Brown eliminates GRE test requirement for 24 doctoral programs

In enabling Ph.D. program leaders to drop the requirement to submit test scores, the Graduate School looks to attract talented, high-achieving students from an increasingly diverse pool of candidates.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — For prospective graduate students applying to enroll in the 2020-21 academic year and beyond, Brown University will no longer require Graduate Records Examination (GRE) test scores for admission to 24 of its Ph.D. programs.

Eliminating the requirement will enable the programs to attract a wider pool of applicants, Graduate School leaders said. The move adds to a growing array of initiatives at Brown to reduce barriers that discourage some students from groups historically underrepresented in higher education and from low-income backgrounds from applying for admission.

“The future success of graduate education at Brown depends on the diverse, innovative and intellectually independent candidates we admit and the varied skill sets they bring to their disciplines,” said Dean of the Graduate School Andrew G. Campbell. “By removing the Graduate School’s GRE requirement and allowing programs to decide whether to require the exam, we will broaden the talent pool of students who apply to and have access to graduate education at Brown.”

A growing body of evidence has demonstrated that the GRE is not always an accurate predictor of success in graduate school, Campbell said. In considering prospective doctoral students, Brown evaluates a wide range of factors, from academic strength and intellectual curiosity to research experiences, through application components including transcripts, letters of recommendation, personal statements and in-person interviews.

“Twenty-four of our doctoral programs have decided that the GRE is not required for a holistic review of potential applicants to their disciplines,” Campbell added. “This, in conjunction with a new transitional stipend for newly matriculating doctoral students and our fully-funded Ph.D. and MFA programs, continues our work to ensure that a Brown education is accessible to students from all income groups and that all graduate students can thrive on campus.”

Brown faculty who direct individual Ph.D. programs evaluate applications from prospective students in consultation with leaders from the Graduate School. Already, GRE scores were considered as one among a wide variety of factors weighed as each applicant’s credentials are considered individually.

“We’re not just looking at scores — we’re looking at students,” said Marlina Duncan, associate dean of diversity initiatives at the Graduate School.

Financial considerations such as exam fees, GRE prep-course tuition or tutoring expenses — and logistical challenges such as finding transportation and taking time away from school or work to take the test — can discourage some prospective students, particularly from historically underrepresented groups or first-generation or low-income backgrounds, from applying.

Moreover, many academic leaders said the GRE does not capture a candidate’s predilection toward critical thinking, innovation and collaboration — three areas that are crucial to success in the Graduate School at Brown.

“We’re looking for the fire — we’re looking for the drive,” said Anita Zimmerman, graduate program director for Brown’s molecular pharmacology and physiology program. “We’re looking for the motivation from someone who isn’t daunted by obstacles and is willing to dive into research with creativity and an ability to solve difficult problems. Those kinds of indicators are not easy to put into numbers, but they’re much more useful and telling than a score on an exam that repeatedly has been shown to be a very poor predictor of student success.”

Zimmerman noted that in recent years, the program had already begun to decrease emphasis on GRE scores in lieu of recommendation letters, personal statements and interviews.

Ravit Reichman, director of graduate studies for the English program, agreed that test scores have been but one factor in the department’s evaluation of prospective students.

“Not once in my time at Brown have we had a substantive conversation about a candidate’s GRE scores,” Reichman said. “We’ve always focused more on a person’s curiosity and intellectual itinerary — that is, how they got to thinking about the ideas they think about, and how they express that on the page.”

The Graduate School’s decision to eliminate the overarching GRE requirement enables program leaders across Brown’s 51 doctoral programs to make individual choices about whether to continue to require scores. The 2020-21 application for admission is open now on the school’s website. The following academic programs will no longer require GRE scores:

  • American Studies
  • Biotechnology
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Chemistry
  • Comparative Literature 
  • Computational Biology
  • Computer Science
  • Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences
  • Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • English
  • French Studies
  • German Studies
  • Hispanic Studies
  • Italian Studies
  • Mathematics
  • Modern Culture and Media
  • Molecular Biology, Cell Biology and Biochemistry
  • Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology
  • Neuroscience
  • Pathobiology
  • Portuguese and Brazilian Studies
  • Religious Studies
  • Slavic Studies
  • Theatre and Performance Studies