Law school becomes less selective

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

The GW Law School accepted about 42 percent of applicants last year.

If you want a spot in the No. 21 law school in the country, it’s now a lot easier to get in.

Forty-two percent of applicants secured admission to the GW Law School last year – eroding selectivity by 13 percentage points in a single year as the school tried to amass tuition dollars despite declining application numbers.

But the numbers show an even more extreme picture of how the school’s admissions have changed over the past few years. In 2004, GW Law School accepted just 17 percent of applicants, a standard that helped it rise in the rankings and maintain elite status.

Accepting more applicants last year enabled the college to grow its incoming class by one-fifth after record-low enrollment cut into tuition revenue. The college has also had to foot $2 million to $3 million a year to pay stipends to recent graduates who can only find short-term, unpaid legal jobs.

Gregory Maggs, the school’s interim dean, and Sophia Sim, the assistant dean of admissions, declined to comment last week on whether they were concerned by the increase, what selectivity meant for the school or their plans moving forward.

Provost Steven Lerman presented the data at a Faculty Senate meeting in February. The school submitted the data to the American Bar Association in October, but declined to release all of it publicly.

“What has happened nationally is the number of students going to law schools has plummeted pretty quickly,” Lerman said. “Not surprisingly, the competition for JD students has accelerated, and the number of law schools out there has not dropped.”

GW’s yield rate – the number of students who accept an offer of admission – also dropped this year to 16.7 percent, the lowest the school has seen in at least a decade.

Other schools, like New York and Emory universities, have opted to shrink the size of their law schools, in part because of the decline in legal jobs. Less than half of the GW Law School’s Class of 2012 secured full-time salaried jobs nine months after graduation.

Only one peer school, American University, saw a bigger slide in its selectivity than GW’s. Southern Methodist University’s law school had the next biggest jump, increasing its acceptance rate by 7 percentage points this fall.

Like many law schools across the country, GW received about 400 fewer applications this year, but the school increased its class size by about 80 students.

GW is tied at No. 21 with the University of Alabama School of Law in U.S. News and World Report’s top law schools, though Alabama reported no increase in its admissions rate this year. The university has accepted 25 percent of applicants to its law school for the last two years.

Admissions rate accounts for only a small fraction of U.S. News’ methodology. New rankings are set to be released this month.

Paul Campos, a law professor at the University of Colorado Boulder and author of “Don’t Go To Law School (Unless),” said GW has cut its academic standards by accepting more students.

“Basically they doubled the percentage of people they admit in terms of what it was two years ago and in course of doing that they really lowered the LSAT number of entering class,” he said.

The median LSAT score for this year’s class fell from 167 to 165, falling to the 95th to 93rd percentile of those who took the test, which Campos said was “pretty significant in terms of law school admission.”

Most of GW’s peer institutions also saw a decline in median LSAT scores, as all but two of the 14 schools had just a two- or three-point drop.

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