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Law school applications continue their steep decline

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Last year at this time I noted that law school applications were in something of a free fall. LSAC has just released its first data for this year’s applicant cycle, and it appears the decline continues more or less unabated.

Total applicants to ABA law schools:

2010: 87,900
2011: 78,500
2012: 67,900
2013: 59,400

As of December 6th, 14,171 people had applied this cycle, which is down 13.6% year over year. 28% of all applicants had applied by this time last year; if the latter figure remains constant, that projects to 50,500 total applicants in this cycle. This would mean that 16.6% fewer people will apply to law school this year than were admitted three years ago. Indeed, if 100% of applicants were admitted and 100% enrolled, that would still produce fewer matriculants than were in the class of 2010. Of course not all applicants are admitted, although the percentage of applicants that are admitted to at least one school to which they apply has been climbing rapidly:

2004: 55.6%
2005: 58.6%
2006: 63.1%
2007: 66.1%
2008: 66.5%
2009: 67.4%
2010: 68.7%
2011: 71.1%
2012: 74.5%
2013: 76.9%

Meanwhile, the percentage of admitted applicants who end up enrolling has remained stable at between 86% and 88%. If we assume 75% of applicants are admitted in this cycle and 87% eventually enroll, this would produce a national first year ABA law school class of 32,950. Even if we assume 80% of applicants are admitted to at least one school to which they apply (this would be a fairly astounding figure, given that many applicants only apply to highly-ranked schools), that would still yield a first year class of just 35,150.

Total first year enrollment at ABA law schools:

2010: 52,500
2011: 48,700
2012: 44,500
2013: 39,675

As a financial matter, these effects are of course strongly cumulative. A first year class of 35,000 next fall (and note this is at the optimistic end of estimates given the analysis above) would mean that the total national enrollment over the previous three years will have been around 119,000, as compared to 153,700 from 2008-2010, i.e., there will be 22.6% fewer law students than there were four years earlier, despite a radical decline in admissions standards. Given continuing sharp increases in discounts over nominal tuition (indeed a few schools have now actually cut even nominal tuition), the decline in tuition revenue may be even greater in real terms.

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