Earlier today, we talked about the brain drain as law schools have to compete for a dwindling pool of high-scoring applicants. In this market, hitting your targets for your entering class is a tricky business for deans of admission at our nation’s law schools.
It’s an issue of yield: law schools need to make offers to enough applicants to fill their seats, without becoming overwhelmed with matriculating students. If schools that are ranked higher than you start admitting applicants with slightly worse qualifications than usual, you end up with not enough students — and your yield rate (the percentage of students you make offers to that actually accept the offer) goes in the tank. Poor yield rates look bad, and make it harder to predict how many people you need to admit in the first place.
Man, if only there was a way you could know whether or not people would come to your school before you admitted them….
Well, one tipster reports that UVA Law might have found the perfect solution to the problem: they call you up, ask if you would attend if accepted, and if you answer the wrong way, they “withdraw” your application. Taken to its logical extreme, nobody would ever “turn down” UVA Law!
Most law schools engage in some form of “yield protection.” It doesn’t make sense for, say, SMU to admit a bunch of people it knows are going to end up getting into and matriculating at Texas. It’s better for SMU to just not admit people clearly applying to it as a “safety school” and focus on competing with Baylor for the cream of the non-UT stock.
But what our tipster is describing from UVA seems different, or at the very least, far more aggressive than the common practice:
My wife, who just got accepted at [HYS], got an email from UVA asking her to call. Over the phone, they essentially extended acceptance to her, but wanted to gauge whether she’d be accepting or not because she was an ‘excellent candidate.’ She was honest, told them she was going to [HYS], and they emailed her within 5 minutes of the conversation to say that they were withdrawing her application.
Calling up people (or making them call you) in an effort to ascertain their decision before you “officially” admit them seems a bit… shady. It’s like putting a date on your Google calendar, going out, not getting lucky at the end of the night, and then the next day retroactively changing your calendar to read “staying home washing my hair.”
A spokesperson for UVA Law told us that the school views this as standard operating procedure:
When an applicant whom we have not already admitted tells us that he or she has decided to attend another law school, we code that person in our system as having withdrawn the application. Of course, we do the coding, but it is the applicant who has indicated that he or she is no longer interested in Virginia. As far as we are aware, this is standard practice everywhere.
Our application volume this year is running slightly ahead of last year’s. We have received 6,000 applications to date and typically enroll a class of about 350 students.
Again, the keys here seem to be (1) the definition of an applicant “not already admitted” and (2) exactly how the applicant “tells” UVA that they decided to attend another school. In the tipster’s case, it’s not like she voluntarily called up UVA to withdraw her application. The school instructed her to call, and when she didn’t commit to going to UVA (a school that technically “did not admit her”), the school took it upon itself to withdraw the application on her behalf.
Maybe the UVA Law practice is standard around top law schools, but if it is, then maybe UVA is magically doing it much better than other schools. Take a look at this chart from last year’s U.S. News law school rankings:
UVA’s yield rate last year was pretty surprising:
The year-over-year increase in accepted students who enrolled was much more pronounced at the University of Virginia. UVA Law’s yield rate, 51.9 percent, leapt 12 percentage points from the 2010-2011 admissions cycle to 2011-2012, the largest year-over-year gain posted by any of the 188 schools that reported the data.
Now that is interesting, isn’t it? You get why Yale, BYU and HLS have high yield rates. Southern is a historically black school that probably has a specific appeal. Liberty makes sense. UNC and Georgia State have little competition in their state for the applicants they’re targeting. But there’s no obvious reason to me that UVA would have a much higher yield rate than, say, Duke.
Moreover, it’s not clear how UVA achieved a record yield increase — “the largest year-over-year gain posted by any of the 188 schools that reported the data” — in a single year. But calling people up before they’re “admitted” and de-applying those who say they’re going elsewhere would probably help.
I’d keep this in mind if I were applying to UVA Law School. Maybe telling the school that you generally keep your collar popped (you thought I wasn’t going to get that in under the wire) is the only way to keep your options open.