A secret small world of "other" law school admissions

Okay, perhaps the title's a bit sensational. But American Bar Association ("ABA") data this year, for the first time, breaks out a couple of categories of 1L law school enrollment. One category is "enrollment from law school applications." The other is "other enrollment."

Typical "application" admissions occurs from the process you might expect: in a very traditional timeline, submit an application in November or December, wait for that envelope (or email?) in March or April, then enroll for a term beginning in August. Of the ABA's 37,400 first-year enrollees reported this year, 36,321 come from this category.

But another 1079 enrollees come from an "other" category. (Admittedly, this is a sliver of the overall admissions picture.) That opaque category includes four groups of enrollees:

  • Students admitted in a prior year who deferred enrollment until the current year
  • Students admitted in a prior year who took a leave of absence
  • Readmits with fewer than 15 credits
  • Students admitted with fewer than 15 credits of prior law study

This is a brand new category of ABA disclosures, designed, apparently, to capture "odd" admissions.

Of those 1079 enrollees, 419 come from just 20 schools (the 20 with the highest percentage of "other" enrollees that make up the first-year class). And these schools are hardly what one might consider peer schools.

USNWR Rank School App Enrollees Other Pct Other
1 Yale University 163 42 20.5%
2 Harvard University 477 83 14.8%
Tier 2 District of Columbia 82 11 11.8%
145 Ohio Northern University 46 6 11.5%
Tier 2 Thomas Jefferson School of Law 215 26 10.8%
Tier 2 Charleston School of Law 225 26 10.4%
Tier 2 Atlanta's John Marshall Law Shool 194 22 10.2%
20 University of Southern California 169 18 9.6%
18 Washington University 204 21 9.3%
2 Stanford University 164 16 8.9%
Tier 2 California Western School of Law 240 23 8.7%
Tier 2 Florida Coastal School of Law 97 9 8.5%
n/r Concordia Law School 44 4 8.3%
Tier 2 Widener-Commonwealth 118 10 7.8%
59 University of Missouri 85 7 7.6%
Tier 2 Western Michigan University 424 34 7.4%
8 University of Virginia 296 23 7.2%
Tier 2 Appalachian School of Law 68 5 6.8%
11 University of Michigan 299 21 6.6%
Tier 2 St. Thomas University (Florida) 173 12 6.5%

Of these 20 schools, 7 are among the top 20 in the USNWR rankings, 10 are among the lowest-ranked schools in USNWR's "Tier 2" designation; and the remaining three are unranked Conordia, 145th-ranked Ohio Northern, and 59th-ranked Missouri. It is almost an entirely binary set of schools--the very elite and the marginal.

So, here comes some speculation.

The Yale 1L class, for instance, includes 20% of a study body that did not apply in the last year--they deferred, took leave, started a handful of credits at another institution (not likely), or were readmitted with a handful of credits from Yale (again, not likely). Yale is very generous in its deferral program. Harvard's "Junior Deferral Program" likely also accounts for a significant chunk.

These admitted students as "deferrals" makes sense. Students get into their dream school, like Yale or Harvard, and rather than postpone law school and reapply in a second round of admissions, perhaps they want to postpone law school to do Teach for America, save a little more money, or travel the world, and they don't need to apply anywhere else--a deferral makes sense for such students. At many other schools, however, students would probably not defer, but reapply in a subsequent admissions cycle, hoping, perhaps, that admissions standards drop (even slightly!), or that their improved personal statement or senior year grades would put them over the top, or that an LSAT retake will make them shine.

At the other end of the spectrum, it appears that many of the more marginal schools admit a number of students who have some at-risk flag factors--for instance, those who were academically dismissed with a very small number of credits.

But, you'll note I have to speculate here. The ABA decided to lump all four of these categories into one heap, and even there failed to disclose on the public-facing website what these "other" categories even were in the first place. Perhaps in the future we'll see more granular data. Until then, we just have an opaque picture of this secret (small) world of law school admissions.