The article in question is about law school applications, so it might not seem completely relevant to a blog about leaving a Ph.D. program. After all, law is a profession. Aren't those people who enroll in professional programs like law schools the smart ones? The ones who thought about more than "I like books and writing and teaching; I'll go do that for ten more years!" after undergrad ... and instead thought "I'd like to be a lawyer, so I think I'll go to law school"
Aren't law students who enrolled in their programs when we enrolled in ours the ones who have awesome real jobs now, while we Ph.D. students struggle along in adjuncthood or at a shitty tenure-track job we can't seem to publish our way out of at Nowhereseville State College?
Well, not exactly. Not at all, actually. As the data clearly shows job opportunities for law school graduates have been sharply declining in recent years ... just as more and more new grads with shiny law degrees have been arriving on the market. Meanwhile, law schools are being accused of stretching the truth on their employment statistics in order to attract new students ... and of then shrugging their shoulders when most of their students graduate without job offers.
And (in my opinion, the worst trend of all) law students typically graduate with a debt load that dwarfs the ones that we Ph.D. students rack up. There are few scholarships or work/study programs available to law students, so many (if not most) wind up graduating with $150,000-$200,000 in student loan debt ... for just three years of school.
So I've been seeing discussions about this crisis in legal education around the periphery of my reading on academia for the last couple of years, and it's something I always wanted to discuss on the blog. Obviously, law students and Ph.D. students are different animals in a million different ways ... but at the end of the day, we're both (on average) getting seriously screwed by the systems we're in. And most of the time, we don't figure it out until it's too late.
Anyway, I'd figured that there would be plenty of time in the future to discuss the parallels between legal education and Ph.D. education ... since, surely, law school would continue in its downward spiral just like traditional academia.
But then today I learned that, to my surprise, applications to law schools have declined by 20% this year as compared to last, and are down by a whopping 38% since 2010.
In other words ... no matter how much graduating undergrads loooooooove the law and want to be lawyers, nearly 40% fewer of them as compared to just three years ago are looking at what law schools and the legal profession are offering and saying "........eh, no thanks."
And it's not that the law schools are discouraging people from applying or being forthcoming about their placement rates. As a law school professor in the linked article (delusionally) says:
"We have a significant mismatch between demand and supply. [...] It's not a problem of producing too many lawyers. Actually, we have an exploding demand for both ordinary folk lawyers and big corporate ones."Exploding demand?? The statistics and surveys and charts and graphs all over the place would suggest otherwise ... but whatever you want to tell yourself, Professor.
Anyway, it's clear that law schools aren't doing anything differently than what they were doing before - or anything that's drastically different from what Ph.D. programs do. They're still heavily recruiting students and
In fact, you could argue that they're behaving almost exactly like professors in Ph.D. programs, who continue to insist beyond all reason that there is no job market crisis, no reason to cut their enrollments, and that "it'll all work out!"
And yet, despite those similarities ... law school applications are declining while applications to masters' and Ph.D. programs continue to increase:
"...graduate schools received 4.3% more applications for entry into master’s and Ph.D. programs this year in comparison to last year. This is part of a larger trend that includes the economic decline 4 years ago, when grad school application rates increased sharply..."So I've been thinking about these two trends for most of the day, and I have some ideas about what I think might be going on. But I'm interested to hear what any of you out there might think.
Why do you think that potential law students are so much more likely to forego applying than their Ph.D. counterparts? Is the pull of "being able to study Medieval Basketweaving for five years" really that much stronger than the pull of "being a lawyer," or is there something else that I'm missing?
Because I'm fascinated by these divergent trends ... and curious about how we could get potential Ph.D. students to think a little more like potential law students (and to start making some rational decisions about their education and career).