UC Berkeley eliminates GRE test requirement for vast majority of graduate programs

UC Berkeley has eliminated the GRE test requirement for the vast majority of graduate programs, said Lisa García Bedolla, vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate Division (center). (Photo by Shoey Sindel) Only 13 of UC Berkeley’s more than 125 graduate programs have elected to require the GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) for this year’s admissions cycle. While most departments eliminated GRE requirements last year due to concerns about access in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of Berkeley’s departments again chose to forgo requiring the GRE as part of a broader movement recognizing it as a weak predictor of graduate student success.

"I’m thrilled that so many of our departments elected to eliminate the GRE requirement in their admissions process," said Lisa García Bedolla , vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate Division. "The research clearly shows that there are significant race, gender and socioeconomic disparities in GRE scores. We are looking forward to assessing how removing the GRE admissions requirement allows us to develop better assessments and improve our holistic approach to graduate admissions. It’s an exciting time to work in graduate education at UC Berkeley!" The Graduate Division has been working alongside faculty and staff to hold workshops and academies examining best practices for conducting holistic admissions reviews, developing admissions rubrics, and analyzing research on the GRE’s effectiveness in predicting graduate student success. Additionally, the division has launched a yearlong companion program, the Graduate Diversity Leadership Academy , to help departments focus on the domains of admissions, belonging, climate and data for equity, designed to align with the life cycle of the graduate students’ academic year.

Denzil Streete, assistant dean for diversity in the Graduate Division, has worked throughout the summer to identify faculty speakers and presenters so that workshops are cocreated and co-led by departments. He sees the movement away from the GRE as one piece of the puzzle in making the system of graduate admissions more inclusive.

"As we seek to expand the pool of students from which our many top-tier programs can select, removing any barrier to access is always a good idea," said Streete. "Faculty and staff have been amazing partners in work to improve departmental climate, and I’m optimistic graduate programs at UC Berkeley will reflect the diversity of our nation’s undergraduates.”

According to Julie Posselt, associate professor of higher education at the University of Southern California and author of Inside Graduate Admissions: Merit, Diversity, and Faculty Gatekeeping, more and more graduate schools are moving away from the GRE requirements: "Over the past decade, increasing numbers of graduate programs are walking away from the GRE. Recent research shows weak correlations with the forms of success we care most about - including who graduates, passes qualifying exams, publishes more papers or obtains grants - and GRE test scores. Students earning scores in the lowest quintile do not have significantly different odds of degree completion than those in the top quintile. Programs are looking at the data and eliminating the requirement."

Students entering Berkeley’s master’s, doctoral and professional programs this fall are among the most diverse in the campus’s history, but there is a great deal of work left to do, according to García Bedolla. "Removing barriers to access is one step in the process. My role as vice provost and dean is helping to support a welcoming climate throughout a student’s time at Cal," she said.

In the 2021-22 admissions cycle, 41,359 individuals (except those seeking admission to Berkeley Law) applied for spots in Berkeley’s graduate programs, an 18% increase over 35,039 applicants the previous year. Applications from historically underrepresented students increased by 33%, and the proportion of doctoral program applicants from underrepresented minority groups continues to increase, up from 12% in fall 2016 to 15% in fall 2021. This fall, Berkeley welcomed more than 13,200 graduate students - new and returning - to campus, its largest graduate student body to date.

A group of UC Berkeley students huddle at the Graduate Diversity Reception earlier this month. (UC Berkeley photo by Keegan Houser) Damian Elias, a professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management (ESPM), recounted how eliminating the GRE requirement in ESPM’s admissions review process in 2018 allowed space for more thoughtful and holistic conversations in admissions reviews. "Our goal in eliminating the GRE requirement was to improve the department and the scholarship produced by increasing the diversity of its graduate students, and through that, the ideas, perspectives and overall excellence that a diverse group of thinkers brings," said Elias. "Data has shown that the GRE reinforces inequalities seen across U.S. educational systems without being a good or reliable indicator for success in graduate programs, whether that is measured in graduation rates, scholarship produced or future job placement. Instead, the GRE only seems to be a reliable indicator for standardized test-taking abilities, something that is not exactly relevant for tackling the environmental problems facing society and the other associated goals of our department," he said.

In addition to work focused on the admissions process, the Graduate Division’s Office for Graduate Diversity has created the Diversity and Community Fellows Program to help empower current graduate students to support fellow students, department faculty and staff in diversity work. Additionally, the Path to the Professoriate Program guides first-year doctoral students from underrepresented backgrounds through workshops and structured activities to demystify how to establish a publication pipeline and to lay the groundwork for pursuing an assistant professorship.

By Will Kane

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