It’s easier to get a place on a law degree than a European languages, history or philosophy degree

Exclusive: Law is the eighth most competitive university course

Research into the percentage of UCAS applications that end in acceptances has shown law is not the ultra competitive course you might think it is.

Last year, 125,230 applications were made to study law at degree level. One fifth of these, 25,050, ended in an aspiring lawyer accepting their place at a higher education provider.

While it’s tempting to assume this means only one in every five law school applicants is successful, this isn’t the case.

UCAS users are able to submit applications to up to five universities (four for medicine, dentistry and veterinary science). This means the number of applicants will be closer to the number of acceptances, rather than the number of applications actually received by UCAS.

For some time, the myth that law is a super competitive course has begun to be dispelled. LLB places have gone up and up in recent years, to the point where some universities are struggling to fill their courses. Last year, almost a week after A-level results day, there were still places available at the likes of the universities of Leeds and Reading.

Law’s meh ‘competitiveness ranking’ can be better understood when we compare it to other undergraduate courses.

It seems the most competitive course of them all is medicine and dentistry, where only 11% of applications lead to acceptance. Subjects allied to medicine (15%) is second, while physical sciences, history and philosophy, maths, engineering, European languages and physical sciences came in in joint third with 19%.

Then there’s law in eighth place with 20%. This figure is shared with linguistics and biological sciences.

Architecture, social studies, creative arts, business studies and non-European languages take joint 11th place with 21%. Mass communications and computer science both boast 22%, while 23% of education applications led to an offer and an acceptance.

This leaves veterinary science (25%) and technology (26%) at the bottom of the competitiveness league table, though do bear in mind once again the application process for medicine, dentistry and veterinary sciences is different to other subjects.

University subjects: most competitive to least competitive

Competitiveness ranking Name of course % of applications that lead to acceptance
1 Medicine and dentistry 11%
2 Subjects allied to medicine 15%
=3 Engineering 19%
=3 European languages 19%
=3 History and philosophy 19%
=3 Maths 19%
=3 Physical sciences 19%
=8 Biological sciences 20%
=8 Law 20%
=8 Linguistics 20%
=11 Architecture 21%
=11 Creative arts 21%
=11 Non-European studies 21%
=11 Social studies 21%
=11 Business studies 21%
=16 Mass communications 22%
=16 Computer science 22%
18 Education 23%
19 Veterinary Science 25%
20 Technology 26%

Data via UCAS

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31 Comments

Not Amused

Compare with medicine (a properly regulated course) and it is quite clear that the issue of over supply of places lies with our incompetent regulators.

(14)(2)
Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(2)(15)
Anonymous

Medicine have the opposite problem, their system isn’t producing enough junior doctors.

(15)(0)
Anonymous

I think it’s right to filter at the university stage though, rather than the job application stage, because medicine is a very demanding 5 year (at the minimum) course and not everyone is cut out for it. It is better to ensure that as many people as possible who takes up a place will see it through and qualify.

(7)(0)
Anonymous

Degrees in medicine and law are not comparable on the basis of access and numbers.

Medicine is an almost purely vocational course which in nearly every case leads to practice as a doctor. A law degree is mostly an academic discipline that many study for its own sake.

Medical degrees – because they’re solidly vocational – are long, require practical application (placements and so on) and very expensive to supply to the student. Law is relatively cheap and requires only some lectures and a library.

The better comparison, which is still flawed, would be to compare a medical degree with a law degree + LPC + TC or BPTC + pupillage.

Having said all that, medical undergraduates are usually wankers.

HTH

(23)(0)
Anonymous

I had to pass the LNAT and take part in a telephone interview as part of the interview process for my application to study law…

What are the requirements for European languages?

(6)(3)
Adam "I sPeaK 18 EuROpEaN LaNgUaGeS" Deen

Actually speaking the language

(10)(0)
Anonymous

You know…actually being able to speak a foreign language with a modicum of efficiency?

(4)(0)
Anonymous

If you study languages somewhere decent? During interview, I had to talk for 10 minutes in the language (I had an interview in each language); translate some 19th-century French on the spot; complete a literary passage analysis 15 minutes before the start of the interview; and talk ad nauseum about proper books (i.e. not airport fiction) I’d read in original text – all at age of 17 after having learned the languages for 5 years each at school. Not overly easy, I think.

