Pundits predicted that Harvard Law School’s decision in March to allow applicants to submit either an LSAT or GRE score would prompt a wave of followers. It seems they were on to something.
Georgetown University Law Center on Monday announced it is now accepting GRE scores—the same day Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law unveiled a plan to allow the GRE for its 2019 admissions.
Four law schools have thus far embraced the GRE, with the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law kicking off the trend in 2016.
“Georgetown Law is committed to attracting the best and the brightest students of all backgrounds,” said Dean William M. Treanor in an announcement of the move on Monday. “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.”
Georgetown’s move is notable not only because the school is among the nation’s best—it’s currently ranked No. 15 by U.S. News & World Report—but because it’s the largest. Georgetown enrolled nearly 2,000 students in 2016, according to data from the American Bar Association.
The willingness of the nation’s largest law school to use the GRE is the clearest signal yet that the LSAT, which has for decades been the dominant force in law school admissions, in facing real competition.
Kellye Testy, president of the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, said in an interview Monday that she expects other law schools to follow suit, especially elite ones.
“I think the rest of the top 14 will go like lemmings off the cliff,” she said. “[The council] is in an awkward position because we look defensive of the LSAT in calling for greater quality on the GRE and more process before law schools make the jump. We support innovation, but we want it to be of sound quality, we want it to be fair to students, and we want it to enhance diversity.”
Testy said the law school studies that purport to show that the GRE is just as good of a predictor of first-year law school grades as the LSAT have numerous flaws. Those studies compare the GRE and LSAT scores of law students and graduates who took both tests, along with their first-year grades. But those who gained admission to Harvard, Georgetown or Northwestern’s law schools are already high achievers and likely would perform well on any standardized test, Testy said. Thus it’s unclear, she said, how the existing pool of GRE takers—who have not yet been admitted to law school—would actually fare.
Georgetown said its GRE study looked at more than a decade of student test scores and law school grades and found the alternative test to be an “equally strong predictor” of academic success as the LSAT.
Unlike Northwestern, which won’t start accepting GRE scores until the 2019 admissions cycle, Georgetown will allow those applying for the fall of 2018 to submit either LSAT or GRE scores. Northwestern law dean Daniel Rodriguez said the delay will give the ABA time to decide whether it will allow schools to use the GRE in the long term. (The ABA’s current rule requires a “valid and reliable” admissions test, with the LSAT being the default.)
But Andy Cornblatt, Georgetown’s dean of admissions, said Monday that he didn’t see much point to waiting. Making the change effective immediately will give Georgetown a better sense of how many people will apply with GRE scores and will give the school a year’s worth of data on how those people fared in the classroom by the time the 2019 admissions cycle rolls around.
“We just thought, ‘The correlation works,’” Cornblatt said. “It seems like the right thing to do. We’re not run by dinosaurs anymore. Let’s open the field to a more diversified applicant pool.”
Cornblatt acknowledged that admissions officials will need to spend more time distinguishing the “casual renters” from the “serious buyers”—that is, those who really want to go to law school versus those who simply applied because they had a GRE score handy. Taking the LSAT, on the other hand, is a fairly strong indication that applicants are serious, Cornblatt said. Still, the added effort to screen GRE takers will be a small price to pay to bring in applicants who might otherwise be scared away, he said.