UM law to raise the bar for entry

Surge in applicants will make getting in tougher, officials say

March 12, 2002|By Alec MacGillis | Alec MacGillis,SUN STAFF

Applications to the University of Maryland School of Law have almost doubled from last year, far outpacing a nationwide increase in those seeking law degrees and significantly raising the standards for admission to the downtown Baltimore school.

With a few late envelopes still trickling in, law school officials said yesterday that they have received about 5,000 applications for next year's class - up almost 85 percent from last year.

The application surge comes as the school prepares to move this summer into a new $42 million building at the corner of Baltimore and Paca streets.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section misstated figures for this year's first-year class at the University of Maryland School of Law. The school was planning to enroll 200 students but 300 ended up accepting offers of admission.
The Sun regrets the error.

The application spike also comes during a year when the law school will be able to admit fewer students than usual, because last year many students unexpectedly accepted offers of admission.

"It's going to be very difficult to get in this year," said Associate Dean Alan Hornstein. "The general bar for admission is going to be raised considerably."

The University of Baltimore law school has also seen a large increase in applications from last year: So far, it has received 1,729, a 40 percent jump.

Nationwide, interest in law schools and other graduate and professional schools is also on the rise, as students and workers decide to wait out a slow job market by burnishing their academic credentials. Local universities report applications have gone up 25 percent to 30 percent for this fall's graduate programs.

The national Law School Admission Council reports a 20 percent increase in law school applications, after seeing applications drop almost a third between 1991 and 1998.

"The primary reason we are seeing an increase is the [poor] economy," said council spokesman Edward Haggerty.

Hornstein and law school Dean Karen Rothenberg point to several explanations for why the increase at Maryland is more than quadruple the national average.

Applicants may be hoping to take advantage of the new building, which the school will share with the University of Maryland School of Social Work.

Or they may be drawn by the growing reputation of the school, which has gained recognition for its clinical training, its specialty programs - including intellectual property and public policy - and its coordination with other, nearby branches of the University of Maryland, including the medical school and social work school.

Admission this year will be especially challenging for out-of-state students and students applying for the daytime program. About two-thirds of the applicants are from outside the state, but the school seeks to limit non-Maryland residents to one-third.

Last year, the university was planning to enroll 300 day students and 60 evening ones out of roughly 2,700 applicants. This year, because of last year's over-enrollment, it plans to enroll 165 day students and 60 night students out of about 5,000 applicants.

For the estimated 4,500 who are applying for the day program, that works out to about 27 applicants for each available slot.

The school has no plans to expand its class size to accommodate the booming applicant pool, its leaders said, because with the demand for lawyers staying steady, the school has an obligation not to saturate the market.

"When we got approval [for the new building], we made a commitment to graduate the same number of lawyers," Rothenberg said.

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