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With Fewer Applicants, Schools Seeking 'Substance' Over Scores

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By William Peacock, Esq. on May 16, 2013 1:14 PM

This should cause a bit of a chuckle. We've pointed out recently, a couple times, that the massive drop in law school applications has meant a shift in admissions results. Someone destined for a middling school in 2006 might have a shot at a top school today -- or better yet, a scholarship!

Less applicants presumably means less people talking the LSAT and less people with gaudy LSAT numbers to fill the slots of the top schools. Of course, they could always reduce the size of incoming classes (adjust supply for the reduced demand). But that'd mean less incoming tuition to cover the schools' massive overhead.

Instead, at least at the University of Michigan Law School, they're looking at the whole person.

Michigan's Senior Assistant Dean and Director of Admissions Sarah Zearfoss summed up the school's approach in an interview with the Careerist, stating:

LSATs are lower than in previous years. There's been an arms race with LSATs and GPAs [among top law schools], but I think the shrunken pool has forced admissions officers to think about what we really need in our class, and it's not just the LSAT. I think we are choosing substance over LSATs.

A cynic might say, "Hah. Great excuse to cover for falling admissions numbers." We're not cynical around here, however. Maybe, just maybe, they actually are making better admissions decisions.

After all, for those of us that can remember law school, we remember the students who balled-out on the LSAT and flopped. We also remember those who got in off the wait list (which usually indicates a lower LSAT score or GPA), only to take their place at the top of the class and on Law Review.

Admissions numbers are an easy filter. Someone with a 4.0 GPA and a 180 LSAT score is probably more intelligent, and more suited to dominating law school, than someone with a 2.1 GPA and a 145 LSAT.

But, when all of those top candidates are committed to schools in Cambridge and Palo Alto, the next tier of students requires a bit more sorting via "whole person" soft factors (as you move closer to the median on a normal curve, the pool of applicants grows). And if that sorting results in a few less sociopaths or gunners in the 1L Contracts courses (or in courtrooms), that's something we can all agree is a good thing.

Now, should this change the way applicants approach the admissions process? No. Our two cents is still this: don't go, unless you are offered a scholarship and you lack any lucrative alternatives. And high LSAT scores are still the easiest way to obtain the holy grail of a full ride to a decent school.

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