Select Page

FAQ: Discontinuing the Use of the GRE in Rackham Ph.D. Admissions Decisions

With the unanimous support of the Rackham Executive Board, Rackham Graduate School will discontinue the use of the GRE general test in Ph.D. admissions, beginning with the 2022–2023 admissions cycle. Below are answers to some frequently asked questions regarding the decision.

Why has Rackham decided to discontinue the use of the GRE general test in its Ph.D. admissions decisions?

Financial costs of the GRE potentially deter well qualified applicants to Rackham Ph.D. programs, as GRE costs and application fees are out-of-pocket costs to applicants. Additionally, prospective applicants may perceive the need to engage test preparation services at significant cost—many for-pay test preparation firms guarantee outcomes on the GRE, including score increases equivalent to decades in percentile. In this way, using the scores can introduce inequity based on race, ethnicity, gender, first-generation status, and socioeconomic status into our admissions processes in a manner that is not well controlled.

The benefits of using the GRE in Ph.D. admissions have also not been demonstrated. The goals of Ph.D. education include success in research and scholarship, and the production of a dissertation. The research literature does not demonstrate that these long-term measures are predicted by GRE scores. This research literature was reviewed as part of graduate faculty forums held in fall 2021. The slide presentation from those forums includes a bibliography.

Discontinuing the use of the GRE general test in Ph.D. admissions will remove a barrier that deters well qualified students from applying for doctoral studies. We expect that removing this barrier will generate additional applications to Rackham doctoral programs, providing more opportunities to recruit excellent Ph.D. student cohorts, including those from underrepresented minority groups, first-generation college graduates, and Pell-grant eligible students.

Leaving these scores behind will allow the rich information of the doctoral application to be reviewed in ways that are truly holistic and responsive to the broad experiences and demographics of our applicants, thus increasing access to doctoral education at the University of Michigan.

Which programs will be affected by Rackham’s decision?

All Ph.D. programs on the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses are Rackham degrees, and this decision will apply to them. It does not apply to master’s and professional doctorates on any campus, nor does it apply to Flint’s Ph.D. in physical therapy, which is not a Rackham degree.

Why isn’t Rackham allowing individual programs to make their own decisions about using the GRE in their Ph.D. admissions?

The Rackham Executive Board, the faculty governing body of the graduate school, is unanimous in its support of the decision, and 90 percent of responding Ph.D. programs are in favor of the Rackham-wide decision. Acting in concert across all doctoral programs demonstrates our shared interest in removing barriers to doctoral education at the University of Michigan.

What data and research did Rackham share with doctoral programs and graduate faculty at part of the campus-wide discussion?

The data and research shared are available in the slide deck presented during faculty forums held in November 2021. A white paper by Rackham Associate Dean Anna Mapp and Assistant Dean Ethriam Brammer was also available.

What steps were taken to solicit feedback from graduate programs and the broader U-M community prior to reaching the decision?

A proposal to eliminate consideration of GRE scores in Rackham Ph.D. admissions was circulated in September 2021, in order to allow ample time for discussion and feedback from graduate faculty, doctoral programs, and other campus partners.

Graduate faculty provided feedback about the proposal either electronically or through open faculty forums held in November 2021. Rackham program chairs and directors discussed the proposal at their fall 2021 meetings. Other members of the campus community had the opportunity to provide feedback electronically.

This feedback was collected and provided to the Rackham Executive Board, the faculty governing body of the graduate school. They were unanimous in their recommendation to Dean Solomon to discontinue use of the GRE.

What was the nature of the feedback Rackham received from the campus community?

Of Rackham’s Ph.D. programs, 98 percent indicated whether they supported the proposal or not, with 90 percent of those programs in favor.

Responses in favor of the change included comments that (1) studies of GRE effectiveness do not demonstrate that the GRE adds to the admission process; (2) test costs present a real burden for many prospective applicants, with a disproportionate impact on low income students; and (3) the pause on GRE usage during the pandemic did not hinder admitting and recruiting the best students.

Responses opposed to the change included comments that (1) the research studies of GRE effectiveness contain methodological flaws, such as small sample sizes, restriction of range, and modeling challenges; (2) the removal of the GRE may lead to undue influence of other biased selection factors, such as undergraduate institution, research experience, and the content of recommendation letters; and (3) the GRE is used as a check of quantitative skills in some programs.

Why is this action being taken for doctoral admissions given that other programs, such as undergraduate and professional degrees—both at the University of Michigan and elsewhere—use standardized test scores to varying degrees in their admissions processes?

The research, dialogue, and feedback contributing to this decision is specific to doctoral education and Ph.D. admissions in Rackham programs. Undergraduate and professional degree programs may have different experiences, goals, admissions practices, costs, and constraints. Particularly salient for Ph.D. programs is that performance of research and scholarship is central to doctoral education and Ph.D. completion; success in these activities has not been demonstrated to correlate with GRE scores.

Applicants to Ph.D. programs have an extensive record of advanced academic performance, research activity, and experiential learning accumulated through prior undergraduate training and professional experience that is available to inform admissions decisions.

Why does the decision not apply to Rackham master’s programs?

Rackham master’s programs have a range of educational goals that are distinct from those of Ph.D. programs, with the latter focused on the performance—under the mentorship of graduate faculty—of original research and scholarship resulting in a dissertation. Although many Rackham master’s programs have discontinued the use of GRE test scores in their admissions, more evaluation and discussion within the Rackham community would be required to understand if this proposal might be extended to all Rackham master’s programs in the future.

Why does the decision not apply to GRE subject tests?

As is the case with the use of the GRE in relation to master’s program admissions, more evaluation and discussion within the Rackham community would be required to understand if this proposal might in the future be extended to GRE subject tests.

What about other barriers to applying to doctoral programs like application fees, the application process, and other factors that affect readiness to apply?

Rackham has been and will be committed to identifying and addressing additional barriers that may prevent students from pursuing admission to its doctoral programs.

How will Rackham support programs that will be changing their admissions processes because of the decision?

Rackham will provide support to programs changing their admissions processes over a three-year period. This includes information and tailored advising on best practices for holistic admissions, particularly for programs with high application volumes. Holistic admissions practices evaluate the skills, experience, knowledge, and potential of an applicant by considering the academic, professional, and personal record along multiple dimensions. Through these practices, components of the graduate application that are most reflective of an applicant’s accomplishments and promise are identified and used for admissions decisions.

A consultation team will be available to work with individual programs to advise program faculty in building a holistic admissions process tailored to that program’s needs and goals. Programs may also apply for summer support for their faculty to work on revision of their admissions process and in this instance Rackham expertise in holistic admissions will also be made available for faculty teams as needed. Programs may choose one or both of these options and additional details regarding these programs will be communicated by mid-March.

Throughout the three year period, Rackham Institutional Research will evaluate changes in admissions practices and outcomes through survey work and analysis of application, admissions, and matriculation data across campus. These data will also be available to faculty for their scholarly endeavors.

The decision to discontinue the use of the GRE in Rackham Ph.D. admissions decisions will be re-evaluated after a three-year period.

Rackham will provide regular updates to Ph.D. programs about utilization of the supports and best practices learned from them.