From the Bachelor's to the Bar

Research and Data

Background

The story of declining law school applications is well known among the legal education community. Over 100,000 individuals applied to law school for admission in fall 20041, but demand for legal education has since declined—only 54,000 applicants sought admission in fall 20152. AccessLex Institute examined college completion data to determine whether undergraduate interest in fields most popular among law school applicants has also waned in recent years. In particular, this research brief summarizes bachelor’s degree completion in the top 10 law school feeder majors over the last 10 years, and compares degree production in these fields to those in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Methodology

According to the Law School Admission Council’s (LSAC) report of applicants by major3, the top 10 majors4 among law school applicants include the following (ordered from highest to lowest percentage of applicants):

  1. Political Science
  2. Business5
  3. Criminal Justice
  4. Psychology
  5. English
  6. History
  7. Economics
  8. Philosophy
  9. Sociology
  10. Communications

Collectively, these fields accounted for a majority of undergraduate majors among law school applicants in 2014-15, as shown in Figure 1.6

figures

These majors were mapped to their corresponding academic programs in the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System to retrieve degree counts by major, race/ethnicity and gender for academic years 2005-2006 to 2014-2015.7

The subsequent analysis explores the following questions:

  • What proportion of bachelor’s degrees awarded are earned in fields most popular among law school applicants?
  • How does the trend in majors most popular among law school applicants compare to the trend in total degrees awarded in these academic fields?
  • How does the trend in degrees awarded in law school feeder majors compare to the trend of degrees awarded in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)?
  • When observing degree completion by academic program for law school feeder majors and STEM fields, are there any noticeable differences by race/ethnicity and gender?