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Harvard Law Sees Spike in Applications. Some Point to ‘Trump Bump’

Langdell Hall houses the Harvard Law School Library.
Langdell Hall houses the Harvard Law School Library. By Caleb D. Schwartz
By Aidan F. Ryan, Crimson Staff Writer

Harvard Law hopefuls, beware — the number of applicants to the Law School spiked by more than 30 percent this past year, and experts say it’s a trend that’s likely to continue.

Harvard Law received 7,578 applications for the Class of 2021, compared to 5,755 for the Class of 2020, representing a 32 percent bump. That increase is significantly higher than the rise in law school applications nationwide, which clocked in at 8.3 percent, according to the Law School Admissions Council.

Analysts say the national increase could be due to the current economic and political atmosphere in America. Some are calling the rise a “Trump bump.”

Kellye Testy, president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council, wrote in an email that her group traces the increase to an improved “employment outlook” for law school graduates across the nation, something she partly attributed to law schools’ recent downsizing of their incoming classes.

But she also pointed to Trump.

“Law and justice issues are very visible in our society right now, and young people are hearing the call to work in law, policy, and other realms open to law graduates to address legal and justice issues that need attention in our world,” Testy wrote. “We are seeing very strong interest from candidates who are inspired to pursue legal studies as a way to work for greater equity and social justice.”

Harvard Law School Assistant Dean for Admissions and Chief Admissions Officer Kristi L. Jobson was less convinced. She said she thinks Harvard’s increase has little to do with the national increase.

“We don't attribute the 32 percent increase that we saw to a parallel to the national increase because it was much higher,” Jobson said. “We think that our office has engaged in a systemic strategy in knocking down barriers to legal education.”

She cited a few tactics in particular: Harvard recently eliminated seat deposits, included video interviews as part of the application process, accepted the GRE as a standardized test, and created a Junior Deferral Program.

Still, Jobson believes that the spike is fundamentally due to excitement for the school itself.

“When you see a 32 percent increase, it's not anything about policy nationwide or any initiative that the admissions team is putting together, even though we think our initiatives are really great,” Jobson said. “It's about the institution.”

She mentioned the wide range of clinical programs that Harvard Law offers. The Law School’s website claims that the school “offers more clinical opportunities than any law school in the world.”

The Law School may not have completely bucked national trends and issues, though. Many applicants this year indicated an interest in immigration and refugee advocacy, according to Jobson.

“That was one area where we saw an increased interest this year,” she said.

The Trump administration last year sought to enact a travel ban on seven majority-Muslim countries, sparking protests and counter-orders by various judges around the country. Over the summer, the federal government drew widespread criticism for its enforcement of a zero-tolerance policy that mandated that immigrant children be separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

—Staff writer Aidan F. Ryan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @AidanRyanNH.

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