How *Much* Easier to Gain Admission to Top-14 Law Schools?

LSAT Blog Drop Number Applicants Scoring 165+ LSAT 2010 2011 2012 Cycle
I've talked a lot recently about the fact that law schools will have to lower their admission standards and reduce class sizes.

This is due to the shrinking applicant pool and the fact that the largest percentage decrease within that applicant pool comes from applicants scoring in the 170-174 range.

The graph to the top-right displays the projected number of law school applicants by LSAT score for the admission cycle ending in 2012, compared to applicants in the previous cycle (specifically for those scoring 165+).

A graph at the end of this post shows the projected number of applicants whose highest LSAT scores are below 165.

All numbers in this graph are based on this LSAC data, as well as LSAC's National Decision Profiles for 2010 (PDF) and 2011 (PDF). (Note: Thank you to blog reader Kevin for his advice in the compilation and projection of this data.)

In particular, here's the full set of numbers from LSAC's Current Volume Summary:

(LSAC notes that it had 91% of the preliminary applicant count at this time last year.)

LSAT Blog Law Schools Applicants Rankings Scramble

The decline in top-scoring applicants presents a serious problem for top-14 law schools, which already have a limited pool of 170+-scorers from which they'd ideally like to draw the vast majority of their students.

In the 2010-2011 admission cycle (the Class of 2014), top-14 law schools competed over 4,052 170+-scoring applicants.

For the cycle finishing now (the Class of 2015), we can project that top-14 schools have only ~3,268 170+-scoring applicants to woo. If this drop of ~784 applicants (-19.4%) were spread evenly across the top 14 schools, each school would suffer a loss of ~56 applicants.

That's no small loss when class sizes at the top-14 law schools average only ~321 (data below).

Assuming that that the top-14 law schools aren't aiming to significantly reduce their class sizes for the Class of 2015, there just won't be enough 170+-scorers to go around.

(The following numbers are derived from data on schools' websites for the Classes of 2014 - with the exception of Stanford and Georgetown, whose websites only features the number for the Class of 2013, as well as Cornell. Its website simply lists a range of 198-205.)

Recent Class Sizes at the Top-14 Law Schools

1. Yale: ~205
2. Stanford: ~180
3. Harvard: ~559
4. Columbia: ~406
5. Chicago: ~191
6. NYU: ~450
7. Berkeley: ~254
7. Penn: ~266
7. UVA: ~357
10. Michigan: ~359
11. Duke: ~211
12. Northwestern: ~264
13. Georgetown: ~592
14. Cornell: ~203

Adding up these numbers, I arrive at the total of 4,497 as a general estimate of the top-14's law school enrollment (and enrollment goals) for the Class of 2014.

Above, I stated that the number of 170+-scoring applicants in the previous cycle was ~4,052. As such, the top-14 law schools could have all enrolled classes that consisted almost entirely of 170+-scorers (unlikely that they'd attempt to do so, but possible).

In this cycle, with only ~3,268 170+-scoring applicants, the top-14 law schools will face a serious gap between their previous enrollment goal of ~4,497 and their goal of keeping the LSAT scores of admitted (and enrolled) students as high as possible.

They'll have no choice but to dip into far into the pool of applicants with scores ranging from 165-169 (a pool that, itself, has shrunk from ~7,617 to ~7,138.)

Note #1: Of course, some applicants, even those with top LSAT scores, may ultimately choose not to attend law school at all, diminishing the pool of potential matriculants even further.

Note: #2: I have't even considered GPA numbers. Many applicants with high LSAT scores have low GPAs (they're known informally as splitters). Their low GPAs may render them undesirable to some law schools, providing schools with yet-another reason to accept applicants with lower LSAT scores.

Note #3: How reliable are the projections for the number of 165+-scoring applicants? I looked at the number of applicants for whom LSAC had data by 3/30 this year, and compared it to last year's number, as well as final applicant numbers from last cycle.

I found that LSAC had the following % of the preliminary applicant count by 3/30 last year:

97.5% of applicants with highest LSAT scores of 165-169.
98.7% of applicants with highest LSAT scores of 170-174.
99.3% of applicants with highest LSAT scores of 175-180.

(In other words, LSAC would've counted that % of applicants as being part of the application cycle by 3/30. As such, projections for the applicant count of 165+ scorers in this cycle can be assumed to be fairly close to the final numbers.)

Here's a graph with the data from which I derived these percentages:

LSAT Blog 165+ LSAT Applicants 3/30/11 End 2011 Cycle End 2012 Cycle (proj)

Note #4: I've included below a graph containing projections of the specific numbers of law school applicants with LSAT scores below 165 in this cycle (and the previous cycle) for those interested in playing with the numbers. However, this data is less reliable: a significantly lower percentage of applicants with scores below 165 applied by this time last cycle. As such, numbers in these projections cannot be assumed to be nearly as precise as those for 165+ scorers.

