Posted on: March 6, 2019
Law students have always come from a variety of backgrounds. The typical incoming class has its fair share of political science and history majors, but it also includes scientists, artists, and business experts, among many others. As diverse as their paths to law school might have been, however, these students always had one thing in common: they all took the LSAT. Not so very long ago, every law school in the US required the LSAT for admission, and none accepted anything else.
That was then; this is now. In 2016, the University of Arizona announced that it would allow law school applicants to take the GRE in place of the LSAT, citing a study purporting to show that the GRE was just as good as the LSAT at predicting law students’ first year grades. A year later, Harvard Law made the same decision, followed quickly by Georgetown, Northwestern, and others. At least 19 schools now allow at least some students to submit GRE results in lieu of the LSAT – still a minority of the 200+ law schools in the US, but certainly a troubling trend for the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), which administers the LSAT.
The LSAC has not taken this news lying down. They responded to Arizona’s original announcement by warning that the school’s membership in the LSAC was at risk – a hefty warning, given that LSAC also administers the entire law school admissions process. When 148 law school deans joined forces in a letter that supported Arizona’s right to choose, however, LSAC backed down. Now, they appear to have decided to focus instead on convincing students to take their test. In January, they announced an additional summer test date for the 2018-2019 year, perhaps in an effort to increase the convenience factor for students who are looking to get their testing done while they’re home for summer break. Meanwhile, the company is hard at work at developing a computer-based version of the LSAT, and it’s hard not to see that as a competitive step too, given that the GRE has been digital for years.
This isn’t the first time that the GRE has ventured onto another test’s turf. The GMAT used to be the go-to test for business school applicants, but then the GRE launched an attack, campaigning for business schools to change their policy and publishing data on the predictive value of the test. When the GRE launched its redesigned test in 2011, it eliminated a few of the more academic elements, such as obscure vocabulary words, and added more business-friendly math, and that’s when the dominos really began to fall. Today, about 90% of business schools accept both tests on equal footing.
So where is this trend headed, and what does it mean for students? It’s hard to say for sure. As of now, the GRE is no sure thing for law school applicants: the list of schools accepting it is still relatively small, and at least one school that announced it would do so (George Washington Law) has since changed its mind, at least for this admission cycle. For now, it probably makes sense for most students to focus on the LSAT (which is still accepted by 100% of US law schools) unless they are absolutely certain of exactly which schools they’re applying to and they know that all of those schools are committed to accepting the GRE.
It seems likely that the LSAC won’t be able to hold back this tide forever, and regardless of what you think about the LSAT, that’s not a bad thing. Different tests can highlight different strengths, so it likely benefits everyone for students to have a choice in how best to present themselves. Still, if you’re considering applying to law school a few years from now, it may not be a bad idea to check out both tests and begin to ponder which one might be the best route for you.