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graduate-school

The Graduate College, with Cleveland Tower. 

Photo Credit: Jon Ort / The Daily Princetonian

The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a standardized test required for admission by most graduate and professional schools in the country. Last week, the University announced that 14 of its 42 graduate programs will no longer require the test.

The Graduate School decided that it is at the discretion of each department whether or not the test should be optional.

The Office of Communications announced that “the decision to make the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) optional is among Princeton’s efforts to attract and enroll a wider range of graduate students.”

Chris Tokita GS, a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and one of the Graduate School’s diversity fellows, explained the positive student reaction.

“I’m happy with it, and from all of the other graduate students I’ve interacted with, it seems like everyone is pretty happy that they have made the GRE optional,” he said.

Many faculty members believe that the GRE gives an unfair advantage to students who can afford test preparation, leaving first-generation and low-income college students at a disadvantage in graduate admission.

Without a fee waiver, registration for the GRE costs $205 in the United States. In addition to registration fees, many students seek GRE success by buying expensive preparation books and paying for tutors and classes.

“Studies suggest that GRE scores are not great indicators of graduate school success and underserve students who cannot afford test prep or taking the exam multiple times,” Professor of Molecular Biology Zemer Gitai said, according to the University’s release. “We thus believe that making the GRE optional could help us attract more students to apply without sacrificing much in our ability to assess student performance.”

The GRE is meant to test skills that are necessary for graduate level schooling, including verbal and quantitative reasoning and analytical writing. However, there is some debate as to whether or not it accomplishes these goals.

Tokita thinks that the test is not the best indication of a student’s ability.

“My impression it’s been a long-known open secret that the GRE is actually not that useful,” Tokita said. “Certainly, there have been a lot of studies that have shown it’s not very predictive at all of an individual’s probability of completing graduate school. It just seemed like an arbitrary, stressful, and expensive hoop that people had to jump through.”

Graduate admission officers also consider transcripts, research experience, and letters of recommendation when reviewing applicants.

Associate Dean for Access, Diversity and Inclusion Renita Miller said that the change reflects an effort to reach the same levels of diversity in the graduate community as the University’s undergraduate population.

“Universities like Princeton have done a good job at expanding and diversifying their undergraduate populations,” she said, according to a press release. “If we want to make similar strides on the graduate level, we must find new ways to recruit and enroll graduate students who may be the first in their families to attend college, and from low-income and underrepresented backgrounds.”

Faculty hope that increasing graduate student diversity will also affect the diversity of faculty at major institutions.

“As we diversify the pool of Ph.D.s to include more scholars from underrepresented groups, we directly impact the diversity of the pool from which faculty are often hired,” Deputy University Spokesman Michael Hotchkiss said in an email to The Daily Princetonian. “The hope is that by increasing the pipeline, faculty representation of underrepresented scholars is also positively impacted.” 

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