Some Law Schools Move to Accept GRE and LSAT to Expand the Applicant Pool
With enrollment at law schools around the country on the decline and law remaining the only degree that requires one standardized test to get in, some schools are rethinking the Law School Admittance Test or LSAT. While it isn’t happening in mass, last month the University of Arizona’s James E. Rogers College of Law joined The State University of New York-Buffalo Law School and the University Of Iowa College Of Law in looking at alternatives to accepting only the LSAT. Arizona College of Law is the first, however, to announce it would start allowing potential students to take the GRE as well as the LSAT. That is a stark departure from most law schools that still only allow students to take the LSATs to get in.
“Law is the only field professionally regulated that requires the use of a standardized test. Not in business school or medical school,” says Marc Miller, dean of University of Arizona College of Law and Ralph W. Bilby professor of law. “This dramatically expands the number of people who could consider law.”
Benefits and uncertainties of accepting GRE for law school
The idea behind the LSAT is to make sure students can handle the coursework once they get admitted into law school. While that was important years ago, it can be said of today as well. Many law students don’t go on to pass the Bar exam and end up without a license to practice law and expensive student loans to go with it. They end up paying all this money for law school and are saddled with debt they aren’t prepared to pay back. That is why supporters of the LSAT say it’s so important for potential law students to take that test.
On the other side of the argument are those who say the GRE is just as predictive as the LSAT in forecasting a student’s performance and note that while the GRE has been overhauled in recent years, the LSAT is the same as twenty-five years ago.
It doesn’t help the LSAT that it is only given four times a year compared to the GRE, which students can take any day of the year. Proponents of accepting both the LSAT’s and the GRE argue it could go a long way in reaching a broader range of law students, something that would be welcome at law schools around the country. “Taking the LSAT is a time-consuming and expensive process and can be a hindrance to many students that would otherwise consider themselves possible candidates for law school,” says Krissi Taylor Leslie, director of tutoring and teacher development at The Princeton Review of Northern California.
Indeed, Miller of Arizona College of Law says since announcing it will also accept the GRE, it averages several dozen calls a week and has already received around 15 applications. Including the GRE “provides more flexibility for students who may consider other programs besides law,” notes James Greif, a spokesman for the Association of American Law Schools. “If you wanted to consider law school or a Master’s in public administration you would have to take both exams.”
Law schools facing plunging enrollment
The move on the part of a handful of law schools comes at a time when law schools are facing a decline in enrollment and are under pressure to find ways to reverse the trend. According to Jeff Thomas, executive director of pre-law programs at Kaplan Test Prep, law schools have been suffering for the past five to six years with historic declines in applications.
In the past, law school was the ideal place for students to hunker down and get an advanced degree when the economy wasn’t doing so hot. And when the economy improves, law school was a golden ticket to a well-paying job. But the Great recession changed all that. Law schools saw record numbers of applicants to their programs, which created an oversupply situation. Even though the students were qualified and had the grades, there were too many of them to get jobs.
“Law school wasn’t the sure bet it used to be and that precipitated a great decline in the number of applications year after year,” says Thomas. “Fast forward to today, even with a small uptick in applications, law schools are struggling to get applicants and see the LSAT as a great barrier to applying to law school.”
American Bar Association hasn’t weighed in yet
Although Miller of Arizona Law School expects many schools to follow suit fairly quickly, in order to see a massive movement by law schools, the American Bar Association is going to have to weigh in with its recommendation, which it hasn’t to date. That’s because law schools have to adhere to that standard until they can prove the GRE would count as a valid admission test. But because the burden is on the law school, the schools have to fund a study or research to prove its argument.
In announcing the inclusion of the GRE, Arizona Law School said a December study by the Educational Testing Services or ETS demonstrated that for students in its law program performance on the GRE is a “valid and reliable predictor of students’ first-term law school grades, and so meets the American Bar Association’s Legal Education Standard for use in admissions to law school programs.”
The American Bar Association declined to comment, pointing to a statement made by Barry A. Currier, managing director, in which he said “it is important to note that the study that the law school offered was particular to it and does not state a claim that the GRE exam is a valid and reliable admissions test for any other law school.”