In February, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law announced that it is accepting the GRE as an alternative to the LSAT. According to The National Law Journal, the school’s dean, Marc Miller, said the move would help it reach a larger number of students, thereby ensuring a stronger student body. “The fundamental impetus for this comes from the desire to put together the best and most diverse class we can,” Miller said.
Law school enrollments around the country are in decline, and according to Miller in GoodCall, “Law is the only field professionally regulated that requires the use of a standardized test. Not in business school or medical school. This dramatically expands the number of people who could consider law.”
The State University of New York Buffalo Law School, Wake Forest Law, the University of Hawaii at Manoa School of Law, and the University of Iowa College of Law are also looking into alternatives to requiring the LSAT. However, Arizona is the first to announce it would start permitting potential students to take the GRE instead of the LSAT. Most law schools still require students to take the LSAT to be admitted.
Pros & Cons of Accepting the GRE for Law School
The official reason for using the LSAT is that it correlates to success in the first (and usually the hardest) year of law school. Since it is only used by law schools, the LSAT acts as an indication of serious intent in addition to show affinity for the study of law. However, despite successfully completing law school, many law school graduates are still unable to pass the Bar exam and wind up without a license to practice law, and with massive student loans. LSAT supporters claim that the exam acts as a necessary barrier to entry.
GRE supporters contend that it’s just as predictive as the LSAT in forecasting a student’s performance. They also point to the fact that the GRE has been updated in recent years while the LSAT is the same as it’s been for the last 25 years.
In contrast to the LSAT, which is given four times a year, the GRE is given year-round, giving students many more chances to sit for the exam. The GRE is administered by computer, and the takers know their scores immediately after completing the test. LSAT scores are announced about three weeks after the exam.
Acceptance of the GRE in addition to the LSAT would create problems for U.S. News and World Report, which heavily weighs LSAT scores in its annual law school rankings. U.S. News ranks top law schools by location, tuition, school size and LSAT scores.
The American Bar Association’s law school accreditation standards require the use of a “valid and reliable admission test.” The LSAT is the only test slated to meet that criteria in the standards. Law schools can use another test as long as they can prove its reliability. Per The National Law Journal, nearly 100 current Arizona law students took the GRE in November. Educational Testing Services, which administers the GRE, scrutinized their scores in addition to their LSAT scores and law school grades. ETS found that the GRE did slightly better than the LSAT in predicting first-year grades, Miller said. The law school intends to send the study to the ABA. Miller declared, “We believe we have fulfilled the [ABA] standards right up the middle of the road.”
The University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law and Wake Forest University School of Law will be performing similar studies in the near future.
According to the University of Arizona press release, the Law School “will continue to follow its policy of evaluating an applicant’s standardized test score, undergraduate GPA, record from other graduate studies, public service, life experience, demonstrated leadership, personal statement, recommendations, and other factors.”
This application cycle, three GRE applicants were accepted (out of a combined pool of 1300+ applicants), but that number is expected to “grow sharply.”
So what does the nonprofit group that administers the LSAT have to say on the matter? According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, Arizona Law’s decision to accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT “has put it on a collision course” with the Law School Admission Council (LSAC).
LSAC is considering “expelling” the law school from its membership, claiming that making the LSAT optional violates “its bylaws, which require that ‘substantially all of’ a law school’s applicants take the LSAT.” With access to applicant data and a centralized application system (Credential Assembly Service), this expulsion would “effectively cut off the school’s access to a crucial student admissions pipeline.”
Dean Miller responded to LSAC’s claims in a letter stating, “We believe that your proposed action unreasonably restrains competition in the law school admissions testing market.”
The University of Arizona Law School is trying to increase its applicant pool by making it easier to apply and by probably having those who won’t do well on the LSAT take the GRE, which will not (for now) influence their U.S. News rankings.
LSAC is trying to protect its turf.
If you are applying to a law school that accepts the GRE or the LSAT, take the test where you will do the best. Free practice exams should allow you to find out where you are likely to do the best.
And regardless of the barriers to entry or lack thereof, never apply (or attend) law school because you don’t know what else to do with your life and happen to have a social science or liberal arts degree.
By Linda Abraham, president and founder of Accepted and co-author of the definitive book on MBA admissions, MBA Admission for Smarties: The No-Nonsense Guide to Acceptance at Top Business Schools.