The University of Pennsylvania Law School has become the first law school to accept GMAT scores in place of LSAT scores for students interested in earning a JD outside of a dual degree program. As part of a two-year pilot program announced in June, applicants will be allowed to submit GRE, GMAT, or LSAT scores to apply to Penn Law.
Penn Law joins a growing trend in legal academia to accept alternative test scores from prospective students. Though Penn Law will be the first to accept GMAT scores for JD applicants, more than 20 law schools, including Harvard and Georgetown, currently accept GRE scores for admission to their JD programs. Several law schools also accept the GMAT for students applying for a dual degree.
Cornell Law School also will start accepting GMAT scores beginning in the fall. The school’s pilot program, announced in July, will be limited to no more than 20 students.
The Penn Law administration hopes to attract a wider, more diverse pool of applicants through the pilot program.
“[This trend of accepting alternative test scores] is reorganizing the law to open it up to people from multiple backgrounds,” said Ted Ruger, Dean of Penn Law.
Anthony Tan, a student entering his final year at Penn Law in the fall, said the decision was a sign of progress.
“The law has been very traditional — the LSAT is still taken in pencil,” Tan said. “I think that this is one of the first steps to modernizing [legal education], starting with receiving applications from a wider variety of potential students.”
The decision to accept alternative test scores is not for lack of law school applicants. Across the United States, the number of people applying for law school increased by 9.5 percent between 2017 and 2018, according to the Law School Admission Council. An uptick in the economy and an increasingly polarized political climate are suspected to have caused this spike. Penn Law applications are up 14.4 percent from last year, Ruger said.
Penn Law also launched the program to encourage its students to earn a dual degree. The program will allow students who wish to earn a joint degree to take either the GMAT or the GRE, which will suffice both for their law school application and their graduate school application.
“With the success of our joint programs, it makes sense,” Ruger said. “We are among the leading law schools with interdisciplinary curriculum.”
About 16 percent of Penn Law Juris Doctorate students who graduated last year earned an additional degree from the University of Pennsylvania. About 59 percent of Penn Law JD graduates earned a certificate in a discipline other than the law at the same time.
“The law is not sealed off, and it shouldn’t be on an island by itself,” Ruger said.
Penn Law students attempting a joint degree usually earn an MBA from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton business school. Tan, who considered doing just that, said streamlining the application process to require a single test would increase interest.
“It’s a struggle studying for these standardized tests,” Tan said. “If you can only take the GRE or GMAT, and not have to take the LSAT for the dual degree program, that’s amazing.”
The administration spent more than a year considering the pilot program before it took effect. After conducting a reliability study for both the GRE and the GMAT, the administration found that both tests were about as reliable as the LSAT at predicting law school grades.
Ruger did not give an average range for expected GRE or GMAT scores in applicants, though, noting that standardized test scores are only one of several factors considered in prospective students.
“We won’t know [an average expected score] until we see the applications coming in,” Ruger said. “It’s too new for us to have a median score because we haven’t had experience with this.”
Ruger said the overwhelming majority of applicants in the next two years, though, will likely submit LSAT scores despite the pilot program.
“It’s important to emphasize that the LSAT will be the predominant test, at least for the near future,” Ruger said.
Cornell’s goal, according to its announcement, is to “encourage students with a broad range of backgrounds” to apply and to provide data for evaluating if alternative standardized tests “provide a good measure of success in law school.”
“By experimenting with greater flexibility in our application process, we hope to make a world-class legal education accessible to an even wider variety of students,” said Eduardo Peñalver, Allan R. Tessler Dean and Professor of Cornell Law School, in the announcement. “Our hope is that accepting the GRE and GMAT will allow us to reach a diverse group of prospective students from different academic backgrounds, such as engineering or technology.”