GRExit: Why We’re Dropping the GRE

The Science Commons Atrium in Emory’s Atwood Chemistry Center.

What is GRExit? A silly term for a big decision. Starting in Fall 2019, Emory’s Department of Chemistry is joining the “GRExit” wave by dropping the GRE test from our graduate application process.

The GRE (or “Graduate Record Exam”) administered by the Educational Testing Service has been a factor in graduate school admissions since the 1950s. At Emory, we have long required the test as one piece of a package intended to allow us to gauge how well students might do in our program. We are committed to the practice of whole file review, meaning we review all of the materials a student submits instead of using any one factor to “weed out” students from our applicant pool. In the past, we relied on this practice to mitigate any outsize impact on GRE scores. However, we were still faced with interpreting scores as a piece of the puzzle….and over time, our graduate committee found that it was very hard to look past particularly high or low scores as they reviewed the remainder of a file.

Added to that impression, we had access to data on students who accept our admissions offer and matriculate. We haven’t found the GRE to be a very good indicator for student success in the first year of our program. Our sample size is small compared to the large number of students who take the test, but there is more research out there that we can rely on. For instance, consider the following:

Research has also consistently shown that the GRE introduces bias into the review process, disadvantaging women, minorities, and students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. Some references of note:

We are very concerned about minimizing bias in our admissions process. Our entire graduate admissions team undergoes training about the role of implicit bias in their day-to-day life (a program that draws heavily on the book Blindspot.) We have also piloted the use of a shared evaluation form to help faculty review applications with the same questions in mind. And we are always considering new ways to minimize bias in our review process. With issues of efficacy, predictive value, and bias in mind, removing the GRE from our process seemed like the right path. It’s a decision we may revisit if new research or testing options make the GRE more useful. But for now, we are confident that “GRExit” is the way to go.

What does this mean for you as an applicant? Simply put, you do not have to take the GRE to apply to the Emory chemistry graduate program. We will still practice whole file review – we look forward to reading your personal statements, seeing your faculty of interest selections, and hearing the perspective of your recommenders. We also love when students submit the optional video statement!

Because we are committed to this path, we will not be accepting test scores in the application even if you want to report them. If we receive scores from some students but not from others, we reintroduce potential biases from this test, particularly as we suspect that students are understandably more likely to submit high scores. We will carefully review all of the information that we do request and feel confident in our ability to make a thorough review of each application without the assistance of GRE scores.

As another tangible benefit, we hope this will lessen the financial burden of the application process. You do not need to pay to send your scores to Emory, to take test prep classes or buy test prep books, or to sit the test itself.

What do you think about GRExit? Does it make you more or less likely to apply to Emory? Are you planning to take the GRE for other applications? Are you happy to skip it?

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Please feel free to share your comments and, as always, to contact our program if you have any questions.

Planning to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. Applications open September 1st, 2018 and are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.

Want to learn more about chemistry @ Emory? Fill out an inquiry form to join our mailing list!

Applying to Graduate School 101: An Interview with a Faculty Admissions Representative

Students pictured at work in the Wuest Lab in Emory's Atwood Hall.
Students pictured at work in the Wuest Lab in Emory’s Atwood Hall.

This Fall, we are publishing a special series of blog posts about applying to graduate school–at Emory and in general. Our goal is to demystify the application process and help applicants feel confident as they seek a home for their graduate studies. This post is the third in the series, an interview with Bill Wuest, Acting Associate Professor of Chemistry, Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator, and current faculty member of the Emory Chemistry Graduate Committee that reads and responds to applications.

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Bill Wuest. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography for Work+Play.
Bill Wuest. Photo by Jessica Lily Photography for Work+Play.

Q. What made you decide to apply to graduate school?

I was fortunate to have laboratory experience both as an undergraduate and during my summer internships at a pharmaceutical company where I interacted with both graduate students and research scientists. My first hand knowledge of what graduate school was about and the need for such a degree to get the job that I wanted drove me to apply.

