All across the country, law school applications are down this year, and Kansas University certainly is no exception.
Stephen W. Mazza, interim dean of the School of Law, said the school — like many others — extended its admission deadline after seeing a much smaller group of students applying.
KU extended its deadline by one month, to April 15. Even with that extension, Mazza said the school expects a drop from 15 to 20 percent from last year’s group of about 1,100 applicants.
Those figures would place KU below the national average of 11.5 percent smaller pools of students, Mazza said, and would be “one of the steepest declines we’ve seen in the past decade.”
That’s no surprise to Tonda Hill, a second-year law student from Leavenworth. She’s noticed a lot more focus on the realities of the job market facing law graduates, who are typically laden with high debt loads.
An article in the New York Times in January seemed to start the conversation, she said. (Mazza said the person profiled in the article didn’t do enough research into law school before beginning his journey.) Other students have blogged about their difficulties in finding jobs.
Hill, who already has a master’s degree in education from KU, turned to law school after getting laid off from her social studies teaching job in Leavenworth.
She said she wasn’t prepared for the realities of the job market that she’ll face once she graduates. Those high-paying jobs at Fortune 500 companies just aren’t there, she said.
“I don’t think anybody was prepared for it,” she said. “I certainly wasn’t.”
She’s decided to pursue elder law, an area that deals with seniors and people with disabilities, largely because she felt it would make her more marketable.
Mazza said he didn’t anticipate significant negative consequences for the school because of the lower number of people interested in applying to KU.
“What we are finding is that the quality of our applications is steady to slightly improving,” he said.
That could be a sign that the less serious applicants are dropping off, he said, while more serious students remained.
Mazza said the school is expanding its professional skills courses, offering “externship” opportunities where students accept an unpaid internship for credit and generally designing its curriculum around what lawyers really do.
The school isn’t expecting to raise tuition dramatically, so KU remains a relatively affordable option, compared with other law schools, Mazza said. But still, KU students can carry debts of just under $50,000 after leaving (more expensive schools can easily leave students with six-figure debt after graduation).
And, he said, KU still offered a high-quality legal education for students interested in obtaining a degree.
Hill agreed, saying she felt she was getting a good education at KU.
But, at the end of the day, she still harbors fears and anxiety about getting a good job. She said she might have reconsidered going to law school — if she had known when she applied what she knows today about the job market.
“When you get into that much debt, you want to know there’s a reward at the end of the journey,” Hill said.