Beginning with the 2019-2020 academic year, the Department of History at the University of Michigan will no longer consider GRE scores in making decisions about admission to its PhD program. This decision was supported by an overwhelming majority of our faculty, with 88 percent voting to abandon our consideration of GRE scores.
We were persuaded by several compelling arguments. First, the cost of the exam imposes a significant burden on many potential students, thus distorting the demographic balance of our applicant pool. Not only does the test itself cost over $200, but to ensure a high score many people feel the need to purchase expensive training material or take special preparation courses. The cost barriers are even greater for those living outside the United States, where taking the GRE often requires travel to another city in search of a testing center. Since more than a quarter of our students come from abroad, this is an important consideration for us.
Our second major concern pertains to the well-established inequities inherent in all standardized tests. Not only international students, but also underrepresented minorities within the United States frequently find that their abilities are poorly reflected in their GRE scores.
This relates to our final motivation: our conviction that the test scores add little to the other materials available to assess our graduate student applicants. By removing the GRE from our admissions form, we will be able to focus more on the qualitative assessments that better identify the most promising applicants: writing samples, personal statements, recommendations, and the student’s complete record of coursework and grades.
The Department of History at the University of Michigan is deeply committed to maintaining a diverse community of scholars who produce truly innovative, cutting-edge historical work, and the qualities needed to join that community can never be captured in a single quantified metric. We seek out students who are not beholden to received wisdom and unafraid to travel new intellectual paths, and we have not found that the GRE contributes in any significant way to identifying such people.
Brian Porter-Szűcs is Director of Graduate Studies in the History Department and Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of History.