Q. How did you choose where to go?

I remember sitting down with my undergraduate advisor during the Fall of my senior year and picking 8-10 schools that fit my interests. He pushed me toward some and away from others. I then visited some of the schools that I was accepted to (I regret not visiting all!) and based on those two trips I was able to make an obvious choice.

Q. When you’re reviewing applications now as a faculty member, what makes an applicant stand out?

First and foremost is research experience, especially those that have actively sought summer research experiences or other labs to expand their skill set. I also like to see some diversity in the applicant’s interests – did they play sports, do outreach, participate in clubs? Work-life balance and time management are critical to success in graduate school and showing that attribute in the personal statement is important.

Q. How much do you care about metrics like the GRE score and GPA?

They typically do not factor into my decision unless they are extraordinary (in either direction). I pay more attention to what classes the student has taken and how well have they done in courses that directly relate to the program they applied for (organic, physical, etc).

Q. What makes for a successful personal statement?

The best statements are those that are well-organized, well-written, and tell a unique story. Stick to the experiences that were transformational in your career and tell them in necessary detail. I love to hear about the book or class that challenged your perception or the experiment that wouldn’t work at first but you “tweaked it” and it transformed a project. The latter I find most important as >90% of graduate school is overcoming problems and persevering.

Q. What is the best way for applicants to share previous research experience? Can someone succeed in grad school if they don’t have much of a research background?

Use the personal statement to explain not only what you did in the lab but why you chose that area! Explain what you learned and also how you would either like to expand on it or change direction completely. Anyone can succeed in grad school even if they’re fairly new to research; however, if you can find research opportunities, it is worth pursuing them. That might mean looking for summer opportunities or internships or taking a gap year to work in a lab. These are all aspects of your application that will make you stand out!

Q. Are there common mistakes you see students make on graduate applications?

Try and tailor your application to the school you are applying to. Mention who you would like to work with, why you might want to be in that particular area, share any ties you might have to the department. Too many applications are boring – that is, generic and cookie cutter. Try and make yours stand out!

Q. How do you go about reviewing an application?

I typically look for any overlap to my research and network first. Do I know any of your advisors, letter writers, former students from your program? Any way I can obtain an extra data point to calibrate me to your file. If not, I will review your research history, transcript and personal statement to see how you would fit into the dynamic we have at Emory.

Q. What advice do you have for applicants?

This might get me in trouble with my colleagues but do not be afraid to contact the faculty you are interested in! Let them know about your application and your interest in their research. Your enthusiasm for the program will improve your application!

Q. What qualities make for a successful graduate student? 

Perseverance, work ethic, and open mindedness are the 3 most important skills in my opinion. Intelligence and experience come with the territory and are easily taught, the others are not.

Q. Many chemistry departments invite admitted students to a recruitment weekend. How can prospective students make the most of this experience?

Go to as many of these events as you can! Each department is different and you will learn a lot about the “personality” of each at the visit. During the weekend try and talk to as many people as possible. Find the student in the shadows who looks disgruntled, talk to faculty outside your research area, ask people what is their least favorite thing is, find out what the average time to graduation is, do the students go to conferences, where do they work afterward, etc.

Q. What advice would you offer to a student who is trying to decide if grad school is the right path for them?/What should students ask themselves before applying?

Again, talk to as many people as possible. Work with your advisor and ask if they can put you in touch with alumni who have gone in different directions. Grad school is a significant time investment during an important part of your life, I would strongly discourage people from applying if they think its just “the next thing to do.” You need to be invested and excited about the opportunity, not just lukewarm.

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Ready to apply? Visit chemistry.emory.edu/apply. Applications are due by December 1st, 2018 for entry in Fall 2019.

Want to learn more about chemistry @ Emory? Fill out an inquiry form and join our mailing list!

Dr. Wuest is accepting students for Fall 2019. For a list of all faculty accepting students, check out our Research page.