This year, UCF law school applicants might just have to raise the bar a little higher if they want to work in court one day.
Eighty-eight percent of law school admissions officers expect to see a spike in applicants for the 2015-16 application cycle, according to a 2015 Kaplan Test Prep Survey. This is a 42-percent increase from its prediction for the last cycle, when only 46 percent of officers expected to see more applicants.
In recent history, there has been a drastic decline in the number of students applying for law school, said Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of pre-law programs.
“It will be following about four years or so in record declines in applicants to law school, and that decline was preceded by record numbers of increasing,” Thomas said.
It all started back in 2007 and 2008 during the Great Recession. Historically, the number of law school applicants has always been tied to the country’s economic environment. When the recession hit, graduates couldn’t find high-paying jobs straight out of school, and a record number decided to make themselves more marketable by going to law school.
With this influx, law schools started to accept more applicants and increased class sizes to accommodate more students.
In fall 2010, 87,900 students nationwide applied for law school, according to data from the Law School Admissions Council.
When all of these students graduated in 2011 and 2012, the law market was flooded with new attorneys, who quickly found out that, although there had been an increase in the number of seats in their law classes, no such growth had occurred in the actual number of jobs available in their field.
With this recession in the legal market, many students decided it would be a bad time to apply for law school, and the number of applicants saw a record decline. Law schools, with fewer students, drastically cut back their class sizes.
In fall 2014, the LSAC reported only 55,700 law school applicants — a national decrease of more than 12,000 students from 2012, when there were 67,900 reported applicants.
These are numbers that have been reflected by UCF students in the past, said James Beckman, chair of the legal studies department.
“From roughly 2012 to just this year, the number of applicants dropped significantly,” Beckman said.
In the 2011-12 application cycle, 662 UCF students went to law school. By the end of 2014, this number had dropped to 491.
But law school officials are optimistic there will be an increase in the number of applicants this year.
“We’ve seen a small increase in the number of students who have taken the LSAT. You usually take it a year before you apply for law school,” Thomas said. “Since we know there’s an increased number of people who take the test, we know more people are applying.”
Now, with fewer graduates, Thomas said there are more jobs available, and students are seeing law school as a good investment once again.
“Ultimately, what does this mean? Law schools have been very clear, that even though the number of applications will go up and down, they are not anticipating accepting more students and raising the size of their classes,” he said.
UCF is rated sixth out of the top 240 undergraduate schools in the nation for the number of students it sends to law school, according to an LSAC report.
“More kids are applying, but law schools will not be increasing class size,” Thomas said.
In light of this new professional environment, Beckman suggests heavily weighing the decision to apply for law school.
“There always needs to be a discussion about the realities of the legal profession: the cost of a law school, is it worth the investment?” he said.
Thomas said students should consider their reasons for applying and carefully explore those reasons in order to make the right decision.
“I always tell students to be very introspective when they apply for school. Law school is not a place just to get a degree to make yourself more versatile,” he said. “Make sure law school’s where you really want to be.”
Deanna Ferrante is a Senior Staff Writer and Watchdog Reporter for the Central Florida Future.