Should you choose to analyze them anyway, please share your thoughts in the comments or via email.

LSAT Blog Drop Number Applicants Scoring Below 165 LSAT 2010 2011 2012 Cycle


For further reading, see my series of posts on recent trends in law school admissions.


  1. Are the schools taking into account a student's average LSAT score? Perhaps this will affect scholarship opportunities in some of the Top 14?

    1. Excellent questions.

      Most law schools simply consider the highest LSAT score. (Policies vary from school to school - check schools' websites for the latest details.)

      Some T14 schools say that they "consider" or average multiple LSAT scores. However, they have incentive to consider only the highest since the ABA only requires law schools to report their students' highest LSAT scores. (And those are the numbers that go into the U.S. News rankings.

      I believe this will lead to more desirable scholarship opportunities for applicants at all schools - especially for applicants with attractive LSAT/GPA numbers.

    2. Hm, I heard Columbia offers a lot of scholarships than most schools. Maybe it managed to attract some high-scoring applicants...hence, going up in rankings.

  2. Do yourself a favor, and don't go to law school.

    "Easy for you to say, Anonymous, what else am I supposed to do? My uncle/mom/dad/neighbor told me about how difficult it was in the past. I'm driven, I think I'd like law, and I really want to be a lawyer, just like uncle/mom/dad/neighbor. Unlike all the chumps applying, I know what I'm doing and if I didn't go to law school, I don't know what I'd do with my life."

    Well, special and informed snowflake, you really don't get the realities of the practice these days. At a certain level of saturation crossed approximately 25 years ago, you can't make a living or get cases or get clients. There is a commodification of the practice. A dirty secret is that law is not all that complex. It just requires preparation and hard work. And like all commodities, buyers demand price concessions. That's where you (and everyone else) comes in. You earn less, way less, than everyone in previous generations. School costs more, way more, than ever before. And you'll have to fight in the crowded pool with the other pork bellies (who range from Lionel Hutz or Clarence Darrow) to try to differentiate yourself in a commodity business. It can be done, but it is hard, hard work.

    You will be miserable. You won't have options that you currently have to do something non-law related. You'll be older, which matters if you want to have a family or a house, and you'll be weighed down with six figures of debt to sell your pork bellies. And that's if you're lucky enough to get a job selling your commodity.

    Don't go. Or at least don't go to any school that does not immediately impress the average listener as a top school.

    1. "commodification"??

    2. Actually, even if you get into a top school, you still shouldn't go.

      Most people are miserable practicing law, even if they end up at a top firm or well regarded in-house department doing work that most other lawyers would kill for. The pressures Anonymous 3:22 speaks of are a reality of everyday life even for the luckiest in the profession unless you're one of the Lessigs or Tribes of the world - and your chances of becoming one are about the same as making it in the NFL. You'd be better off borrowing the same 150k and taking it to Vegas.

      -- Anonymous Top 5 Grad

    3. Sounds like you guys just described every profession on earth now, and gave an even more compelling reason to not even bother with college as a whole. Given the number of graduates, and saturation of the economy where no one even wants to hire them.

      Except for nursing of course.

    4. You can do a lot more with a law degree than just become a lawyer. Perhaps it wouldn't be the best idea to attend an expensive school without a scholarship if you don't intend to try to work in a large firm, but that still isn't a reason to go so far as to shun the concept as a whole.
      Personally, I think it sounds legitimately awful to run around a court for hours on end, regardless of the salary. (Let's go HEAT!) That doesn't mean I should advise every aspiring athlete to give up now. Most of them aren't going to make it, but they seem to think it's worth pursuing anyway. Though less versatile, their athletic background can be used to be a coach or trainer, for example. Worth it.. for them. Maybe this isn't the most accurate analogy, but I still don't believe it's in anyone's best interest to scorn a law degree as a whole.

  3. There were always those who had below 170 at T-14 so the number who get in on merit will be about the same.

  4. I was an average law student who went to an average law school (I think I received a good, general legal education). I struggled with the demands of the practice of law, including the difficulty of securing good, paying clients, for the first 10-15 years. It took that long for me to find the areas of practice that suited my abilities and my personality. Now that I've focused on those areas for my practice, I can say it is an enjoyable occupation. I advise those hoping to get into law school that they can expect some tough years for awhile after graduation--but I'm not sure if that isn't true for almost anyone entering the career-job market.

    1. Your timing indicates that (a) you entered the profession at a time when it was less crowded and (b) you entered the profession at a time when the entry costs were far lower than now - perhaps 50% lower, or more.

