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Caltech Suspends GRE Requirement for One Year

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Caltech graduate admissions in each division will not require applicants to submit Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. The GRE has historically been used as a component of evaluation for admission to graduate programs at many universities.

Each division at Caltech, and in some instances the options within those divisions, determines its admission requirements at the graduate level. As such, the faculty in each of those divisions and options had to determine how best to proceed in the coming year.

"Due to COVID-19, it is difficult for a lot of students to take the GREs," says Fiona Harrison, Harold A. Rosen Professor of Physics, and Kent and Joyce Kresa Leadership Chair of the Division of Physics, Mathematics and Astronomy. "While they can in principle be taken at home, the computer platform and camera requirements limit this option to students with enough money to purchase the specialized equipment, which we consider to be overtly discriminatory based on socioeconomic status."

To level that playing field, Caltech's faculty have decided that:

  • None of Caltech's 31 graduate options will require GREs for the 2021–22 academic year.
  • Twenty-nine options will not accept any GRE scores; two options have made the GREs optional, but with the understanding that not providing scores will have no impact upon an applicant's admission portfolio.
  • The GRE requirement has been eliminated entirely by some options, whereas others have suspended the requirement for 1–2 years.

"Barriers to taking the GREs during the pandemic have magnified concerns about systematic biases in standardized tests, the associated financial burden to applicants, and how well the scores are correlated with performance in graduate school," says Dean of Graduate Students Doug Rees, Roscoe Gilkey Dickinson Professor of Chemistry and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator. "A silver lining to the pandemic is that it has catalyzed this movement toward evaluating applications without standardized exams."

"The faculty of the Division of Biology and Biological Engineering (BBE) are in agreement that the GRE requirement be suspended for the upcoming application season due to challenges with test availability during the COVID crisis. Discussions on the GRE requirement as it relates to issues of equity/inclusion are ongoing with the graduate options under BBE," says Steve Mayo (PhD '81), Bren Professor of Biology and Chemistry and formerly the William K. Bowes Jr. Leadership Chair of BBE.

"The COVID situation has created the basis for an easy consensus to do an experiment and see how this goes, in terms of how we will alternatively evaluate graduate admissions in the Division of Geological and Planetary Science (GPS)," says John Grotzinger, Fletcher Jones Professor of Geology, and Ted and Ginger Jenkins Leadership Chair of GPS. "We will reassess at this time next year."

A careful evaluation of the role of standardized tests in admission to Caltech going forward is part of the charge to the advisory committee of faculty, students, and staff that is being constituted to ensure the Institute is identifying and attracting the best and brightest candidates from every background.