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Cornell Law School applications surge 52.5 percent

It may have been four years since Cornell was named "Hottest Ivy" by Newsweek magazine, but some of the heat seems to be sticking. On its Feb. 1 application deadline, Cornell Law School reported receiving more than 6,000 applications -- a jump of 52.5 percent from last year and an all-time record for the school.

Law schools across the country have seen applications rise five percent, and LSAT test-takers (a good prediction of future applicants) have risen 20 percent in response to the falling economy; so Cornell admissions officers expected an increase of about that amount. But the size of the spike was a welcome surprise, said Stewart Schwab, professor and the Allan R. Tessler Dean of the Law School.

"I'd like to think a big part of the explanation is that the word's getting out -- Cornell is a great place to study law," Schwab said.

That's due largely to the school's academic strengths, he said: Cornell has earned distinction among its peer schools in a variety of areas, including empirical legal studies, property theory, and international and comparative law. Strong new faculty hires and prominent alumni have given the school additional boosts, he added. And an increasingly diverse student body -- in a time when minority representation at other law schools is lagging -- is another major asset.

Cornell's small-town location may make it particularly attractive in tough economic times, said Richard Geiger, the Law School's dean of admissions.

"You can live here for a lot less [than in most urban areas]. That could explain why we're up so much and our peers really aren't," Geiger said.

The numbers haven't been analyzed thoroughly yet, Geiger said ("we've been sort of busy"), but the increase seems to be consistent across every demographic group.

Despite the added load, the selection process will remain the same.

"We really do pride ourselves on an all-factors review," Geiger said. "We look at the whole applicant ... and the weight that we apply to various factors differs from person to person."

And Cornell has long valued its small size compared with other peer law schools, Schwab noted -- which is why the increase in applications won't mean a bigger class next year. Admissions staff aim for an incoming class of between 180 and 210 students each year.

"Our whole essence is being a small law school. We're among the smallest of the elite law schools, and we have no intention of changing to be medium-sized," Schwab said. "So while we're pleased with the greater attention, we want to continue to do the same great things we're doing."

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Claudia Wheatley