We now have two full months worth of applicant and application volume, so it's a good opportunity to do some recap and see where things stand. As always, a reminder that it's still quite early in the cycle so we should be careful not to draw sweeping conclusions just yet- as of this point last year we only had 17% of our total applicant pool. There's a lot of cycle left to come!
First, the topline numbers provided by LSAC. As of October 31st total LSAT applicants are down by 5.6% compared to last cycle. Overall applicants, inclusive of those applying without an LSAT score, are down by 2.8%. Applications are actually up, by 3.2%.
We actually started the cycle off with higher volume than we did in the prior two cycles, which is definitely interesting given that, to date, LSAT taker volume doesn't seem to support a significant increase in applicant volume (more on that later). However, last years September LSAT was administered to significantly more people than this year's September exam, which has led to us falling behind last cycle (you can see this effect start around September 29th on the above chart).
What about applications? As we mentioned, they're outpacing applicants by quite a bit.
This is driven largely by an increase in applications per applicant- that is, overall applicants are applying to more schools each this cycle compared to last.
We're currently at about 5 applications per applicant this year vs. 4.7 at this time last year. Why is that? It's not clear. It may have something to do with LSAC's new bundled LSAT/CAS/application fee package that offers applicants 6 applications as part of the bundle. Or it could be that schools are offering more fee-waivers than last year. Or maybe it's completely random coincidence. Either way it's good news for law schools, as it means they get a chance to look at more of the applicant pool as they decide how to build their entering class.
How are we doing in each LSAT score range? Take a look for the past few cycles.
You can also take a look at a graph for each score range, and our thoughts on some of these ranges.
As you can see in the <140 range we're running far behind where we were for the prior couple cycles. Some of this may be attributable to the unique circumstances of the July LSAT administration, but I think more of it is due to a combination of two factors: access to better and more LSAT prep material (for example, LSAC's partnership what Khan Academy to provide free LSAT prep) as well as more widespread awareness among applicants about the dangers of applying to schools that accept applicants with sub-140 outcomes. With any luck this current decline will hold for the duration of the cycle.
160-164 is notable in that we've seen it make some progress towards catching last cycles volume since the September 2019 score release.
What's really interesting about the 165-169 group isn't that we're up here, it's that our initial surge was so much higher than it was last year. We started off with double the number of applicants in this tier, but then saw declining daily volume relative to 2018-2019 before returning to significant daily applications when September scores released.
The 170-174 and 175+ ranges are up. Significantly up, in the case of 175+. We should all remember that these are one extreme range of the LSAT curve. A 170 or higher is going to be in the top 2.5% of scorers, give or take. A 175+ is in the top 0.5% of scorers, an even more miniscule population. So dramatic changes in percentages can and are caused by surprisingly small changes in raw numbers. The seemingly major jump in the 175+ population is caused by less than 50 applicants.
This is a particularly interesting group given the increasingly widespread adoption of the GRE for admissions. To date we have 696 applicants without an LSAT, making up 7.2% of our total applicant pool. This early in the cycle it's likely that many if not most of them are individuals submitting while their LSAT score is pending. Still, it's noticeable growth from last year, when at this time 5.3% of our applicant pool were non-LSAT, and one we feel is likely attributable primarily to GRE applicants.
Overall we're significantly behind where we were last cycle in all ranges below 165+. If you're applying with a score below that, to schools with medians in that range, this is going to be helpful to you (duh). If you're applying above 165, I wouldn't fret just yet- it's still early.
The decline in applicants isn't surprising when you consider the pool of available LSAT applicants is smaller to date. LSAC has released a tool showing the number of LSAT takers for each administration since last cycle. You can see below test taker volume for this cycle to date.
However this is very misleading. We know that July, with it's special "see your score and decide if you want to cancel" opportunity had an incredible 50% cancellation rate. This is tremendously higher than the norm of 3-4 percent per LSAT administration and needs to be reflected in order to understand actual available LSAT scores. So we've created a chart, below, that shows July 2019's numbers with the 50% cancellation rate. Each other test has had a 3.5% cancellation rate applied to it.
Our actually available LSAT scores are about 24% less than what we had last year at this point. But we're only behind last cycle by about 5.6%- why the difference? Why are we seeing more LSAT applicants than we might expect, given available LSAT's to date? There are a few possible explanations.
First, it's possible that a significant number of March 2019's 15,547 LSAT takers were taking it in anticipation of using it for the 2019-2020 cycle, not the 2018-2019 cycle. This is somewhat doubtful given that only about half of those takers were first timers, and that last cycle we did see a fairly significant surge in law school applicants when March scores released. However, a decent number of them may be applying now.
Second, we might be seeing a large volume of re-applicants. Unfortunately this is something that would be almost impossible to prove during the cycle and would need to wait until fall 2020 for confirmation. It's possible that, given the strong economy, potential re-applicants (especially KJD's) feel comfortable putting themselves into the job market for another year while they reapply. That could motivate more willingness to chance a reapplication.
Third, we may be seeing higher "yield" of LSAT takers to actual applicants. While this, like point two, is almost impossible to show during the cycle, it's something we can explore next summer. Essentially, it may be that of those individuals taking the LSAT, a higher percentage are actually submitting applications. However this would run counter to a trend we've seen whereby each LSAT is actually yielding fewer new applicants (likely due to the effect of more and more LSAT's being retakes). You can see in the table below how the percentage of available LSAT takers turning into actual applicants has declined steadily the past several years.
We've gone from about 52% of LSAT's administered turning into applicants in 2012-2013 to 43% now- a decline of nearly 9.5%. So a sudden change in "yield" would be surprising- not impossible, but unexpected.
Finally, it's possible that more and more of our available applicants are applying early in the cycle. Personally I think this is the likeliest explanation for the bulk of (not all!) the discrepancy between our available LSAT applicants and actual applicants. Each year applicants get savvier and savvier about the benefits of applying early to take advantage of law schools rolling admissions process. You only need to hop onto any law school applicant web forum to see nervous applicants asking whether they'll be late if they apply by Halloween. We saw it last cycle, and we may see it again this one- an early spike in volume, and a leveling off post-January.
Bottom line, it's probably a combination of a number of factors and we won't know until the cycle ends- but it's certainly interesting!
Talking about this is all well and good, but what does it mean? Well remember how we mentioned LSAC's new tool to see LSAT takers and registrants? We've used it to put together the following chart for comparing LSAT volume for this cycle and last (why? Because LSAT takers are still the vast majority of what drive our applicant volume). It includes a conservative projection for the number of available November 2019 LSAT scores.
We're almost certain to end up with fewer LSAT scores available through the fall (once accounting for July) than last year. Normally this would mean a likely decrease in applicants, but so far we're seeing applicant volume defy LSAT takers to a degree- possibly for the reasons listed earlier. So perhaps things are different this year. The key here is whether daily applicant volume this cycle increases at a slower rate going forward than it did last year (daily volume last cycle peaked in late November through January). If the rate of increase slows then it may be a sign that we have fewer applicants this year, they were just applying earlier.
In the short term the release of October scores in late November is likely to lead to a surge in applicants with no corresponding surge from the prior cycle, since there was no October LSAT in 2018. So we may see applicant volume catch up to- or even exceed- last cycle when that happens. Final November registration/taker, and October taker, numbers, will be important to understand what our available pool of applicants looks like.
We'll definitely be keeping an eye on non-LSAT applicants. Each year they make up more of the pool and it looks like this year is no different. They could be a solid buffer against a potential decline in available LSATs.
That's all for now! We'll update this or post a separate entry with any pertinent information we come across.