Once upon a time, the LSAT was the only game in town for law school applicants. Things began to change in 2016, when the University of Arizona Law allowed applicants to apply with a GRE score, followed by Harvard Law the next year. Nearly forty law schools now accept the test.
The Case for Taking the GRE
The GRE has a lot of advantages from the perspective of a test-taker. Available throughout the year and across the world, it’s easier to schedule and more convenient than the LSAT. The GRE will also feel more familiar to anyone who’s taken the SAT or ACT, and most test-takers find it less time-pressured than the LSAT. The test has special advantages for applicants with quantitative skills, who may find it easier than the LSAT, and for anyone applying to dual-degree programs, who may have to take the GRE in any case. Finally, if an applicant decides to cancel her GRE score, the test doesn’t show up on her record. If an LSAT-taker cancels her score, by contrast, the test still shows up on her score report.
Nevertheless, there are some reasons to hesitate before you go all in on the GRE.
We don’t know how GRE applicants actually fare in the admissions process.
Very few law students in the first-year class of 2018 got into law school with a GRE score alone. Let’s look at some examples:
- In Harvard’s first-year 2018 class, 18 of 566 students were admitted without an LSAT score, or 3.2%.
- In Northwestern’s first-year 2018 class, 12 of 245 students were admitted without an LSAT score, or 4.9%.
- In Georgetown’s first-year 2018 class, 18 of 581 students were admitted without an LSAT score, or 3.1%.
(See the full table.)
At every other T-14 school, either zero or one student got into law school without an LSAT score.
Before you give up on the GRE, we should grant that these numbers don’t tell the full story. The most relevant question isn’t “What percentage of law school applicants got accepted with a GRE alone?” but “What percentage of GRE-only applicants got accepted?” In other words, we want to know if GRE applicants had a higher or a lower acceptance rate than LSAT applicants.
At a panel discussion in June of 2019, Alex Feinson, Harvard Law School’s assistant director of admissions, told a group of prelaw advisors that the acceptance rate of GRE-only applicants mirrored the acceptance rate of all applicants, indicating that it was no easier or harder to get into Harvard Law with a GRE score than with an LSAT score. Eulas Boyd, Brooklyn Law School’s dean of admissions, told the same group that GRE-only applicants had a slightly higher acceptance rate than all applicants, but he still didn’t think that it was easier to get into Brooklyn Law with a GRE score. Rather, he thought that the pool of GRE applicants was stronger than the pool of regular applicants.
As for other schools, we just don’t know. All we can say for sure is that admissions deans are moving away from the LSAT cautiously. The validity of the GRE as a predictor of law school success is an open question, even for law schools that have performed their own studies, and admissions offices are still tracking the progress of their GRE admits. We’ve also heard that law school faculty, who often sit on admissions committees, are skeptical of the GRE. And when we asked Rob Schwartz, the assistant dean of admissions at UCLA Law, whether a 95th percentile LSAT score was more compelling than a 95th percentile GRE score, he agreed that it probably was (though he didn't necessarily think everyone should take the LSAT). Thus we have reason to suspect that for most law schools, getting accepted with a GRE score is no easier than getting accepted with an LSAT score, and that it may well be harder.
If you’ve already taken the LSAT, there’s probably no point in taking the GRE.
If you have any valid LSAT scores on file, LSAC will report them when you apply to law school. You don’t have any choice about that.
This is important for two reasons. First, law school admissions officers are more likely to trust your LSAT score than your GRE score. They have been making admissions decisions for years based on LSAT scores, and they've seen for themselves how students with various LSAT scores tend to fare. As we’ve noted, the GRE is uncharted territory.
The second thing to understand is that your LSAT score will probably have a larger effect on a school’s U.S. News & World Report ranking than your GRE score. Per U.S. News’s ranking methodology, a school’s LSAT median and GRE median account for 12.5% of its ranking. But law schools are required to report their LSAT medians. They are not required to disclose their GRE medians, and only sixteen of them—or eight percent—did report those medians to U.S. News for the 2020 rankings. Even for those schools, we don’t know if the GRE median was factored into the ranking proportionally, based on the number of GRE admits, or if it was discounted.
