The GRE is building momentum among the law school admissions community as an alternative to the LSAT, a new survey says.
A quarter of the 128 admissions officials recently surveyed by Kaplan Test Prep said they plan to allow applicants to submit scores from either test in the future. That’s up from 14 percent a year ago, signaling that the GRE is becoming more palatable to legal education’s gatekeepers. Kaplan provides prep materials and instruction for both tests.
The survey comes as the American Bar Association weighs formally embracing the GRE in law school admissions, or putting the kibosh on its use.
“Our survey finds the clearest sign yet that there is a shift toward greater GRE acceptance among law schools, but there’s still much uncertainty since one ruling from the American Bar Association could put an end to the practice,” said Jeff Thomas, Kaplan’s executive director of pre-law programs.
Another 45 percent of survey respondents said they do not plan to accept GRE scores, which is down from 56 percent last year. And 30 percent were unsure of the future plans regarding the GRE.
The increasing willingness of law schools to consider the GRE scores of applicants represents a significant shift over the past year and a half as schools look to boost and diversify their applicant numbers. Before that, nearly all law schools were using just the LSAT in admissions.
The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law became the first to allow applicants to take wither the LSAT or the GRE in 2016. Harvard Law School followed suit in March, prompting predictions that a wave of other schools would follow suit.
That hasn’t happened yet, but Georgetown University Law Center in August announced it’s now accepting either test. That same day, Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law said it will begin accepting the GRE for the entering 2019 fall class. The University of California at Los Angeles School of Law this summer began allowing students already enrolled in a UCLA graduate program to apply with a GRE score, and people applying to a joint degree program at the law school and another graduate program may also submit a GRE score.
Each law school conducted a campus-specific study that they said found the GRE to be as effective in predicting first year law school grades as the GRE. (Kellye Testy, the president of the Law School Admission Council, which designs and administers the LSAT, has raised concerns about the methodology of those GRE validity studies.)
Northwestern’s delay in adopting the GRE is designed to give the ABA’s Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar time to establish a blanket policy regarding the use of the alternative test. The ABA has long required law schools to use a “valid and reliable” test in admissions, with the LSAT being the only formally sanctioned test. The ABA council is currently weighing the establishment of a national GRE validity study that could either open the door for all schools to accept GRE scores without having to conduct their own validity studies, or shut the door on the GRE altogether.
Survey respondents who said they plan to embrace the GRE cited several different reasons, including the fear of being left behind by competitors, the strong influence of Harvard Law School on legal education, and a wide range of applicants that includes people seeking non-traditional law careers. (The GRE is used for admission to most graduate programs outside of law, business, and medicine.) Respondents also said they like the accessibility of the GRE, which can be taken almost any day of the year. By contrast, the LSAT has traditionally been administered four times a year, though administrators recently increased that frequency to six times a year.
But some of those admissions officials who say they aren’t poised to accept the GRE echoed Testy’s concerns about the validity of the GRE as compared to the LSAT when it comes to predicting who will perform well in law school. Others said they want to wait for the ABA to reach a decision on the GRE, or see how well GRE takers fare at Harvard and Arizona.
Thomas advised aspiring lawyer to take the LSAT, despite the GRE’s toehold in law school admissions. After all, only three law schools are currently accepting those scores.
“Even if you rock the GRE, but bomb the LSAT, law schools will see your LSAT score,” Thomas said. “You can’t only send the score you want to the schools you want. You will not be able to withhold your LSAT score. That means that while a high GRE score could mitigate against a weaker LSAT score, it will not be overlooked entirely.”