Student choice must be at the center of graduate admissions

The notion that eliminating the GRE® test from graduate admissions will improve program diversity and remove barriers for applicants is short-sighted. Rather, quite the opposite is true. The recruitment of more diverse talent can be achieved with the use of the GRE test in admissions. To get there, we must normalize allowing students the opportunity to present themselves to admissions committees with the knowledge and experience they bring to the table. Many prospective students – including international applicants and those from underrepresented groups – count on GRE scores to round out their applications. Decisions to not allow the scores the GRE test provides takes away an applicant’s ability to complete a well-rounded application and should not be made for them.

A graduate-level education is an achievement sought by many. As such, it’s important that institutions get their admissions processes right and consider prospective students for all they have to offer – allowing them to leverage the application materials so as to present their best selves in order to advance their education and achieve their goals. Graduate schools that want their students and programs to succeed must prioritize these equitable, holistic and inclusive practices. The value that the GRE test serves should not be overlooked, providing information about critical skills and graduate school readiness, and serving as a great equalizer among applicants.

In my years of experience recruiting graduate students, I have found that the most fair and balanced method of reviewing applicants is by taking a comprehensive look at a student. I know many colleagues who agree with this approach and have had similar success. This balancing act in evaluating each element of a student’s application, from GPA, to GRE test scores, to research, volunteer and work experience provides graduate faculty a full sense of who an applicant is. Of these elements, the GRE test is the one standardized measure that helps prevent unfair judgment and bias, while providing a reliable gauge of the skills needed for graduate studies. Not only does including the GRE test in admissions help prevent implicit bias in decision-making, but conversely, removing the GRE test from the review process risks explicit bias negatively impacting students from diverse and untraditional backgrounds.

The objectivity the GRE test’s section scores provide serve as additional data points for what students know and can do and can combat disadvantages that many from diverse and less privileged backgrounds might face in other areas of their application. Privileged students are often able to attend prestigious universities that offer greater access to and opportunities for research, study abroad and other high impact learning. On the other hand, I’ve seen many qualified candidates forced to work throughout their undergraduate experience to provide for their families and finance their education. This can keep students from getting the research or volunteer experience they are qualified for but don’t have the time, money or support to take part in. In this way, the GRE test allows for less privileged students a competitive edge against their more fortunate counterparts.

Any decision to eliminate the GRE test from graduate admissions must be made at the graduate program level with leadership from graduate faculty. We have already established the important role that students play in being able to have the freedom to choose how they show up to admissions committees, however, the role of faculty in these decisions is equally critical. Too many times we’ve seen policy decisions at an institution, that affect students and faculty alike, made by a small group of administrators with little to no opportunity for input. We must do better. We must allow the voices of those who will be engaging with and spending a vast majority of time with these very students to have a voice in the room and bring their perspectives to bear, particularly when it comes to pivotal issues related to admissions criteria and practices. Not only should their perspective be valued, the research that often accompanies such decisions should be rigorously evaluated in context and their methods judiciously questioned.

Graduate schools must strive for more: more inclusive practices, more flexible admissions approaches and more student (and faculty) choice. We must all commit to an admissions process that measures both standardized and non-standardized components, allowing for fairer, holistic and open practices that encourage students to engage with institutions during their application process in a way that supports their goals and aspirations. Eliminating the GRE test from this process runs counter to this approach and will continue to remain a fundamental component of graduate admissions. Removing this element from the admissions equation for students removes their potential to advance and succeed. Is this the message we want to be sending our prospective students?

John Augusto is the Associate Dean for Strategic Initiatives in the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgia State University, and a Strategic Advisor for ETS.

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