Yale Law School sees a decline in applications

Patrick Cooper

Admissions officers at Yale Law School are picky. But lately, they’ve had fewer prospective students to be picky about.

With an acceptance rate of 8.2 percent in 1999, Yale is the most selective law school in the country. But applications to the top-ranked school have dropped every year for the past decade, according to Yale’s admissions office.

From 1991 to 1998 this decline mirrored a national trend, but recently the tide has turned. Yale, however, still has not seen a rise in the number of applicants to its school.

Northwestern’s Law School is one of many law schools seeing gains in applicant numbers, said Don Rebstock, the associate dean of Enrollment Management and Career Services at NU’s Law School.

Between 1998 and 1999, the school posted a dramatic 16 percent increase — from 3,537 applicants to 4,103. The number jumped slightly again this year to 4,214, Rebstock said.

The Law School accepted 18.1 percent of its 1999 applicants, according to U.S. News&World Report.

Rebstock said he believes reaching out to prospective students has generated NU’s larger applicant pool. In addition to recruiting applicants from different areas of the country, the school has sent more direct mailings. NU also encourages applicant interviews, he said.

April Perry, a Speech senior who will attend NU’s Law School next year, said she appreciated the interview when applying.

Instead of using interviews at Yale, the school considers LSAT scores and college grade point averages “very seriously,” said Yale Law School Admissions Director Jean Webb.

LSAT scores and GPA are “a really hard way to distinguish among candidates,” Perry said. “It’s just how well you test and are used to testing. I don’t know how much of that has to do with being a lawyer.”

At NU “you realize that you’re not just a number,” said Julie Kaplan, the outgoing president of the Law School’s student government, the Student Bar Association.

When she was deciding what law school to attend, Kaplan said NU “was the only school I felt a personal connection with, and I think that’s a shared sentiment (among students).”

At Yale, Webb said administrators have seen the school’s 10-year decline as “a relative matter,” compared with the rest of the country.

“The whole national applicant pool has dropped,” she said.

This trend was true for most of the 1990s but not recently, said Ed Haggerty, media relations specialist at the Law School Admission Council, the group that administers the Law School Admission Test.

Since the downward trend began in 1991, the number of law school applicants increased 3.7 percent nationally in 1999 to 74,380, still far below the nearly 100,000 people who applied in 1991.

There are several possible reasons for the drop, Haggerty said, pointing to the overall strength of the U.S. economy during the decade.

“Many college graduates are finding lucrative jobs in the private sector right out of college and haven’t seen the need to receive (additional) higher education,” he said.

Also, with the undergraduate debt rate rising, potential applicants may think graduate school debt is “more than they could handle,” he said.