Harvard Law School’s March decision to allow applicants to submit either an LSAT or GRE score has encouraged other schools to follow suit. Georgetown University Law Center recently announced that it will now be accepting GRE scores, while on the same day Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law revealed a plan to allow the GRE for its 2019 admissions. This makes a total of four law schools (including the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law, which started the trend in 2016) that are now – or will be soon accepting the GRE. While the LSAT is used exclusively by law schools, the GRE is used in admissions for almost all graduate programs outside of law and medicine (most business schools accept the GRE at this point as well).
Georgetown’s decision is significant not only because the school is among the best in the nation – currently ranked #15 by U.S. News & World Report – but because, with nearly 2,000 students enrolled in 2016, it’s the largest. This sends a clear signal that the LSAT is facing real competition as the dominant force in law school admissions.
According to Dean William M. Treanor, “We believe this change will make the admissions process more accessible to students who have great potential to make a mark here at Georgetown Law and in successful legal careers, but who might find the LSAT to be a barrier for whatever reason.”
Administrators at Northwestern hope to increase the size of the applicant pool and appeal to more applicants with science and technology backgrounds by allowing them to submit scores from either GRE or LSAT tests. “We have a nagging sense that there are quite a number of science-trained folks who take the GRE, not necessarily because they have a laser focus on going into graduate school in the sciences, though many will, but because they are equivocating a bit about their next educational phase,” said Northwestern Law Dean Daniel Rodriguez. “Maybe they would be interested in joint degrees, or want to consider options across a range of professional schools. No one is stopping them from taking the LSAT, but that’s a barrier to entry in some ways.”
According to Rodriguez, Northwestern’s decision to wait to accept the GRE until the 2019 admission cycle is partly due to the ABA not yet deciding whether it will allow the GRE on a permanent basis.
The ABA has always required law schools to use a “valid and reliable” test in admissions, and the LSAT has always been the default test. The ABA is now considering a new rule under which it would decide which standardized tests are allowed. This could allow all law schools to use the GRE, or it could ban them from using the GRE at all.
Not everyone involved in law school admissions is rushing to embrace the use of GRE scores. Among its critics is Kellye Testy, the new president of LSAC (Law School Admission Council). According to Testy, LSAC has no objection to innovation or using different tests. Their objection is specifically to the GRE, which is seen as a poor test for legal reasoning, as it doesn’t even test analytical and critical reasoning.
According to Testy, “Analytical reasoning is 25% of the LSAT and 0% of the GRE. Logical and critical reasoning skills are 50% of the LSAT, and 0% of the GRE. Reading comprehension is 25% of both tests. For the GRE, 25% is ‘other verbal’, which is SAT-type things like sentence completion, and quantitative skills – algebra and geometry – is 50%.”
She also believes that law schools are using the GRE to manipulate their U.S. News & World Report rankings – which count LSATs and undergraduate GPAs for law schools, but not GRE scores. There has been an overall drop in the applicant pool, but deans want to keep their class sizes the same. The only way to keep class size the same but not go down in the ranking is to take students who won’t show up on the balance sheet. Testy says, “They’re using the GRE as the last fig leaf for this. They’re trying to get students who they don’t have to report LSAT scores for, yet those students are still paying tuition. So their class size stays the same, or their school survives, etc.”
Testy would like to see the issue examined closely before any widespread changes are made. She would also like to see schools continue to accept both exams, but have the majority of the students take the LSAT. While she would like to see more discussion and deliberation, she is concerned about the lowering of standards in the legal profession. “I think we need to be really fair to students and fair to the clients those students will serve.”