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GRE, or a nightmare for minorities and underprivileged groups?


cloudyword
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Hi folks,

I came across this article (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/the-problem-with-the-gre/471633/?utm_source=atlfb) from the Atlantic earlier this morning and could totally relate to it. Does anyone also have trouble scoring high due to lack of resources and affordable coaching? I would like to hear from your experience and how you all manage to overcome it! 

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2 hours ago, cloudyword said:

Hi folks,

I came across this article (http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/03/the-problem-with-the-gre/471633/?utm_source=atlfb) from the Atlantic earlier this morning and could totally relate to it. Does anyone also have trouble scoring high due to lack of resources and affordable coaching? I would like to hear from your experience and how you all manage to overcome it! 

Absolutely. I live in a developing country with ongoing conflict. I am in touch with about 75 students who are planning to take the GRE. Every single one of them has difficulty obtaining enough prep materials, even old material used by previous test-takers. The difficulties manifest themselves in different ways: some students who can afford to buy materials are unable to because online banking is underdeveloped here, and if they can circumvent that, many of the companies don't deliver here. Many test-takers wait for friends, contacts or relatives who come from overseas to bring them materials.

Sometimes, it's the issue of language. Some students score above 90 on the TOEFL iBT but still have difficulty understanding the questions in the quant section of the GRE. These are engineering students who are otherwise quite confident about their quantitative skills but are hamstrung by difficulty translating specialized quant jargon (which is not what you are expected to know for the TOEFL or even the verbal section of the GRE). They learned math in the local language and have to re-educate themselves about numerators, denominators, GCFs and LCMs.

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Interesting.

I am a 40-year-old woman, I have a family and I did not return for any type of degree until I was 37. I am also like many who are struggling to keep bills paid and am the first in my family to get an undergrad degree. 

I have had a crazy ride teaching myself math that I have not used since elementary school in order to keep up with college-level coursework, and now I am doing the same studying for the GRE while balancing a full-time course load, a family, and a household. I do not have time or money to spend on prep courses or tutoring, so like the gentleman in this article, I am going to do the best I can with what I have to work with- Free from the internet.

I will admit that I am really stressed about the importance of this one test. My 3.5 GPA, LOR's and "my story" may never be seen if I do not do well enough on the GRE to make it through the initial round, it is terrifying. 

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I agree there is a problem with the whole sit-for-this-exam-or-I-won't-admit-you business. It's not only the exam, but the preparation and the books, and everything. It's a whole damn business, like a hazing stage. And it's even more expensive when the first tutor you hired has no idea of how to 'train' you and you have to pay for the same course twice. And if you are from a country where the dollar is expensive and books are rarely imported from abroad, oh boy! Is that hard! Yeah, it's a bloodsucking system for 'us'.

Yet, I don't think that kind of attitude will get anyone anywhere. It costs to get into grad school, it costs to stay there, and it costs to leave (have you seen the gown prices?). And it is our choice to face those costs, to actually go to grad school. We all have 'stories', some are more dramatic than others, granted, but everyone comes with something to tell. I know single mums, families, forty-somethings, first-generations, and other "underprivileged" people in my school. I think I could count as underprivileged because of my ethnicity and my gender. And I also know the just-got-out-of-college kids. Yeah, friends of mine got it "easier" because parents pay for stuff such as rent and taxes (not minor). Some of these kids told me that they want to get past the 'kids' stage. Their advisors see them as students all time because of their age and supportive family. I never thought of that, my advisor treats me as a colleague because, yeah, I'm older. I'm not saying I'm better and they are worse, or that you don't the right vent because GRE are a business. For now, I'm saying that victimization is not circumscribed to one group. We can discuss who has more 'right' to protest about GREs, and I would probably agree with both of you, @DogsArePeopleToo and @Staara304. Yet, whether you like it or not, the GRE is part of the admission process. Can we change it? I don't know. But right here right now, if you want to get into the schools that you want to get, you need it. It sucks. I took it twice, and each time represented 10% of my salary to do it. I HATED it.

Let me give you a piece of unsolicited advice: victimization will not get you anywhere. Not in your SOPs, not in your papers, not in your grant applications, not in your job applications. It simply will not. Think about it: if people want to find something to be victims of, they will. I know this white, blonde, gorgeous girl who complained about her whiteness and blondeness because it stereotyped here work in the horn of Africa. Who forced her to go there? Nobody. Yeah, probably her looks informed the way people talk to her but instead of using that as a cue in her work, she used it as a victim-card. I trust your stories make you stronger, more apt, better prepared. Show that.  

Both of you are right, and we could read thousands of other stories. But stories don't make us special in grad school, our work does. Use your stories to your favor, turn them over. Do vent in the appropriate spaces with family and friends and sure, here too, but please don't let this sink your chances to get in grad school. You are not applying for complaining about the world (oh, did I have complains in my first drafts of SOPs!!!). You want to get in to change that world. So yeah, vent, but don't drop the ball. Go and get into grad school!

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I think you kind of missed the point of the article, there are many studies showing that underprivileged and minority groups ARE suffering because of GRE requirements. This is not playing the victim card, this is concurring with the study results by citing our own experiences and showing empathy towards one another. 

Nobody is pretending to be special, but we should not sell our souls to get into Grad school. Compassion should not be lost because X poster may be a competitor in the application process. It does not fare well for those who are already stressed out over applying and facing whatever struggles they have to contend with on a daily basis.

