Note: This article has been updated to include information about the Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law’s incoming class
Law school remains a tough sell—the number of people applying for admission nationwide plummeted by more than 12 percent this year, marking the third straight year of declines.
However, a handful of law schools bucked the trend and are welcoming incoming classes notably larger than last years’.
Those that fared well had little in common, necessarily. Some are small and rural, others large and located in large cities. Their administrators credited factors ranging from new programs and upgraded facilities to more generous financial aid packages. In some cases, the numbers recovered following unprecedented enrollment drops in 2012.
The University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law experienced a 15 percent increase in the size of its 1L class, which comprises 174 students. The admissions office would have been happy to have landed 150, dean Ellen Suni said.
But it was touch-and-go: At one point, early in the admissions cycle, applications were down by 25 percent. The school canceled one of three 1L sections and reassigned faculty. But then applications picked up and administrators could afford to be pickier about extending offers.
“This was a surprise, and we had to scramble to add back that section and faculty,” Suni said. The school hired two faculty members who’d been laid off from other law schools.
One factor, she said, was a new Summer Start Program, which gives students a jump-start by letting them take core first-year courses during the summer. More than 30 students opted in during the inaugural year. The school’s relatively low tuition, at just more than $18,000 for Missouri residents, also appealed, Suni said.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was at George Washington University Law School, which brought in 484 students. Interim dean Gregory Maggs told the George Washington Hatchet campus newspaper that the class is 22 percent—80 students—larger than the previous 1L class.
The growth represents something of a rebound, after the size of the entering class plummeted last year. Maggs said the school’s two new buildings might have been a draw; associate vice president for law development Rich Collins added that the school was “more aggressive” with financial aid.
The College of William and Mary Marshal-Wythe School of Law welcomed 227 new students, up by nearly 16 percent from 196 in 2012, according to associate dean of admissions Faye Shealy. The yield—the percentage of admitted students who actually enrolled—was higher than expected, she said.
The University of California, Berkeley School of Law saw an 8 percent climb in 1L enrollment, welcoming 284 students. Spokeswoman Susan Gluss said Berkeley typically enrolls between 270 and 280 students each year.
The Mercer University Walter F. George School of Law also saw a surge in new students this year. Its 1L class has 187 students, up nearly 44 percent from 130 last year, said Michael Dean, the school’s associate dean and chief operating officer. That increase more than makes up for the 19-student decline the school saw in 2012.
Applications were down 21 percent over last year, but more students than expected took the school up on its offer of admission, he said. Moreover, Mercer gave financial aid to a larger number of students this year.
“Considering the sharp decline in applicants, we are very fortunate to have experienced such a positive outcome,” Dean said.
At the University of Idaho College of Law, 110 1Ls represented a nearly 8 percent increase over last year. Applications had increased by nearly 12 percent, interim dean Michael Satz said.
“Law school is a serious investment, and even with scholarships offered by other schools, students selected Idaho Law because our tuition is the 13th most affordable in the country and our employment prospects are encouraging,” associate dean of admissions Jeffrey Dodge said. “We worked hard to promote the quality of our faculty and academic program during the last admissions cycle.”
Tuition for Idaho residents is less than $16,000 a year.
Idaho Law’s recruiting push may have hurt the only other law school in the state—the Concordia University School of Law; it saw 1L enrollment drop from 73 student in 2012 to 44 this year, its second year of operations.
Savannah Law School, which also opened its doors in the fall of 2012, fared somewhat better. Its incoming class grew by 11 percent, although that reflects the addition of just five students, assistant director of admissions Matthew Kerns said. Its 8-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio gives Savannah students a very different experience than they can expect at a larger, more established school, he added.
“The spirit of entrepreneurship is definitely alive among our students,” he said. “Being the first, they know they will have a say in what’s going on.”
The official enrollment figures that law schools report to the American Bar Association won’t be available for months, but it appears that most law schools this year either maintained or reduced their incoming class sizes in attempts to maintain their median LSAT scores and undergraduate grade-point averages. Any drop in those metrics could result in a lower U.S. News & World Report ranking. Admitting lower-performing students could also strain a school’s academic resources and eventually hurt its bar passage rate.
The incoming class at Missouri-Kansas City had a slightly lower median LSAT score this year, Suni said, but their GPA statistics were virtually unchanged. George Washington has yet to release its class’ academic credentials, but Collins told The Hatchet that the school relied more heavily on GPAs and lowered its LSAT standard.
It appears that Berkeley managed without adjusting its admission standards too much, despite the fact that it received about 1,000 fewer applications. The school’s median LSAT score for the class of 2016 remained unchanged, although its 75th percentile LSAT fell from 170 last year to 169.
Berkeley’s 25th percentile LSAT score rose significantly, however—from 163 to 166 this year. All of the school’s GPA figures were down slightly.
Mercer Law’s median LSAT score dropped one point, Dean said, but its GPA measure remained consistent with the previous year.