Students at Texas A&M University School of Law. Photo: Doug Thurman

 

Texas A&M University School of Law is the first in the Lone Star State to join a growing national trend of law schools accepting the Graduate Record Examination in admissions.

Hoping to broaden and diversify its pool of applicants, Texas A&M announced Tuesday that prospective law students applying to be Aggies in fall 2018 will get to choose whether to submit GRE scores or their scores on the traditional Law School Admission Test.

Accepting the GRE makes it easier and cheaper for Texans to go to law school, according to a statement by interim dean Thomas Mitchell, who didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment.

“It will also make law school more attractive to highly qualified students who have diverse educational backgrounds and interests, including students from fields such as engineering and science,” Mitchell said.

The school conducted a validity study of the GRE, looking at current and past Texas A&M students, and found it would strongly predict first-year success in law school.

Terence Cook, assistant dean for admissions, also didn’t return a call immediately. But he explained in the statement that applicants using the GRE can save time and money by not having to take a different test. Many types of educational institutions take the GRE, and the test is administered more frequently than the LSAT.

“This decision opens doors for those who might have considered law school but for whom the LSAT was a deterrent,” Cook said.

The GRE has gained traction among law schools nationwide this year after Harvard Law School in March announced its acceptance of the GRE. But Harvard wasn’t the first—that honor goes to University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. The trend emerged in August with announcements from both Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law and Georgetown University Law Center. Now the GRE is spreading fast. In recent weeks, these schools have announced they’ll use the GRE and the LSAT: Washington University in St. Louis School of Law; the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law; Columbia Law School; St. John’s University School of Law; and Wake Forest University School of Law.   

Many of them cite the same reasons as Texas A&M—a desire to remove time and money deterrents to applying to law school, increase the applicant pool and attract students with science and technology backgrounds. Some schools also say they want to attract more minority students. Many of the schools have studied the GRE and said it would accurately predict whether someone does well in law school.

Meanwhile, Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE, announced in late October that it had worked with 21 law schools on a national validity study that found the GRE “is a strong, generalizably valid predictor of first-year law school grades.”

On the other side, Kellye Testy, president and CEO of the Law School Admission Council, which administered the LSAT, has criticized the GRE as a poor test for measuring legal reasoning abilities. Testy also said that law schools’ studies about using the GRE have been flawed, and that students using GRE scores really don’t know whether they have a fighting chance of doing well in law school.

As the discussion is brewing, there’s some evidence that the GRE trend will keep growing quickly. In a survey this fall, Kaplan Test Prep found that 25 percent of 128 admissions officials said they plan to allow applicants to submit scores from either the GRE or LSAT in the future. However, 45 percent of survey respondents said they do not plan to accept GRE scores, and 30 percent were unsure.

For a little while, it looked as if the nation’s accrediting body for law schools might slow down the GRE trend—but it abruptly changed course. Recent action by the council of the American Bar Association Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar might even speed up the GRE trend.

Early this month, legal education council rejected a proposal to change its accreditation standards so that the council would be the one determining if an LSAT-alternative admission test was valid and reliable—rather than law schools themselves.

Instead, the legal education council put out for notice and public comment a new proposal that would completely delete the accreditation standard that requires law schools to test students using a “valid and reliable” admissions test. However, it’s likely schools would still use the LSAT or GRE in order to comply with other accreditation standards requiring sound admissions policies and the need to ensure students can graduate and pass the bar.

 

Angela Morris is a freelance reporter. Follow her on Twitter: @AMorrisReports