While the political climate is being credited with boosting applications to law schools nationally, Indiana’s legal institutions might be immune to the hubbub since they have posted fluctuations but no discernable upward trend in the number of individuals applying for enrollment.
A Kaplan Test Prep Survey of more than 100 law schools from August and September 2019 found 84% of admissions officers believe the current political climate was a significant factor in the 3.3% rise in law school applications for the fall of 2019. This continues the so-called “Trump bump” highlighted in Kaplan’s 2018 survey, with 87% attributing the interest in politics with the 9% jump in applications.
“Since 2017, we’ve seen increases in both LSAT takers and law school applications, which has fueled speculation about how much impact the political climate is having on the law school admissions landscape,” Jeff Thomas, executive director of admissions programs at Kaplan Test Prep, said in a news release. “At Kaplan we thought it would be worth securing hard data on the issue and tracking this for subsequent cycles. We now have an answer: the impact remains significant and appears to have staying power.”
The three Hoosier law schools that continue to accept students all charted a similar bump in applications from 2017 to 2018, according to the American Bar Association’s Standard 509 Information Report. However, the numbers slumped in 2019.
Notre Dame Law School saw the biggest jump in applications, skyrocketing from 2,498 for the class entering in the fall of 2017 to 2,907 for the fall of 2018. During the same period, applications to Indiana University Maurer School of Law in Bloomington ballooned from 1,882 to 2,000 and at Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law in Indianapolis grew from 873 to 956.
But all three schools registered a decline in applications for the fall of 2019. Notre Dame slipped to 2,753, while IU Maurer fell to 1,790 and IU McKinney settled at 923.
Valparaiso Law School has not accepted any new students since the fall of 2017. It suspended admissions before announcing plans to close in the summer of 2020.
Thomas also noted that despite the rise in applications, the number of first-year law students has remained flat.
“The fact that the number of 1Ls is essentially unchanged from last year despite an overall application increase suggests that law schools may be becoming more selective about who they let in. The number of jobs in the legal sector isn’t keeping up and they are mindful of that,” he said. “It’s also worth nothing that over the past year or so, several law schools have announced plans to close or not accept any new students. This is having an effect too.”
Class sizes at the three law schools have changed almost counter to the rise and fall of applications, while the LSAT scores and undergraduate grade point averages for each entering class have largely remained unchanged.
Notre Dame’s 1L class shrank to 186 in 2018 from 194 in 2017 before growing to 211 in 2019. IU Maurer welcomed a first-year class of 171 in 2018, which was an increase from the 159 the prior year but much the same as the 169 in 2019. Conversely, IU McKinney has expanded its enrollment from 236 to 247 in 2017 and 2018, respectively, and hit 254 in the fall of 2019.
As for qualifications, Notre Dame’s entering classes in 2017, 2018 and 2019 all had median LSAT scores of about 165 and GPAs in the low- to mid-3.70s. Similarly, IU Maurer’s median LSAT scores remained in the low 160s and median GPAs in the mid- to high-3.70s, while IU McKinney’s median LSAT scores were largely unchanged in the mid-150s, with the median GPA at 3.45.
Although the actions of the White House and Congress may be propelling the attraction to become a lawyer, Thomas advised that applicants, just like politicians, should keep an open mind.
“As law school admissions officers point out, caring about politics alone is not a strong enough reason to attend law school,” Thomas said. “Your career in law will outlive any particular presidency.
“A term in the House last two years, law school lasts three years, and a presidency can be as short as four years, but your career will last decades,” he continued. “That’s why we continue to advise pre-law students to think carefully about why they are applying and what they plan to do with their degree in the long term.”