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The GRE, GMAT, and LSAT – Which Test to Take?

In the past, deciding which exam to take in preparation for graduate level education was relatively straightforward: the GMAT for business school, the LSAT for law school, and the GRE for almost everything else. However, more recently, more business schools have begun to accept the GRE in addition to the GMAT. The GRE’s homepage calls the test “the smartest way to graduate and business school.”

In addition, Harvard Law has recently announced that they will accept the GRE in lieu of the LSAT. Although Harvard is only the second law school program to make this move, their prominence lends a credibility to the test substitution, signaling the possibility of a major change in law school admissions overall.

So which test is for you?

We say this a lot at Get Smarter Prep, but this decision does depend significantly on which school you want to attend. If you’re looking at a graduate program outside of business or law, then the GRE is the pretty clear choice. For business schools, the picture is a little more complicated. A significant number of business schools accept the GRE, but not all do.  Beyond that, even if your school does accept the GRE, they may prefer the GMAT, or they may view a student who submits a GRE score as less serious about the business school path than one who submits a GMAT score. This makes a bit of sense, at least – if I want to keep my options open, I am more likely to take a GRE, which is accepted for multiple kinds of programs. But these hypotheticals depend upon the business schools on your list. If you do find that the schools to which you’ll apply will accept either, consider taking a practice version of each test to see where you fare better. ETS has released a comparison tool that might help you evaluate scores.

For prospective law school students, at least for now, the picture is a bit clearer. After many years of pushing back against any school that deigned to break away from the mandatory-LSAT track, the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC) is considering revising their rules to permit schools to use the GRE. Any changes likely would not be in effect until the 2018-2019 admission cycle, so depending on when you plan to apply, these potential changes may not impact you at all. If the rules are changed, it would be a significant change for LSAC, and for students going through the application process. But unless the only two law schools on your list are ASU and Harvard, for the moment, it looks like you’ll be diagramming logic games with the rest of us.

 

Picking a Major

I recently had a conversation with one of my students about picking her major.  She had gotten into her first choice school based, in large part, upon her test score (insert shameless plug here) but was now trying to pick her field of study.

“I want to study psychology, but everyone tells me I can’t do anything with a Bachelor’s in that field.”

“Everyone is right,” I said.  “At least a Masters, and even there the money isn’t necessarily phenomenal.”

“My brother says ‘study business.’  He hates the idea of my studying psych.”

“He’s the successful guy, right?  You told me you look up to him and trust his advice.”

“Yup.”

“He’s right – but I know you hate all that stuff: accounting, finance, etc.  I mean you’ll love marketing but a business degree is very math-oriented and you’re not a fan.”

“I know I know I know.  So I can study something I love and have no job or trudge through something I hate so I can have one?”

I laughed.  I wasn’t trying to be cruel.  But her statement indicated she was one step ahead of where she should have been.  The question she needed to begin with was:

Why am I going to college?

If the answer is:

A) To get a job

Then yes, she should look at careers and jobs and work backwards from there, identifying the majors of people successful in those fields, either from research or asking people personally.  Do not make the assumption that a degree in a field gets you a job in the field (unless you are picking accounting, in which case you will be nearly guaranteed a job upon graduation, and at a reasonable rate too!).

B) To study something I love

Then sure, she should study psychology.  I have a Liberal Arts background myself, with a degree in Literature.  I am now and always have been an intellectual so I, at her age, might have just breathlessly have told you that I “loved books” and wanted to go to college to read hundreds of them.

I could never have told you that I would be an entrepreneur when I was 18 because I don’t think I even considered that a possibility at that age.  I loved to learn and I had earned a full academic scholarship to my school of choice so I wasn’t taking a financial risk to pursue the studies I wanted.  The caveat here is that if you love Art History I am NOT encouraging you to study what you love if you don’t have some kind of scholarship or college fund set aside.  I’ll address how much I think it’s healthy to spend on college in a future article.

C)  Because everyone tells me I’m supposed to

Hmmmm.  Look, I’ve read the studies too.  People with 4-year degrees make more money (and sometimes, even they get out-earned by 2-year degree holders).  I get it.  But please realize that this is the first decision of your adult life.  Maybe you could have made a decision on where to go to high school based solely on the counsel of your family and friends.  They are important.  Very important.  But you need to own your college decision, really and truly.

D) To party!

