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Imagine paying top dollar, sacrificing your personal life and compounding years of stress into mere months, all in pursuit of a goal you later decide to give up.

That's the situation many women face when applying to law school. After spending incredible amounts of time, money and effort to prepare for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT), they receive scores they feel are too low to get into the schools they want.

LSAT scores are often the most important aspect of a law school application, but people seem oblivious to the fact that men receive significantly higher LSAT scores than women.

Numerous news articles have bemoaned the decline of the number of women enrolling in law school over the past five years, blaming the dwindling number of female attendees on a slew of factors. Most blame a corporate legal culture that restricts family and personal time.

Yet these articles discount one critical fact: the percentage of women taking the LSAT during this same period has remained roughly static, and is higher than the percentage of women in law school. In 2005-2006, 49.08 percent of people taking the LSAT were female, while this year, law school is only 46.9 percent female.

The issue is clearly not that women are disinterested in law school, but that some post-exam event leads women to reconsider their original goals.

For many women, that event might be the receipt of their LSAT score.

Since my father is a law professor at the University of San Francisco, I asked him for some LSAT test data that he received from the school's admissions office.

Upon analyzing the data from the Law School Admissions Council for 2001-2006, I found the percentage of women who score in the top percentile of test takers - the select students scoring 175 or above - is roughly a third of a percent.

Around three-fourths of a percent of males scored in the same category. Using this measure, women finally outpace men in scores below 150 - a score lower than at least 75 percent of those admitted to each Tier 1 and 2 school.

If there were no gender differences, we would expect to see the same percentage of men and women landing in each bracket.

As much as it offended my feminist sensibilities, I stopped to consider whether men are better applicants than women and deserve higher scores. The LSAT is supposed to predict first-year grades in law school, so if the LSAT is an accurate predictor, we would see men obtaining higher GPAs than women in law school.

While I couldn't obtain law school GPAs, I could find undergraduate ones. When comparing test-takers' LSAT scores and undergraduate GPAs, I found that women had higher GPAs for each of the past five years.

Interestingly, while male and female GPAs both increased over the past five years, LSAT scores did not. The mean male LSAT score increased from 152.7 to 154, while the mean female LSAT score only increased from 151.1 to 151.5, making the differences greater in recent years.

I don't believe the correlation between greater gender differences and decreasing female enrollment is pure coincidence. I recently took the LSAT, and if my score hadn't met my expectations, I wouldn't have applied to law school. And I don't think I'm unusual.

With the media ignoring gender differences in the LSAT, women assume their individual performance - and not the system - is the problem.

The problem does not end with women deciding not to apply to law school. Possibly due to lower LSAT scores, they are also being admitted in lower percentages.

In 2006, which showed a difference in mean LSAT scores of 2.5 points, the number of women admitted decreased by 1.7 percent, while the number of men increased by 1.1 percent. This year had the greatest disparity of the years I analyzed.

Gender differences alone may not account for the decline of women enrolling in law school, but it is a factor that needs studying.

Based on my limited knowledge of neurological differences between men and women, my guess is that the LSAT emphasizes skills where men tend to have a natural advantage, such as certain spatial tasks, and deemphasizes skills where women tend to have stronger ability, such as short-term memory.

However, not being any sort of an expert in this field, I leave these differences to the actual experts to investigate and correct.

Otherwise, the number of women in law school will likely continue to decline, thus harming the diversity that is believed by the academy to be necessary for a "fair and balanced" legal education.

Colleen Honigsberg is an economic consultant in Washington, D.C. and former editorial page editor of The Daily Bruin.

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