Eduardo Peñalver. Photo: Rick Kopstein.

 

Two of New York’s top law schools this week announced that prospective students may now apply with GRE scores, and one is even allowing future applicants to submit scores from the GMAT—the admission test typically used by business schools.

Cornell Law School said Tuesday that will accept both GRE and GMAT scores in addition to the traditional Law School Admission Test. On Wednesday, New York University School of Law unveiled that it, too, will accept the GRE for 2019’s incoming class.

That means that seven of New York’s 15 law schools now accept the Graduate Record Examination, and all three of the state’s top-tier campuses have embraced the alternative test. Columbia Law School said in October that it would begin accepting GRE scores this fall. Nationwide, 22 schools are allowing applicants to submit either GRE or LSAT scores. But Cornell becomes just the second to accept the Graduate Management Admission Test. The University of Pennsylvania Law School was first to embrace the GMAT for traditional J.D. admissions, announcing that change last month. (Other schools, including Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law, have long allowed joint degree applicants to take the GMAT and GRE.)

“By experimenting with greater flexibility in our application process, we hope to make a world-class legal education accessible to an even wider variety of students,” said Cornell Law Dean Eduardo Peñalver, in an announcement of the change. “Our hope is that accepting the GRE and GMAT will allow us to reach a diverse group of prospective students from different academic backgrounds, such as engineering or technology.”

Cornell is taking small steps for now. It will admit no more than 20 students with GRE or GMAT scores to the 2019 incoming class. That equates to about 10 percent of the class.


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NYU has not set a cap on the number of students with GRE scores that it will admit, said assistant dean for admissions Cassandra Williams. But the school expects the majority of applicants—at least initially—to continue to submit LSAT scores. “This is something we have been considering for some time, and now we are ready to move forward in the process and accept the GRE,” Williams said.

The LSAT has long dominated law school admissions, but its reign began to falter in 2016 when the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law announced that it would be the first to accept the GRE. Since then, 21 other schools have followed suit, including Harvard Law School, Northwestern and Georgetown University Law Center.

Now it appears that the GMAT will become yet another LSAT competitor. Like Cornell and NYU, other law schools have said they hope to widen their applicant pool by accepting the GRE, which is used for admission in most graduate programs outside of law and medicine. While the GMAT is designed for business schools, a majority of those programs also accept GRE scores.

Law schools are particularly interested in applicants with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math—the so-called STEM fields. Williams said allowing the GRE is one of several initiatives at NYU intended to boost the number of students with STEM experience. The school has increased scholarship funding for students interested in patent law, intellectual property and cybersecurity, for example.

“We have been trying to build the community of students with STEM backgrounds because our faculty and career services office have told us they are in high demand in the marketplace, once they graduate,” Williams said.

Law schools also point to the accessibility of the GRE, which is given via computer on a rolling basis throughout the year. By contrast, the LSAT is administered six times a year and on paper, though the Law School Admission Council is developing a digital version of the exam. The GMAT, like the GRE, is taken on computer and given on demand, with no fixed test dates.

It’s clear why law schools believe accepting the alternative exams will yield more applicants. According to test developer Educational Testing Service, 447,580 people took the GRE in the United States in 2017. That figure was 79,862 for the GMAT. The LSAT was given 129,200 times in 2017, though that figure includes people who took the test multiple times.

The American Bar Association also is poised to do away with its longtime requirement that law schools use the LSAT in admissions. Its Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admission to the Bar in May voted to remove the rule, but added language clarifying that schools that don’t use a standardized test in admissions will have to prove to the ABA that they aren’t admitting people unlikely to graduate and pass the bar exam.

The ABA’s House of Delegates is scheduled to consider that change when it meets in Chicago next month.