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What's up with GRE-optional PhD admissions?

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My area of study is bioinformatics, but I think my question is broadly applicable. I noted that some grad programs have gone GRE-optional, e.g. Harvard BIG, UCSF BI, and UMich CCMB. Some programs like UPenn BGS seem to have gone test blind.

Are universities that follow this path just trying to get a wider applicant pool? If so, what's driving this? Do they just want their program to appear more competitive, or are they trying to get a more diverse pool of admitted students? How do test optional programs view students who don't submit GRE scores? It seems odd to me that a program like Harvard BIG makes the GRE optional but strongly recommends that you submit scores. I'd be interested to see what proportion of admitted students didn't submit GRE scores.

When I applied to undergrad programs, I applied to three programs that didn't require SAT/ACT scores and was admitted to all without sending in test scores. I'm wondering how much of a gamble not sending in GRE scores to grad programs would be. 

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I would also be curious to see what percentage of their acceptances did not submit a GRE.

I image that some programs are recognizing that GRE test scores do not speak to an applicant's potential in a graduate program. Also, it can be extremely expensive. 

Overall,  GREs could be a barrier that prevent otherwise brilliant students from submitting an application package.  I imagine that most GRE-optional programs would like test scores, although they don't want to exclude anyone on that one factor alone. 

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I guess I can answer this for you, been seeing it for a while but felt like the answer does not really help you. Just curious then ok sure 

Research has shown that the GRE is not a good indicator of graduate school success. However, studies have shown that students who were raised affluently have a tendency to do very well on the GRE, while lower socioeconomic, underrepresented students did much worse even with intense studying. Heck, I got 162/154/4 with two months intense study, but you didn’t ask about me. These studies highlight that the GRE actually act as a barrier to students from underrepresented backgrounds. 

That’s great and all, but you know.. these ad comms and professors are too busy to read papers about GRE. So us poor, first generation, English second or even third language students etc. are screwed! 

But then, hope came upon us. A hero at SFSU in the bio department began a program that accepted these students into masters and mentored them into other PhD programs. These students started with low gre and mediocre gpas. Over the course of many fricken years, this uncaped hero acquired a grand list of these successful “poor” test score students, their high gpa at the masters level, the top universities where they are going/went for PhDs, and those who went onto professorships. Essentially, he shown how amazing these students can be, regardless of a test score. Dreams do come true.

So he has the data... low gre score means nothing. But yea, so what? So what?! Professor hero goes around to different bio departments, and gives hour long talks about his work and why the gre is useless. As a result, some bio departments throw out the gre requirement. I was in one of his presentations in the past, he even said if we apply somewhere where they require it, we could let him know and he may try talking to them. I forgot his name though, or I don’t want to share it with you, idk. 

Anyways, every professor I’ve talked to says they don’t care about gre anymore. Just don’t bomb it. Why it’s still even there, heh... that’s a story for another time kiddo. 

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I would imagine those schools are trying to get a more diverse pool of applicants. For a variety of reasons, applicants from underrepresented backgrounds often score lower on the GRE. Applicants from more traditionally represented backgrounds also may perform below their potential, too, depending on the circumstances around their test day. I don't know what the current science is around GRE scores and success in graduate school, but my guess is that GRE scores aren't highly correlated with who finishes a PhD program or who achieves success (like papers, posters, fellowships, etc.) within the program - because the GRE doesn't really test domains that contribute to that success, not directly anyway. There are a couple of more recent articles that address this, like one in Science Mag (https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2017/06/gres-dont-predict-grad-school-success-what-does), and this journalistic one in The Atlantic (https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/the-problem-with-the-gre/471633/).

I don't think the GRE has ever been very important to admissions to doctoral programs. The old wisdom was that GRE scores can keep you out, but they can't get you in - in other words, usually once you cross some threshold (usually unsaid, although some programs will recommend a general minimum to shoot for) they don't do any additional work to boost your admissions, but scoring below that threshold can be damaging to your application. But even that can be bent - if an otherwise really outstanding applicant has mediocre GRE scores, that can be overlooked.

Given the lack of predictive power in all the axes that doctoral admissions committees actually care about, I guess some professors/program are like why force good potential candidates to spend a couple hundred dollars, several months of studying, and a few hours of stressful high-stakes testing on something that's not really going to help them evaluate the candidate at all?

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For University of Michigan, the optional GRE just took place for this cycle. Basically, using the GRE as a predictor of success is weak, is biased against groups traditionally underrepresented in graduate school, and the cost is a large burden for some. Also, NIH T32 training grants, NIH individual fellowships, or the NSF GRFP fellowship no longer require it. Do can read more about the change here: https://medicine.umich.edu/medschool/sites/medicine.umich.edu.medschool/files/assets/PIBS_GRE_POLICY_2018.pdf

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