Rackham Graduate School has long promoted the use of holistic admissions practices in graduate education. 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 this practice, components of the graduate application that are most reflective of an applicant’s accomplishments and promise are identified and used for admissions decisions.
In response to research indicating that the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) general test is a poor indicator of student success in graduate programs, Rackham has neither used the GRE as a selection factor in any of its fellowships, nor based any assessment of program success or excellence on student GRE test scores for several years. Through its annual admissions workshop, Rackham has worked collaboratively with programs to refine their holistic admissions practices to either exclude or deemphasize the GRE. In the last five years, many graduate programs—at the University of Michigan and elsewhere—have ended the use of GRE test scores in doctoral admissions decisions. Newly published research continues to find that GRE general test scores are not predictive of doctoral program degree completion in multiple disciplines.
Because of the disruption of the pandemic, Rackham Graduate School further recommended that graduate programs suspend the use of the GRE in admissions during the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 admission cycles. Most programs did not use the GRE in admissions decisions in the last (2020-2021) admissions cycle. Preliminary analysis indicates that the pool of doctoral applicants was enriched by more applications from domestic, underrepresented minority, and Rackham Merit Fellowship-eligible populations, including first-generation students and students who were Pell Grant recipients. Rackham programs have expressed confidence in the process by which their doctoral cohorts were recruited and enrollment trends for fall 2021 are positive.
To further strengthen its mission of partnering with graduate faculty and programs to advance excellence in graduate education at the University of Michigan, Rackham is now pursuing a community discussion with the proposed goal of ending the use of the GRE in doctoral program admissions, beginning with the 2022-2023 admissions cycle. If this change is enacted, GRE general test scores will no longer be collected on the Rackham application for use in doctoral admissions at the University of Michigan.
Preliminary discussions of the use of the GRE in graduate admissions were held with chairs and directors of Rackham programs and the Rackham Executive Board during the 2021 winter term. There were further opportunities for comment and discussion of the proposed change to the Rackham application from the Rackham community. These opportunities were (1) graduate faculty forums on November 11 and 12; (2) a mechanism for members of the graduate community to provide written feedback on the proposed change; and (3) the solicitation of feedback from Rackham doctoral programs. Input received through these feedback mechanisms was made available to the Rackham Executive Board, which is advising the Rackham dean with respect to the proposed change. The Rackham dean will make a decision about the proposed change early in the winter 2022 term and communicate the outcome to the Rackham community.
This proposal to end the use of the GRE in doctoral program admissions is based on multiple factors. First, many studies have shown that the GRE does not predict success in doctoral education, particularly with respect to degree completion and performance in research and scholarship. The strongest correlation of GRE scores is with first year grades, and that correlation is itself modest. GRE general test scores are also not well correlated with measures of performance in the activities of research and scholarship that are central to doctoral studies and critical to degree completion.
Second, given this lack of correlation between GRE general test scores and performance in doctoral programs, the use of the GRE in admissions decisions can extend the harmful legacies of unequal access to education on the basis of race, gender, and socioeconomic status. Graduate admissions processes must bring open and equitable consideration to the brilliant heterogeneity of skills, experiences, knowledge, and potential of all applicants with ambitions to pursue the advanced training in research and scholarship that is representative of doctoral education.
Third, the submission of GRE scores creates unnecessary financial and logistical barriers that deter well-qualified students from applying for doctoral studies. The cost of the exam is significant; testing locations—especially internationally—are limited; and, access to exam preparation resources is not equitably distributed across the potential applicant pool.
Taken together, these factors support ending the use of the GRE general test in doctoral admissions at the University of Michigan. There is an additional advantage to acting in concert across all doctoral programs. By enacting this change, we will demonstrate to prospective students that the University of Michigan is broadly committed to evaluating applicants for doctoral admission based on the skills, experiences, knowledge, and potential that are instrumental to success in doctoral study, research, and scholarship; to offering equitable access to doctoral education; and to reducing barriers to pursue doctoral education at the University of Michigan.
A potential unintended consequence of enacting this change is that program admissions practices could increase their reliance on other problematic metrics, such as placing disproportionate value on the reputation of the applicant’s undergraduate institution. This possibility highlights the need to redouble efforts to support the ongoing investment of doctoral programs in holistic admissions practices. If this proposal is enacted, Rackham will provide support and funding to directly fulfill this need.
In addition, we acknowledge that any such change in doctoral admissions, no matter how well-intended, will generate short-term consequences for impacted programs. It is also critical that the holistic review practices that respond to this change themselves meet the goals for excellence and equity. To that end, Rackham will offer support to doctoral programs through (1) the specific timing of the change in the Rackham application, to occur in the academic year 2022-2023 admissions cycle so as to allow for planning, preparation, and implementation of lessons learned over the last two admissions cycles; (2) assistance to programs in determining and disseminating best practices that respond to the change, particularly for holistic admissions in programs with high application volume; and, (3) funding support in summer 2022 for graduate faculty to design holistic admission processes that fulfill the specific needs of their programs.
The proposal was announced at Rackham’s third annual State of the Graduate School event, which was held virtually on Wednesday, September 22, and also covered the launch of a new doctoral internship program and the creation of a standing committee on graduate student mental health and well-being.