UC Berkeley suspends GRE requirement for fall applicants

photo of the Grad School of Journalism
Campus faculty expressed approval after the removal of the GRE requirement for fall admissions.

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Due to a campuswide effort to increase diversity and remove barriers to higher education, most UC Berkeley graduate programs did not require the submission of a Graduate Record Examination, or GRE, for fall 2021. 

Only 13 of more than 125 campus graduate programs required the GRE during this year’s admission cycle. The decision to suspend the requirement comes after several graduate programs decided to preemptively eliminate GRE requirements due to accessibility issues and discrepancies between racial, gender and ethnic groups, noted Damian Elias, campus associate professor in the department of environmental science, policy and management, or ESPM.

“We have a major problem with diversity in higher education,” Elias said. “By getting rid of (the GRE), we’re kind of hoping to create a more equitable opportunity for students to come into the Berkeley programs.” 

Of the 50,000 students who applied for campus graduate programs in fall 2021, 4,648 applicants were accepted, according to Kathleen Aycock, campus Graduate Division director of communications. While applications from historically underrepresented minorities increased by 33% from last year — excluding UC Berkeley School of Law applications — minority students make up only 15% of the class of graduate students. 

Aycock noted that many departments decided to eliminate the GRE requirement due to it being a barrier for underrepresented communities. The campus Graduate Division helped host a GRE summit, the research being presented identifying the GRE as a “weak predictor” of graduate student success in school. 

“Potential and excellence needs to be defined across a variety of factors,” Elias said. “One of the things I think is important for success in graduate school is resilience, and by looking at student applications to evaluate the barriers that they have overcome. … that’s another thing that is indicative of success in graduate programs.”

The ESPM department removed GRE requirements in 2018 to create a more holistic and equitable admission process, according to Elias. Since then, the amount of incoming domestic graduate students who identify as belonging to an underrepresented minority increased by about 10%.

While Elias noted that eliminating the GRE requirement will not immediately fix inequities in graduate admissions, the ESPM department did institute an evaluation rubric that placed more weight on factors such as leadership experience, which is more accessible to everyone. 

As the majority of programs have since dropped the GRE requirement, the campus Graduate Division has been holding workshops with faculty and staff to construct a new, more equitable structure for the admissions cycle, according to a Berkeley News article. 

It has also helped develop admission rubrics and launched a yearlong partnership with the Graduate Diversity Leadership Academy, working to elevate all areas of graduate programs, the article notes.

“We need broad perspectives and different types of ideas and different types of people to push forward the scholarship and science that is necessary for the community at large,” Elias said. 

Contact Cindy Liu and Philippe Jin at [email protected].