The Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign no longer requires Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores for admission, a decision finalized in the summer of 2019. The current cycle of applicants is the first to have the option of foregoing GRE score submission.
Department head Martin Gruebele made the decision in early 2019 and finalized the change to submissions after collecting feedback from the admissions committee and from department faculty. The decision came after a year of studying the issue, Prof. Gruebele says. “We were considering it for the last year, including attending workshops where the issue was discussed,” he says. “We’re now putting the general GRE at the same level we currently have for the subject test – ‘encouraged but not required.’”
The department is joining a rising tide of chemistry, physics and math departments questioning the weight of including standardized testing scores in evaluating students. A growing body of research has shown that not only are GRE scores a poor predictor of success in graduate school but also place marginalized students at a disadvantage by underpredicting their success. Even studies by the Educational Testing Service (ETS), which creates and administers the GRE, have found discrepancies in scores based on race, class, and gender that do not correlate with academic success.
There is scant data evaluating the utility of the GRE for international students. While a standardized test may serve as an equalizer for students with a non-U.S.-based education, an American test may still bias toward students with an American education. Either situation is equally plausible without data; indeed, both could be true for different populations.
According to Gruebele, evaluating international students on a level playing field with domestic students is a priority, and the GRE is not the only metric of success used in admissions. Chemistry admissions use connections in the international academic community to get a fair idea of non-U.S. education, Gruebele says. “We have a pretty good idea of what the metrics [of success] are, and we already factor that in.”
Gruebele says the chemistry department is trying to be at the forefront of foregoing the GRE requirement. Among the U.S. News and World Report top ten rankings of best chemistry programs (Illinois is tied for sixth place), Illinois is one of three that does not require the GRE for applicants. Though GRE scores are no longer required, applicants can still submit them if they wish to.
"There are a lot of departments that still require it [the GREs test/s]," Gruebele says, "so students will have taken it anyway. We're weaning ourselves off.” Gruebele says encouraging GRE score submissions for now despite no longer requiring them is a question of fairness.
“There are a lot of people who will be at an advantage without submitting scores, but there are also others who will benefit from submitting their scores,” he says. “You’re giving people the highest flexibility.”
To read more about the national trend of abandoning the GRE as an admissions metric, we encourage you to start with the following columns and news articles:
The Problem With the GRE The Atlantic, 2016
GREs don’t predict grad school success. What does? Science, 2017
Marina Philip, graduate student, Sweedler group