(3)(0)
Anonymous

This means nothing when there’s no information about the standard of university. I don’t doubt that it’s harder to get into French at UCL than it is to get into Law at Southampton Solent.

(9)(1)
Mr Data

It looks to me like these figures come from UCAS. I would imagine that an analyst has produced these statistics based on application data, which you would assume should be complete. Therefore it should represent the complete application picture.

(0)(1)
Anonymous

Neil: Oh wow look at all these letters! I though Mr Balowski said the last lot only moved out yesterday.

Mike: They did- they were illiterate.

Neil: But they were Philosophy students.

Mike: So?

Neil: Oh!

(0)(5)
Disgruntled Statistician

Just to elaborate on the caution in the article itself:

This is not a table of offer rates. The only universities who have offer rates for Law below 20% in the UK are Oxford and LSE (as far as I’m aware, please let me know if the situation is otherwise).

Rather, this is a ratio of applications to acceptances, which is obviously going to be lower.
This is because most individual applicants get more than one offer, which means that they are going to have to reject a few when choosing their firm choice. Consequently, this lowers the ‘applications-to-acceptance’ rate of the universities who have given offers but have had them declined by the applicants.

The universities who have low rates in the table will tend to be the ones that are renown enough to have a high number of applicants but are *not* renown enough to be first choices. I’m thinking that most of them will fall into the Bristol/Exeter category of being backup universities for top-tier candidates, even though I can imagine that LSE/UCL/KCL/Durham may also be victims of this ‘second preference’ situation. This is because a significant proportion of their offer holders will inevitably be holding offers from Oxford or Cambridge.

(17)(3)
Anonymous

As a statistician, you ought to know that acceptance rates are not a good metric. If a uni accepts 500 students and receives 2000 applications, it’ll obviously have to issue a significantly higher number of offers than a uni which accepts 180 students and still receives 2000 applications.

This is not to do with first/second choice strictly, since here grade requirements (actively affected by the former) become a consideration.

(3)(1)
Disgruntled Statistician

Hi there,

I think that your point about the size of each year’s Law cohort is fair enough, even though there may not be such a great difference between universities that directly compete against each other in winning students. You’re rarely going to see someone deciding on Exeter v UCL/LSE, for example, at least not for academic/professional reasons. Interestingly, amongst the universities that are of a similar ‘level’ as each other, the entry cohorts are of a similar size. For instance, Oxford and Cambridge both have year groups of around 220-230 students, UCL and LSE typically have 170-180, and Bristol and Exeter frequently have cohorts exceeding 400 students a year. This means that, when comparing two universities of a similar calibre (be it reputationally, in terms of entry requirements, or ‘prestige’), the cohorts are of a similar enough size for one to be able to make a meaningful comparison.

**I fully agree that the offer rate, on its own, isn’t sufficient to determine the selectivity of an institution.** Take, for example, Oxford and Cambridge. Why does Oxford BA Jurisprudence have an offer rate of 15%, whereas the equivalent course at Cambridge offers 25%+? I personally don’t believe that either university is significantly more selective than the other. Rather, I feel that Cambridge’s focus on AS UMS was enough to put a lot of people off (under the old AS system, you realistically needed an average of 90-95 to even stand a chance). These people presumably applied to Oxford (or avoided Oxbridge in general), hence ‘improving’ (i.e. lowering) Oxford’s offer rate at Cambridge’s expense.

The same applies to Oxford and LSE, which have similar offer rates. While LSE gets 2700 applications per year for 170 or so places (compare that to 1500 for Oxford for 200+ places), the fact that fewer people firm LSE means that it has to compensate by giving more offers. The point I’m trying to make is that Oxford, as a result of it being a first preference uni, is able to use its high yields (high percentage of offer holders who actually take up their seat) to reduce its offer rate. This is in spite of it losing applicants who would have otherwise applied to both Cambridge and Oxford, but were only able to apply to Cambridge, due to UCAS restrictions.

