The tiny impact (so far) of GRE law school admissions

The University of Arizona announced in early 2016 that it would consider GRE scores as a valid and reliable measure for prospective law students, accepting a test other than the LSAT. Dozens of schools have since followed suit. But the impact has been decidedly muted on the admissions front.

Just 168 law students entered without an LSAT score, those among around 38,000 at ABA-accredited law schools (excluding three law schools in Puerto Rico). That’s up from 81 last year. (Data before that is hard to compare, because some schools reported negative numbers of students entering without LSAT scores.) That’s a big relative increase but a small figure.

Arizona, the leader in this field, had 18 students enter in the Fall 2018 without LSAT scores. Georgetown and Harvard also each had 18.

But ABA data makes this figure hard to evaluate. It includes students who in previously years might also have been admitted without an LSAT score, like admitting a student from an undergraduate program or another graduate program, as long as the student scored in the 85th percentile of the ACT/SAT/GRE/GMAT, or was in the top 10% of the class, or had a 3.5 undergraduate GPA. Some schools assuredly took advantage of this admissions option in the past and continue to do so today. Harvard went from 2 non-LSAT admissions in 2017 to 18 in 2018, after it announced in March 2017 it would accept the GRE; Georgetown from 0 in 2017 to 18 in 2018 after an announcement in August 2017. That’s a suggestion that the GRE has had a more significant recent impact for them.

Without more granular data from the ABA, it’s hard to know how much the GRE trend is affecting law school admissions. At a high level so far, however, the impact is tiny. While many schools have now announced they’ll accept the GRE, that’s translated into extraordinarily few matriculants, less than one half of one percent, even assuming every single non-LSAT admission is a GRE admission (which, they aren’t). At Arizona, such admissions are a good chunk of the incoming class—10% to 15% of the incoming class. At Harvard and Georgetown, 2% to 3% of the class.

But as more schools announce, and more students perhaps opt into it, we’ll see if these trends change in the years to come. And the impact of graduates who use the GRE on the bar exam surely a future matter to consider.