Law School Expands Junior Deferral Program to Students at All Colleges

Harvard Law School
The Law School's Austin Hall houses its admissions office.
Harvard Law School’s Junior Deferral Program will expand to accept applications from undergraduate juniors at colleges and universities nationwide in the fall of 2017, the Law School announced Wednesday.

The program, previously only open to Harvard College students since its inception in 2014, allows students to apply to the Law School during their junior year of college on the condition that they defer enrollment for at least two years if accepted. Students who are rejected from the JDP program may speak with a Law School admissions officer about their application.

Jessica L. Soban ’02, the Law School’s chief admissions officer, said she felt the program had been sufficiently tested and was suited to expand.

“We have been talking for the past several years about this being a pilot and collecting information from students who move through the program to understand what success it has really had for them,” Soban said. “This is the point where we feel like we have moved through an entire cycle with one cohort of participants in the program.”

Over the past few years, the Law School has taken a number of steps to change its admissions processes in order to make it easier to apply to the Law School, Soban said. After the 2008 recession, the number of applicants to the Law School decreased significantly, though in 2016 and 2017 the number of applicants increased 5 percent each year.

The Law School’s new admissions efforts include offering Skype interviews, eliminating seat deposits, instituting the JDP program, and, most recently, announcing that it will begin to accept the GRE in place of the LSAT starting in the fall of 2017. Soban also wrote in a press release that these changes are intended to attract students who studied science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

Dean of the Law School Martha L. Minow wrote in a press release that the program allows students to pursue professional opportunities after graduation without worrying about how prestigious they will appear on an application to the Law School.

“By offering admission to the most promising college juniors, we can encourage them to pursue important and fulfilling experiences without concerns about effects on a later application to law school,” Minow wrote.

Soban declined to provide admissions statistics for the JDP program so far, saying that the sample sizes were too small. Soban also said it will take a few years until specific admissions data will be available about the expanded JDP program, even once it has started accepting students.

“Small data sets, unrepresentative data sets, that can of course lead to decision-making on behalf of future candidates that would not be reflective of their actual likelihood of success in the program,” Soban said. “As we take this out to a national level...that is a minimum of three years away starting next year, there will be some time before we will know anything about this cohort having moved through.”

In order to educate students and academic advisers about the program, the Law School plans to host a series of online sessions for pre-law advisors and applicants at other colleges and universities, Soban said.

“We will be engaging in active outreach both to the pre-law advisors and to college campuses, not just in the U.S. but in universities around the world, to explain how to think about this program and how to decide whether this is right for you as an applicant,” Soban said.

—Staff writer Jamie D. Halper can be reached at jamie.halper@thecrimson.com. Follow her on Twitter @JamieDHalper.

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