Yale, Harvard Law Schools Ditch U.S. News Rankings. Here’s Why.

Yale has long held the top spot in the U.S. News & World Report law school rankings. Harvard is tied for No. 4. Both will abandon their coveted spots over the rankings' methodology.

Published November 17, 2022

Edited by Darlene Earnest
Yale, Harvard Law Schools Ditch U.S. News Rankings. Here’s Why.
Higher Ed Policy
Photo by sshepard / iStock Unreleased / Getty Images

  • Yale Law School will no longer participate in the U.S. News & World Report rankings, where it has long held the top spot, according to a release from the school.
  • Harvard Law School, which tied for No. 4 in this year's rankings, likewise announced it would no longer participate.
  • Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken said the metrics could discourage schools from admitting students with greater financial needs.

Yale and Harvard law schools are withdrawing from the U.S. News & World Report's rankings, the schools announced Wednesday, pointing to concerns that the rankings' methodology disincentivizes schools from helping disadvantaged students.

Yale Law School has sat at the top of U.S. News law school rankings for decades — but the prestigious institution will be abandoning that title due to what its leaders say is a profoundly flawed methodology.

Those rankings disincentivize programs that support public interest careers, champion need-based aid, and welcome working-class students into the profession, according to a statement from Yale Law School Dean Heather K. Gerken.

U.S. News ranks law schools based on their successful placement of graduates, faculty resources, academic achievements of entering students, and opinions by law schools, lawyers and judges on overall program quality, according to the organization's website. That includes measures around a school's selectivity, including acceptance rates, entering students' median scores on the LSAT and GRE exams, and entering students' GPAs.

Those indicators around selectivity account for a combined 21% of a law school's ranking, according to U.S. News.

Gerken took particular issue with the rankings around GPAs and exams. She wrote that those measures don't paint a complete picture of an applicant's prowess and could mean scholarship money is based more on students' scores than students' needs.

This heavily weighted metric imposes tremendous pressure on schools to overlook promising students, especially those who cannot afford expensive test preparation courses, Gerken said in the statement. It also pushes schools to use financial aid to recruit high-scoring students. As a result, millions of dollars of scholarship money now go to students with the highest scores, not the greatest need.

Harvard Law School Dean John F. Manning expressed similar concerns to those of Gerken.

By heavily weighting students' test scores and college grades, the U.S. News rankings have created incentives for law schools to direct more financial aid toward applicants based on their LSAT scores and college GPAs without regard to their financial need, Manning said in a statement

It does not advance the best ideals of legal education or the profession we serve, and it contradicts the deeply held commitments of Harvard Law School, he said.

Harvard and Yale have the only law schools in the country that give out financial aid based entirely around student need, Gerken said. That includes a tuition-free scholarship that Yale Law School launched earlier this year for students whose families are below the poverty line.

These students overcame nearly insurmountable odds to get to Yale, and their stories are nothing short of inspiring, Gerken said. Regrettably, U.S. News has made it difficult for other law schools to eliminate the financial barriers that deter talented minds from joining our profession.

The rankings also discourage law schools from supporting students who want to head into public interest careers or pursue advanced degrees, Gerken wrote. Yale Law School awards a slew of public interest fellowships, but graduates with those fellowships are effectively classified as unemployed, Gerken wrote.

The rankings also don't include loan forgiveness programs when calculating student debt, a crucial aspect of public interest careers, Gerken said.

Those public interest fellowships, Manning said, often launch a graduate's career in the public sector.

The debt metric adopted by U.S. News two years ago risks confusing more than it informs because a school may lower debt at graduation through generous financial aid, but it may also achieve the same effect by admitting more students who have the resources to avoid borrowing, Manning said. The debt metric gives prospective students no way to tell which is which. And to the extent the debt metric creates an incentive for schools to admit better resourced students who don't need to borrow, it risks harming those it is trying to help.

Gerkin gave credit to U.S. News for recognizing the importance of student debt for students looking to become lawyers but warned that metrics around debt alone can lead to schools admitting students who can pay their own tuition rather than students who need to take out loans.

A far better measure is how much financial aid a law school provides to its students, rewarding schools that admit students from low-income backgrounds and support them along the way, Gerken wrote. That crucial measure receives inadequate weight in the rankings.

Eric Gertler, executive chairman and CEO of U.S. News, said in an emailed statement that the rankings are important for students as they weigh different law schools.

The U.S. News Best Law Schools rankings are for students seeking the best decision for their law education, Gertler said. We will continue to fulfill our journalistic mission of ensuring that students can rely on the best and most accurate information in making that decision. As part of our mission, we must continue to ensure that law schools are held accountable for the education they will provide to these students and that mission does not change with this recent announcement.

Yale Law School's departure is the latest major shakeup of the U.S. News' rankings this year.

Columbia University fell from No. 2 to No. 18 in the U.S. News broader college rankings earlier this year after the school previously admitted to falsifying data it sent to the company, BestColleges reported.