April 1, 2009 — Applications to the University of Virginia School of Law shot up by more than 20 percent this year, a massive increase that far outpaces national averages, according to data from the Admissions Office.
"I thought there would be an increase, given the state of the economy. But the magnitude of the increase this year cannot be solely explained by that, especially since a number of our peers are reporting increases less than ours," said Jason Wu Trujillo, senior assistant dean for admissions and financial aid.
Nationwide, American Bar Association-certified law schools have seen a cumulative 3 percent increase in applicants, and a 5.5 percent increase in applications, according to LSACnet.org.
So far this year, there have been 7,870 applications to the Law School, up from 6,548 last year. Those students are competing for around 350 spots in the Class of 2012.
Though the deadline for applications passed nearly a month ago, some are still trickling in.
The applications are also coming from a more qualified group of students, Trujillo said. His office has accepted 14.6 percent of applicants so far this year, compared to 19.7 percent last year.
"This is going to be the most competitive year to get in on record. I wouldn't let myself in at this point," Trujillo said.
This year, more than 500 students attended admitted students open houses, up from 335 last year.
Nearly all of the growth in applications comes from an increase in out-of-state applicants, making it extremely difficult for those students to secure an offer, Trujillo said.
Aside from economic factors that have contributed to the nationwide bump in applicants, the Law School has benefited from a shift in Admissions Office philosophy that puts more emphasis on electronic communication with prospective students.
"We've certainly made greater use of electronic outreach. We were able to push more information out there, and use electronic resources to get in touch with more students and get them interested in applying here," said Trujillo, who became head of the Admissions Office in June.
The change has resulted in less reliance on traditional recruiting methods, such as printed mailings and sending admissions officers on trips to recruit, he said.
"Instead of us flying all over the country to talk to a few students, it's much better for us to stay here and be extraordinarily responsive to people who actually contact us, and to be more proactive about contacting them electronically," Trujillo said.
Though traditional methods are expensive and inefficient, abandoning them was still a gamble, Trujillo said.
"That was, I think, a risk worth taking and it has certainly panned out for us. As applicants get more technologically advanced, they see less value in print, and in going and talking to somebody for a few seconds. Much of the information that they gather is now through our Web site."
Trujillo credited his staff with managing the increased volume of applications without becoming overwhelmed.
"Holly Bennett is the head of the back office operation, and she has handled it with aplomb," he said. "We have the same number of people we had last year, and we've had a 20 percent rise in application volume. It's taxed them, but they have handled it extraordinarily well. They are the unsung heroes of this whole process, because without them it would come to a grinding halt."
Each application file is reviewed twice, including once by Trujillo.
"Nearly all of the files have been read a first time but I still have many to go," Trujillo said. "I have until April 15 to get all the decisions out and I suspect I will need every last minute."