“But wait,” some of you might be thinking. “Won’t a great GRE score still look impressive to admissions officers, even if I already have an LSAT score?”
Well—sure. An applicant with a perfect GRE score and a 150 LSAT is probably better off than an applicant with a 150 alone, all else being equal. But if you’re capable of getting a GRE score that’s much better in terms of percentiles than your current LSAT score, you’re also probably capable of improving your LSAT score. A better GRE score won't replace your current LSAT score, but a better LSAT score will replace your current LSAT score, practically speaking. Almost all law schools use your highest LSAT score.
Alissa Leonard, the assistant dean for admissions and financial aid at the Boston University School of Law, put it best when she said to a group of prelaw advisors in 2019, “I don’t think it makes sense to take the GRE in addition to the LSAT. It doesn’t bring much to the table.”
A few more considerations for those leaning toward the GRE
- The list of schools that accept the GRE is growing, but we’re a long way from universal adoption.
- The ETS’s GRE to LSAT converter is not trusted by many admissions deans. For the most part, admissions deans are looking at the percentiles of your GRE section scores.
- Although the GRE lets you choose which scores to report to which institutions, almost all law schools require you to submit all of your GRE scores within the last five years.
- There’s no data on whether applicants who get accepted with GRE scores tend to get merit scholarships. If you’re thinking of applying to a law school with a GRE score, you should call the admissions office and ask if they award merit aid to GRE applicants.
You should probably NOT take the GRE if…
- You already have a valid LSAT score
- You want to apply to any law school that doesn’t accept the GRE
- You may be able to achieve the median LSAT score of your target school
Applying to law school with only a GRE score might be the right decision for you if…
- You think you’ll be better at the GRE than the LSAT (as is sometimes the case with mathematical applicants)
- You are applying to dual-degree programs, some of which require the GRE
- You are positive that you can’t achieve the median LSAT score of your target school and feel like you may as well throw a hail mary.
Bottom line: We recommend that you apply to law school with an LSAT score unless you have a specific reason not to.
Schools That Accept the GRE
|2020 Rank||School||GRE Admits*||L50||G50|
|0004||University of Chicago||0||171||3.89|
|0006||New York University||0||170||3.79|
|0007||University of Pennsylvania||0||170||3.89|
|0008||University of Virginia||0||169||3.89|
|0015||University of California—Los Angeles||2||168||3.72|
|0016||University of Texas at Austin||0||167||3.74|
|0017||University of Southern California||1||166||3.78|
|0018||Washington University in St. Louis||1||168||3.81|
|0021||University of Notre Dame||0||165||3.71|
|0023||University of California—Irvine||0||163||3.57|
|0031||University of California—Davis||0||162||3.63|
|0031||Wake Forest University||4||162||3.58|
|0039||Brigham Young University||10||164||3.8|
|0039||University of Arizona||18||161||3.7|
|0045||George Mason University||1||163||3.76|
|0048||Florida State University||2||160||3.63|
|0052||Yeshiva University (Cardozo)||1||161||3.52|
|0064||Pennsylvania State - Penn State Law||0||159||3.58|
|0071||Brooklyn Law School||3||157||3.38|
|0077||St. John's University||4||159||3.61|
|0083||Texas A&M University||8||157||3.51|
|0087||Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago-Kent College of Law)||6||157||3.44|
|0087||University of New Hampshire||0||156||3.46|
|0091||Florida International University||0||156||3.63|
|0091||University of Hawaii||4||154||3.32|
|0091||University of South Carolina||0||155||3.41|
|0104||University of Buffalo—SUNY||0||153||3.41|
|0RNP||John Marshall Law School||4||149||3.18|
|0RNP||University of Dayton||0||149||3.29|