Welcome! The goal of this blog is to share my analysis of the free, publicly available user-reported law school applicant data from Law School Numbers. Using the data from Law School Numbers is problematic for a variety of reasons (such as users misreporting their actual information, users creating fake accounts, selection bias, etc.) and if I had access to it, I'd much rather work with the data that schools themselves have on applicants. We have what we have, though. Also, while I do have some facility with the type of statistical analysis I employ in my blog posts, I am far from being a professional statistician. I am doing this solely for the purpose of providing my analysis to interested readers, getting feedback, and generating discussion. What I am not doing is prescribing courses of action for law school applicants, or pretending to actually know what goes on behind closed doors in law school admission committees' meetings. I am, however, interested in looking at the story the numbers seem to portray, and sharing that with people with similar interests. I think I'll be able to provide a lot of interesting, and perhaps even helpful, analysis here, but at the end of the day, it is up to the individual law school applicant to put together applications and application strategies tailored to his or her own hopes and goals.

Monday, May 18, 2015

To ED or Not to ED: 2015 Edition

Law school applicants are, on the whole, a neurotic bunch (I was ridiculous, if memory serves). When you start the application process, there's a lot to think about.  Where do I want to live?  Where do I want to work after I graduate?  What kind of debt am I looking at taking on?  What are the schools I can reasonably expect to get into?  What are some reach schools that are within the realm of possibility? The list really goes on and on.

One of the topics that I've heard most about from applicants is that of binding early decision (binding ED).  Many schools offer this option, and it holds out both the promise of getting a little bit of a boost in your application (many of the schools themselves say they'll give some weight to the fact that an applicant is so willing to commit to that school), but also the threat of having scholarship money reduced (since after admitting you, the school has no incentive to try to lure you with money).  The carrot-and-stick of binding ED creates a dilemma for many applicants, as they try to decide whether it's worth it to throw an ED app a school's way. For starters, you can only apply through binding ED to one school, so if you're dead set on doing it, you have to pick which school to which to apply ED. But applying ED may not be worth it at all; maybe you'd get in without ED, and have a better shot at scholarship money.

I'm here to try, in some small way, to add some food for thought for those pondering this dilemma.  Of the US News and World Report's top 50 law schools (as of 2015), twenty-six offer a binding ED option.  What I hope to show with this post is that only a small handful of those schools actually offer applicants any kind of "boost" by applying this way; the rest give no edge to ED applicants, and a few even seem to punish such applicants with a decreased chance of admission (more on that later).

First, though, it's important to acknowledge that not all binding ED programs are created equally. Some, such as Northwestern, George Washington University, the University of Texas, Emory, and Boston University, offer substantial scholarships - sometimes full scholarships - especially to ED applicants.  The calculation in applying ED to these schools is obviously much different and they are likely harder to get into as an ED applicant.  However, the binding ED options at the majority of schools come with no such benefits and, goes the theory, are likely to stiff you on scholarship money since...well, why not?  If accepted, you have to either attend that school or forego law school for a year.

So, without further ado, the analysis (which I've done on data from the 2009/10 cycle onward, except in the case of schools which did not offer binding ED that far back; in those cases, I've analyzed only the cycles in which binding ED was an option.  School names are hyperlinked to their webpages that cover their binding ED programs).  

The usual caveats apply here.  I am using user-reported data from Law School Numbers, with all the attendant accuracy concerns.  It's worth pointing out that, to the degree my analysis deals with scholarship money, I suspect there is a pretty serious problem with LSN users not reporting their scholarships.  Because of this, I end up counting everyone who didn't report as getting NO scholarship.  The data being what it is, there's no way around it.  That said, it's important to take all this with a grain of salt, but to take what I'll say regarding scholarship money with a HUGE grain of salt.  If you think you can do that, read on.  

