UC Berkeley’s department of electrical engineering and computer sciences, or EECS, announced May 19 that it will no longer consider the Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, in graduate admissions.
The GRE is an entrance exam used by many graduate schools in their admissions processes and is developed and administered by the Educational Testing Service, or ETS. The exam aims to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing and critical thinking skills, according to the ETS website.
The EECS department first implemented its GRE-blind graduate admissions in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic before making the policy permanent, according to an EECS press release.
“We look at everything in the application—transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statements, statements about their intended research, and possibly publications—and no applicant makes it to the final rounds of consideration without one or more phone interviews with EECS faculty,” said EECS department chairs John F. Canny and Jeffrey Bokor in an email.
They said GRE scores do not really add much to the thorough applicant profile created by their “high-touch” process.
Along with this limited value in applicant evaluation, requiring students to take the GRE reduces diversity and equity among applicants, they added.
According to Canny and Bokor, GRE scores show gender and race-based differences in scores that do not correlate to later graduate school success. For example, on the quantitative portion of the exam, women score lower than men on average, and students of color score lower than white students on average.
This is particularly pertinent to the EECS department due to an overall lack of gender and racial diversity in STEM fields, Canny and Bokor noted.
Additionally, Canny and Bokor said the GRE poses a financial barrier to students, with each exam attempt costing more than $200 alongside fees for score submissions and potential test preparation programs. Ultimately, the EECS department decided that the GRE unfairly favors those who have enough money to access and prepare for it, Canny and Bokor added.
However, Alberto Acereda, executive director of global higher education at ETS, said removing the exam will actually harm student diversity.
“By removing this critical piece of the application from consideration in a holistic admissions process, bias can creep in as other measures like GPAs and letters of recommendation gain even greater importance,” Acereda said in an email.
Eliminating the GRE would do away with “perceived barriers” such as the cost and accessibility of the exam, but also place more emphasis on an applicant’s undergraduate experiences, which Acereda said favors more privileged students.
Still, Canny and Bokor said the EECS department hopes that this change in its graduate admissions process will attract a more diverse number of applicants to its program.