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Law School Students Still Not Receiving Adequate Mental Health Support

Forty percent of recent law school graduates say that their school is not doing enough to support students’ mental health and assist students struggling with the stress and pressure of law school. An additional 31 percent do not know, while only 29 percent answered favorably, saying that they feel their school is doing enough. This is according to the Kaplan Bar Review survey results released earlier this month, which include data gathered from over 300 recent law school graduates. Despite the well-documented struggles that law students face and the recommendations for sweeping reforms put out by the American Bar Association in August 2017, there have been few noted improvements. Tammi Rice, vice president, Kaplan Bar Review commented on the survey results saying, “What students are telling us is that law schools need to do a better job of providing the kinds of services that they need for self-care, and also communicating how those services can help them. This is an important conversation to have. We have to conquer the stigma traditionally associated with mental health, particularly in the legal community… May, in particular, can be an emotionally taxing month in the life of law school graduates, as it is when they begin preparing to take the July bar exam…”

 The Kaplan Bar Review survey also asked students for their opinions on the state bar examiners’ ability to inquire about past mental health and addiction issues. Seventy-four percent of students were opposed to the bar examiners’ application asking if the applicant has ever been treated for a mental health issue. At 61 percent, there were fewer, but still a strong majority who were opposed to the bar application asking about past treatment for a substance abuse issue.

 These high numbers were no surprise in the wake of last year’s successful movement to update the mental health questioning on the Virginia Bar application. Law school students, who saw the questioning as a barrier to getting treatment because of the stigma, organized and sent letters to the Virginia Board of Bar Examiners, who were examining the mental health questions. After receiving a recommendation from a Supreme Court of Virginia committee coupled with “valuable input” from lawyers, judges, law school deans, and students, the bar has—as of January 1, 2019—eliminated the question asking applicants to disclose past mental health treatment. The board also edited another question to focus on conduct and behavior. “Knowing that the students who hope to one day join the Virginia Bar will not have to experience fear of ramifications for disclosing any treatment they sought during law school on their bar applications is a wonderful thing,” said Catherine Woodcock, last year’s Student Bar Association president at Washington and Lee University. “The more we normalize and encourage sound mental health and wellness, the better we will be as a profession.” In January, the Michigan Supreme Court also gave notice that it is studying “whether questions regarding mental health should be included on the personal affidavit that is part of the application for the Michigan Bar Examination, and if so, what form those questions should take.”

Law schools and legal professionals still have considerable ground to cover in increasing awareness of mental health needs within the profession. However, kicking off this month, is “Minds Over Matters,” a year-long deep dive into the mental health and well-being of law professionals by Law.com and its affiliate professionals. This site and its affiliate ALM partners, which cover a wide-ranging scope of legal topics are looking to “more deeply cover stress, depression, addiction, and other mental health issues affecting the legal profession. We aim to create a place for open dialogue, to shine a light on these issues that have so long been stigmatized, and to hold the profession accountable to work toward change. With ALM’s broad coverage of the legal profession, we think we are uniquely situated to address these issues.”

All prospective law students, recent law graduates, and legal professionals should stay abreast of these trends and follow the work showcased on law.com. Prospective law students will want to be conversant on these issues for interviews and as they consider the cultural fit of various law school programs. Current students and recent law graduates will want to educate themselves on how to begin cultivating their own wellbeing despite the stress of law school and their upcoming professional lives. These groups may also want to look out for opportunities to engage with and make changes within their own state’s board of bar examiners. As seen in Virginia, a group of engaged students can make a difference.

Reduced International Demand for U.S. Business Schools and a Robust Economy Create a Beneficial Environment for Applicants

New data released this month from the General Management Admissions Council (GMAC) shows that U.S. graduate business schools are still suffering from a decrease in international applicants. Just under half, 48 percent, of U.S. programs reported in the GMAC Preliminary Application Trends Survey that they had received fewer international applications at this point compared to the same time last year. This survey, which collects mid-cycle application data from graduate business schools, includes data from over 700 graduate business programs around the world. Among full-time two-year MBA programs in the U.S., about 68 percent reported application declines from international students, while another 9 percent reported that applications were flat. Fewer than a quarter of the programs reported that applications were up. Among the 68 percent reporting declines, almost one-third of respondents reported that the applications were significantly down, 17 percent reported moderate declines, and 19 percent reported slight declines.