I don’t find your point about entry requirements particularly convincing. Worse universities only put their offers at AAA (or AAB contextualised) when they know that they wouldn’t be able to ‘get away’ with A*AA offers. I may sound like an elitist here, but, whatever Exeter’s delusions about competing with Durham may be, an Exeter offering only A*AA offers wouldn’t be able to compete with the ‘big boys’ of Cambridge/LSE/UCL/Durham. As a result, it’s perfectly understandable that they would lower their offers to preserve interest. Preserving that interest results in higher demand, which results in more applications, which, assuming all else equal, will probably result in a lower offer rate. Hence, your hypothesis is wrong. Bristol/Exeter/Warwick do indeed have high offer rates due to their lower offers (which allows people to use them as insurance options), but would have *even higher* offer rates if they tried increasing their entry requirements.

(9)(3)
Anonymous

On the last part, not quite.

Durham is certainly not a ‘big boy’ by any measure.

LSE/UCL/KCL have the appeal of being in London, and their international reputations pull that up. So, on this front, their current requirements are reflective.

If Durham, which receives around 1300-1500 applications per day, were to increase its intake to 430 students (i.e more than double what is accepts currently), it could well struggle to fill its places by strictly requiring A*AA. Similarly, if Bristol were to reduce its class size to 180-200 (i.e less than half of what it has now), there is no reason it would not maintain an A*AA conditional offer criteria. It already does it for other departments which accept around 200 students. Even Nottingham was able to maintain their A*AA requirement because of its very small class size (comparatively).

Hence, my hypothesis is not wrong, because your argument against it is in itself based on an assumption.

[I am not referring to Exeter and Warwick because both have been participating in clearing, and cannot thus be compared to Bristol -not generally, but as regards offer ratios- which has not been participating]

(5)(3)
Disgruntled Statistician

Just a preliminary question: Am I correct in thinking that this discussion had moved onto entry requirements?

I think that you’ve tried to rebut my assumption with another assumption. I get your point that, if Durham were to double its intake, its average entry tariff would fall. However, I disagree with the idea that it would fall far enough to force Durham to lower its A*AA requirement.

According to CUG (https://www.thecompleteuniversityguide.co.uk/league-tables/rankings?s=law), Durham had an average of 560 UCAS points (using the old system because it’s more intuitive for me). That works out at something like 4A*s at A-level. Of course, it’s boosted artificially by IB and Scottish students who tend to gain higher UCAS tariffs for their respective qualifications, as well as by people who do extra AS levels for which they get 50 or 60 points a pop. However, the point is that your average Durham student will have at least one or two A*s, in addition to maybe a couple of A/Bs, at A-level.

Bristol has an average entry tariff of 500 points. Even with that level of achievement, it **still** feels uncomfortable with A*AA offers, instead choosing AAA. For Durham to reach such a level, the additional students it must have recruited to reach a cohort size the size of Bristol’s would have to have an average tariff of 440. Is this realistic? Well, the sort of unis that have tariffs that low are York/Leeds/Dundee. Would Durham recruit such students if it had to drastically expand? Probably not. Rather, I’d imagine that it would probably start leeching off Exeter/Bristol/Warwick/Manchester/York students who are Durham rejects, in addition to non-UK applicants who aren’t considering any other UK universities. I highly doubt that these students would have a tariff low enough to drag Durham down to Bristol levels, which, in turn, would force Durham’s admissions team to consider implementing an AAA offer and turning themselves into a ‘backup’ (rather than ‘firm’) university.

Hence, even with double the size of the cohort, an AAA offer (and the higher offer rates that come as a result of being a university most students pick as an insurance choice) remain unlikely.

I’d personally call Durham a ‘big name’, at least owing to its continued high levels of presence in the City, its traditionally high rankings in league tables, and the fact that it remains the primary ‘go to’ uni for Oxbridge rejects outside London. Of course, the last point is anecdotal and a remnant from my experience of LLB applicants several years ago.

(4)(5)
Anonymous

Yes, but that’s because entry requirements and competitiveness are correlative concepts.

Your analysis is incorrect. I did make an assumption, yes, but it is based on what happens with universities currently (i.e Nottingham).

