GPAs, GREs, LSATs, oh my! There is now a new factor adding to the complexity of all the moving parts of law school applications—the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), traditionally used by many graduate programs outside of law school. In March, Harvard Law School announced a pilot program allowing applicants to apply with either the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT), the standardized test that nearly all law schools have used for decades, or the GRE. More top law schools have followed and other schools are expected to join the GRE party.
Harvard made this move after decades of using the LSAT exclusively, in part due to the GRE’s liberal scheduling and its applicability to other advanced degrees. While HLS wasn’t the first law school to accept GRE scores (it was the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law), Harvard is a benchmark against which other law school measure themselves. Georgetown Law and Northwestern University Pritzker School of Law announced their GRE acceptance in early August.
Which exam should you take, the tried-and-true LSAT or the trending GRE? Here are 4 factors to consider when determining whether you take the LSAT or GRE.
1. More LSAT testing options are coming.
One reason law schools are accepting GRE scores is that the exam is readily available; it’s offered almost every day, and an applicant can take the exam once every three weeks if they so choose. In response, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) has announced the following changes to the LSAT:
- The exam will now be administered five times a year, versus the four times it was traditionally given.
- The cap on the number of times an applicant can take the exam has been lifted. Until recently, one could only take the LSAT three times in any two-year period.
These are relatively minor steps, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see more changes on the horizon now that the LSAC’s monopoly on law school standardized testing is being eroded.
2. The LSAT is more widely accepted at this point.
Unless you’re only planning to apply to one or more of the four schools already taking the GRE, take the LSAT.
- Right now, taking only the GRE would severely limit your options.
- Consider the GRE more like “extra credit”—a way to bolster your application.
- If you have a GPA or LSAT score that is lower than those that a particular school usually accepts, an excellent GRE score could improve your chances of being admitted.
3. It’s uncertain how the GRE scores will come into play.
Applicants today have a good idea about the ideal range of LSAT scores for a J.D. candidate for each school. Conversely, the GRE in the law school context is a novelty, leaving applicants to speculate how the scores will be used by law schools.
- The working assumption is that the percentile in which a GRE taker ranks would be equivalent to the corresponding LSAT percentile. Thus, a perfect GRE score of 170 (99th percentile) would be roughly as good as 173+ LSAT score.
- It’s unclear whether GRE scores would carry the same weight in admissions committees’ decisions as the LSAT do today.
- Due to the uncertainty, it may be prudent to wait and see how GRE acceptance unfolds before committing to the GRE exclusively.
- Finally, GRE scores, unlike the LSAT, are broken down into categories, and it’s possible that schools will give the Verbal score greater consideration.
4. The GRE is not a get-out-of-jail-free card if you bomb the LSAT.
The University of Arizona requires that a J.D. applicant submit their LSAT score (if they have one), even if they’ve taken the GRE. There is no hiding a bad LSAT score behind an excellent GRE score.
- Harvard also announced that all test scores will be considered as part of the applicant’s submission. It’s likely that as other schools ride the GRE wave, they will require submission of both scores.
- Current American Bar Association (ABA) rules require that for an applicant to be accepted to a law school without taking the LSAT, their GRE score must be in the 85th percentile and above. If you do decide to take the GRE, you have to nail it.
The benefits of using the GRE are very limited at this point in time. While it’s likely that many schools will start accepting the GRE in the next couple of years, right now it is inadvisable to rely on the test as one’s gateway into law school. The LSAT is still king as far as admissions committees and the ABA are concerned. The lack of clarity surrounding the weight of the GRE exam for schools that do accept the GRE makes it a risky road to travel without an LSAT score to back it up—at least for now.