Imagine receiving acceptance letters from two (or more!) prestigious law schools but with no financial award package. Tuition at each (or all of them!) is essentially equal. Let’s assume you are not eligible for financial aid, but you were hoping for at least one scholarship offer, because you sure as hell don’t have the resources to pay tuition. Back when I was applying to law school this scenario would have presented a simple choice: choose the school you would prefer to attend, knowing you will have to take out mountains of student loans for any of them. But apparently that’s not how it goes today. Presented with this situation in 2014, candidates are calling admissions officers at top schools to bargain down their tuition. That’s right: it’s a buyer’s market to the extreme these days. The dean of Northwestern University School of Law described the current situation to The New York Times as “insane” and said, “We’re in hand-to-hand combat with other schools.” Not surprising if you believe the law school brain drain alarmists.
As law school enrollment has dropped, so have median LSAT scores, even at top schools like Northwestern. Today’s median LSAT score is 168, compared with 170 in 2009. Meanwhile, tuition costs are higher so, realizing that they need to entice students somehow, law schools have boosted their financial aid packages (in part due to pleas to alums for donations). In 2009, 30 percent of incoming students at Northwestern received financial aid; today, that figure is up to 74 percent.
These trends and statistics explain the “what can you do for me” attitude of prospective law students. At schools outside of the top tier there appear to be even steeper tuition drops. (The University of Arizona law school, for example, slashed tuition for out-of-state residents by 30 percent earlier this year.) This buyer’s market has also infiltrated the law firm hiring process; we’ve heard from our sources that firms fought harder this past recruiting season to get the best and brightest for the summer class of 2015.
Expecting law school acceptance letters to roll in soon? Put on your negotiating hat and take advantage of the less-than-“frothy” enrollment schools are experiencing. Just be careful: a mid-tier school is not necessarily your best bet, especially if you are after a BigLaw job, no matter how low tuition is. And as always, don’t let the lower acceptance standards at elite schools fool you into thinking that now is a great time to apply to law school, UNLESS you have already decided that you definitely want to be a lawyer, student loans and all. Already a top candidate at a top school? We hope you chose one of the firms that is upping the ante in bonus compensation this year.
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