Durham’s high UCAS points metric (leaving aside any weaknesses of said metric) is high precisely because its small cohort enables it to fill the class with high-achievers *only*. If it were to accept 400+ students, the UCAS points of the remaining applicants being accepted would statisticallly decrease at a higher rate, because Durham would not simply make 1 offer per place, but 3 or 4 – in essence, it would have to rely on a much wider pool of achievement, and would not be able to simply issue offers to those who excel. I’m not saying it would 100% drop its A*AA requirement, but it would be very likely to do so because it doesn’t receive many applications to outset the increase in places (i.e 1300-1500 at the end of the day is not a lot since Durham competes directly with unis outside Oxbridge).

Don’t forget, in addition, that many unis have been creating those silly contextual offer schemes which directly dilute the pool of applicants.

Next, there’s no such thing as ‘Durham rejects’ (are you a Durham student by any chance?). If we were to consider acceptance rates, Durham is very high compared to London unis – much closer to Bristol/Exeter and whatnot. Not to say that Durham is not a comparable institution, because London is a major factor as regards London unis (dah).

If anything, the current representation of unis would have to be considered in tiers, arguably:
1 – Oxbridge
2 – UCL/LSE (though both have failed with regards to City representation compared to the group below)
3 – KCL/Durham/Warwick/Bristol/Nottingham
4 – Other RG etc.

Arguments of the like “Durham is 4th”, “KCL is 5th” and whatnot are merely an opinion – an opinion which is particularly faulty in that it tries to strictly specify what cannot be specified (hence the tiers).

(3)(1)
Disgruntled Statistician

I’m not a graduate of any of the unis we’ve mentioned so far, sadly.

I agree with your analysis on the fact that Durham wouldn’t receive an increased number of applications if it doubled the places it offered. However, I very much doubt that the offer rate needed to convince the extra 200+ students to firm it would be approximately the same (as opposed to exponentially increasing). After all, it would continue to have to compete for those students with other universities ‘on its level’ (ranging from LSE/UCL to Nottingham and below), as it currently does for each of its existing offerholders. You’re also forgetting that this isn’t a zero sum game in terms of applicants: it’s entirely possible that Durham could fill in the extra places with overseas students who have the grades, but, for instance, had a poor personal statement or did badly on the LNAT (I remember Durham offerholders having an average of 25 in the MCQ section, which is fairly high, and above the average of 22-23).

‘Durham rejects’ isn’t a conventionally accepted category of students in the same way ‘Oxbridge rejects’ are, but I was using it more in its literal sense. By ‘Durham rejects’, I meant the 40% or so who aren’t getting offers from that university, and who inevitably end up in lower-ranked institutions. Your point about offer rates is valid, but Durham ranks as highly (if not higher) than the LSE/UCL/KCL trio in terms UCAS tariffs (it has the same LNAT average as UCL and KCL), showing that the academic ability is still there. It isn’t a Bristol or Exeter equivalent by a long shot, even if it is closer to those universities than the London ones.

I’ve heard suggestions about a tiered system, and yours seems to be similar to most other tiers I’ve seen online. I wouldn’t stoop as low as to put Durham in the same category as Warwick or Exeter, given its much higher entry (and, importantly, LNAT!) requirements. We also need to remember that research-wise, the rankings look very different, and would likely be dominated by KCL/LSE/Oxbridge in Tier 1, with Durham in Tier 3 or 4.

Addendum:
Just a quick final thought. While we’ve put a lot of effort into our counterfactuals (‘What if Durham did X or Y?’), I think that we need to ultimately consider that league tables are a matter of positive reality, not normative. Even if I was to concede that Bristol and Durham would have similar entry tariffs and/or offer rates, the fact is that, under the status quo, they don’t. The aims of management, not the academics, may be to blame for Bristol and Nottingham freefalling through league tables in the past few years due to their rapid expansion, but, ultimately, what are universities but the products of their executive committees? Hence, while in an ideal world the gap in offer rates and UCAS tariffs may have been smaller between Bristol and Durham, as things currently stand, Durham has positioned its law course as smaller, more selective, and more elite, while Bristol has grown fat and lazy in giving offers left and right to fill a 450-student cohort with AAA-AAB offers. It’s unfortunate, and, under different circumstances, may have been different, but it’s just the way things are at the moment.

