The June sitting of the Law School Admission Test traditionally has been the preferred date for the most organized of would-be law students — those who wanted to get a jump on the admissions process for the following year.
This year, however, the LSAT administered on June 10 also offered a last-ditch opportunity for procrastinators aiming to begin classes this fall. At least 25 law schools announced that they would consider scores from the June examination, which were released earlier this month, for their fall classes.
By contrast, the February sitting typically has been the last chance for fall entrants to take the LSAT.
It's just one more sign of the struggle many law schools now face in recruiting enough students to render their operations financially sustainable.
"This is a relatively new phenomenon," said Jeff Thomas, director of pre-law programs for Kaplan Test Prep. "This is the first year I have heard of schools explicitly stating as a policy that they would consider June LSAT scores."
As of late June, the number of applicants to law schools accredited by the American Bar Association were down by 13 percent compared to one year ago, according to the Law School Admissions Council. The 57,720 people who have applied for a seat so far represents a 34 percent decrease since 2010, when their numbers peaked.
In the past, admissions departments might have considered June scores on an unofficial one-by-one basis for promising applicants with lower-than-hoped-for LSAT scores from an earlier administration, Thomas said. Now they formalized the policy, looking to June LSAT takers not previously in their admissions pipelines, he said.
It's not clear exactly how many law schools are accepting June test results, although Kaplan plans to add that question to its annual survey of law school admissions officials.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law revealed in an April blog post that it would accept June LSAT scores, calling it is a good option for people whose situations have "recently changed." Florida Coastal School of Law is also accepting June scores, promising a decision on applications in "as little as three days."
Stetson University College of Law made the move last year, raising eyebrows among legal bloggers who interpreted the shift as a sign of desperation. But the school accepted June scores again this year and plans to do so again for 2014 admissions, spokeswoman Brandi Palmer said.
Stetson last year received "positive feedback" about the new policy from part-time applicants who had been too busy with jobs and family obligations to sit for earlier LSATs, she added.
We're not just talking about lower-tier or unranked schools. The University of Alabama School of Law, ranked No. 21 by U.S. News & World Report, is looking at June scores, as is No. 31-ranked University of North Carolina School of Law. (UNC's website cautions June LSAT takers that they would be competing for a spot on the school's waitlist.)
The University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law (No. 41); The University of Connecticut School of Law (No. 58); and the University of San Diego School of Law (No. 68) are on board.
So are Albany Law School; Barry University School of Law; Brooklyn Law School; the University of District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law; Florida A&M University College of Law; Loyola Law School, Los Angeles; Northern Illinois University College of Law; Ohio Northern University Pettit College of Law; Pace Law School; Samford University Cumberland School of Law; Savannah Law School; St. Thomas University School of Law; the State University of New York and Buffalo Law School; Thomas Jefferson School of Law; Washburn University School of Law; Whittier Law School; and William Mitchell College of Law.
Likely many additional schools are considering June scores, if quietly. Anecdotal evidence suggests that schools have been more active than ever in reaching out to prospects with lower LSAT scores and asking them to retake the test in June, Thomas said.
Many of the law schools accepting June LSAT scores stipulated that applicants compete the rest of their applications by the end of May or June.
It remains to be seen whether the move would produce many new applicants. For one thing, the number of people who sat for the test in June was down by nearly 5 percent compared to one year ago, although that decline was smaller than the drops seen during the four previous administrations.
Moreover, prospective students are less likely to make such a big decision on a whim than in the past, Thomas said.
"Given the economic climate now, we're finding that students are much more introspective about the decision to apply and go to law school. I tend to think that we're not going to see a last-minute groundswell of folks," Thomas said.
Kyle Pasewark, whose company Advise-In Solutions counsels prospective law students, said there are financial drawbacks to entering the admissions game so late.
"Accepting June LSAT scores means that schools haven't filled their classes and they don't have revenue up the level they wanted or think they need," he said. "That means they won't be giving out many merit-based scholarships."
Pasewark has been advising clients with LSAT scores from the February exam to sit out this summer's admissions cycle and get in early on next year's, in hopes of securing more financial aid. "My recommendation to people is that unless there is a compelling reason to go to law school in the fall of 2013, the same application and LSAT score will be much more valuable next year."
Contact Karen Sloan at email@example.com.