LSAT takers on the decline

By Charlene Lerner, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 8, 2012

Recent data released by the Law School Admissions Council, the national organization that administers the LSAT test, showed drastic decreases in the number of LSAT examinations administered during the 2011-2012 academic year.

There was a 18.7-percent decrease in the number of LSATs administered from last June to June 2010, the largest drop since 2006. Data also indicates that the number of tests administered for this year is also on a steady decline, with numbers for fall 2011 portraying a 9.9-percent decrease from the previous year.

Wendy Margolis, LSAT director of communications, said figures reflect an ongoing national trend of decreased law school applications in the wake of difficult economic times across the nation.

“With law school applications there’s a bit of a lag time, by the time people take the LSAT and by the time they apply,” Margolis said. “Right now they would take the LSAT for the fall of 2012 — the information about the debt and the job placement issues are finally catching up.”

Margolis said the growing price of undergraduate tuition nationwide has likely also played a role in the decrease in LSATs administered.

“I just think undergraduate school is expensive as well, and people are getting a lot of debt from undergraduate school,” Margolis said. “The thought of piling on more debt when the job picture isn’t so rosy causes people to hesitate more than they might have otherwise.”

Sarah Zearfoss, the Law School’s senior assistant dean for admissions, financial aid and career planning, wrote in an e-mail that in light of a decrease in LSATs administered, national application pools have also decreased significantly.

“As I recall from the last time I saw a volume report, the overall applicant pool has declined nationally by almost 15% this year — maybe even more,” Zearfoss wrote. “Last year’s pool also constricted.”

While Zearfoss agreed that the economy has played a substantial role in decreasing law school applicants, she noted that the interest in the University’s law school has remained high in comparison to peer institutions.

“Yes, we at Michigan have seen an (economic) effect, as one would expect — I don’t know of any of our peers that haven’t — although our decline is, happily, smaller than the overall national average,” Zearfoss wrote. “Our application deadline is not for another couple of weeks, but I would estimate that our pool will be about 5% smaller this year than last.”

Despite the likely decline, Zearfoss remained optimistic about the University’s applicant pool for this year.

“As a general proposition, of course, admissions offices love to see an abundant applicant pool, but given that Michigan typically has a very healthy volume of applicants, a decrease in this size does not represent a serious concern for us,” Zearfoss wrote. “We will have more than 5,000 applications this year, I think.”

Zearfoss explained that the decrease in applicants corresponds with a “pretty predictable ebb and flow” in law school interest over the past two decades, in accordance with economic downturns.

“The mid-90s saw a similar decrease, following the big economic downturn of 1991-92,” Zearfoss wrote. “The most recent recession and contraction in our national economy has understandably made people cautious about investing in a law school degree. I would expect that within another year or two, we will start seeing a reversal in the cycle, and application numbers will start climbing again.”

Theresa Munaco, LSA Senior and president of the Kappa Alpha Pi Pre-Law Fraternity, said the decrease in people taking the LSAT likely corresponds to an upswing of students that have decided to take a few years after graduation before making the decision to apply to law school.

“I would say that about half of the seniors (in Kappa Alpha Pi) have already taken an LSAT and a really fair number of them are taking the LSAT right now and going straight through,” Munaco said. “But then there’s the other half that is kind of taking time trying to get a real work experience before going.”

Munaco said many students delay law school to pursue opportunities for personal growth and development in programs like Teach for America, AmeriCorps or the military. She added that since LSAT scores are only valid for up to five years, those who are unsure about the decision to go to law school will often hold off on taking the exam.

The competitive nature of law school admissions amid a surplus of lawyers in the job market is also discouraging for prospective law school applicants, she said.

“I don’t think there needs to be as many law schools as there are currently and I think part of the issue is that recently, they started pumping out law schools to pump out lawyers and all of a sudden the demand for lawyers shriveled up,” Munaco said.