Law Schools

With Harvard Law taking the GRE as admissions test, what does that mean for other schools?

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Harvard Law School

Harvard Law School. Photo courtesy of Harvard Law School.

Corrected: The recent announcement from Harvard Law School that it plans to accept the Graduate Record Examination as an entrance test, in lieu of the Law School Admissions Test, leaves some thinking that the development will be great for diversity. And given Harvard’s prestige, many predict that others will follow the move.

However, there’s also recognition that using an alternative test is a move to bring in more law students. Nationwide, the number of students who apply to law school has decreased by about 40 percent since 2006, the Boston Globe reports. Meanwhile, the number of people who take the GRE has increased by 38 percent since 2006, according to the Educational Testing Service, the exam’s administrator.

The GRE can be taken any day on a testing center computer, according to the article, while the LSAT is only offered four times per year, and there are fewer places to take it, according to the Boston Globe. Also, it must be done on paper.

Over the last five years, ABA Standard 509 reports show, applications have yo-yoed, recording a drop of more than 12 percent between the highest and lowest totals, but in 2016, applications rose by 5 percent over the previous year. suggests that the admissions test shift is likely a move to draw more foreign students, who have taken the GRE because they plan to study science or math. Martha Minow, the dean of Harvard Law School, has said that they want more students from abroad, and they’re also looking for candidates with science, technology and engineering backgrounds, according to the article.

But some suggest that students who get to law school through the GRE, rather than taking the LSAT, might not be truly motivated to practice law or be happy while they do it.

“The LSAT is a speed bump with potential to separate those who truly want to be lawyers—the ones who thrive doing logic games in the same way they’ll relish adding Bluebook-style footnotes to briefs and motions in years to come—from those who just aren’t sure what else to do with their lives,” Akilah Green wrote in an opinion piece for the New York Times Sunday Review. A 2006 University of Michigan Law School graduate, she now is a writer for the Netflix series Chelsea.

Harvard Law follows the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law with accepting the GRE as an entrance test. According to Marc Miller, the school’s dean, the GRE is as good or better as the LSAT for reliability in predictions.

The Educational Testing Service conducted a study for the Arizona law school, and in accordance with the ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar accreditation standards, Miller’s school submitted the study to the section’s council; review is pending. Harvard completed a study earlier this year comparing the GRE and LSAT scores of current and former Harvard Law students who took both tests and found that the GRE is equally valid to the LSAT for predicting first-year grades.

Also, the council for the legal education section currently is considering a proposed revision in which it would devise a process to validate non-LSAT entrance exams. The current version of Standard 503 directs law schools that use alternate admissions tests, such as Harvard and Arizona, to demonstrate that the exams are valid and reliable. In March, the council requested notice and comment on how such a test might be established.

Meanwhile, Suffolk University Law School recently launched an admissions test study, and the school is offering students a $100 stipend to take the GRE, the Boston Globe reports.

“I think the mad dash for the GRE is not being driven by declines in applications,” Andrew Perlman, dean of Suffolk Law, told the Boston Globe. “That said, if it allows for more people to apply to law school and gives us an equally valid measure of student success, that’s not a bad thing, either.”

Annual tuition for the day program at Suffolk’s law school is $46,932, according to its website. Among its 293 graduates who took the Massachusetts bar exam for the first time in July 2016, there was a 70.3 percent pass rate (PDF). According to the school’s ABA employment summary data for 2015 (PDF), out of 464 graduates, 202 had full-time, long-term jobs that required a JD.

Comparatively, annual tuition at Harvard Law School for the 2017-2018 school year is $61,650, according to its website. The school’s average bar passage rate was 95 percent in 2015, according to its 2016 Standard 509 Information Report (PDF). Harvard’s class of 2015 had 589 members, and 506 of those had full-time, long-term jobs that required a JD, according to its ABA employment summary data (PDF).

Adding the GRE as a law school entrance test is “not a great thing, particularly when law school is as expensive as it is,” Kyle McEntee, executive director of the watchdog group Law School Transparency, told the Boston Globe.

Updated May 5 to correct reference to Harvard Law School application rates.


This story originally gave an incorrect figure for Harvard Law School applications over the last 5 years. Application totals have risen and fallen during the period.

The Journal regrets the error.

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