Law school applications have dramatically risen nationwide in the past year, with economic instability cited as a large contributing factor. For UChicago upperclassmen, this means a more competitive playing field and an associated uptick in rejections.
“There’s an increase in applications this year—nationally they’re up over twenty percent. We’re seeing similar, if not higher, numbers at the Law School,” said Ann Perry, Associate Dean for Admissions at the Law School.
She elaborated on how economic uncertainty often causes people to go back to school. “If there’s a down economy, people tend to go to law school or go on to graduate school because that’s a place to get ready for when the economy starts going back up,” she said.
Analysts write that this year’s drastic increase in the number of law school applications can be traced to a variety of causes, including last summer’s racial reckoning, political polarization, and the death of legal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Fourth-year Brian Uhler, who will be attending law school next fall, said the largest factor of all was the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated increase in unemployment.
“Racial injustice, the ‘Trump Bump’ [a hypothesis claiming that former president Donald Trump’s policies would upset the job market and cause an influx of graduate school applications], and Justice Ginsburg’s death were very, very small factors compared to the COVID bump,” said Uhler.
The pandemic has also changed the way that law schools recruit potential students. “Typically we’re travelling all over the country doing training sessions, but this year it all had to be virtual. We did close to fifty different Zoom events, but the nice thing about Zoom, as we’ve all learned over the last nine or ten months, is how many people you can reach,” Perry said. While virtual law school admissions events brought on by COVID increased accessibility, they also likely encouraged even more prospective students to apply.
With more students applying, the playing field has become much more competitive. Uhler, who has known that he would be applying to law school since he was thirteen years old, explained that with an overload of high scores on the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), a score that previously would have been in the 99th percentile might not carry the same weight as it once did.
“There seems to be, anecdotally, a surge of people that are getting waitlisted or denied at schools that in any other given year they [would] get into with flying colors,” he said.
According to UChicago’s Office of Career Advancement, however, UChicago students continue to have great results in their law school applications. 97 percent of students who apply to a top-20 law school are accepted, according to an email the Career Advancement team sent to The Maroon.
For any applicants who may be concerned about their chances in the current cycle, Perry advises them to fill out their applications as early as possible and to focus on making their cases for admission as strong as possible instead of on the number of competing students. “If it doesn’t work out this year, law schools aren’t going anywhere. There’s going to be another cycle,” she said.