Harvard Law School Drops Mandatory LSAT – Will Others Follow?

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Posted By Terri Williams on April 12, 2017 at 8:06 am
Harvard Law School Drops Mandatory LSAT – Will Others Follow?

Harvard Law School recently announced that it will no longer require the Law School Admissions Test, or LSAT, as its only admissions exam. Beginning this fall, students can either take the Graduate Records Exam, known popularly as the GRE, or the LSAT.

Jessica Soban, associate dean for strategic initiatives and admissions at Harvard Law School, tells GoodCall® the change is designed to increase access for U.S. and international students. For example, she says international students can only take the LSAT a few times each year, while the GRE is offered on a much more frequent basis.

Also, Soban explains that some students who consider going to graduate school also consider going to law school. “Students with technology or other STEM backgrounds might also want to get (for example) a master’s degree in Computer Science, but it is burdensome and costly to study for and take one test to get into graduate school and have to repeat the cycle to get into law school.”

So, is the law school lowering its standards? No, according to Soban. She says a recent Harvard Law School study compared the GRE scores and LSAT scores of the school’s students and found that the GRE was indeed an accurate predictor of first-year law students’ academic performance.

Other schools are considering adding the GRE option, and skeptics say that this is in response to a decrease in law school applicants. According to the Law School Admissions Council, there has been an overall drop in law school applicants. However, Soban says this is not the case at Harvard. She explains, “We’ve had a 5 percent increase for 2 consecutive years.”

Follow the leader on the LSAT?

There’s a big difference between considering a change and actually initiating it. Will other schools follow suit? “I really don’t know – even when Arizona did it, other schools were signaling an interest in it,” Soban says. She’s referring to the University of Arizona College of Law, which was the first law school in the U.S. to allow applicants to take either the GRE or the LSAT.

Jeff Thomas, Kaplan Test Prep’s executive director of pre-law programs, believes that when a school as prestigious as Harvard makes a change to its admissions strategy, other law schools are likely to follow.  Thomas tells GoodCall®, “Harvard Law School’s decision to allow applicants to submit GRE scores instead of LSAT scores has the potential to create a domino effect among other law schools.”

He believes that it’s always a good idea for students to have choices, but says the majority of law schools would have to be on board or it wouldn’t be possible to create a true two-test landscape.

After Arizona’s change, the Law School Admission Council’s critical response was to possibly remove the school from the council.  This prompted 148 law school deans to come to the school’s defense.

This united resistance may or may not have been the result of true law school camaraderie. “One other point to consider is that over the past few years, law schools across the United States have experienced slumping applications and enrollments, which has even led to some law schools closing or merging,” Thomas explains. “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.”

As a whole, law schools have reached gender parity, and women now make up over half of all law school attendees. However, critics have pointed out that women are more populous in lower-ranked law schools.

Another factor in the move

There may be yet another motive for relaxing the LSAT requirement. In a 2014 report by the National Conference of Bar Examiners, 95 percent of law schools revealed that among students at the 25th percentile, LSAT scores dropped roughly 6 to 7 points, although at least one school saw a 9 percent drop. The GRE may be a lifeline to students in this academic group.

However, after Arizona’s bold move, when Kaplan conducted a survey of 125 law schools, the results were as follows:

  • 56 percent said they had no plans to adopt the GRE as an admissions alternative to the LSAT.
  • 30% said they were not sure if they would adopt the GRE.
  • 14% definitely planned to adopt the GRE.

But that was before Harvard joined the movement. “We think that number is likely to increase over the next few months,” Thomas says. “However, for the vast majority of students, this change will have no immediate impact.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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