For years there has been a surge of students applying to law school, but the trend has reversed nationwide, and the Ohio State Moritz College of Law is no exception.
Of the about 2,300 applicants and 880 accepted students, 212 prospective law scholars accepted their seats in Autumn Semester 2011.
Kathy Northern, associate dean for admissions and associate law professor, said in 2008, when the number of applicants was at its highest, about 2,700 students applied. Since then, the numbers have dropped significantly.
“Applications from the last year are down 16 percent in the Great Lakes area,” Northern said.
Applicant numbers might be down, but they fluctuate from year to year.
“If you look at the last thirty years, the number of applicants goes up and down,” Northern said.
President E. Gordon Gee has noticed this trend, but isn’t concerned about the decline in interest.
“A number of people have decided not to go to law school,” Gee told The Lantern editorial staff on Feb. 6. “It wanes up and down, but ours remains one of the most competitive in the country, so we’re happy about that.”
Northern said the job market and economic issues likely contributed to the surge in applicants in 2006 to 2008.
“I think people might have said to themselves, ‘It may be difficult to get a job, maybe I’ll go to school,'” Northern said.
With a $26,328 price tag for the 2011-12 school year for resident students, and $41,278 for out-of-state students, Northern called law school “an expensive place to find yourself, and an expensive way to wait out the economy.”
George Wolfe, an attorney at Columbus-based Wolfe Legal Services, said the law school applications are probably dropping because students don’t want to run up huge loans. But less applicants could be better for those who do decide to go to law school.
“It’s probably a good thing for the people who have graduated and haven’t been able to find jobs,” Wolfe said. “With less graduates to compete with they’ll be able to find work.”
Northern said the law school’s flexible requirements might have attracted some students who hadn’t considered law in the past.
“The thing about law school that is different from medical school and business school is that you don’t have to take certain classes or a certain major to apply,” Northern said.
Because of the flexible requirements, Northern said she believes students who aren’t committed to studying law apply for the program, which doesn’t always work in their best interests.
“Being a lawyer, there are so many different things you can do, but it’s a profession that requires a lot of dedication, and one can be happy with if they are passionate,” Northern said.
Northern said overall, the decline in applicants is likely a positive thing.
“It’s an encouraging trend if it reflects that we are getting back to people that really want to do this,” Northern said.
Northern said students who are passionate about law have the most success, and some students agree that passion is necessary for the program.
“It is hard, and it is time consuming, and it can be expensive, so just weigh all your options. If you’re passionate about it, then go for it. If they’re applying on a whim, they should reconsider,” said Lindsay Shanahan, a second-year at Moritz.
Northern said Moritz has gotten more competitive since she started there 20 years ago, citing an increase in the average Law School Admittance Test, or the LSAT, score from 156-157 10 years ago to 163 for the class that started in Autumn Semester 2011.
“The strength of the Ohio State applicants have gotten stronger every year,” Northern said. “I think the changes in the Ohio State undergrad have had a significant effect in the kind of students.”
Despite the improvements in undergraduate education, OSU undergraduate students make up only about 20-24 percent of Moritz’s admitted students every year.
“Even though they feel like we don’t accept any of them,” Northern said.
Northern said not all lawyers earn a high salary, and prospective students should understand this before enrolling.
“It’s hard to know when you are starting law school where your career is going, not everyone makes a lot of money,” she said. “If you enjoy problem-solving and like to be creative, you can be excited about what you’re doing and make a living doing it.”
“People say the world doesn’t need more lawyers,” Northern said, “but I think it does need more problem solvers.”
Northern said Moritz has roughly 680 students enrolled in the three-year program, and the deadline for applications for Autumn Semester 2012 is March 15.