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Here's how the political climate could be making it even harder to get into law school

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke in the Greensboro Coliseum on Tuesday, June 14, 2017. 

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump spoke in the Greensboro Coliseum on Tuesday, June 14, 2017. 

The U.S. political climate was a significant factor in recent law school application increases and a reason why some aspiring lawyers decided to apply to law school, as shown by the results of two surveys released by Kaplan Test Prep.

Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep, said there was an increase in the number of applicants to law school during the last application cycle, which includes students who applied during the fall of 2017 through the summer of 2018 for a seat in classes that began the fall of 2018.

“We saw a 10 percent increase in the number of applicants to law school this year – that is the biggest year-over-year increase we have seen in law school admissions process in over a decade,” Thomas said. “And so, it was an outside increase year over year, and there was a lot of speculation as to why that was and as the survey pointed to, politics was speculated as that reason.”

Kaplan's first survey, conducted by phone between August and September 2018, asked admissions officers to report how significant a factor they believed the current domestic political climate played in the past cycle’s application increase. 

Kaplan Test Prep reached out to 200 law schools nationwide. Thomas said 121 of the 200 law schools contacted participated in the survey. 

The results show that 87 percent of admissions officers believe that the current domestic political climate was a "significant factor" in the past cycle’s application increase, including 30 percent of officers who report that it was a "very significant factor." 

“It was a speculative question for sure based upon their review of applications,” Thomas said. “And every law school’s application contains a personal statement, for example, so you get a sense over the course of reading an application’s cycle worth of applicants or applications. You get a sense of sort of what are the themes that are motivating the desire to apply to law school and politics, or the interest in getting involved in politics, was something that was cited very frequently in folks’ law school applications relative to prior years.”

To reconcile for the speculative nature of the first survey, Thomas said Kaplan Test Prep conducted a second survey with pre-law students to gauge the extent of politics as a key driver in impacting students’ decision to apply to law school. 

Last month, 146 pre-law students who had taken a Kaplan LSAT course and sat for the LSAT were surveyed online and asked whether the current domestic political climate impacted their decision to apply to law school. 

The results of the survey show that 45 percent of students cite the current political climate as a reason that affected their decision to apply, an increase from the 32 percent of students who answered the same way in a Kaplan survey conducted of pre-law students in 2018. 

Thomas said the results of the survey of pre-law students is particularly interesting because it’s not unusual to see an increase in applications a year after elections occur, but since it has been a couple of years since the last US presidential election, he thinks the results are especially telling. 

“More than ever with the political landscape, as awful as it is, I think we are seeing a renewed interest and passion in public service and lobbyist work and folks that really care about the next generation of the world, certainly of the folks of the United States, and are motivated to try to influence one way or the other,” Thomas said. 

Olivia Robertson, president of UNC's co-ed pre-law fraternity Phi Alpha Delta, said she believes that people on both ends of the political spectrum could be influenced by politics to apply to law school.

“If you are someone who views the current political climate as negative, you would want to go to law school in order to hopefully have a hand in preventing these negative things from happening and (in) negatively affecting our government," Robertson said. "But on the other hand, if you were supportive of our current political climate, then you would want to go to law school to just really support, back up and represent the people that are being negatively affected, in your eyes, by the political climate.”

Thomas did offer a word of caution to students who are solely motivated to go to law school because of politics, though. He first said that law school is a serious investment of time and money and only should be pursued if your primary goal is to become an attorney. 

Also, Thomas said that students should expect law school admissions to be more competitive now than they have been in the past decade since more students are applying. 

“Law schools are not increasing the number of seats in their first-year classes to match the increase in applications,” Thomas said. “It is just a smaller percentage of students that apply are going to earn those seats. And so, it is a reminder to students that since we’re seeing this increase, they need to do everything in their power to submit a very powerful (and) competitive application, which is most importantly a dynamite GPA and a great LSAT score.”

If politics is a genuine factor in why a student is applying to law school, they should express that interest, belief and motivation in their application’s personal essays, Thomas said. 

Sophomore political science major Aditi Kharod is a member of Phi Alpha Delta planning to apply to law school in the future. 

“I wanted to be a lawyer before the political climate became like this,” Kharod said. “But I think it definitely had an impact because the current political climate is bringing up a lot of salient issues that are important in the legal field, and so it is kind of broadening the scope of what I think I want to do with my law degree.”

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