Harvard Law School announced last month that it would accept GRE scores in lieu of the LSAT, but Yale Law School has not considered altering its admissions policies to accommodate more than one standardized test, according to Director of Communications and Public Affairs Jan Conroy.
In a March 8 press release, Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow LAW ’79 said that allowing students to submit the GRE, a test required for admissions into most graduate programs in the U.S., will help diversify the school’s student body in terms of academic interests, country of origin and financial circumstances. While some experts in legal education applauded Harvard’s move as a step toward greater diversity, some prospective and current Law School students interviewed doubted it would have any significant impact on the applicant pool.
“We are always eager to diversify our applicant pool,” said law professor Heather Gerken, who will take over the school’s deanship on July 1. She declined to comment on Harvard’s move, but stressed that the Law School’s recent class is the most diverse in history.
The American Bar Association requires law schools to demonstrate that any admissions test they decide to use other than the LSAT is a “valid and reliable” predictor of the students’ performance in law school. Using data from students who have taken both the GRE and LSAT, a Harvard Law School study concluded early this year that the GRE satisfies the requirements.
Harvard Law School Associate Dean for Admissions Jessica Soban said that compared to the LSAT, the GRE would be less of a hurdle for some applicants, including international students, who currently make up 17 percent of the first-year class of law students at Harvard. The option to submit the GRE would also benefit students with academic backgrounds in science and technology, Soban said.
Still, Josh Woods LAW ’19, who majored in chemistry in college, said students with backgrounds in STEM excel on the LSAT. In 2003–04, reports found that physics/math majors score the highest on the LSAT, with an average of 158.9 out of 180.
Woods said he and his classmates at Yale thought Harvard’s motive in changing its policy was to accept more students without depressing the school’s LSAT average, an important factor in the U.S. News and World Report ranking.
Yet Kyle McEntee, executive director of the nonprofit group Law School Transparency, said he doubted that Harvard had made the change to preserve its ranking, because the university has always ranked second or third place in law school rankings over the past few decades.
Keera Annamaneni ’20, who hopes to go to law school after college, said she will still take the LSAT because the chance of her or anyone being admitted to Harvard Law School is low.
“If they want an actual change, the whole market has to change,” Annamaneni said.
“Law school is in the business of making attorneys, not handing degrees,” said Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep.
Bella Schapiro LAW ’19, who took both the GRE and LSAT before choosing to attend law school, said she would support the policy change if empirical research proved that the GRE is an equally good predictor of success in law school. She said she found the skill sets tested in LSAT strongly related to law school performance.
McEntee said Harvard’s decision took him by surprise, given that the university had not made any prior statements indicating that they might modify their admissions policies.
The ABA Council of the Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar is currently rolling out a method to determine on a national level the reliability of admission tests other than the LSAT.
McEntee said he saw the ABA’s effort as a response to law schools’ complaints of the Law School Admission Council’s resistance to change. Law schools across the nation have been demanding that the Law School Admission Council, which administers the LSAT, increase the number of test times and make the test computer-based, he added, but nothing has come of those efforts.
“LSAC is not in a position to bully Harvard,” McEntee said.
James Greif, the director of communications for the Association of American Law Schools, said he expects that law schools considering following Harvard would wait for the ABA’s plan to play out to avoid having to conduct their own research. Citing models used by business schools, Greif said a possibility would be to create a conversion table between GRE and LSAT scores.
The LSAT is administered four times a year, in February, June, September and December.