Sometimes people just need to see/hear that others are going through roughly the same emotions in order to find a better perspective and keep moving forward. This is not complaining, this is problem-solving. 

Edited by Staara304
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@Staara304, as I said, I agree with you (please, refer to examples I provided of my own experience concurring with the study). But that doesn't make the GRE any less of a requirement. If you consider sitting for the GRE selling your soul, then don't do it. It's quite simple. If you want to get to a school that requires it, then, unfortunately, you have to.

I didn't understand the compassion sentence. If you are saying I'm not compassionate, well, I wasn't trying to be. The best advice I got when I was preparing my application was the harsh, blunt advice from a friend who stripped my SOP from all the resentment I had from my daily contention (which was, in my case, a clear example of victimization). Again, I didn't say you were playing the victim card (on the contrary). I'm saying I did in my first drafts and I've seen lots of grad students do it too, undermining their chances of a good LOR or the like.

I agree this –the forum– is the place to seek support, and I am sorry it didn't show in my post. My first intention was not stress you out even more (which I think the article does), but to draw your attention to the fact that if you still want to get in, you still have to do stuff like taking the GRE. This is not the only time something like this will happen in your grad school years, so that's why I chose to play the (apparently) uncompassionate, unsupportive card.

I'm also not trying to be your friend, I'm trying to be a colleague. I gave unsolicited advice and, as such, you can dismiss it in the same way I gave it.

Finally, most importantly, I do hope you excel in the GRE so that the AdComs read your SOP, as you said. All the best.

 

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@AP  Your reply sounded condescending, and while I realize you felt you were giving advice, it came off badly. Hence the compassion statement. All too often we forget there is a human on the other end who may just need a little reassurance that others are in the same boat. 

I do not think that taking the GRE is selling my soul, I do think there are major problems with it but as you stated there is very little we can do about it. I do however feel that even in the midst of this roller coaster ride we can all show empathy to each other, to do otherwise would be conflicting of my own morals and ethics. 

Thank you for the luck! 

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Your struggles are probably bigger than mine, @Staara304, but they're not dissimilar. I also have a full-time job, am the first in my family to go to college, and haven't used any math in 8 years. Nobody in my circle of friends and family spoke English when I started, and nobody knew how to guide me through any of it. But I did get a break for college from my alma mater, for which I'm forever grateful.

My verbal scores are good enough, but quant needs a lot of work. I share your anxieties about not making the cut because of this, even though I have a "good story" (grew up a refugee, returning to work in my country after a BA obtained abroad, etc.).

I'm sharing all this (probably more than I should have) in order to show that there's anxiety about grad school admissions all over the world :) It doesn't help that the less privileged probably have higher levels of it. But that hasn't stopped me (or you either, apparently) from trying. Onward we forge!

Edited by DogsArePeopleToo
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I really appreciate all the above sharing from @Staara304 and @DogsArePeopleToo, since not everyone is comfortable with telling his/her own "special story" when the academic world demands such toughness and politics to appear "professional" and "competitive." And, yes, I also agree with @AP that playing victim card would not get us any further.

The reason why I started this post, however, has its practical purpose, and it is nothing close to the kind of useless complaint displayed for the sake of some feel-good moments. Either from showing compassion or sharing practical information, I am trying to create a space that encourages young and inexperienced would-be grad students, including me, to not be deterred from our dream. Unlike @AP's footing, some of us have no access to academic advice, no one to read our SOPs, cannot see a model to follow suit, etc. Simply put, we just don't know if it is going to work for someone like us. Perhaps we will have more things figured out once we get in an academic circle when resources are more available, or perhaps we will gain more confidence once we are connected with a like group. Or perhaps not. What does it matter? It is at least worth the try, casting out HELP signs or stupid questions in an anonymous forum, seeing if any experienced grads or some like-persons would kindly offer their advice. I don't see this kind of question any more irrelevant than questions like "How to select POIs" or "What if my GPA isn't good enough." Isn't this board there to connect and to help one another?  

Yes, everyone is fighting against his/her own odds, including those who are supposedly born with better cards at hand. I guess my intention is quite simple: I hope at least in this cyberspace, we are allowed to ask for help and support when anyone needs it; no one should be shamed by not knowing how to master something or overcome some adversities. There is nothing wrong to show weakness and be human. (I guess even know-all-and-conquer-all professors have their struggles, too.) It's not like we're going to faint at conferences or explode when confronting other future tasks in grad school. I believe we are all tough and persevere enough to come to this life path. It's just a slight push we need from one another to eventually reach the point where our voices are heard and papers are cited.

Last but not least, I think this is the kind of dialogue we need!    
    

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@DogsArePeopleToo We are all struggling in our own ways :) That is what is so great about these forums, misery loves the company and we can motivate each other to keep going. This process sucks, we can use all the love we can get! 

@cloudyword I certainly do not feel like a victim, I got dealt a bad hand in life, made my choices accordingly and here I am fighting against the odds! I do agree that we need these types of dialogues, not only for our own sanity but for others to see that anything is possible if you work hard and keep going even when life knocks you down. 

There are some programs that do not require the GRE for those who cannot afford it or are just terrible test takers. https://ainsleydiduca.com/grad-schools-dont-require-gre/

There are also many schools that offer fee waivers and diversity statements as part of their application process, it takes some digging but they are out there.

I have budgeted out 1 shot at the GRE, and if it gets me nowhere at least I tried and I will look at other options/avenues to pursue my goals. 

Good luck everyone!

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