Law school applications rise during economic downturn

Michael Hullings

The dismal job market has led apprehensive students to seek other post-graduate plans. More specifically, the number of applicants to law schools across the country have seen an outstanding increase.

Last October, 60,746 people took the Law School Admission Test, an all time high and a 20 percent increase since 2008. 

“The economy has played a huge role in the increase of apps over the past year,” said Karen Graziano, professor and undergraduate law school adviser at the University. “But there is also an increase in applications from professionals or non-students. Some students haven’t applied right out of college, but rather waited a year or two after experiencing the working world.”

The increase in applications from professionals, along with rising student applications, has made admission to law school more competitive than ever. Not only are more people applying to law school, but they are also applying to more schools than ever. Since 1998, applications per applicant have risen from 4.5 to 6.5. 

“I’ve had students apply anywhere from two to 24 schools,” Graziano said. “I wouldn’t recommend either of those numbers, but on average our seniors have applied to about 10 schools each.”

Graziano also noted that more people go to law school still unsure of what type of law they would like to practice.

“There are enough people in law school that don’t know why they are there,” she said.

While the applications continue to rise, the subsequently high levels of stress remain constant.

Most people will begin to prepare for the LSAT months in advance. For instance, students who plan to take the test in October will begin preparations in January or February, sometimes earlier. There are also month-long classes and private tutoring sessions offered by institutions such as Kaplan Testing Center that further prepare students for the test. With admissions as competitive as ever, students are looking for any edge that they can get.

As more students continue to apply, it is also important to realize that law school may not be for everyone. Students should understand law school is quite different from college. Dana Maugeri, a Class of ’10 graduate of the School of Law, illustrates the difference. 

“In everything leading up to law school, you are tested on knowledge,” she said. “In law school, you are expected to come into exams with all of the knowledge and apply it.”

Maugeri also noted the difficulty she believes most students encounter when taking the LSATs.

“The hardest part isn’t what is being tested,” she said. “It’s that you are forced to compete in a ridiculously short period of time. You need to move efficiently through the test and not get worked up or unfocused.” 

Maugeri also notes that some students make mistakes in choosing which schools to apply to.

“Basically, unless you go to a top tier school, you should go to school [in the region] where you want to practice,” she said.

The test is designed to measure the test-takers’ ability to think critically and analyze different situations. 

“The LSAT is a test for people who are good test takers and time managers,” Maugeri said.

Sean Smith, a Class of ’10 management major at Villanova, took the LSATs last September. 

“It’s an extremely draining process,” Smith said. “I felt like I hadn’t seen my friends for months during the time leading up to the test. I probably lost 5-10 pounds out of pure anxiety.”

Smith’s comments might make one think twice about applying to law school. According to Graziano, though, there is one common mistake made by students when applying to law school.

“Students will become obsessed with the test,” she said. “Everyone always wants to do better, but sometimes students look into online rankings too much and become overwhelmed with the amount of material.”

Graziano also noted that students may sometimes encounter problems when they choose what schools to apply to.

“Having a No. 1 school that students do not really know much about is a common mistake I’ve found,” she said. “Sometimes students may rely on a school’s reputation when applying and not do enough research to find out about programs and clinics that the school offers.”

Applicants should be aware of where they stand on a competitive scale when applying to schools. While GPA and LSAT scores are not the only factors admission officers consider when they accept or reject applicants, they are weighed heavily. The other factors that admission officers look at include personal statements about themselves, two to four recommendation letters and addenda that may be attached to explain something of importance in the application.

“The process does become overwhelming at times,” Smith said. “But the anxiety waiting for decisions may even be worse. It’s great that schools use rolling admissions, though, so you do not have to stress out for that long of a period.”

According to Graziano, some students are just naturally gifted when it comes to applying the material, but there are other attributes that make for a strong law student.

“Students should be detail-oriented, great time managers and well-organized,” she said.

Smith echoed Graziano’s thoughts.

“I found myself becoming more organized as the process went on because I realized that if I wasn’t, I would not do as well as I wanted to,” he said.

With a rising number of applicants comes a rising level of competition –– both a result of the recession.

“I think the competitiveness may come down to the state of the economy,” Graziano said.