Schools that do seem to give a boost to ED applicants (the number in parentheses is the % increase in the likelihood of being admitted as an ED applicant once LSAT, GPA, URM status, gender, non-traditional status, and timing of the application are controlled for):

List One: Schools that Have an ED Boost
  1. Northwestern (601% - this is very surprising, given the full scholarship that accompanies admission)
  2. The University of Chicago (525%)
  3. Duke (487%)
  4. George Mason University (277%)
  5. The University of Virginia (220%)
  6. The University of Pennsylvania (200%)
Do you pay a price for this boost, though, on the back end?  For some schools, you do.  Again, remember to take this with a grain of salt, given the lack of reliability of the data.  Parenthetical is the decrease in scholarship money associated with ED applicants at those schools, controlling for the same factors as before.  Schools that are not listed have no effect on scholarship associated with ED application:
  1. The University of Chicago (-$11,102.00)
  2. The University of Virginia (-$5,180.60)
Unsurprisingly, Northwestern ED applicants end up with more scholarship money than would be dictated by their other factors (LSAT, GPA, etc.) alone, due to the full scholarship that accompanies accepted ED applicants.

So, there you have it.  Of the twenty-six programs that offer binding ED options, seven of them actually seem to give applicants a boost for applying ED, but at the U of Chicago and U of Virginia, it seems that there's a chance your scholarship money will be reduced as an ED applicant (compared to identical regular decision applicants).

That, obviously, is not the end of the story.  The following schools offer binding ED options, but ED applicants seem to receive no differential treatment (in terms of admission, at least):

List Two:  Schools that Have no ED Boost
Of these schools which seem to give no differential treatment to ED applicants, two schools do seem to penalize ED applicants with lower scholarships.  Columbia ED applicants seem to get roughly $11,678 less than identical RD applicants, and that number is $10,150 for the University of Michigan. On the other hand, Boston University rewards ED applicants with a full scholarship.

Finally, ED applicants seem to have a lower chance of being admitted to the following schools:

List Three: Schools that have an ED Penalty
  1. Emory ( -81% chance)
  2. George Washington University (-73% chance)
  3. New York University ( -65% chance)
The inclusion of George Washington University on this list makes perfect sense.  Given the full scholarship ED applicants receive, one would expect the ED process to be competitive.  The same can't be said for NYU and Emory, and I'm not sure I completely understand why they would be more likely to reject ED applicants than RD applicants with identical characteristics.  Also, it should be pointed out that both NYU and Emory give less money to ED admits as compared to their RD counterparts; for NYU, it's -$11,279, and for Emory it's -$26,392.50 (although the data set for Emory is necessarily smaller, since it didn't institute its ED program until the 2012/13 application cycle).

So what's the bottom line?  Great question.  Based on this data (and, one last time, you have to remember that it's based on self-reported and incomplete data, especially as regards scholarship money), I would say:

Schools that may be worth an ED application: Applying ED to Chicago or UVA might not be a bad idea, if you're willing to risk the scholarship hit and are absolutely sure that you want to attend (and doubt you'd get in as an RD applicant). An ED to Northwestern seems like an especially good idea if you're either sure you want to attend, or think you're unlikely to get into more attractive options, since you appear to be more likely to get in as an ED applicant (for some reason), and it comes with that full scholarship.  If you're sure you want to go to Duke, George Mason, or the University of Pennsylvania, it does seem like an ED application might give you a better shot, without the downside risk of decreased scholarship money.  And, although they seem to provide no boost in terms of admission, it may also be worth it to apply ED to the University of Texas, which offers a stipend to Texas residents and in-state tuition to non-resident ED admits, and Boston University and George Washington University, which both offer full three-years scholarships to ED admits.

Schools that are probably NOT worth an ED application:  I would absolutely not apply ED to any of Columbia, the University of Michigan, Emory, or NYU, since you don't seem any more likely to be admitted than if you applied RD, but you do seem more likely to get shafted on scholarship money if they do admit you (and in the cases of Emory and NYU, you may be less likely to be admitted anyway).  There also appears to be no upside whatsoever to applying ED to Cornell, Georgetown, UCLA, USC, Washington University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Washington, the University of Georgia, the University of Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio State, the University of Colorado, or the University of Maryland.

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