A New Pandemic Surge: Medical and Law School Applications
Updated: Mar 13
Perhaps an unanticipated effect of the COVID-19 pandemic is a major increase in the number of persons seeking admission to the medical and legal professions. In 2020, applications to medical schools were up 34%, comparing the 2019–20 season to the 2020–21 season, and law school applications are up 20% from a year ago and almost 17% from two years ago. Not only that, but law school applications from those with high scores on the Law School Aptitude Test (LSAT) are up by 99%. By contrast, freshmen enrollment in colleges is down by 13%.
The higher interest in becoming a doctor could be explained by a perceived surge in the need for medical professionals. In fact, a similar phenomenon occurred immediately following the tragic events of 9/11, when there was a surge in young people who were motivated to serve in the US armed forces. The dean of the college of medicine at the University of Houston, a city hard-hit by the pandemic, reports that the public health crisis has made students aware of the urgent needs for healthcare in the US. But there is another possible reason: this year’s medical school requirements are less strict than in years past. Stanford University is one of many institutions that have waived requirements for receiving Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) scores from 2021 applicants.
As for law schools, not only are more people applying, but they are also submitting applications at more schools than in the past. Anecdotally, officials at the Law School Admission Council say that many candidates report being motivated by the career of the late Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Applicants cite racism, economic inequality, political polarization, and climate change as issues where they want to make a difference. A career in law, they believe, would allow them to challenge what they view as an unhealthy status quo.
Certainly, 2020 was a traumatic year for everyone, and the young people who make up the majority of medical school and law school applicants may feel a heightened need to enter professions where they believe they can offer greater service to society. Another motivation for both groups, however, could be the widespread economic uncertainty associated with the pandemic. In a time when employment prospects seem uncertain, going into professions with higher perceived security, such as medicine and law, may be more attractive, even with the higher student debt load this implies for many applicants.
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