A third law school has joined the GRE party, and it’s another big name.
The Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law is set to announce Monday that it will start accepting scores from the GRE in addition to the LSAT, starting with the fall 2019 admissions cycle. It joins the Ivy League’s Harvard Law School as an early adopter of the GRE, as well as the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. The GRE, or Graduate Record Exam, is used in admissions for nearly all graduate programs outside of law, medicine and business.
The move is not entirely unexpected. Northwestern law dean Daniel Rodriguez said publicly in May that that the Chicago school was weighing use of the GRE. Administrators hope to boost the size of the applicant pool and appeal to more applicants with science and technology backgrounds by allowing them to submit either and LSAT or GRE scores.
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“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,” Rodriguez said. “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.”
Rodriguez said he also hopes Northwestern’s embrace of the GRE will put pressure on the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, to modernize its exam. The LSAT is currently the only graduate program admissions test taken on paper, and it traditionally has been offered just four times a year. By contrast, the GRE is offered on a rolling basis throughout the year and is digital.
The LSAC has pursued a series of changes in recent months, Rodriguez acknowledged, including adding two more test dates per year and piloting a digital version of the exam.
“To the extent that the LSAT becomes a more user-friendly test because of the pressure brought to bear by schools using the GRE, that’s to the good,” he said.
Burgeoning acceptance of the GRE within the legal academy doesn’t appear to be dampening demand for the LSAT. The number of people who sat for the June LSAT increased by nearly 20 percent from 2016.
The University of Arizona’s law school in 2016 became the first to accept GRE scores. Harvard Law School followed suit in March, announcing it will allow GRE scores for the upcoming admissions cycle. Harvard officials also cited their desire to appeal to those with science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, backgrounds, as well as international applicants. Observers predicted Harvard’s embrace of the GRE would prompt other law schools to follow suit, which looks to be true in light of Northwestern’s announcement.
Northwestern won’t start accepting GRE scores until the 2019 admissions cycle, for those who wish to start school in the fall on 2019. That’s partly because the American Bar Association has yet to decide whether it will allow the GRE on a permanent basis, Rodriguez said.
The ABA has long required law schools to use a “valid and reliable” test in admissions, with the LSAT being the default choice. But the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is currently contemplating a new rule under which it would decide which standardized tests are allowed. By setting out criteria and studying LSAT alternatives itself, the ABA could either open the door for all law schools to use the GRE, or it could bar them from using the GRE altogether. Several legal academics, Rodriguez among them, have written to the ABA in opposition of the proposed rule change, for fear that it would stifle the ability of law schools to experiment with LSAT alternatives.
“A number of us saw that as a warning shot across the bow from the ABA about the use of the GRE,” Rodriguez said of the proposed rule change.
By delaying the acceptance of the GRE until the 2019 admissions cycle, which kicks off a year from now, Northwestern will give the ABA a chance to decide whether or not the GRE is acceptable, Rodriguez said. However, Northwestern could accelerate that plan should the ABA decide to permit the GRE in the near future, he added.
The school’s own research found that the GRE is just as effective as the LSAT in predicting first-year law school grades. Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE, gathered test scores from Northwestern law students who had taken both exams, then analyzed their grades.
“The evidence was powerful and overwhelming,” Rodriguez said. “It basically said the GRE is as good a predictor as the LSAT. It predicted with remarkable accuracy the correlation between the GRE and first-year grades.”
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