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Alumni outnumber seniors among law school applicants

By : Rachel Coker

Binghamton is now part of a national trend that finds a majority of law school applicants are alumni rather than college seniors.

Heather Struck, director of pre-law ser-vices at Binghamton, said she has seen the percentage of alumni applicants creep upward from about half to 62 percent. The change opens new possibilities for law schools and may reflect trends in the U.S. economy. It also poses interesting challenges for Struck and others who work with law school applicants.

William Bergen, assistant dean for administrative services with the University of Virginia School of Law, said classes are more interesting when the students in them have a range of views and exper-iences. “Our professors tell us that those who have real world experience bring that to the classroom,” he said during the recent Law Day held at Binghamton.

Bergen noted that law school is built on discussion, argument and the Socratic method. “In some ways, students teach each other,” he said. That makes diver-sity — of age and background as well as race — vital, he said. In 2004-’05, Binghamton had 343 law school applicants, 4 percent less than the year before. Of those, 214 were alumni and 129 were seniors.

Those two groups of would-be lawyers face many of the same hurdles. They must take the LSAT, write personal statements, gather transcripts and letters of recommen-dation and decide where to apply.

But the seniors have the advantage of easy access to campus resources, inclu-ding Struck and the many programs she coordinates. Binghamton alumni are given Struck’s name when they register for the LSAT, but many are too far from campus to make in-person advising practical.

“Every year, I have people driving up from New York City,” Struck said, noting she also fields calls and e-mails from alumni in places as far away as Korea, Israel and Britain.

Nationally and at Binghamton, alumni do not do as well as seniors when it comes to gaining admission to one or more law schools. That may be be-cause they have less help, Struck wrote in an article to be published in the journal of the Northeast Associ-ation of Prelaw Advisors. But it could also be because alumni tend to apply later in the cycle and because many who have been out of school for more than five years have lower LSAT scores and grade point averages.

The good news is that Binghamton exceeds the national averages in terms of acceptance rates for both seniors and alumni, with 78 percent of seniors who apply getting into one or more law schools and 59 percent of alumni gaining admission. Nationally, 63 per-cent of seniors and 54 percent of alumni are admitted to one or more law schools.

David Friedman, a 2002 Binghamton graduate originally from New York City, took a year off before entering the University of Minnesota Law School. He worked on a Senate race in Maine the fall after he graduated and then found it difficult to land a job in the slow economy. He and others have speculated that law school applications rose in the past few years in part because the job market was so tight.

Friedman said some seniors are still “meandering” and trying to understand themselves. Those who spend some time in the working world are more focused, but some older students have families and other responsibilities that can make it hard to meet the demands of law school.

Either way, he said, law school isn’t easy. He said many students compare the first year to boot camp. And, although he expected his third and final year to be a bit easier, so far that’s not the case.

While alumni may not gain admis-sion in the same numbers as seniors, they do have some advantages when applying to law school. For instance, Bergen said, they have more to say when composing their personal statements. “Taking a year off gives a clearer per-spective about what the world is about,” he said. “It gives them more maturity.”

Admissions officials at other law schools noted that once they’re enrolled, students with a bit of life experience are more likely to have the time man-agement skills and sense of priorities that they’ll need to succeed.

And Struck said these students also have a better understanding of the debt that can result from being in graduate school for three years. “Most law stu-dents are paying for their education through loans,” she noted. Struck said she enjoys working with alumni. “I’ve always found it very rewarding,” she said. “It’s one of the most interesting things we do here.”
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Last Updated: 10/14/08