Two law schools recently changed their policies to start admitting students without taking the students’ Law School Admission Test (LSAT) scores into account. The State University of New York-Buffalo Law School and the University Of Iowa College Of Law announced they would admit students from their undergraduate colleges based on standardized scores other than the LSAT and grade point average. Since then, other law schools have stated that they are seriously considering making a change to admissions. These decisions stem from a change the American Bar Association (ABA) made to its testing policy last summer.
The ABA, the accrediting agency for law schools, announced (PDF) that law schools could fill ten percent of their seats without considering those students’ LSAT scores. The ABA did place some restrictions on this change however, stating that;
“It is not a violation of this Standard for a law school to admit no more than ten percent of an entering class without requiring the LSAT from: (1) Students in an undergraduate program of the same institution as the J.D. program; and/or (2) Students seeking the J.D. degree in combination with a degree in a different discipline. (b) Applicants admitted under subsection (a) must meet the following conditions: (1) Scored at the 85th percentile nationally, or above, on a standardized college or graduate admissions test, specifically the ACT, SAT, GRE, or GMAT; and (2) Ranked in the top ten percent of their undergraduate class through six semesters of academic work, or achieved a cumulative GPA of 3.5 or above through six semesters of academic work.”
Therefore, unless a student is planning on doing a dual-degree program at the law school or is from the same undergraduate institution and meets all the academic and testing requirements, the LSAT will still be required.
The test is used because it is widely believed to be a good predictor of success in law school.
The LSAT was created in 1948 for the purpose of admitting students to law school. The test is used because it is widely believed to be a good predictor of success in law school. The Law School Admission Council (LSAC) states that the purpose of the test is “to measure skills that are considered essential for success in law school: the reading and comprehension of complex texts with accuracy and insight; the organization and management of information and the ability to draw reasonable inferences from it; the ability to think critically; and the analysis and evaluation of the reasoning and arguments of others.”
The LSAT is offered four times a year and costs approximately $170 to take. Additionally, many students opt to enroll in a prep program, whether in-class or online. Many find the test rigorous and requiring intense preparation. Consequently, taking the LSAT out of the law school equation could save a student significant time and expense in applying for law school.
The option may encourage some very talented students to attend law school who may have initially been turned off by the stress and preparation time needed to ensure success on the LSAT.
The University Of Iowa College Of Law, one of the schools that will begin to accept students without LSAT scores, has recently seen a drastic decline in admissions. In 2014, 612 students were accepted into the UI College of Law, with 141 actually attending. This decline represents a thirty percent decrease in attendance compared to an incoming class of 203 in 2010.
Dean Gail Agrawal emphasized the school’s reasons behind the change, saying “What we know is that we lose top-ranked UI students to the top 14 ranked law schools and— they don’t even apply here–if we create this path, it might give those students pause.” The school hopes that with this new change will come larger class sizes. Additionally, the option may encourage some very talented students to attend law school who may have initially been turned off by the stress and preparation time needed to ensure success on the LSAT.
Even students who are eligible for the alternate paths may choose to take the LSAT because they believe that deciding not to take the test will be detrimental to their overall admission prospects.
Although some believe avoiding the LSAT would be very beneficial, others believe that taking the LSAT out of the law school equation is a mistake and may ultimately hurt applicants. Yuko Sin, a blog writer from Blueprint LSAT has voiced opposition by saying, “An applicant will have to weigh many disadvantages against saving about two months of LSAT study time. Almost everyone will end up choosing to take the LSAT. The long-term consequences just trounce the short-term benefits.”
The main argument against choosing to admit students without LSAT scores is that students will take the LSAT anyway because the other options for applicants are undesirable. The only way for a student to not have to take the LSAT for law school admission is to plan to do a dual degree or to only apply to the law school of their undergraduate institution. For students who lack the time, funds, and desire to pursue an additional professional degree and whose undergraduate institutions do not have a law school, the LSAT will remain the only path to law school. Even students who are eligible for the alternate paths may choose to take the LSAT because they believe that deciding not to take the test will be detrimental to their overall admission prospects.
As the LSAT has been a crucial part of gaining admission to law school for decades, many are asking why this change has been enacted.
Before the rule change, about fifteen schools had applied and were granted a special exemption to admit students who had not taken the LSAT. These schools are expected to join the SUNY-Buffalo Law School and the University Of Iowa College Of Law in finding other ways to evaluate a student’s ability to succeed in law school. Although these schools will begin this new policy starting in the Fall 2015 semester, it is likely that others will join in later years. As the LSAT has been a crucial part of gaining admission to law school for decades, many are asking why this change has been enacted.
The ABA’s Standards Review Committee gave some insight into why this change was approved;
“The issue here is not the wisdom of employing the LSAT as a valuable tool in calculating admissions decisions; rather, it is whether, as a matter of judging institutional quality, law school accrediting authorities should require the use of a valid and reliable test. It is our understanding that accreditation standards governing other professions are not so specific.”
Many believe the ABA Standards Review Committee was motivated to change the rules because of record low law school applications in the past few years and the difficulties that law schools have had attracting students due to the ABA’s restrictions on admission. The number of law school applicants this year is down by more than thirty-seven percent compared to 2010, according to the National Law Journal, which analyzed the latest numbers from the Law School Admission Council. If these numbers are correct, this would represent the smallest group of students to enter American Bar Association-accredited law schools since 1974. Taking into account these declining law school admissions numbers, schools are looking for creative ways to boost applications. Leaving the LSAT out of requirements could be a possible solution.
Despite this policy change by the ABA taking effect, the use of the LSAT in law school admissions remains stable. Most likely, very few applicants will be affected by this policy change, since at this time no more than ten percent of applicants can be admitted to a law school without an LSAT score.