Stating a desire for a more diverse pool of candidates, Harvard Law School announced March 8 that beginning this fall it will accept Graduate Record Exam results from applicants in place of the long-preferred Law School Admissions Test. Harvard becomes only the second accredited U.S. law school to open up to the GRE, after the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law made the change a year ago.
Now the question is, will other schools follow suit? At least one testing expert thinks the answer is yes.
Harvard’s move will be part of a fall 2017 pilot program that affects students who will begin the three-year juris doctor program in 2018. The move comes after a study by the law school showed that the two tests equally predicted academic performance, according to a Harvard news release.
“Harvard Law School is continually working to eliminate barriers as we search for the most talented candidates for law and leadership,” Law School Dean Martha L. Minow said in the news release, adingthat the school will continue to accept LSAT results as well. “For many students, preparing for and taking both the GRE and the LSAT is unaffordable. All students benefit when we can diversify our community in terms of academic background, country of origin, and financial circumstances.”
ELIMINATING ‘BARRIERS’ IN THE SEARCH FOR ‘LAW AND LEADERSHIP’
The GRE is commonly taken by applicants to non-professional graduate studies. Among the benefits of the GRE cited by Harvard is a democratic one: The LSAT is administered only a few times a year, while the GRE can be taken most days in many locations.
When Arizona announced its intention to accept GRE scores, it faced a rebuke by the Law School Admission Council that administers the LSAT administration and the law school application process. But around 150 law school deans from around the U.S., including Minow, wrote in defense of the move; now the council defers to the American Bar Association. Current ABA standards allow schools to accept the GRE, though a review of admissions rules by the ABA’s accrediting body is expected soon.
In the meantime, Harvard is “continually working to eliminate barriers as we search for the most talented candidates for law and leadership,” Minow said in the news release, adding that the school benefits when it can “diversify our community in terms of academic background, country of origin, and financial circumstances. Also, given the promise of the revolutions in biology, computer science, and engineering, law needs students with science, technology, engineering and math backgrounds.”
While diversity is Harvard’s stated goal, the move doesn’t come as a result of any dropoff in applications. According to the Harvard Crimson, after a significant post-recession dip the number of law school hopefuls has jumped 5% in each of the last two cycles. The school admits about 560 students each year, about 17% of them from outside the U.S.
WILL HARVARD’S MOVE HAVE A DOMINO EFFECT?
Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep, which offers prep courses for both the LSAT and GRE, says Harvard’s move “has the potential to create a domino effect among other law schools. When Harvard changes their admissions strategy, other law schools take notice.”
However, “In reality, to create a true two-test admissions landscape, the vast majority of law schools would have to make this decision too,” Thomas says.
A Kaplan survey of 125 law schools last year found such a scenario unlikely — at least in the short-term. Fifty-six percent told the company they had no plans to allow applicants to submit GRE scores instead of LSAT scores, and only 14% said they planned to amend their policies. The remaining 30% signaled uncertainty, “which signified a lot of room to grow,” Thomas says — further evidenced by more than half of schools saying they did not want the ABA to explicitly require exclusive acceptance of LSAT scores. That 30% is likely to grow as a result of Harvard’s decision, Thomas says.
Kaplan’s view is that “choice is always good for students,” he says. “With the GRE offered almost every day of the year, this will open up doors to applicants who would have otherwise missed deadlines, since the LSAT is only offered a few times per year, or who have shied away from the LSAT.”
GROWING APPLICANT POOLS
Thomas points out that for the majority of students, the change will have no immediate impact, as any school that may decide to accept the GRE won’t be able to do so for this cycle. “Our advice for pre-law students is that unless the only law schools they plan to apply to are Harvard University and the University of Arizona, they should take the LSAT, since it’s still the only admissions exam accepted by every law school.”
He says falling applications and enrollments at law schools across the country have led some schools to close or merge, making the GRE a more appealing option.
“While Harvard is in no danger of falling into any of those categories, other law schools may see the GRE option as a way to grow their applicant pools and as a way to diversify their student bodies, which has long been a goal for many,” Thomas says.