Article written by
Graduate of UPenn Law ’14
Starting in 2016, the University of Arizona Law School broke new ground by becoming one of the first law schools allowing applicants to submit their Graduate Record Examination (“GRE”) scores instead of their scores from the universally-required Law School Admission Test (“LSAT”). While not everyone agreed with the decision, the American Bar Association (“ABA”) is paying attention. In fact, in May 2018, the ABA approved a plan to eliminate an admission test requirement for accredited law schools, meaning that law schools will be able to more easily accept the GRE (and other exams) in their admissions processes.
Officially, the ABA House of Delegates must approve the change (the vote is scheduled for August). That said, law schools are ready to pounce: according to a 2017 survey by Kaplan Test Prep, 25 percent of admissions officials from 128 law schools plan on accepting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT. Some of the most prestigious law schools in the country—including Harvard, Columbia, Cornell, Northwestern, and Penn—have or are planning on allowing prospective law students to submit GRE scores instead of the LSAT. At this time, a list of law schools accepting the GRE can be found here.
The GRE’s introduction in law school admissions will likely be felt for years to come. Because this change is so unfamiliar to law school applicants, we thought it would be useful to set out the pros and cons of allowing law schools to permit GRE scores in lieu of LSAT scores. Since prospective and current law students are naturally argumentative, we decided to frame the question as a debate among two opposing sides.
Pro: The GRE will empower new law school applicants. Often, law students are a homogenous bunch. They tend to be liberal arts or humanities majors who may have lawyers who are family members or friends. By permitting GRE test takers to apply to law school, law schools open up their potential applicant pool to an even wider range of stellar students—in effect, those that haven’t always thought of attending law school. In other words, law schools are able to increase their chances of creating more diverse classes. Studying for both the GRE and LSAT may be unaffordable for some candidates, so permitting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT opens the doors for a certain subset of potential law school applicants.
Con: The change will encourage those who shouldn’t be going to law school to apply to law school. The law school decision isn’t made lightly. Prospective students have to consider not only the financial costs of attending, but the opportunity costs of spending three years of their life pursuing a career that may not actually interest them. As law school is already considered an option for students who “don’t know what else to do,” allowing prospective students to submit their GRE scores in lieu of the LSAT will only further encourage those who should not be going to law school.
Pro: The GRE credits a wide range of skills. The GRE canvasses many skills—most notably quantitative skills—that are simply not tested on the LSAT. STEM students, for example, may not have considered law school if they aren’t able to show off their strongest skills in a timed exam. In addition, there are arguments that the LSAT isn’t as predictive of future law school success as claimed by the Law School Admissions Council (“LSAC”), the entity that actually administers the LSAT.
Con: The LSAT is specifically designed to test for law school success. According to LSAC, the LSAT is a great predictor of law school success—particularly of first year success. LSAC says the LSAT is designed to test those skills that first-year law students need, like reading comprehension, logical reasoning, and analytical reasoning skills. Consequently, an argument is that a student who performs poorly on the LSAT likely will perform poorly in their first year of law school, meaning that the student should perhaps question whether law school is right for them.
Pro: The GRE demands less on applicants than the LSAT. Compared to the LSAT, the GRE tests subjects and academic areas that are more familiar to candidates. The exam showcases their natural skills versus the ability to learn entirely new content for a solitary test. In addition, the GRE is more convenient to take: it is offered on a continuous basis around the world. By contrast, the LSAT has fewer testing locations and is only offered six times per year.
Con: The LSAT is more demanding for a reason. The LSAT isn’t supposed to be an easy test. It forces prospective law students to dedicate themselves to learning entirely new content for months on end. Achieving a high score on the LSAT isn’t just a signal of your intellectual ability. It’s a signal of your diligence and your ability to focus for long periods of time.
Pro: The GRE could lead to more lawyers where they’re needed. While it is true that law school graduates have had problems finding jobs in recent years, it’s also been the case that there are many litigants—particularly those with low incomes—who struggle to find legal representation. By accepting the GRE in lieu of the LSAT, law schools could attract candidates initially interested in pursuing master’s degrees in social work or public policy work, for instance, which can ultimately lead to new lawyers being deployed to where they are needed the most.
Con: Acceptance of the GRE is simply a tactic to keep struggling law schools afloat. Since the 2008 global financial crisis, law schools have found it more difficult to attract new students. This is due to a variety of reasons, including the increasing costs of attending law school and a soft job market—notwithstanding the need to train more lawyers for lower-income clients. This weaker enrollment, in turn, has led to the closure of several law schools. By accepting the GRE, law schools have a wider pool of applicants to choose from, which may artificially keep the doors open to law schools which should be shut down.
Older lawyers and current law students likely have war stories about the LSAT. While they may shudder at the thought that new law students can bypass a requirement that they may have struggled to fulfill, it’s clear that we are living in a new world.
Regardless of your preferred side of this debate, more and more law schools are continuing to accept the GRE in their admissions processes. While the debate continues, the reality is shifting.
Only time will tell whether the GRE’s acceptance will lead to more costs or benefits for law schools. Along with this, individuals will have to use their best judgment to determine whether the GRE or LSAT is more appropriate as they apply to law schools. Ultimately, while there is no clear winner in the LSAT vs. GRE debate, all sides will need to closely monitor the effects of this change.