The GRE Exam for Law School?

Law School ImagesHarvard Law is the oldest continually-operating law school in the United States. It is consistently ranked as one of the top law schools in the world, and is also the largest law school in the U.S., with about as many students as Yale, Stanford and Chicago combined. So when Harvard Law makes news other law schools are likely to follow.

And Harvard Law recently announced some big news: starting next fall the GRE exam will be accepted as an alternative to the LSAT exam. Surveys suggest that nearly half of all law schools were not opposed to accepting GRE exam scores even before Harvard made its announcement, so this is probably just the beginning of a trend.

The upshot of all of this is that beginning next fall those prospective law students applying to Harvard Law can submit a GRE score instead of, or in addition to, an LSAT score. The University of Arizona Law School has already begun accepting the GRE score from applicants, and if the results from those law schools are as positive as expected, then additional law schools will likely join them in the very near future.


I have taught the LSAT and currently teach the GRE and (as well as the GMAT), and have earned a perfect 170/170 on the GRE and a near-perfect 176 on the LSAT. Here are my thoughts on the LSAT versus the GRE:

The LSAT has long been the dreaded gatekeeper to law school admissions and the exam definitely rewards a certain type of test taker with a certain background. So, should you consider taking the GRE instead of the LSAT? Maybe you should!

First, who does not benefit from this development? Those who plan on applying exclusively to law school in the next couple of years should stick with the LSAT to have the most flexibility in the application process. As Harvard and Arizona are currently the only law schools that accept GRE scores from applicants, you’ll want to have a good LSAT score under your belt in case you decide to apply to any other JD programs.

Everyone else should at least consider the GRE. The Dean of Harvard Law School, Martha Minow, listed a few of the groups of students who might benefit from being able to use the GRE instead of the LSAT: “international students, multidisciplinary scholars, and joint-degree students…” I would add to that list students who have strong math skills, who have different possible career paths, or who have less time to devote to the process of preparing for an exam.

Advantages of Taking the GRE

Flexibility: The GRE is accepted for admission to nearly all graduate and business schools in addition to Harvard Law School and Arizona Law School (and hopefully a growing list of law schools). For anyone considering a variety of career options, the GRE is the best exam to take as it gives the test-taker the most flexibility. Even a great GMAT score is not accepted by law schools or graduate schools, and a perfect LSAT score will not get you into business or grad school. The GRE is the universal key that can open many doors – this is the number one reason to make the GRE your first choice.

Time Commitment: For many students, the LSAT is the exam that requires the most hours of preparation. The sheer variety of critical reasoning questions and “logic games” requires a student to master a huge range of information. On the other hand, the GRE tests skills that a student is more likely to possess already or can learn more readily through a preparation course or self-study. This is not to say that the GRE is not a challenge, it just may be a more reasonable challenge than the LSAT.

Credit for Your Strengths: Maybe you are strong in Quantitative areas… This can give you an important head start on the GRE, as math is not tested on the LSAT.

Convenience: The GRE is offered in convenient locations around the world on a continuous basis, with times generally available in the morning, afternoon and evening, making it easy to fit the GRE into your schedule. By comparison, the LSAT exam is only offered 4 times per year, usually at 8:00am. With the LSAT, you have to arrange your life around the exam, which can be difficult for test-takers with busy schedules.

Reasonable Retakes: If for any reason you do not earn the LSAT score that you hoped for, then you have to wait anywhere from two to four months before you can retake the exam. On the other hand, you can retake the GRE after just 21 days and you can take the exam 5 times in a year.

Advantages of Taking the LSAT

No Math Required: The LSAT exclusively tests skills that fall on the “Verbal” side of the GRE, meaning that you won’t have to memorize the Pythagorean Theorem, practice working with algebra, or brush up on your multiplication tables before you take it.  If you’re a student who hasn’t studied math in a while, the LSAT allows you to engage your logical thinking (philosophy, political science, literature) brain without having to dig back into high school math skills.

