For the past several decades, UNC graduate programs have examined applicants’ Graduate Record Examination scores to determine their preparedness for graduate school. The test — which totals 3 hours and 45 minutes — was once thought to be an accurate predictor of measuring students' verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning and analytical writing skills.
But in May 2020, the Graduate School Administrative Board approved a five-year, two-phase pilot program to slowly phase out the GRE as a central requirement.
In the 2021 admissions cycle, the GRE was still required centrally, but individual graduate departments had the opportunity to not include it in their admissions processes. For the fall, 70 percent of UNC departments opted-out of the GRE requirement.
“I do think the timing was influenced likely by the pandemic,” Sarah Jacobson, assistant dean for admission/enrolled students said. “Also, the payment may have restricted access to testing for some applicants. For some disciplines, when peer institutions or similar programs began phasing out the GRE, it then became a matter of competition.”
Beginning in the 2022 admissions cycle, the Graduate School will not centrally require GRE scores, but individual academic programs have the discretion to opt-in, Dean of the Graduate School Suzanne Barbour said at a meeting on April 20. This stipulation will remain for the next four years.
“Now that programs have had an opportunity to think about this, to develop new processes and to develop rubrics, they now have a process in place by which they can do a really thoughtful review of whether their programs should opt-in," Barbour said.
Joshua Hall, director of admissions for UNC’s biological and biomedical sciences program said he began researching five years ago what aspects of the application predicted how well students did in the program.
By examining the student productivity of BBSP graduate students, Hall and his peers found that the GRE was particularly bad at predicting how well graduate students actually did in the program. In 2018, the BBSP got permission from the graduate school to remove the GRE requirement as a pilot.
”Admissions committees have not really missed it,” Hall said. “We've still recruited really, really competitive groups of students. And you know the other benefit is our students no longer have to pay hundreds of dollars to take a test that we determined really was not all that useful for our admissions committee to actually understand who is going to be successful in our program.”
To benefit his own students who were applying to graduate school, Hall started keeping a list of biology and biomedical graduate institutions that don’t require the GRE for admissions.
“When I started the list, there were probably less than ten schools who didn’t require the GRE. Now, there’s almost 400,” Hall said.
Senior linguistics major Hannah Steen was recently accepted to a speech-language pathology graduate program at the University.
“When I found out they weren't requiring it, I let out a sigh of relief,” Steen said. “I'm just not great at that kind of testing, and I didn't think that it would have contributed to my application really at all. I was really hoping that my application essays, recommendations and my involvement would have gotten me there.”
Barbour said that holistic approaches toward graduate admissions is a consideration not just at UNC, but for all of higher education.
"Every individual has their strengths and weaknesses,” she said. “Everyone has different ways of demonstrating those strengths and weaknesses, so the strongest student when it comes to GPA may turn out to have lousy communication skills. Or, the student who's got the highest GRE scores may not be the best person to work in a research lab.”
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