Getting in has never been easy. But now, it’s nearly impossible.
Kaukinen, who finished a political science degree at Concordia University this spring, didn’t expect schools to fight over her—she knew her 3.4 GPA was a few points lower than the average applicant. Still, her best Law School Admission Test (LSAT) score was in the 90th percentile, and she had been a guard on the national university women’s water polo team, a 20-hour-a-week extra-curricular commitment that was sure to look good on her applications.
She got her first responses in April, and those were rejections. By mid-August, the rejections started to seem like blessings, simply because they were a straight answer. The messages she was getting from other schools were more confusing, but they all boiled down to the same thing: in any other year, yes. This year? Probably not.
Getting into law school has never been easy, but this year there has been a steeply competitive coast-to-coast rise in applications, the explanation for which could be yanked straight from the popular parlance of 1992 America: it’s the economy, stupid.
“Job prospects for young people are not as good. One alternative is for young people to go back to school,” said David Duff, associate dean for academic affairs at the University of British Columbia law school, which received roughly 2,200 applications this year, compared to 1,700 the year before. He was expecting a jump, but “25 per cent is pretty significant.” The last time the university’s law school received more than 2,000 applications was in the early ’90s—during the last recession.
Across the Georgia Strait, the University of Victoria’s law school saw a nearly one-third increase this year over last. Donna Greschner, University of Victoria’s dean of law, wasn’t surprised: she sees law school as the most accessible professional school option for a lot of recent undergrads, many of whom are struggling to find work.
The University of Ottawa also saw a 20 per cent rise in applications to its civil law school and a 27 per cent increase to its basic English common law degree, but it was the specialty programs that saw a real eye-popping change. The university offers a program called the “programme de droit canadien,” which allows students to earn both a common and a civil law degree in three years. “That went up from 45 applications to 157,” says Feldthusen—a whopping 249 per cent increase.
Making it even harder for borderline applicants such as Kaukinen, many law schools also saw a rise in the average GPA and LSAT scores of the incoming class. Schools don’t generally compile the median GPA and LSAT scores of classes until around October, when the first-year cohort is set in stone. But, anecdotally at least, admissions committees said they noticed a change.
“In an average year, our GPA is around an A- and LSAT is around 80th percentile,” said Michael Deturbide, associate dean of Dalhousie University’s Schulich School of Law, which saw a 25 per cent increase in applications this year over last. “With the increase in numbers,” he said, “there are a lot of very, very strong students.”
The University of New Brunswick’s law school saw a relatively small increase in applications—from 897 to 952—but law admissions officer Wanda Foster found applicants had more competitive GPAs and LSAT scores. Duff said the same was true at UBC. “It’s harder to get into law school than it was last year or two years ago,” he said.
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