Don’t worry.  it’s going to be everything you thought, and more (don’t worry, parents!).  Just be smart about your decisions and your finances.

As we talked through all of this, my student laughed and said, “Stephen, I’m still undecided.”

That’s fine.  You don’t need to have the rest of your life figured out right now.  And you may have motivations A-D (hopefully not just D.  If you only have that motivation, save us all some time and money and just go to community college!).  Just make sure you have a plan.  Plans can change.  But “no plan” isn’t wise.  “No plan isn’t worthy of someone on the cusp of adulthood.  As you get ready for college – no matter how many years away it is – whether you are a parent or a student – remember that college ends in a ceremony called Commencement, which means “beginning.”  Everything you do up until then is preparation and planning.

Make it count.

Stephen Heiner is a Premier Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.

Is Grad School now “expected”?

While almost all of our seniors have long since turned in their applications to college, there are some of our former students who are now college seniors who are looking at their final semester.  They are about to enter the workforce…or are they?

We’ve all heard that a bachelor’s degree simply isn’t “what it used to be.”  There are a number of reasons for that:

  • Simple numbers: more people are getting undergraduate educations than ever before.  Unless the job market is growing at the same rate that degrees are, this means there are more college graduates chasing the same number or – in a recession – fewer – jobs.
  • The greater numbers mean that potential employers are seeking greater differentiation from the bucketfuls of students who are coming to them with “Finance” or “Marketing” degrees.  Unfortunately, not enough students focus on getting thoughtful and relevant internships, useful study abroad programs, or even the most basic work experience.
  • The recession in the US economy has caused a slowdown in hiring, which means that new graduates aren’t just competing with their fellow classmates, but against those who may have graduated 1, 2, or even 3 years ahead of them.

Some students choose to tough it out – working in non-related fields in order to have a job to pay the bills or to stay employed.  Others don’t wait for a solution to be handed to them and choose to start a business.  But increasingly since 2008, many students are choosing more schooling.

It’s unexpected, isn’t it?  After four years of school, students are signing up for…more school!  Mind you – it’s also more expensive per credit hour with more challenging requirements.  Since they have not made alternate plans, the idea that “a Masters certainly can’t hurt,” has inspired tens of thousands to get one, but it is not always to their benefit.  Why?  Because we have the same related problems listed above:

  • Marketplaces adjust to supply and demand.  When there are a lot of oranges available for sale, prices go down and demand is sated.  When there are a lot of MBAs available on the job market, the degree no longer carries cachet, which leads employers to look at other factors – Was there an emphasis within the MBA which is distinctive (a particular one these days is “Business Intelligence” which marries nicely with the megatrend of big data)?  Or, was there a useful capstone or study abroad program in a relevant field?  Did the student just get a Masters right after undergrad (this means that there wasn’t the rich work experience which informs any real MBA program)?
  • The flatter worldwide job market increasingly means that you aren’t just competing within your country anymore.  You may be competing against candidates from other countries who share your qualifications.
  • Instead of improving their chances to be hired by increasing their qualifications, students who have not distinguished themselves now find themselves in far deeper debt than when they started, shiny undergraduate diploma in hand.

What can we do?  Well here at Get Smarter we’re always trying to prepare our students for life, not just for their next standardized test.  So here are three things to keep in mind as you prepare for undergraduate life:

1.    Do not expect a University to land you a job.  Parents increasingly put pressure on universities to deliver “jobs.”  And universities increasingly game their statistics by hiring new graduates internally.  Parents should not expect a university or college to provide a job for their young graduate.  A university can give you a degree – and hopefully teach you to think and learn at a high level so that you will be an asset to any firm (perhaps your own) – but it can’t control what the marketplace wants from possible employees (or can offer).

2.    Don’t let college “happen” to you.  Be the person your advisor actually knows by sight.  Attend those lectures and extra activities offered on campus.  Get involved with a group or two – and no, a fraternity or sorority is not solely the answer to all that, even though the time they demand would make you feel that way (fair disclosure: the author is a member of a business fraternity).

3.    Be as serious about landing internships and summer jobs as you are about your studies.  For those of us who are not college athletes who may possibly turn professional, this undergraduate life can set up the next decade of our pursuits.  ‘Nothing says that taking your future seriously has to exclude fun, but remember that when fun beckons, and serious things are not done, the mark of future success is upon those who accomplish those serious things while others temporize.

Stephen Heiner is a Tutor at Get Smarter Prep.