.
After that though, we're likely to see significant catch-up. There are two extra tests, February and April, and combined their volume already matches the March 2019 administration.
Individually, none of the tests in this period are going to be large. February is probably going to be the smallest LSAT administered to date, and it wouldn't be a shock if March was just as small. But it's not really reflective of declining overall demand for the LSAT so much as it is the increase in test dates lessening demand for each individual administration.
What does it all mean?
How your cycle goes is really going to depend on which score band the schools you are targeting are in.
At the top, things are going to be more competitive. That doesn't just mean that applying with, say, a 168 is going to be harder at schools at or above that number. It means schools can be more selective about applicants in ways beyond just their numbers. "Soft" factors can become more important anytime schools see a surplus in applicants with strong numbers. This could also translate into increasingly competitive waitlist movement.
Schools with medians >165 could use this opportunity to increase class size, but we don't expect that to happen on a broad scale. There was a slight decline in matriculants to schools in this range last year, so we wouldn't be surprised to see schools try and get back to the 2017-2018 numbers. That's certainly achievable while still targeting improved LSAT and GPA medians.
However, any school prioritizing significant class size growth is going to have to make concessions on median improvement. And any school in this range not increasing medians is going to be at a disadvantage compared to its peers vis-a-vis rankings (it's too early to tell whether that will hold true for schools with <165 medians). Medians aren't everything, but they do matter.
In the score bands below 165, it really depends on the next couple of months. Believe it or not, we're starting to come up on some application deadlines. Given low January numbers compared to last year, schools with a pre-March 15th deadline might see a slow finish compared to last cycle, since that's before February LSAT results come out. After that we'll probably see an increase, given that greater test availability may draw in individuals who otherwise would have had to wait for the 2020-2021 cycle.
We know it feels slow for a lot of applicants out there. Remember, deadlines are coming up, so decisions will start coming faster as schools get a better handle on their applicant pool. Good luck to all!