Applicable to All Law School Applications: While what Harvard says typically filters down to nearly all schools eventually, right now the GRE is only accepted at a few law schools.  If you plan to take the GRE to apply to Harvard and a few other elite JD programs, you’ll end up having to take the LSAT for those other applications, anyway.

Availability of Official Practice Problems: The LSAT has been administering essentially the same exam for decades, and has to retire its questions after each administration. The result? It has thousands of official exam questions to sell you for practice.  By comparison the GRE underwent an overhaul in 2011 and has some official test questions for sale, but the LSAT provides several times as much authentic practice material.

Is the GRE Easier Than the LSAT?

It is not easy to get into Harvard or any of the other top law schools. The average LSAT score for the most recent class at Harvard Law is above the 99th percentile, so an applicant’s GRE score would need to be near-perfect to be competitive.

Please understand that if you do plan to take the GRE for admission to law school, business school, or a competitive graduate school program, you will need to earn the best score that you are capable of achieving. Taking the GRE is not a short cut or an “easy way” to get into a top law school (or business school). But it is another option and – for some people – a better option.

My advice is this: Unless you are committed to applying to law school in the next couple of years, consider taking the GRE. The GRE gives you the most options (graduate school, business school, law school) and its scores are reportable for 5 years. This means that if you take the GRE this year your scores will still be good for applications submitted in 2022.

Considering taking the GRE? Register to attend one of our upcoming free online GRE Strategy Sessions to jump start your GRE prep, or check out our variety of GRE Course and Private Tutoring options. And as always, be sure to follow us on Facebook, YouTube, Google+ and Twitter!

David Newland has scored in the 99th percentile on both the LSAT and the GMAT, and holds a perfect 170/170 score on the GRE.  He taught the LSAT for nearly ten years for a leading firm, and has taught the GRE and GMAT for Veritas Prep since 2006.  In 2008 he was named Veritas Prep’s Worldwide Instructor of the Year, and he has been a senior contributor to the Veritas Prep GRE and GMAT lesson materials. David holds a Juris Doctorate from the University of Michigan Law School and teaches live online classes from a film studio in northern Vermont.

Kagan to the Court: Examining the Downside

Law School AdmissionsIf you are an individual who remains connected to the news cycle (in whatever form that is now consumed), you know by now that Elena Kagan has been nominated for the open seat (formerly held by Justice Stevens) on the Supreme Court by President Obama and that her confirmation hearings before the Senate are set to begin on June 28. The process of putting a judge on the greatest bench in all the land is arduous and draining (check out Season One of The West Wing for a terrific inside look into the vetting process and tireless work required by White House senior staffers) and prone to surprises, but most believe that Kagan will ultimately be confirmed and take her place on the Court (described in terrific detail in this New York Magazine article). And as someone who has followed her career fairly closely, I believe she will make a great Supreme Court Justice and serve our country well in deciding the laws of the land.

That said, I can’t help but dwell on one nagging detail: what if Kagan’s value as a Justice is less than her value as an academic administrator?

Before moving forward, let me just state for the record that Elena Kagan should be able to pursue whatever career path she wishes and that no one can blame her for accepting what is arguably the most prestigious appointed position in the world (certainly in the judiciary). However, as someone who works with graduate school applicants for a living – and sees the exponential value of one great faculty member or one great administrator – I am troubled by the loss of one of the finest academic deans of my lifetime.

Understand also that this entire line of thought was relevant back in January of last year, when President Obama appointed Kagan to the position of Solicitor General – this was Kagan’s first foray back into government (between stints as a law school professor at the University of Chicago Law School and Harvard Law School, she served as Associate White House Counsel and policy adviser under President Clinton). Technically, the “we’ve lost Kagan from the academic ranks” hand-wringing could have been conducted back then. However, there’s a big difference between an administrative appointment and a Supreme Court appointment and those with even a passing knowledge of the Court know what that is: the latter is a lifetime appointment. Let’s be honest here, if/when Kagan flies through the confirmation process, this absolutely will be the last job she ever accepts.

