Students looking to go to law school next year may have a more challenging road ahead of them than their peers applying to other professional schools.
Officials from law schools across the country are reporting a boom time for applications, while their counterparts at medical schools and business schools say their numbers are holding steady.
As recent college graduates look to avoid a bleak job hunt and the recession forces more professionals to change careers, applications to graduate and professional schools — especially law schools — are increasing, making admissions to professional programs across the nation more competitive than in years past.
The University’s Law School is following the trend, with the number of applicants up 20 percent from last year — the largest percentage increase in seven years — at 3,000 this year, according to Sarah Zearfoss, assistant dean and director of law school admissions.
Zearfoss said she believes the recession over the past year and half is a major factor driving this increase in applicants, a trend she also saw during the economic down times in 2001 and 2002. The Law School saw a 30-percent increase in its applicant pool between those two years.
“My anecdotal belief is that there are a lot of people coming straight through (from undergraduate school) and believe they won’t be able to get jobs,” Zearfoss said.
The University’s Law School, ranked No. 9 in U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Schools, currently gets about 6 percent of all applications to law schools nationwide, a number that has increased both as the national pool of applicants has gotten bigger and as the University attracts more law students, Zearfoss said.
Though the increase in applicants this year is currently at about 20 percent, Zearfoss said she expects that number to go down to 10 percent by the Feb. 15 application deadline.
With the increase in applicants, admission to the Law School will be even more selective this year, Zearfoss said, though the admissions office will not change its overall approach to reviewing applications.
“We’ll be applying the same general criteria and be choosier about who we admit,” Zearfoss said.
The Law School’s acceptance rate is about 20 percent, but it is expected to go down for this year, as the admissions staff aims to maintain the class size, Zearfoss said.
Though the University Law School’s jump in applications mirrors a national trend, it is to a much higher degree than at other colleges across the country.
According to preliminary end-of-year data from the Law School Admission Council, the number of applicants to American Bar Association law schools is up 5 percent over last year. The data also show that total applications are up 6.5 percent, indicating that applicants are, on average, applying to more schools.
A rising interest in law school applicants is also evident in the number of people taking the LSAT exam, the test required for admission to law school. During the 2008-2009 academic year, there was a 6.4 percent increase in the number of test takers, according to the LSAC website.
The University of Illinois College of Law has experienced an even larger increase in applicants than Michigan, with a 44-percent increase from this time last year, according to Paul Pless, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the University of Illinois.
Pless said he thinks this increase will be sustained throughout the entire admissions cycle and by the application deadline in March there could be a 30- to 40-percent increase from last year. Pless called this increase an “all-time high,” adding that the school would most likely have to admit a smaller percentage of applicants this year.
“Coming out of undergrad, that certainly is more difficult for even the very talented students to find a job, so going to law school can make sense,” Pless said.
For comparison, the University of Chicago Law School and Boston University School of Law have seen increases of 12 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
Officials in the office of admissions at both schools said the competition is increasing with the rise in applicants, as they are not going to increase the class size.
But Yale Law School and Stanford Law School, both ranked in the top three by U.S. News and World Report, have not experienced large fluctuations in their application numbers for this year.
Applications to Yale Law School are currently up 2 percent, but spokeswoman Jan Conroy was careful to characterize the number as preliminary, saying “it’s too early in the cycle to notice anything dramatically.”
Conroy said Yale’s application numbers have not been affected by changes in the economic climate.
“They fluctuate during the cycle and we’re not seeing any meaningful rise or fall that you could attribute to the economy at this time,” Conroy said.
Judith Romero, spokeswoman for Stanford Law School, also downplayed the economy’s effect on applicants. She said Stanford Law School has consistently had about 4,000 applicants every year with an admittance rate of about 4 percent.
But officials at several schools said admissions for other professional school programs, like medical school and business school, are not as affected by changes in the economic climate.
Robert Ruiz, director of admissions at the University of Michigan Medical School, said most students applying to medical school typically plan for it throughout their college career.
The medical school had a 2-percent increase in applicants this year, according to Ruiz.
The Yale School of Medicine also saw an increase in applications — a record high — though the admissions office is not sure whether this increase is connected to the economy, said Richard Silverman, director of the admissions office.
But while there has been an increase in the number of applicants, Silverman said he “wouldn’t call it a surge,” and that medical school admissions are not typically as affected by economic downturns as other professional schools, like law and business schools.
“(There is a) more immediate effect for law and business schools and not as much for medical schools,” Silverman said. “A person can’t decide to apply to medical school tomorrow.”
While law school applications at the beginning of the admissions cycle are up this year, admissions officials at business schools like the Ross School of Business and Stanford Graduate School of Business said it is too early in the admissions cycle to know what the application numbers will look like for the year.
The acceptance rate to the Ross School of Business MBA program is expected to remain the same this year at 23 percent, said Soojin Koh, director of admissions at the Business School.
While the Stanford Graduate School of Business has experienced an increase in applicants over the past several years, Lisa Giannangeli, marketing director of MBA admissions, also hesitated to attribute the trend to the economy.
Giannangeli cited the school’s application numbers in 1998, 2001 and 2009 as examples of their application numbers not directly correlating with the state of the economy. In 1998, when the economy was “ very strong,” the school received over 7,000 applicants — about the same number of people who applied for spots in the class of 2009 — but in 2001 applications were at “mid-level,” she said.
“If you look at our historic data and the natural ups and downs, it hasn’t been tied to what’s been going on in the economy,” Giannangeli said.
The Stanford Graduate School of Business also does not release their application numbers before the application cycle is complete, Giannangeli said.
While the economy is having less of an effect on applicants to medical school and business school, many University students currently applying to law school said they can tell that admissions to law schools across the country are becoming increasingly competitive.
LSA senior Brian Rosen applied to 10 law schools this fall, a number that he said is becoming typical, as more soon-to-be-graduates want to secure their spot in a law school amid the increased competition.
“It’s just an unknown kind of market…you don’t know because so many people are applying this year, so you have to make sure,” he said.
But LSA senior Eric Berlin, who applied to 13 law schools this fall, said he applied to a relatively high number of schools, not because of the increasingly competitive nature of law school admissions, but because he wanted to keep his options open and not restrict himself to a few specific schools.
Roth, who applied to eight law schools, said she applied to some schools she doesn’t want to attend, because she needs “safety schools” in the competitive environment of law school admissions.
Roth also said she is glad she will be continuing her education next year instead of going directly into the workforce.
“I’m happy I’m going for more schooling because of the economy and the job market,” she said.