How Will Law Schools Be Affected By The LSAT Fee Increase?

LSAT Blog Law Schools LSAT Fee Increase
Last week, I wrote that the Law School Admission Council significantly increased the LSAT registration fee, as well as other application-related fees, in response to the declining number of test-takers and applicants.

I was puzzled by this reaction, given that it will lead to a further decline in demand for LSAC's services.

Of course, LSAC has a monopoly on the processing of law school applications and the administration of the LSAT, so it can raise its fees as it pleases. If you've decided that law school is for you, but don't qualify for a fee waiver, you'll manage to come up with the $160 LSAT registration fee, $155 Credential Assembly Service (CAS) fee, and $21 fee per CAS law school report.

In that regard, demand is rather inelastic, so any impact on the overall size of the applicant pool will be minimal.

However, applicants aren't the only losers here. In fact, law schools may be the real losers when it comes to the LSAT fee increase.

(That LSAC would act contrary to their interests seems strange, given that it's a member organization comprised of law schools.)

You may ask, if applicants are paying the fees, and the fee increases will have virtually no effect on the size of the applicant pool, how exactly will these fee increases hurt law schools?

1. The increased cost of sending mandatory Credential Assembly Service law school reports will decrease the average number of schools to which applicants apply.

2. The increased cost of taking the LSAT will discourage applicants from retaking it. This will diminish the quality of the applicant pool by further reducing the number of applicants with high LSAT scores.

3. In order to mitigate these effects of the fee increases, many law schools will have to work even harder to encourage applications and woo applicants.


1. Fewer Applications -> Smaller Applicant Pool

There's already been a significant drop in the number of law school applications over the past few years. It's going from an all-time high of 602,252 applications submitted in the 2009-10 cycle to a projected 485,517 for this cycle (a drop of 19.4%). That's a level not seen since the 2001-02 cycle, and, of course, many new law schools have opened since then.

The fee that LSAC charges per application for the mandatory Credential Assembly Service law school report is increasing from $15 to $21. Law schools may see an even further decline in applications from an applicant pool that has already shrunk from 87,900 in the 2009-10 cycle to a projected 67,022 for this cycle (a drop of 23.8%).

(Both projections are based on the latest data received by LSAC through 4/13/12.)

While an increase of only $6 may seem insignificant, the $21 per report associated with each application adds up quickly for those applying to several schools. Last cycle, the average applicant applied to nearly 7 schools. Applying to 10 or more is not uncommon.

Let's keep in mind that the typical applicant who takes the LSAT twice will pay $475 ($320 for the two LSATs + $155 for the general Credential Assembly Service fee), and that's before any application fees charged by the law schools themselves.

So, now that the associated report fee has passed the $20 mark, applicants may be more likely to take pause at casually submitting an extra application to both reach schools and safety schools. The one area in which they can save money on fees is the marginal cost associated with submitting extra applications - the law school report fee and law school school application fees.

2. Fewer LSAT Retakes -> Fewer High-Scoring Applicants

Retaking the LSAT has become extremely common since the ABA began allowing law schools to report only the highest LSAT score of their admitted students.

Let's say you take the LSAT for the first time and do okay, but not as well as you would've liked. You could apply now and have a decent shot at your target schools, but you're on the fence about whether to retake.

The time and effort involved in studying for an additional few months already isn't the most appealing prospect. Besides, you want to submit your applications early in the cycle and be done with it. Could the increased cost of the LSAT be the deciding factor in your decision not to retake? Perhaps.

The greater the number of times you take the LSAT, the higher your highest LSAT score will be.

As such, if the higher LSAT fee provides some disincentive to retake the LSAT, many applicants will have lower LSAT scores than they otherwise would have when they apply.

With an applicant pool that's already sorely lacking in high LSAT scorers, this is the last thing law schools need.

3. Law Schools Spend More to Woo Applicants

With fewer applicants to choose from, law schools will need to lower their admission standards and/or shrink their class sizes to compensate. However, no school goes down in the U.S. News rankings without a fight.

To mitigate the problem of fewer applications, an increasing number of law schools may lower or waive their application fees.

In response to the problem of a shrinking pool of high scorers, schools will have to offer even more financial aid to candidates with LSAT/GPA numbers above their medians.

In their efforts to "make up the difference," to compensate for the results of the higher LSAC fees, law schools may indirectly pay for the fee increases, in a sense.


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


  1. First, the idea that law schools will have to "settle" for students who do not improve their LSAT score by taking the test a second time presumes that there is some type of direct correlation between the actual LSAT score and a student's ability to do well in law school. While a high score on an LSAT is indicative of a person's ability to learn a system for analyzing information and apply it, there is no real difference between a student who takes the LSAT once, receiving a 160, and a student who takes an LSAT and receives a 160 and 165 respectively. This simply means that the students had the exact degree of understanding on the first LSAT but the latter student got a second stab at it. Unfortunately, there are no second stabs in law school anyways. Once again, the LSAT only checks to make sure skills are there, it does not develop any real transferable skills. Therefore, since the students are essentially equal, to say that law schools are being forced to accept student one is "settling" is to say that the value of the student is not their actual intelligence or skill, but an arbitrary number.

    Next, the fact that the decreasing pool of applicants will force law schools to reevaluate admission practices is a good thing. I am sorry to say, but not everyone is cut out to be a lawyer. I am sure there are success stories from some third-tier school. However, the low-ranked law schools are essentially designed as dream killers. They take your money, promise an education and employment, and then throw you into the legal profession to drown in the applicant pool. Law school, is not America's Got Talent. Your degree should be more of a ticket than a tryout. If these schools die, I am sure that you will not find any lawyers losing sleep over it.

    Finally, I just want to express my approval to LSAC for this move. They are attempting to cut the fat from the legal education industry in a time where it is desperately needed. This move is only going to discourage those who are not truly dedicated to going to law school in the first place. Fee waivers are still available (and liberally given). Prices are still affordable. If you are going to whine about how much it costs to apply to law school or the fundamental injustice of only being able to afford to take a test once that will determine your life, I am sorry to say that you are in for a rude awakening when it comes time to take the Bar Exam.

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Re: 1st paragraph - There is a correlation between LSAT score and 1L grades. However, I was simply referring to the fact that schools typically want to protect, and improve, their LSAT medians. This would incentivize them to go for those with higher scores, even if the student gets the higher score on the 2nd or 3rd attempt.

    Re: 2nd paragraph - Agreed.

    Re: 3rd paragraph - Those for whom money is an issue are at a relative disadvantage when it comes to retaking the LSAT (yet don't qualify for a fee waiver) or applying to several schools. Equality of opportunity is good. There are many for whom a fee waiver would make a difference, yet don't get one.

    I wouldn't attribute this motive to LSAC in raising the fees. As their president stated, it's due to declining test-taker and applicant volume, not in an attempt to "cut the fat." I also don't think this fee hike will decrease the size of the applicant pool itself - just the number of LSATs administered and number of applications.

  3. If you want to cut the fat, eliminate the LSAC entirely or make the LSAT optional. *ding*ding, now there is a novel idea!