Retiring the GRE

John R. Finnegan Jr. | June 21, 2021

Last month, our school’s Educational Policy Committee (EPC) voted overwhelmingly to stop using the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) for student admissions. The GRE has been used as an admissions tool nationwide for 85 years, and although it may continue to be pertinent for some disciplines, we found it not to be so for our school — it adds little to our student selection process, creates barriers to higher education, and doesn’t support our efforts to increase equity and inclusion.

As of now, 47 schools of public health have permanently eliminated the GRE; 26 schools are still considering eliminating it; and 20 waived it only for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle. We are one of the few schools that conducted a rigorous, internal evaluation of the GRE and incorporated external evidence to come to our decision. This internal evaluation found that the GRE did not add useful information beyond that provided by other elements of the application (e.g., letters of recommendation, personal statements, and a student’s GPA).

Last year, we paused use of the GRE for a one-year trial period. Informal feedback from admissions committees has generally been positive; most faculty reported that they did not “miss” having the GRE. Emily Dunsworth, assistant dean of recruitment and enrollment, feels that eliminating the GRE allows our school to look more comprehensively at essential human qualities in a prospective student, such as perseverance and determination, which may not have had the same weight when the focus was on GRE scores.

The GRE can present often insurmountable barriers, especially for students who have not been traditionally included in higher education. Our EPC Chair, Julian Wolfson says this: “There can be a self-selection out of applying for certain schools and programs if you think an element of your application is not strong enough. Your GRE score is one such element.” Particularly for students who have little experience with standardized tests or lack the resources to adequately prepare for them, GRE scores may not reflect their abilities or chances for success in graduate school. Then there is the matter of cost, and not only the $200-$250 fee to take the test. We know studying for the test can raise your score, but study materials and courses can cost up to $2,000 and take time away from a job or other obligations, making opportunities to prepare for this high-stakes assessment not equally distributed.

A priority for our school is to create a more welcoming environment, attract students with lived experiences that mirror the world around us, and train a public health workforce that is best equipped to take on the challenges we face. I believe dropping the GRE may help move us in that direction. As Lauren Jones, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion, says, “We want more Black, Indigenous, and students of color. We want more neurodiverse students. The future of public health is dependent on who can get the training and credentials to be at the decision-making tables… [eliminating the GRE] is one step in that direction.”

If there are racist and classist biases in the GRE, will eliminating its use help reduce bias in our admissions process? Perhaps, but we’re not relying on this step alone. Our school is launching a self study on how to avoid bias in the admissions process and to determine the most promising practices for a holistic review of applications so that we can continue to advance our goals of equity, diversity, inclusion, and antiracism.

John R. Finnegan Jr. 
Dean and Professor

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