Hoping to increase their marketability during the economic slowdown, many students have avoided the tightening job market, opting instead for a chance at law school.
Competition for spots in top law schools, however, is climbing. National and University officials estimate that registration for the Law School Admission Test has increased 20 percent since last year. The increase comes on top of a 20 percent increase from the previous year as well. And as many top law schools are accepting fewer students to bolster selectivity, students' chances for getting into their dream schools become even slimmer.
Senior Associate Trinity College Dean Gerald Wilson said the two main changes he has seen are that more students are opting to take the LSAT sooner--in June after junior year rather than October of senior year--and that students are, in similar numbers, taking commercial preparatory courses.
"In general, test prep is becoming more popular," said Bonnie Eissner, a spokesperson for Kaplan Test Prep. "The LSAT is tricky given the difficulty of the logical reasoning, so taking a prep class [helps students] learn the strategies and techniques.... Critical reading is also difficult."
Eissner said that doing well on the LSAT, which does not require as much factual knowledge as does the Medical College Admission Test, is not a question of intelligence but of knowing how to approach each section.
Although more students are taking a break between undergraduate and law school, Wilson cautioned that students should not take breaks to make their applications more competitive.
"I have been planning to go to law school all along, but as far as taking a year off, it seemed like the right time to do it," said senior Noah Bialostozky. "[Whether it makes me more competitive] depends on what I do with my year off. I'm not that concerned. I'm taking a year off because I don't think I'll have that opportunity once I start law school."
Although he took a prep class this past summer and has taken several practice tests, Bialostozky said he remains uncertain about how the increase in LSAT registrations and law school applicants will affect scoring and the application process.
Senior Sarah Pinkerton decided only recently to take the LSAT because she had been unsure of her plans for the future.
"Taking the LSAT left the option open for me to go to law school later," Pinkerton said. "I think it's natural for people to be worried about the job market and so they are trying to stay in school as long as possible."
Dennis Shields, dean of admissions at the School of Law said the changes bring about both positive and negative aspects for Duke's undergraduate applicants.
"The bad news is law schools have the luxury of being more selective, but the good news is that students who pursued their undergraduate degree at Duke will have an advantage over people who went to lesser institutions," Shields wrote in an e-mail.
While students may not have as many choices for schools they can attend, the overall quality of the programs to which they apply will not decline, Shields said. He added that students must know that while they may not be accepted to their first choices, they will likely get into their second or third choices.
"Students who are already in law school are glad they got in when they did," said Dean of the School of Law Katharine Bartlett. She said that she expects between a 15 and 20 percent increase in applications this year, but won't be sure of the exact increase until January.
The current average for applicants to Duke's law school is a 3.4 GPA and 162 LSAT score. Shields said the growing pool could raise the numbers to 3.5 and 163, respectively.
Get The Chronicle straight to your inbox
Signup for our weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.