  5. Steve:
    Are LSAT administrations expected to continue to decline in this year, or will they level off, or begin to increase again? In effect what I mean to ask is: do you think this selectivity drop is going to reach its peak in this 2011-2012 cycle, or might the 2012-2013 cycle be even less selective, with even fewer 170+ scorers?

    1. It's really impossible to make any kind of prediction. However, I think it'll be quite some time before we see the total number of LSAT administrations over one cycle in the neighborhood of 150,000. Whether numbers fall further, stabilize, or increase (in moderation) next cycle will depend upon the economy, legal market, publicity related to the legal market, etc.

  6. We should revisit this post and its projections a year from now to see how the class profiles have changed. I am especially interested to see how the scholarships change for splitters.

  7. Great article! Question: I'm a splitter. What are my chances of getting into a top 10 school and how can I enhance that?

  8. Are we provided with scrap paper to set up diagrams (if we so choose) for the logic problems?

    1. you are to work within the confines of the excess space in the test itself. But June 2012 LSAT alloted two pages per game with 5-8 questions, so there was more than enough.

  9. As a splitter, my anecdotal evidence certainly supports the message in this post. I've received a very generous scholarship at a t-14 and i'm pretty sure it's due entirely to my high LSAT score, since I have zero softs or work experience and my GPA is below the school's median. What a great year to be a splitter!

  10. I still think you need some softs/can't be a liability in the eyes of the law school. (and by this I mean I had been on academic probation before I think this may have actually played a role in my crappy cycle) I was a splitter who can attest to this..3.05 gpa, 176 lsat and was not accepted to any t14's including no acceptances off of the waitlist. boggles my mind how some people with stats similar or less than mine are getting schollys to schools that rejected me, but such is life. Good luck to all future splitters but be warned put some effort into your application

  11. Hi Steve,
    Can I assume that having a PhD in economics from Northwestern University (ranked #7 among econ PhD programs), and having published a number of papers on legal issues such as antitrust (some published in law journals, and one in a legal textbook), will allow me get into a top program without a particularly high LSAT score? (I also had a 3.99 GPA as an undergrad).

    I don't have much time to study the LSAT before I take it in February, and I'm hoping that my record will prevent me from having to get an elite score in order to gain admittance to an elite program.


  12. I have been practicing law for thity-two years and still love it. Don't get demoralized--it can still be a great profession. I hope my son and daughter decide to become lawyers.

    In the interest of full of full disclosure, my wife is a commercial litigator and pretty much hates it. The business model for large commercial law firms appears to be broken. The key, in my opinion, is to develop a practice which is self-sustaining and not dependent on referrals from other lawyers. It may be tempting to join a large law firm and carry someone's briefcase for a few years, but when you get laid off, you won't have enough skills to earn a living on your own. If you have any entrepenurial instincts, going to law school and practicing law remains a great opportunity.

    1. May I ask what type of law you do? And, if your referrals are not dependent on other lawyers, are they dependent on client word-of-mouth, or something else?

      Thanks for your positivity!

  13. Steve,

    When you talk about "splitters," you only mention those with high LSAT scores and a low GPA...I'm the opposite. What kind of prospects does a student with a high GPA but LSAT score of around 155 have for getting into law school?

    1. Reverse splitters have it much tougher. More weight is put on LSAT than GPA when it comes to admissions. Retake, retake, retake.

  14. It's been a year. Any updates on this article? Also, why do you assume top law schools aren't willing to reduce their enrollment sizes? This article makes it seem like a foregone conclusion:

    1. Would love an update! Somehow, I feel it might give me some encouragement in my final lap of LSAT studying (at least before the June 2013 administration).

  15. AnonymousJune 13, 2012 at 5:08 PM

    "Sounds like you guys just described every profession on earth now, and gave an even more compelling reason to not even bother with college as a whole. Given the number of graduates, and saturation of the economy where no one even wants to hire them.

    Except for nursing of course."

    Many professions are like that (and I'd want to see proof when excluding nursing). One of the features of the legal profession, as has been explained again and again and again, is that the entry costs are **huge**. Mediocre law schools might charge far more than MIT would, from freshman to Masters. And these are schools which have horrible placement rates, and horrible salary rates.

    An analogy would be if you are considering starting your own business. You'll have to work hard. Some franchise companies are trying to get you to pay vast sums of money for a franchise, which gives you the right to use their name, but doesn't give you any business. When you check, you find out that the outcomes for most of these companies are generally what you could expect if you just set up shop on your own. So why pay the franchise company?

  16. If you have a not so good lsat score.. say a 156.. but your GOA is killer, say a 3.94.. Could this help you get into a closer tot he top law school? Or is improving the LSAT essentially your only hope?

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  19. hey what are the odds for a foreign lawyer or a paralegal in the us to get in to a top 14 law school?I understand it mainly depends on the LSAT and GPA , however which one would a US law school prefer more?