All cycles are different – for those that have been following us for a while you will recall the term "counter-cycle" for example – but last year, the 2017/2018 cycle, was truly an outlier. We have well over 100+ years of law school admissions experience on our team, and we have never seen a year with such little waitlist movement. It caught most schools off guard too, but the simple fact of the matter is that if the schools above you are not admitting people off the waitlist, then you aren't either, because people enrolled in your class aren't withdrawing to attend those higher schools when they get off the waitlist and thus opening up new spots. And last year, the schools at the top, with somewhat smaller class sizes and a surge in 165+ LSAT scores, had very little need to admit off their waitlists.
This year looked to start the same way, but we suspected things would change because of the additional summer LSAT and a huge number of reapplicants (see paragraph 1 above; many applicants who got worse results than they were hoping for last year reapplied early this year) — and change they have. Let's look at some basic data first, as far as timing and numbers.
On timing of applications: According to LSAC, this was the percentage of apps that had been submitted at different times last year.
- December 1 - 25%
- November 15 - 21%
- November 1 - 14%
- October 15 - 8%
- October 1 - 5%
- September 15 - 3%
On app volume:
- We saw an increase in apps early in the cycle — on November 1, apps were up 14.7%, 140 schools had seen a volume increase, and LSAT scores from 170-174 had increased 20% while 175-180 had increased 9.5%.
- However, as of December 1, applications are only up 0.2%, 87 schools are still seeing an increase, but LSATs for 170-174 are down 0.3% and 175-180 scores are down 21.4%.
There is a heck of a lot more compelling data — you can see the most recent large-scale trends here.
What does this mean? For starters, schools will be getting a lot more applications in the weeks and months to come, and were positively re-enforced from the strong application numbers both last cycle and at the beginning of this cycle. Meaning things will go sloooowly for awhile. We have already seen a slow-down in the admit pace of some early movers, and I think rates of admissions won't be frenetic, but rather steady in December and January. As in all years, I see and speak with people who are agitated because they submitted a month ago and have not heard a peep. The reality is 1 month can also turn into 6 months of no movement, and will for some.
Now, the really good news. There is no extra LSAT offering or upbeat last cycle data that can create demand, and we never really saw the demand to go to law school as increasing this year. Here are all of the dynamics that went into that. That lack of a real "demand surge" is now reflected in the data, and we highly suspect this will be a flat cycle in total applicants. It may even be down in applicants. What's more, the LSAT scores at the top should be a bit down from last year (I'd say "more than a bit" except for the retake frenzy, which very much should be happening for many).
It gets better. This trend could easily translate into a February - March surge in admits. Our best guess is some big waves then – which in most cycles is when you see the waves slowing down. And, we will see a good deal of waitlist movement this year. So much so we are just wrapping up a "How to Get Off the Waitlist" YouTube advice piece for our brand new YouTube Channel (the Channel just went live — feel free to check it out here; the WL video will be out soon!).
What is the absolute best case scenario for this cycle? By chance, I came across an old graph for 2014, which was one of the reasons for this blog.
The image was powerful then, and to me it is even more powerful now. Why? Because enrollments have not gone back up. I wanted to show that drop because what started in 2013 is causing fiscal pressures today. Law schools have tightened their budgets considerably, but many have also been given support by their central universities. My best guess from many years in law school administration is that at least some law schools told their universities after last year they would increase their class sizes this year. If they do, and again that is uncertain, this cycle could turn into a banner year for some. We are going to keep a very close eye out for that and report back when we see trends.
Best of luck for a great cycle to all in 2018 and 2019!