It's anything but business as usual during this year's law school admissions cycle. That seemed obvious to the nearly 500 prelaw advisers and law school admissions officers who gathered in Washington in mid-June for a five-day conference of the Pre-Law Advisors National Council.
"It's quite competitive this year," said Heather Struck, assistant dean at Cornell University's College of Arts and Sciences and chairwoman of the organization. "I have seen, anecdotally, some very generous merit scholarship offers."
Law schools experienced a 25% decline in applicants nationwide during the past two years, due in part to the tight job market for new lawyers and a more widespread understanding of the high costs of attending. Many have responded by accepting a larger percentage of applicants and sweetening their scholarship packages, in hopes of locking in prospective students.
For their part, many would-be law students sense opportunity and are aggressively negotiating scholarship offers from competing schools, according to prelaw advisers and admissions deans. "I think every conversation I've had over the past six weeks has been, 'And how much money can I get?' " Wake Forest University School of Law assistant dean for admissions and financial aid Jay Shively said during one conference panel discussion.
Law schools typically dole out merit scholarships to students with sterling academic credentials, but Shively said that even applicants with LSAT scores and undergraduate grade-point averages below Wake Forest's median have been leveraging competing offers for money. "Although it's a daunting time for jobs, there has never been a better time to apply to law school," Shively said. "It's a buyers' market right now, and the numbers have never been better." ...
The trickle-down effect of competition for students may be hitting lower-tier schools the hardest. Sherolyn Hurst, assistant dean for admissions and scholarships at the unranked Texas Wesleyan University School of Law, acknowledged that her school has had a hard time competing. "It's frustrating for me," she said. "I'm seeing colleagues offering scholarships to people they wouldn't have admitted last year. We don't have millions of dollars in an endowment, but we're trying to do right by our students."