Harvard Law School’s (HLS) recent decision to allow prospective applicants the option of submitting GRE scores instead of LSAT scores has been lauded as a significant step in the right direction with respect to making admissions more inclusive. However, this recent change to HLS’ admissions policies does not broaden access despite its proud declarations of increased inclusivity.
The statement released by HLS regarding its decision claims that the change in policy will “eliminate barriers” and “diversify [the] community,” but any true attempt to do so would involve a significant move away from standardized testing or concerted efforts to remove financial barriers to a legal education.
It is necessary to acknowledge that this change was made primarily to benefit HLS. The intention behind accepting GRE scores was not simply to make it easier for those suited to legal education to attend HLS, but rather to make “sure the most qualified candidates continue to consider [Harvard Law],” as stated by Associate Dean Jessica Soban.
Accordingly, this move will likely benefit those applying out of Master’s and PhD programs more than it will benefit undergraduate students. This may seem fair at first glance, but it in fact reinforces barriers to inclusivity instead of removing them. There are significant financial obstacles to completing graduate programs that students from lower-income backgrounds often cannot overcome, making it highly unlikely that accepting GRE scores in the place of LSAT scores will diversify the community in the way HLS claims it will.
Even if some of those Master’s and PhD students are able to forgo the costs of preparing for and writing the LSAT, the fact remains that the students most likely to be accepted with GRE scores — the students HLS is likely to consider the “most qualified” — also have the financial means to complete their degrees in the first place.
The GRE itself is also not necessarily more accessible than the LSAT; the only thing that makes it distinctly more so is the fact that it is offered almost every day of the year. However, the GRE still costs almost $200, not to mention the cost of preparatory materials or courses.
HLS’ claim, as published on their website, that their decision “will alleviate the financial burden on applicants who would otherwise be required to prepare and pay for an additional test” is true for students who are considering both law and graduate school, and who will now not have to take the LSAT. But this does nothing to address the fact that some students may not be able to afford to write either.
Finally, the GRE and the LSAT are both standardized tests that are similar in length and composition. Consequently, the GRE still serves as a huge barrier for people with learning disabilities or other conditions that make standardized tests difficult to write. For students with ADHD, for example — students who may fall into the category of “most qualified” to attend law school — training to sit through a four-hour test can be brutal.
Regardless of whether or not this new policy change allows for the substitution of one test for the other, prospective applicants are still required to write a standardized test in order to be admitted.
The central claims of HLS regarding the change in admissions policies are misleading. Though the statement released by HLS claims that this change in policy will diversify the community in terms of “academic background, country of origin, and financial circumstances,” the school uses the word “diverse” to refer mainly to a variation of academic backgrounds that ultimately boils down to students who are considering both law and graduate schooling.
Furthermore, given that the GRE is in fact more expensive to write outside the United States, like it is in Canada, this change does not make a difference to international students in the way HLS claims it does.
The notion that HLS’ decision is revolutionary from an inclusivity perspective is absurd when one considers the weight of the claims it makes to justify its reasoning. Removing barriers and diversifying a community implies making systemic changes to the way an institution operates; substituting one standardized test for another does not constitute this degree of change.
Saambavi Mano is a third-year student at Victoria College studying Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies. Her column appears every three weeks.