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UNC law school facing declining application rates

The entrance to the UNC School of Law
The entrance to the UNC School of Law

The school had 1,442 applicants to the class of 2018, extended 643 offers and ended up with 224 matriculants.

Bianca Mack, assistant dean for admissions, attributes the decline in applicants to several factors, including a surplus of recent law graduates crowding the job market.

“I think a couple things have happened over the years. In the last recession typically, historically... in the past if there’s been a recession more people go to law school,” Mack said.

Mack cited the 2008 recession as a reason an already competitive job market for lawyers has become so cutthroat in recent years and why it has discouraged students from applying to law school.

Mack also said a wide distribution of students was a cause for the slow in law school applications across the country.

“I think there are 203 (American Bar Association) accredited law schools. So, there are more law schools than there have ever been,” Mack said. “So, that’s going to mean that, you know, a smaller number [of] applicants need to be distributed among all of those law schools.”

Mack said this trend has been observed nationally over the last three to five years, and is in no way specific to UNC’s School of Law.

Kelly Podger Smith, associate dean for student affairs, said UNC is coping with less applicants by touting their unique and superior program to potential students.

“We certainly make an effort to recruit North Carolina students because we are, you know, a public institution,” Smith said. “We also recruit pretty heavily around the Southeast and up and down the east coast. And we have really good luck with people wanting to be here.”

Smith says the program itself at UNC’s Law School is the main draw for potential students.

“We have a great law school with a great program,” Smith said. “We have faculty that are nationally recognized, that are consistently cited by the Supreme Court and quoted in different law review articles. And we have an amazing experiential learning program with clinic and externships that maybe sometimes other schools don’t offer.”

Smith said Chapel Hill’s close proximity to Research Triangle Park and the state capitol often helps to benefit UNC law students with gaining professional experience.

“We have students that are working in the legal departments of Fortune 500 companies. Not only are they doing that during the summer, but because of our proximity to RTP, our students can get there and work during the school year,” Smith said. “We have lots of students who are working in externships where on Friday afternoons they can go work in the legal department at GlaxoSmithKline.”

Smith said alumni and faculty are a valuable resource when recruiting because it’s easy to find them in a myriad of different legal environments.

Smith said in-depth and personally recruiting is something that UNC does very specifically.

“It’s not just me or my admissions team talking about why you should come to Carolina Law, we let other people who already made that decision tell their stories,” Smith said. “And I think that’s more telling than anything I say.”

Jay Shively, assistant dean for admissions and financial aid for Wake Forest University School of Law, said Wake Forest helps set itself apart by guaranteeing their first-year classes are not going to be larger than about 40 people. He said this helps them stay competitive in a smaller student market.

“Students, I think, gravitate toward the schools that best fit their profile both numerically and just sort of what their educational needs are,” Shivley said. “So in North Carolina we mostly compete with UNC.”

Wake Forest Law had 1,989 applicants, extended 1,106 offers and matriculated 140 students for the class of 2018.

Smith said UNC has been able to remain highly selective when offering spots at UNC’s School of Law.

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“We have maintained the level of talent that we have recruited here and those that have matriculated at UNC have really remained consistent,” Smith said. “People want to be here.”