In 2016, the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law became the first law school in the country to accept the GRE, followed by Harvard Law School in 2017. Since then, more than 80 law schools have decided to accept the GRE.
The movement toward accepting the GRE partially occurred because law schools wanted to provide applicants more scheduling flexibility for test taking. Back then, the LSAT was only administered three times in a two-year period, while the GRE was essentially offered every three weeks. There is also the reality that once schools like Harvard Law started offering it, other schools followed suit.
Five years ago, someone taking the GRE only had a handful of options when applying to law school, but today’s GRE test takers can apply to a slew of schools. Despite the increased number of options, there are still several factors to consider when deciding between the GRE and LSAT:
As noted above, law schools started accepting the GRE to make it easier for applicants to schedule their exams. Today, you can take the LSAT five times a year. Similarly, you can take the GRE five times a year, and both exams offer an at-home option. The GRE is slightly more convenient because you can take it any day at home as long as it has been at least 21 days since you took your last GRE exam. While you can take the LSAT from home, there are only seven times a year it is offered, as opposed to having the option to take the GRE any day. If you want to take the GRE in person, it is still offered more frequently than the LSAT. Again, there are only seven times a year you can take the LSAT, but even in person, the GRE is offered several times a week, so far more than the LSAT.
A key difference between the GRE and the LSAT is how the administrators and law schools handle retakes. For the GRE, you can only send one score. Therefore, if you do poorly on your first attempt and then immensely improve on your second attempt, you would send the second score.
For the LSAT, you must submit every exam score. However, it is unclear how law schools factor in applicants’ scores. For ranking purposes, they are only required to report the highest score, so that motivates them to take the highest score. But some law schools have said they average the scores.
3. Acceptance by schools
Although 80 law schools in the United States accept the GRE, there are 203 law schools in the country—and all of those schools accept the LSAT. Therefore, taking the LSAT enables you to apply to the largest number of schools. Take special note of this if you have to practice law in a particular state, as some or all of the schools in that state might not accept the GRE.
Given that the number of schools that accept the GRE has rapidly increased in just six years, more schools will likely follow suit in the future. Nonetheless, if you are looking to start the application process and are considering taking the GRE, you should confirm whether all of your target schools accept it.
4. Uncertainty over impact
Although law schools have been accepting the GRE for several years, there is limited information on how these scores factor into law school applications. Some of the law schools that currently accept GRE scores have only done so for a year or two. Additionally, the pool of people who took the GRE when applying to law school is far smaller than the group who took the LSAT.
However, average GRE scores are available online for many of the schools, so this information can serve as a baseline for determining what score you need to gain acceptance to your target schools. Still, it is unclear how the GRE and LSAT compare from an admissions perspective. For example, if two applicants are equally strong on all other factors, but one has a solid GRE score while the other has a robust LSAT score, will the law school definitely choose the LSAT applicant?
5. Taking the GRE and LSAT
If you plan to take both the GRE and the LSAT or you want to take the GRE because you did poorly on the LSAT, you should know that if you take both tests, law schools will require you to send both scores and might give the LSAT more weight, no matter how strong your GRE score is.
If you know that all of the schools to which you are applying accept both the GRE and the LSAT, and you are undecided about which you should take, you could always take a practice test for both and see which score is higher. If you score in roughly the same percentile on the two practice exams, then you probably should take the LSAT because it provides more flexibility in applying to schools. However, remember that practice exams are not always 100% predictive of your official score.
Additionally, since the GRE allows you to choose what score, if any, to send to a law school, you could always take the GRE once and see how you do. If you get a robust score, you could either use it or work off that to improve instead of taking the LSAT. It might be more work and cost potentially more money, but you could prepare for the GRE and take it, and if it does not work out, then you could switch to preparing for the LSAT.
However, once you take the LSAT, you will have to send it in, even if your GRE score is much stronger. Although a school might give the two scores equal weight, if you have a poor LSAT score, it could serve as an albatross against your strong GRE score. Therefore, if you have an inclination to use the GRE, keep that in mind before you take the LSAT.
Ultimately, the GRE offers far more opportunities in terms of applying to law school than it did several years ago, but it is still relatively new and limiting compared to the LSAT. As with most other factors in the law school application process, the decision of which test to take depends on what makes sense for your personal situation.