Although this has perhaps been the most unusual law school admissions cycle we’ve seen in decades, hopeful law students seem remarkably undaunted. There has been a steady increase in ABA law schools across the U.S. for a couple of years now. However, many experts were unsure how the chaos of 2020 would influence these numbers. Yet, despite everything that has happened this past year, the number of applicants is continuing its steady climb.
According to the Law School Admissions Counsel’s statistics, as of the time of writing, current year applications are up a whopping 55.9% compared to a year ago.https://www.lsac.org/data-research/data/current-volume-summaries-region-raceethnicity-gender-identity-lsat-score
To be fair, there is a chance that this number is partially due to students sitting for their LSAT earlier than normal this year. However, it is still too soon to tell whether that percentage is going to shrink as the deadlines get closer.
It may seem odd that amidst all of the heartache, unrest, and isolation of quarantine, law school application numbers steadily increase in a pandemic. However, it may be all of the 2020 drama that has driven students to make this leap. As Duke Ellington said, “A problem is a chance for you to do your best.”
The RBG Effect
One potential motivator earned the nickname “The RBG Effect”. With Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s recent passing, we’ve seen a floodgate open of students who have been inspired by her fight for women’s rights and who want to continue her work. Students have also been crediting the growing political divide in our nation with their desire to enter law school. They have become determined to enter a profession where they can fight for racial justice after seeing the fights for equality that have dominated 2020. There has been a lot of talk among these students about “big goals” and the general “save-the-world” mentality that makes the kind of dedicated and passionate lawyers we need right now. Students talking about racism, economic inequality, and climate change are looking for ways they can help, and law school is their solution.
Adjusting For COVID
Of course, it also doesn’t hurt that the LSAT is surprisingly easier to schedule now than it was even two years ago. LSAC has moved the LSAT exams to an online format because COVID so students can take the exam from the comfort of their own home. Without that added pressure of a sterile testing environment or a proctor staring you down, many students are finding it easier to relax and concentrate. Less stress is leading to less fatigue and better testing endurance as students work through the exam.
Quarantine is also giving students some unexpected LSAT test prep time. With that extra time at home, students are looking for new ways to make themselves productive. If law school was something they had already been considering, then this has given them the perfect opportunity to work toward it. COVID has similarly influenced students who had been planning on taking a gap year or two between college and law school since quarantine has limited job options. Rather than trying to wait it out, many students are feeling the pressure to begin working toward a career as quickly as possible so they can enter the workforce.
The increased need for financial aid is perhaps an unsurprising result as well. Law school is always an expensive endeavor, but with money growing tight for many Americans, that dream of becoming a lawyer is increasingly complicated to reach. This is leading to an increase in financial aid and scholarship applications as students search for ways to finance their graduate school. According to the LSAC’s interview with different admissions panelists, they are also noticing a lot of students who were considering attending part-time looking into full-time enrollment.
While law school applications are booming right now, that 56.9% lead over last year is certain to fluctuate somewhat as the year marches on. However, with more accessible testing, more time to work on that LSAT prep during quarantine, and many applicants pointing to recent events as inspiration, it feels pretty certain we’re going to see a highly motivated group of 2021 law students.