Enrichment Education

Removing GRE requirement increased diversity, did not undermine student success

The decision to eliminate the GRE by the Boston University School of Public Health led to increases in applicant diversity, while students performed just as well in core courses regardless of test application requirements.
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Story at a glance

  • A pilot program launched in 2019 eliminated the GRE requirement for applicants to the Boston University School of Public Health.

  • Data from six applicant cycles show no difference in academic performance among those students required to take the test and those who were not.

  • Based on the results of the program, the school will permanently omit GRE requirements for students going forward. 

Amid a growing push to address structural barriers faced by higher education applicants, new research shows removing the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) requirement from the Boston University School of Public Health admission process did not negatively affect student performance.

The study, published in the journal Public Health Reviews, also found removal of the requirement for a Masters of Public Health degree led to increases in applicant diversity. 

Based on the results, the school will permanently omit the GRE from admissions requirements, while authors of the report recommend other institutions do the same.

The new policy was first instituted in 2019 and was followed by a three-year pilot program. 

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Previous research has shown the test itself served as a barrier for prospective students underrepresented in graduate programs, authors explained. It costs around $200 to take the GRE, and students incur more costs to submit scores to schools. Tutoring and prep courses can also pose financial barriers.

Prior to 2019, the GRE was a requirement for applicants to all masters programs at the school, which is currently ranked sixth in the nation for public health programs.

After eliminating the GRE requirement, the school saw an increase in applicants who self-identified as African American/Black and Hispanic — up from 7.1 to 8.5 percent and 7 percent to 8.2 percent, respectively — over six admission cycles (2016 to 2021). 

A significantly higher percentage of first-generation prospective graduate students also applied to the school, up from 36.5 percent to 38.8. 

Researchers said they’re encouraged by these modest increases in diversity, but not satisfied and plan to work to ensure the school welcomes and supports students from all backgrounds. 

There was no change in undergraduate grade point average before and after eliminating the GRE and students performed just as well in core courses regardless of whether they submitted the test scores.

In addition, 93.1 percent of students were employed within six months of graduation when the GRE was required, compared with 93.8 percent following the test’s elimination. 

“The decision to eliminate the GRE was based on evidence of bias and structural barriers that we as a school aim to eliminate to ensure that all students have access to high-quality educational programs,” said lead author Lisa Sullivan, associate dean for education and professor of biostatistics at Boston University School of Public Health in a statement. 

Systemic bias within standardized testing has also led some to call for system-wide reforms. 

“The GRE has been shown to disadvantage women and minority students, particularly in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields,” authors wrote, adding standardized tests in general have been shown to be systematically biased with test scores associated with socioeconomic status, race and gender.