A ‘Bank Run’ at Notre Dame Law

University of Notre Dame Law School told admits to put down deposits before spots ran out. On Tuesday, seats went from 67 percent to 100 percent claimed in a matter of hours.

April 12, 2021
 
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It was a banner year for law school applications. The number of applicants this year was up about 21 percent compared to last year, according to the Law School Admissions Council. Total applications were up 32 percent.

An increase that big can be tricky for an admissions department. Now, at least one law school has overadmitted its incoming class.

Admitted applicants to University of Notre Dame Law School were told upon acceptance that there were no reserved spaces for students. The deadline was April 15, but if the university received its maximum number of $600 deposits, the rest of the admitted students would be waitlisted.

On Tuesday, a few minutes before 11 a.m. Eastern time, Notre Dame sent those admitted students an email. Two-thirds of the seats had been claimed by deposits, a benchmark usually reached two to three days before the deadline. The email said Notre Dame would send another note when 80 percent of seats were reserved, and two more emails when 90 and 100 percent of seats were claimed.

Five hours later, 80 percent of spots were taken, Notre Dame told admits. One hour after that, at 5 p.m., Notre Dame told applicants there was no more time.

“We have now reached our target number of deposits,” the email said. “We have turned off our deposit forms to ensure that we do not overenroll.”

The incident, first reported in Above the Law, a website for legal news, has shaken prospective law students. Applicants who were waiting on offers from other schools, who weren’t checking their email or who couldn’t come up with $600 quickly saw their chance to attend Notre Dame Law School vanish, despite the fact that they were admitted.

“Earlier this week I decided that I would be depositing this Thursday, the 8th. I chose that date not arbitrarily but because that’s the date when I receive my paycheck,” said one admitted student, who has struggled financially. “I live paycheck to paycheck and work two jobs to support myself.”

The student, who wished to remain anonymous and asked to be referred to as “they” so as to not jeopardize further chances with Notre Dame, saw the emails about 67 percent capacity and realized they didn’t have the funds available to make a deposit. Notre Dame was the student's first-choice law school.

“I knew at that moment that I did not have the money and would try to scrape together the funds from several accounts of mine when I received the 80 percent email,” they said. “I made a few phone calls; I transferred funds from account to account. I would say that I did all of this within 20 to 30 minutes of receiving that email. When I went into the Notre Dame confirmation website, I was able to confirm a seat, but I was not able to pay my deposit.”

After trying in several different browsers, they received the email informing them that they were being moved to the wait list.

Notre Dame has set up a “continued interest form” for admitted students who couldn’t make deposits in time. The university has said that if spots open up, preference will be given to those who completed the form.

Notre Dame also initially told admits that placing a deposit with another law school could result in losing a scholarship offer from Notre Dame. The anonymous student doesn't know whether depositing with another law school now, given the circumstances, will still mean losing their Notre Dame scholarship if moved off the wait list.

“This process is incredibly difficult for people of low income, for marginalized people, for people of color. I think situations like this, while accidental and unprecedented, only exacerbate how difficult it is for people to attend higher education and penetrate the legal field,” the student said. “Institutions can be a driving force of societal and systemic change, but when they act in this way and they show complete disregard for students who can help them make those changes, it really shows where their priorities lie.”

The student does not know if they will be attending law school in the fall.

Another applicant admitted to Notre Dame said other places he applied took a while to get back to him with acceptance letters or scholarship offers. When he finally decided on Notre Dame, he spoke with his parents about whether the university was financially feasible for the family. On Monday, they told him it was. He planned to place his deposit Tuesday.

Notre Dame's emails went out on Tuesday, but he was working at his landscaping job and couldn’t check his email. When he got home at 6:30 p.m., he tried to submit his deposit and found he could not.

“I don’t understand how they essentially didn’t have a mechanism in place to stop the bank run that they caused and all the chaos that ensued,” he said. “The way they did it, it just turned into luck of the draw, who has the ability to check their email during the day, and for other students, who has the ability to have $600 lying around to drop on an immediate notice.”

On Reddit’s “Applying to Law School” forum, more applicants have vented their anger and frustration at Notre Dame. On Wednesday the page was awash in memes about the incident, which some Redditors took to calling the “NDLS massacre.”

In response to questions, Dennis Brown, spokesperson for Notre Dame, said this is the second year that the law school has had a deposit deadline of April 15 or when the maximum number of deposits is reached. Admitted students were advised of this in their acceptance letter, scholarship letter, information packet and on the website for admitted students, he said. Emails after 67 and 80 percent of maximum deposits were reached were meant to offer transparency to students.

“For applicants who have concerns about paying the deposit fee, they regularly ask Notre Dame Law School to waive the deposit fee. That’s a regular conversation our admissions office has with students,” he said via email. “The purpose of the deposit is for students to take the decision seriously, not to be a financial hurdle. If it is a financial hurdle, we are happy to remove it.”

Notre Dame accepted 631 law students this year, when it usually accepts more than 700. The confirmed class is the most diverse in the law school’s history, and its diversity rose after the April 6 emails, Brown said.

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