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July 6, 2012


The crystal ball redux: law school admissions trends

by dan rodriguez

Here is a post describing an interesting recent article on the subject of law school admissions and yield rates.  The basic thesis is that the pain in the law school applicant downtown will be unevenly distributed in that schools who typically have a high acceptance rate and a comparatively low yield will be impacted more severely.

In a sense, this is an obvious point.  Also obvious is the further point that dropping admissions numbers can contribute to a drop in rankings and thereby additional challenges in maintaining a competitive position.  Less obvious, and therefore more intriguing, is the suggestion that this predicament will impact several of the top schools in meaningful ways.

There are some statistical assumptions underlying the analysis which are worth interrogating, albeit in a more focused forum, but let me just make a couple observations, none of which are specifically Northwestern-centric (we are not mentioned in the article, which is just fine with me):

(1) yield is a function of a myriad of factors, with rankings certainly at or near the top of the list.  But yield rates are not entirely outside of the control of the particular law school.  Filling spaces at a certain admissions standards target requires being adept at predicting student movement, even well into the summer, and also strategic use of financial aid dollars.  The assumption the author makes that rate and yield are correlated in some mechanical fashion — a sort of deus ex machina — doesn’t capture the nuance of the admissions and recruitment process.  (Here is where the able author, not a dean or an admissions professional, is at a disavantage);

(2) one key factor in all this is class size.  As the author notes, law schools will face pressure to examine carefully the size of the entering class (we certainly are) and sizing strategies will have an impact on the applicant decline.  This is just common sense.  The deft analysis in this article about how law schools must think proactively about the applicant decline raises the more interesting set of issues of just exactly what law schools ought to do and ought not to do about the continuing reshaping of the applicant pool;

(3) recruitment matters.  Efforts to communicate methodically and honestly with potential students reap dividends.  That the rankings are such a key criterion for students is what it is, but much of what other considerations go into this mix (including, say, location, cost, job opportunities, curriculum, faculty strength, programs, and the like) are properly marketed by the law school in order to generate student enthusiasm.

Analyses which rest on rigid assumptions about the student and institutional behavior as though they are simply part of the laws of nature underestimate both the capacities of the market to absorb and refract knowledge (some readers will recall that Hayek wrote lucidly about this in an earlier era); also underestimated is the strategic adjustments made by those of us who hard at work puzzling through these predicaments with an eye toward improving our product — that is, not only the well-being of our respective schools, but the education we provide to the next generation of lawyers.

Comments welcome.

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. fanofNUlaw
    Jul 9 2012

    Glad to know that you’re taking a critical look at the admissions trends!

    On another note: are you all looking into modernizing the NU Law website? A lot of younger people associate the quality and brand of an institution with the quality of its website — are there any plans to hire an outside design firm to make the site fresh?

    -fan of NU Law

    • dan rodriguez
      Jul 24 2012

      In a word, yes, we are. I agree with you wholeheartedly that we can do better with our website.


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