Consequently, engaging in speculation as to which universities *would* have been better if x ignores the fact that this article, and my original comment, was of a purely descriptive nature.

(2)(1)
Anonymous

The tiers I mentioned refer to the overall picture, not simply entry requirements. Certain aspects such as prestige are not factored in (in national rankings at least).

As for the latter part, the hypotheses highlight exactly what is wrong about university rankings – they are not standardised. Aberdeen has higher UCAS points requirements than Warwick – does that make it more selective than the latter (I understand you explained the inefficiency of the UCAS points system, but the way you rely on it now suggests you place much more faith in it).

The statement “while Bristol has grown fat and lazy in giving offers left and right to fill a 450-student cohort with AAA-AAB offers”, in this respect, is not correct – the offer rate at Durham stands at 61%, and at Bristol it’s 56% [http://university.which.co.uk/university-of-bristol-b78/law-3-years-9000-m100-426219], even though the latter has more than double the class than Durham. Warwick, which you seriously undermine, stands at 65%.

Durham is only able to maintain its A*AA because it can take a small number of applicants. The above statistics clearly show it would not handle a 100% increase in places well.

Any consideration of competitiveness, at least in terms of ranking, must take consideration of this information. Otherwise, all universities would be encouraged to maintain very, very small classes for the sake of rankings. Where’s the good in that?

That being said, if you so want to rely on rankings, international ones would reveal a different picture (overall at least, haven’t seen specific subjects).

(0)(0)
Anonymous

Another reason for the stats/slight reduction of law competitiveness is that increasingly many students, possibly on the advice from law career fairs, are opting to do undergraduate degree in a subjects they are interested other than law and then do a law as a postgraduate conversion degree i.e. GDL, LLB Senior status, with some UK students (mainly from the affluent middle class) event opting to go to US for 3 years JD degree or in the case of struggling middle class opt for European countries to expand further options. Some law firms (their representatives/HR recruitment teams) indicated that they are interested in a more well rounded mature 24-25+ years old students who studied law as a postgraduate/conversion degree than the young 21-22+ yrs old undergraduate degree holders with little maturity/little experience other than adhoc vacation schemes or pro bono experience/and or retail or pub experiences. That is more so when it comes to American law firms as many of their US intakes are from the postgraduate 3 year law degree (JD) holders and the maturity divide clearly shows up when US intakes are flown in London as placement or transfer, as an American law firm team confirmed (one said many of the UK intakes still seemed to display maturity of some one straight from A level college.)
Another reason why law career advisors are suggesting to their new breed of A level pre uni students to opt for undergraduate degree of their choice, followed by 1-3 years law as a postgraduate degree is that following Brexit, is to broaden their choices for legal career both in UK and abroad in case of missing out on securing training contracts or pupillage in UK (which is more so in the case of students from low income/socially deprived background studying at a less reputable university). A college career advisor said that given the current Brexit climate, the city financial and legal sector is uncertain students, should consider opening up their horizons for career overseas where UK degrees are respected (more applicable to students of low income/socially deprived/lower middle class background or ethnic minorities who are unable to make it to leading Russell Group law schools hence potentially missing out on securing training contracts at top law firms which could is high probability due to reduced exposure to networking events/less exposure to creative/life/work or sport experiences which students at RG universities get to enjoy or already have). This is because many of the legal sectors abroad e.g. Europe, Canada, US, Australia and even India, are more geared towards recruiting students with postgraduate law degree holders than those with undergraduate law degree. In fact some countries’ regulatory authorities would not even consider undergraduate law degrees under any circumstances as some students confirmed who decided to migrate to US utilising family ties (only New York and California permits, but even then there is no guarantee/and or lengthy procedure for those with UG degree as opposed to 3 year PG degree but many end up having to settle in states outside New York or California, depending on the state they are being sponsored to migrate to). India is also similar case for many British Asians of Indian origin who decides to utilise their India’s OCI scheme to start legal career in India on failing to secure training congrats in London (again more common with those who studied at non RG group universities or failing to secure a high 2.1 – it is becoming a common trend that many Brits with 2.2. law degrees are having to forced to consider legal career in developing countries with little hope to secure a training contract but their UK 2.2 degree is still respected overseas).

