Grad School Without the GRE

Brown follows Princeton in letting departments decide whether to require the admissions test. Twenty-four of them opt out.

October 7, 2019
(Photo by David DelPoio / Brown University)

Brown University announced Friday that entrance to 24 of its graduate programs will no longer require the Graduate Record Examination.

Brown's move follows a similar move by Princeton University, which last month announced that 14 of its departments have dropped the GRE as a requirement. For some time, individual departments have dropped the GRE at other universities, but Princeton and Brown surveyed their departments, allowing them to vote on the issue, resulting in more programs going that way.

The Educational Testing Service, which runs the GRE, opposes the move, but there may be more such decisions ahead.

Opponents of standardized tests object to the GRE for many of the same reasons that they are against the SAT and ACT: tests are expensive and on average white people and Asian Americans do better than black and Latino test takers do. But critics also have another advantage: the small size of doctoral programs means that admissions decisions must be made on a personal basis. But diversity tends to be the primary argument.

“The future success of graduate education at Brown depends on the diverse, innovative and intellectually independent candidates we admit and the varied skill sets they bring to their disciplines,” said a statement from the dean of the Graduate School, Andrew G. Campbell. “By removing the Graduate School’s GRE requirement and allowing programs to decide whether to require the exam, we will broaden the talent pool of students who apply to and have access to graduate education at Brown.”

The departments at Brown that are dropping the GRE include humanities fields (English, French studies, German studies), but also the sciences (biotechnology, biomedical engineering, chemistry, computer science). A similar split was evident at Princeton.

Where universities have not taken action on the GRE, individual departments have. In the last two years, the history department at Yale University, the English departments at Cornell University and Harvard University, and the philosophy department at the University of Pennsylvania have all dropped the GRE. So have dozens of biology and biomedical research departments at a range of universities.

ETS Answers Back

To be sure, the GRE remains a dominant player in graduate admissions. And it's too early to say what number of prospective graduate students will opt not to submit the GRE.

The GRE has also made notable gains in recent years in law school admissions, challenging the LSAT as the test for law school admissions. (The LSAT is a general test and does not test legal skills.)

David Payne, vice president and chief operating officer of the global higher education division of the Educational Testing Service, issued this statement on Brown's decision.

"Dropping the GRE score requirement is a mistake," he said. "The argument that meeting diversity and completion goals can be done with less information than admissions faculty and committees already have is flawed. Eliminating the GRE score requirement -- the only common, objective and research-based measure in the admissions process -- will leave only subjective measures for review and selection, heightening the role that implicit bias plays.

"The GRE Program has always been supportive of holistic admissions practices, advocating that a GRE score is one piece of evidence to be used in decisions. We continue to encourage graduate programs to carefully analyze their admissions practices to understand the purpose, benefits and drawbacks of each application element. This holistic approach, inclusive of GRE scores, provides the best opportunity to bring in a talented and diverse graduate class."

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Scott Jaschik

Scott Jaschik, Editor, is one of the three founders of Inside Higher Ed. With Doug Lederman, he leads the editorial operations of Inside Higher Ed, overseeing news content, opinion pieces, career advice, blogs and other features. Scott is a leading voice on higher education issues, quoted regularly in publications nationwide, and publishing articles on colleges in publications such as The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, Salon, and elsewhere. He has been a judge or screener for the National Magazine Awards, the Online Journalism Awards, the Folio Editorial Excellence Awards, and the Education Writers Association Awards. Scott served as a mentor in the community college fellowship program of the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media, of Teachers College, Columbia University. He is a member of the board of the Education Writers Association. From 1999-2003, Scott was editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott grew up in Rochester, N.Y., and graduated from Cornell University in 1985. He lives in Washington.

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