For the lifelong member of the judiciary, this makes sense. We are elevating a skilled judge to the highest position in the land, which both serves as a culmination of that person’s career, but also undoubtedly the best social use of that individual’s abilities (we’ll save the whole “the most valuable judicial work is done in the lower courts” argument for another time and place). But someone like Kagan presents a different riddle. She is likely to be a terrific judge (again, my opinion, but obviously one shared by President Obama). But we already know that she’s a fantastic dean. We joined the party in heaping praise on her work at Harvard Law back in October of 2008, but it bears repeating that she seemingly single-handedly transformed Harvard from a grim, sterile “lawyer mill” into one of the most student-friendly, progressive, and vibrant law schools in the country. When I applied to law schools in 2002, I never even considered going to Harvard – it was viewed by many top applicants of the time as a great brand, but an awful experience. When I graduated from Chicago five years later (and four years after Kagan was named dean of the law school), HLS was already back on top, with a bullet.

Harvard Law didn’t reinvent itself overnight, but Kagan’s aggressive, insightful leadership made it seem that way. She pushed for new facilities, focused on improving the student experience, and created consensus among a famous and massive faculty that was previously known more for individual scholarship than cohesive teaching. And lest we think Kagan’s administrative skills were limited to day-to-day operations, she also exceeded expectations on the fundraising front – a “Setting the Standard” campaign (which she inherited) aimed for $400 million and finished in 2008 at $476 million. She also added powerhouse names to the faculty by going out and luring profs from Chicago and Stanford (folks like Cass Sunstein and Lawrence Lessig, who were thought to be untouchable) and even nabbing conservative powerhouses like Jack Goldsmith (Bush administration) to provide more balance. On top of all that, she showed a willingness to take important stances on social issues, famously restricting military recruiters from coming to campus due to the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy (perceived as being discriminatory against gays and lesbians).

In summary, we are looking at an individual who stepped into arguably the highest profile dean position in academia and crushed the assignment. She raised money, she improved the quality of the faculty on every front, radically transformed the student experience, and even stood tall on policy issues. To say that accomplishing all that requires unique skill and a deft touch is a massive understatement. You could do so far as to say that no other dean could have done it.

If that last statement is true – or even partially true – we have to assess the loss to the academic community that Kagan’s Supreme Court nom represents. To me, it seems like a big one. She would have had her pick of academic jobs, where she could have made a massive difference in the lives of thousands – even hundreds of thousands – of students. And that, to me, is the downside to Elena Kagan heading off to the Supreme Court.

For more information on law school admissions or for help incorporating career goals into the application, visit our law school admissions site or call our offices at 1.800.925.7737!

Harvard Law School Abandons Public Interest Program

Law School Admissions
It feels like just yesterday that we were analyzing Harvard Law School’s “new” public interest program that granted free tuition to 3L students going into careers in public interest. In fact, it was a year and a half ago. Now? That program is no more, as Harvard announces that the groundbreaking free 3L public interest program is being shut down in the wake of the economic recession and the university’s shrinking endowment.

To Harvard’s credit, those students who are currently enrolled and may have relied on this program in making their decisions to attend HLS will still be eligible for the free tuition. However, the $2.7 million price tag is rendering a great idea as nothing more than a failed experiment.

For applicants, this represents an opportunity, believe it or not. There is perhaps no better time to apply to Harvard on a public interest platform than now, as the school is no doubt sensitive to what this will do to its graduation figures years down the road. Furthermore, students are probably finding HLS less appealing as a public interest destination without that free third year, so there may be less competition for those who take that angle. Besides, the public interest fellowships and loan forgiveness programs that remain in place are still competitive with those at most top schools, even if they are more traditional in how they work (e.g., forgiveness of outstanding loans for each year of public interest work).

If you are interested in discussing various public interest programs or law school admissions in general, please give us a call at (800) 925-7737.