This report coincides with data that GMAC released last week from the Prospective Students’ Survey. While prospective students’ plans to apply to international programs have stayed relatively flat over the last few years, hovering around 58 percent, there have been changes in students’ location preferences. Among applicants who plan to apply to international programs (not within their country of residence), 62 percent plan to apply in Western Europe, with U.S. programs following at 61 percent. While the percentages are close, this is a switch from 2017 when the U.S. was the most named location at 63 percent followed by Western Europe at 58 percent. Prospective students were also asked to select their one most preferred location. Both the U.S. and Western Europe received equal proportions of respondents at 40 percent each. The longer-term trend, however, shows a gradual decline in preference for the U.S. between 2009 and 2016, with a sharper downturn in the last two years to 40 percent; the exact opposite trend occurs for Western Europe, which shows a gradual increase in preference with a more marked uptick to 40 percent since 2016.

Among all candidates, those applying domestically and internationally, the U.S. is still the most popular destination to apply for an MBA. However, the percentage of all applicants planning to apply to U.S. programs declined from 2017 to 2018 by three percentage points, from 68 to 65 percent, while interest in Western Europe increased from 37 percent to 42 percent. Interest in Canadian programs increased just one point, to 20 percent.

The decrease in international student applications, combined with the strong economy, and the rising cost of MBA programs, appears to be impacting overall application volume to U.S. business schools. Poets and Quants published an article last week declaring it a “buyer’s market” for admitted students. Though acknowledging that official numbers have yet to be released, according to admissions officers, there have been lower application volumes again this year, even among the top ten schools. This makes for the second year of decreasing applications, even amongst the highly competitive programs. Admitted students are reportedly receiving higher than normal numbers of acceptances from rival schools, as well as generous scholarship offers. The Poets and Quants article quotes an unnamed admissions officer from a top-ten ranked business school as saying, “When you have this many schools down and many are down for two years in a row, yield is going to be a nightmare because everyone has had to dig deeper in the pool. I would not be surprised if schools had to go deep into their waitlists or have to shrink their classes. It’s the collective impact of so many schools being down that is unique.“ Yield, which is the total number of admitted students who matriculate into a program, is important for balancing both the selectivity and revenue components of the program. 

Medical Schools Limited on Use of Race in Admissions Decisions but Still Seek to Promote Diversity

Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that the U.S. Education Department is requiring the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center medical school to discontinue its practice of factoring race into its admissions decisions. The medical school agreed to a deal with the Education Department in order to end the long-running federal investigation into its use of affirmative action. In 2003, after the Supreme Court ruled that race was admissible as a factor in admissions decisions in Grutter v. Bollinger, the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center resumed use of race as a criteria in admissions decisions. In 2004, the Center for Equal Opportunity filed a complaint against the school, and the next year the Education Department began the investigation, which this agreement concludes.

Texas Tech had previously ceased using its affirmative action policy for admissions in the pharmacy school in 2008 and for undergraduate programs in 2013. However, the medical school contended that, “It must continue weighing race in its admissions process because a cohort of doctors from different backgrounds could best serve Texas’ racially and ethnically diverse communities.” However, the recently signed agreement stipulated that the school was not providing an annual review of the necessity of race-based admissions and therefore could not rule out that other factors may provide similar diversity-levels. The agreement also suggested that the medical school use other “race-neutral factors” to meet diversity aims, “such as recruiting students from low-income areas and favoring bilingual or first-generation college students.”

Earlier this week and just following news of this agreement, Kaplan Test Prep released survey results showing that 80 percent of 245 pre-med students surveyed in January 2019 say that “It’s important for the American medical profession to be more demographically representative of the general patient population.” Among the students who agreed with this statement, one commented, “While it is certainly possible to be empathetic and ‘tuned in’ to your patients despite differences in language, culture, etc., it is important for patients to feel like they can relate to and trust their clinician…If American clinicians were more demographically representative of the population as a whole, patients would likely find it easier to connect with a care provider they are most comfortable with.” Those in the 20 percent who did not agree with the statement were more likely to focus on the importance of drive and technical ability in becoming an effective doctor.

Additionally, an earlier Kaplan study with medical school admissions officers showed that many felt competent with their school’s diversity efforts. When the admissions officers were asked to grade his/her medical school on diversity, the majority gave themselves a B (35 percent) or C (34 percent), while fewer rewarded themselves with an A (18 percent) and even fewer a D or F (5 percent).

While it is clear that prospective medical students and doctors see the value in diversity in medical school admissions, the process by which the schools will implement these diversity goals is changing based on the views of the current administration. And these changes should be noted, especially by prospective medical students.

For future applicants: Overall, it is wise to seek experiences that improve your ability to work with others, particularly those unlike yourself. And throughout your application, you will want to speak to these experiences in a manner that showcases your commitment to serving a diverse population of patients, highlights areas where you will bring diversity into the program, and show how you have thrived and what you have learned in diverse environments in the past.