Since the 1940s law school hopefuls have suffered through months of studying to endure a four hour exam, just to wait weeks and weeks to find out whether or not they would even have a chance to get into law school. All this for one exam: the LSAT, the perennial golden ticket to law school entry. Then, in 2016, the University of Arizona law school changed the game by accepting the GRE. That’s right—that exam with math (!) on it.
With more and more law schools following suit, you need to understand if you, too, need to accept the GRE as part of your future. Let’s take a look at why this is happening and what it means for you.
Law Schools that Accept the GRE
While there’s definitely a trend being set, there are still only a handful of law schools that accept the GRE. As of the writing of this post, there are 12 universities that offer the GRE as a replacement to the LSAT; a few of these universities are: University of Arizona, Harvard University, Northwestern University, Georgetown University, Washington University in St. Louis, and Brigham Young University (BYU GRE scores will start being accepted in 2018). Though this is only a small number of schools, it’s worth noting that 4 of them are among the top 15 law schools in the country. Also, remember how the University of Arizona was the first law school to kick off this trend? That was in February of 2016, so this trend is moving fast and there will likely be other schools joining in soon.
What does this mean for you? Well, if you’re considering applying to one of these schools, you’ll want to decide if you think your GRE score would be more competitive than your LSAT score. (We’ll take a look at the differences between the exams in more detail below to help you make this decision.)
Let’s take a look at just which schools are allowing applicants to submit GRE scores, so you can see if the GRE might be in your future. Maybe you are one of the applicants these law schools are trying to target!
Reasons Why Law Schools are Accepting the GRE
So, why exactly are law schools beginning to allow students to submit GRE scores as part of their law school applications? The reasons vary, but we’ve collected a few here to give you a sense of why this change is occurring.
Since the University of Arizona was the first law school to make the change, let’s start with their reasoning.
The University of Arizona stated that it wanted to “consider qualified applicants from more diverse backgrounds.” Similarly, Harvard Law’s reasoning behind accepting the GRE was to eliminate barriers for prospective students, and Washington University wanted to ensure the admissions process is more accessible to students of all backgrounds. On the other hand, Northwestern made the decision in hopes of attracting more engineers and mathematicians, which it believes would benefit not only their student body but the legal profession as a whole.
While this may seem an odd focus for law schools, it’s important to remember that law school applications dropped significantly after the Great Recession, and the number of applicants remains lower than the numbers in 2008. Additionally, the competitiveness of applicants has declined as well.
So, it’s natural that law schools are trying to find ways to broaden the pool to find enough—and stronger—applicants. One easy way to do that is to sway students who plan to take the GRE with the intention of going to graduate school to consider throwing their hat in the ring for law school. Now, applicants with more of a science or math background may find themselves considering law school as a step towards a fulfilling career. After all, the legal profession is wide and varied; law school provides students with a unique skill set that is relevant for many career fields. And having a JD can open up interesting doors professionally, whether in policy and politics, science, or in nonprofit work.
Let’s look at the factors that might make you more competitive on the GRE than the LSAT.
Advantages of the GRE
The main differences between the GRE and the LSAT are fairly straightforward: the GRE tests your math abilities and your vocabulary knowledge. If you excel at either or both of these, you will definitely want to consider taking the GRE in place of, or in addition to, the GRE. In particular, the GRE tests basic math skills and your ability to understand elementary math skills. Vocabulary is tested on the GRE through three verbal sections: Reading Comprehension, Text Completion, and Sentence Equivalence.
There are two other distinguishing factors about the GRE. First, the GRE is a computer-based exam that adapts to your responses and becomes more challenging or easier depending. The LSAT is a paper based exam. So, if you’re more comfortable with pen and paper, you may want to stick with the LSAT. However, there are some distinct advantages to taking an exam on the computer. Namely, you will know your score moments after hitting the “submit” button. That can be helpful when making plans.
Second, the GRE is offered almost every day of the year, while the LSAT is only offered a few set times each year. If you struggle with test anxiety, the GRE may be a better option for you because you can take the test more times and on the day that would be best for you. Additionally, you can take the test in a smaller room with fewer people since the GRE is offered so frequently throughout the year.
This is just a quick overview of the GRE exam. If the GRE sounds like it might be the better option for you or if you’d like to learn more to help you decide, The Complete Hassle-Free Guide to the GRE Test offers even more detail about the GRE test, like how it is scored and how to study for it.
Logistics of taking the GRE for Law School
Unlike the LSAT, you can take the GRE whenever you’d like—well, almost whenever you’d like. While this may seem great, the number of available GRE test dates can be a little overwhelming. Be sure to assess exactly When Should You Take the GRE while keeping the LSAT application cycle in mind.
Since the law schools that are accepting the GRE have only recently begun doing so, another factor to consider is that the target GRE scores for these schools are not known. So, while you can easily determine whether your LSAT score is within the accepted range for a law school, the GRE score ranges are unknown at this time. If your GRE score is very strong in both Math and Verbal, then you’d likely be fine. However, if your score is lower it may be more of a risk to apply with that score instead of a known LSAT score.
And as we’ve pointed out, keep in mind that only a handful of law schools are currently accepting the GRE. So, unless you only want to apply to those schools, you will probably need to take the LSAT anyway. You’ll want to consider if you have the time, energy, and money to study for and take two separate exams. As far as cost is concerned, the GRE will set you back $160 and the LSAT costs $180.
And let’s not forget about that precious time spent studying. Study time can vary greatly depending on where you’re starting and your target scores. In general, however, you’ll want to study for the LSAT for at least two, if not three, months. The same goes for the GRE. This means you’re looking at 4 to 6 months of studying to adequately prepare for both exams. There isn’t a lot of overlap between the materials of these exams, so you’ll need the full amount of recommended study time for each. Sound daunting? It will be. So think carefully and realistically about your ability to commit to such an intensive schedule. The last thing you want to do is try and prepare for both exams and fail to prepare adequately for either of them because you ran out of time or became exhausted in the process.
Depending on the law schools you’re considering applying to, the GRE might be a viable option for you. You’ll want to weigh the factors discussed here, such as your math skills, vocabulary knowledge, and the amount of time you’re willing and able to commit to test preparation in order to decide whether your GRE score would be competitive with other law school applicants.
If you decide that the GRE is the right path for you as you apply to law school, then make sure to get the best score possible to increase both your odds of getting in and getting a scholarship. So, be sure to to a GRE practice test—or three—to get the highest score you can. Review these Free GRE Practice Test Resources (Guaranteed to Improve Your Score) and you’ll be on your way to crushing the GRE!
About the Author:
Allyson Evans earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and her JD from the University of Texas at Austin. She has been teaching and tutoring the LSAT since 2007, and loves helping students achieve their goals. She currently practices law in Austin, Texas. When she’s not helping students conquer the LSAT, she enjoys traveling and camping.