Harvard Law Finds Innovative Way to Diversify Its Applicant Pool

Harvard Law School is seeking to diversify its student body by allowing the GRE to be used as an admissions test, not just the LSAT.

Typically, people applying to law school have to sit for the imposing LSAT (Law School Admission Test), a standardized test formulated to predict success in law school. However, Harvard Law, one of the nation’s most elite law schools, will accept scores from the GRE (Graduate Record Exam), which most graduate school applicants in all disciplines are required to take, for the admission of students entering its fall 2018 class.

This is a pilot program the school may or may not continue, depending on its success at attracting a more diverse body of students who will be successful in their studies of law.

Harvard isn’t the first school to do this. The University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law made that change last year, but not without a fight. There was heated debate in the legal community about whether the GRE was a valid predictor of law school success and whether the test met standard set by the American Bar Association, which accredits the United States’ law schools.

One of the arguments in favor of using the GRE as well as the LSAT is that the GRE is much more accessible—it is done by computer and offered many times a year, while the LSAT is a paper test and only offered four times a year. The GRE is also available to students outside the U.S.

Ultimately, by working with the Educational Testing Service, which administers the GRE, Arizona’s officials determined that successful GRE scores were just as valid a predictor of success as LSAT scores. Eventually the bar association and the law community came around as well.

Since then, about 150 law school deans have expressed their support for the change. It “will encourage more students in the United States and internationally from a greater degree of disciplines to apply,” Jessica Soban, Harvard Law assistant dean and chief admissions officer, told The New York Times.

Before Harvard Law made the change, it did its own study that looked at GRE scores of current and former students who had taken both the GRE and the LSAT. The study concluded that “the GRE is an equally valid predictor of first-year grades,” said Soban.

Harvard Law Dean Martha Minow said that Harvard is working hard to eliminate barriers in its search for talented candidates.

Harvard benefits when “we can diversify our community in terms of academic background, country of origin, and financial circumstances,” Minow told The New York Times. “Also, given the promise of the revolutions in biology, computer science, and engineering, law needs students with science, technology, engineering, and math backgrounds.”

While it remains to be seen whether Harvard Law’s pilot program pans out, Minow is right to understand the need for lawyers with STEM backgrounds and from diverse communities.

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