Back in the day, the answer to the age-old question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was generally limited to four things: lawyer, doctor, firefighter (boys), and princess (girls). Although many girls across the world grew up disappointed about the lack of crowns, another profession on this list has also started to become more of a childish fantasy than grown-up reality—and you may be surprised at which one.

That profession? The law.

The Higher They Are,  the Farther They Fall: Enrollment Slump Hits Top Universities

law-library-reading-roomOver the past decade, law schools across the country have been witnessing a steady decline in applications. As a result, universities have begun to introduce ever-increasing enrollment incentives in order to persuade students to choose law school. Unfortunately, these incentives so far have proven to be less than compelling, as admissions continued their epic collapse last year—falling another 2.2% from 2014.

Higher education as a whole has sadly been on the downturn for the past several years. Beginning in 2009, in the early days of the Obama Administration, the economy began to improve dramatically. Although this may not sound like a bad thing—and it isn’t—the improved economy began to allow high school students to find jobs immediately after graduation. As a result, demand for higher education slackened and enrollment rates dropped. Regrettably, law schools were hit even harder—especially the top rated universities.

Significant drops continue at schools such as Georgetown University, New York University, the University of Michigan, and Northwestern University, averaging a decline rate close to 42% over the past eight years. The following accredited law schools have also seen drastic declines since 2008:

  • Brown University. 2008: 242 applicants; 2015: 134 applicants (44% decrease)
  • Columbia University. 2008: 231 applicants; 2015: 172 applicants (25% decrease)
  • Dartmouth University. 2008: 195 applicants; 2015: 109 applicants (44% decrease)
  • Harvard University. 2008: 357 applicants; 2015: 260 applicants (27% decrease)
  • Princeton University. 2008: 209 applicants; 2015: 127 applicants (39% decrease)
  • Stanford University. 2008: 262 applicants; 2015: 118 applicants (55% decrease)
  • Yale University. 2008: 320 applicants; 2015: 201 applicants (37% decrease)

Some law schools outside the top tier saw stable enrollment rates for 2015—or only small increases and decreases—but those gains weren’t enough to compensate for the major declines elsewhere.

What Happens Next?

If law schools want to keep their doors open and remain accredited and high-prestige institutions, they’re going to need to step up their game and get students excited about attending. What does this mean for you? It means that you can expect easier application standards, faster enrollment turnarounds, and increasing incentives to pursue a career in law.

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