(4)(0)
Anonymous

Another reason for the stats/slight reduction of law competitiveness is that increasingly many students, possibly on the advice from law career fairs, are opting to do undergraduate degree in subjects they are interested in other than law and then do a law as a postgraduate conversion degree i.e. GDL, LLB Senior status, with some UK students (mainly from the affluent middle class) even opting to go to US for 3 years JD degree or in the case of struggling middle class, opting for European countries to expand their further options. Some law firms (their representatives/HR recruitment teams) indicated that they are interested in a more well rounded mature 24-25+ years old students who studied law as a postgraduate/conversion degree than the young 21-22+ yrs old undergraduate degree holders with little maturity/little experience other than adhoc vacation schemes or pro bono experience/and or retail or pub experiences. That is more so when it comes to American law firms as many of their US intakes are from the postgraduate 3 year law degree (JD) holders and the maturity divide clearly shows up when US intakes are flown in to London as part of their placement or transfer, as confirmed by an American law firm partner (one said many of the UK intakes still seemed to display maturity of some one straight from A level college.)
Another reason why law career advisors are suggesting to their new breed of A level pre uni students to opt for undergraduate degree of their choice, followed by 1-3 years law as a postgraduate degree is that following Brexit, it is best to broaden their choices for legal career both in UK and abroad in case of missing out on securing training contracts or pupillage in UK (which is more so in the case of students from low income/socially deprived background studying at a less reputable university). A college career advisor said that given the current Brexit climate, the city financial and legal sector is uncertain and students should consider opening up their horizons for legal career overseas where UK degrees are respected (more applicable to students of low income/socially deprived/lower middle class background or ethnic minorities who are unable to make it to leading Russell Group law schools hence potentially missing out on securing training contracts at top law firms which is a high probability due to reduced exposure to networking events/less exposure to creative/life/work or sport experiences which students at RG universities get to enjoy or already have thus given RG students an added advantage). This is because many of the legal sectors abroad e.g. Europe, Canada, US, Australia and even India, are more geared towards recruiting students with postgraduate law degree holders than those with undergraduate law degrees. In fact some countries’ regulatory authorities would not even consider undergraduate law degrees under any circumstances as some British law grads confirmed who decided to migrate to US utilising family ties after exhausting all avenues of securing training contracts or pupillage (only New York and California accepts law as a first degree, but even then there is no guarantee/and or lengthy procedure for those with UG degree as opposed to 3 year PG degree but many end up having to settle in states outside New York or California, depending on the state they are being sponsored to migrate to hence their first UG law degree is pretty useless). India is also similar case for many British Asians of Indian origin who decides to utilise their India’s OCI status to start legal career in India on failing to secure training congrats in London (again more common with those who studied at non RG group universities or failing to secure a high 2.1 – it is becoming a common trend that many Brits with 2.2. law degrees with little hope to secure a training contract, are having to forced to abandon consider legal career in UK and instead opt to consider in countries with emerging market economies where their UK 2.2 degree is still respected).

(1)(1)
Anonymous

Getting a place on a law degree isn’t the hard part. So long as you got good A-Levels, I don’t think anyone would argue that getting into university to study law is restrictively difficult.

Getting a TC is the ultra-competitive part. That’s the stage where thousands of applicants are fighting for hundreds of jobs. It isn’t helped by greedy LPC providers offering dozens places to people who, realistically, will struggle to secure a TC.

As others have already stated, the number of spaces on medical degrees seems to be more carefully regulated, so whilst it might be very difficult to get a place on a medical degree, most graduates don’t seem to struggle as much as their legal counterparts when it comes to finding a job.

(1)(0)
A lot of LC comments BS

Warwick is a top university. The only university apart from Oxford and Cambridge never to ranked outside the top 10. when comes down to it, in regards to law, what matters is not the subject ranking but the overall ranking. For future readers of this thread ignore the statistical bullshite analysis from above, and just focus on being the best you can be at your respective university.

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