Harvard Transfers Don’t Spell Financial Trouble, But Several Law Schools’ Bond Ratings Do

January 29th, 2016 / By

This article was originally posted on Bloomberg.

Is the law school crisis affecting Harvard? Probably not. The school did choose to take 55 transfer students last year, the fourth largest transfer class in the country. In the prior four years the school took between 30 and 34 transfers each year. Its higher than usual acceptance of transfers has fueled speculation that it was compensating for an original applicant pool that wasn’t strong enough. Whether that’s so or not, several indicators that may show a school faces financial duress have each remained steady at HLS between 2011 and 2015.

  • First-year enrollment: enrollment ranged from 555 to 568 over the last five years. Applications were down 18 percent and yield declined from 66 percent to 60 percent, which indicates that several peer schools are making more competitive offers. Still, the school netted just one fewer first-year student this year compared to last and three more than in 2011.
  • Admissions credentials: the median LSAT score did not change from 173 (99th percentile) and the median undergraduate GPA declined just .03 from 3.89 to 3.86.
  • Tuition increased an average of 4.6 percent each year. Scholarship increases did not keep pace with tuition increases, indicating that the school took in more money each subsequent year.
  • There’s no talk about trouble with Harvard’s endowment, or any indication that Harvard Law has liquidity issues.


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Early, Early Decision

May 17th, 2013 / By

Harvard Law School has announced a new, extra early decision program. The school will consider Harvard College juniors for admission, delivering decisions during the summer after junior year. The students, however, will not matriculate immediately after college graduation. Instead, this program defers admission for two years after college, requiring students to work or pursue a fellowship during that time. Depending on the results of the pilot program, Harvard may extend it to juniors at other colleges. The Boston Globe, Harvard Crimson, and Above the Law all have stories about the new program.

From a student’s point of view, the program seems very appealing. Successful students will lock in a seat at Harvard Law, with freedom to develop other workplace connections and skills before they enroll. Their two years in the workplace may focus their legal studies and make them even more attractive to employers. I’ve noticed anecdotally that law graduates with scientific, business, foreign language, or other pre-law experience seem to fare better in the job market than K-JD graduates with similar law school records. The Harvard program capitalizes on that trend.

From the school’s perspective, the program is also promising. Harvard Law has a chance to choose the most talented Harvard undergraduates, then send them into the world for useful experience. Once Harvard has said “yes,” those graduates may be less likely to apply to other law schools.

What are the downsides of the program? The Harvard program requires LSAT scores, pushing test preparation and test taking back a year. That may discourage some applicants or require a shuffling of other academic priorities. The program may also prevent admittees from negotiating with other law schools for a better financial deal–although Harvard’s need-based aid and generous low-income protection plan diminish those concerns.

On the innovation spectrum, Harvard’s admissions program is a small change. It doesn’t alter the cost of law school, the curriculum, or the forces reshaping the legal job market. The program is worth noting, however, for three reasons. First, shifts in the legal market have pushed even high-ranking Harvard Law School to respond. That should send a signal to other schools that are still hoping for a return to the old market. Second, I wonder whether other schools will follow Harvard’s lead. Does this program have legs? Finally, if the approach does spread, is this a program that will move us toward greater integration of the workplace and academy? Is it one of several steps toward a future in which future lawyers will move more fluidly between work and study? Or is this just a move in the competitive admissions market?

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