By Brad Maxwell
Edited by Jamie Lynn Black
Posted Feb. 24, 2010
Ellen McDaniel has been accepted to eight law schools and is still waiting to hear from five more.
"It's the most stressful thing of your whole entire life," the fourth-year USC public relations student said. The process took her nearly three months and included detailed spreadsheets.
But why was applying to so many schools worth so much stress?
Options, McDaniel said. She wanted options.
"I'm a control freak. I want to go where I want to go," she said.
McDaniel's decision to apply to as many schools as she could is part of a growing trend among prospective law students seeking options in a competitive market.
Preliminary numbers for the 2010 admission year show the average per applicant is up to 7.16, said Phil Handwerk, a Law School Admission Council researcher. The numbers could change once final data is gathered at the end of the year.
At USC, an average of eight to nine applications per applicant seemed to be the old standard, said Brooke Roper, the USC's Office of Pre-Professional Advising associate director. She now sees more students like McDaniel who send out as many as 15.
"Students are trying to get in anywhere they can get in," she said. "There is a fear of not getting in, and students have to cover their bases."
Roper said she encourages students to follow a "two-two-two" rule.
"Choose a couple of schools you know are givens, and choose a couple that are competitive, choose a couple of dream schools," she said.
Applying to schools has also been made easier in the last decade, Handwerk said. Now, more than 98 percent of applications are completed electronically, and the Law School Admission Council's credential assembly service consolidates all materials and sends them to the schools students choose.
But the cost of convenience can be high. The credential assembly service charges a one-time $121 fee, plus a $12 report fee per law school. And each law school's application fee may run as high as $70.
Many schools do offer fee waivers. McDaniel said she received waivers from about nine of the schools she applied to after sending e-mails to all of them asking for help because she was applying to so many schools.
"It would have been almost $1,000," she said. The cost for McDaniel ended up being about $250 for all the applications.
More applications mean more applicants per school, a good thing for law schools. Applications to USC's law school rose from 1,610 in 2006 to 1,973 in 2009, almost a 23 percent increase. The school projects it will get 2,080 applications for 2010, said Susan Palmer, associate dean for student affairs.
Now that prospective students have more options, law schools must accept more students to maintain current enrollment, Palmer said. USC has increased the number of accepted applicants from 561 in 2006 to 742 in 2008.
As McDaniel waits to hear back from five other schools, she says she has a lot of things to think about. Does she want to go out-of-state? What are the costs? Where will she be at the top of her class?
"I don't really know where I want to go," she said. "I'll need to make another spreadsheet."