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anonymous admissions committee member

Good post! I just want to point out that a good number of PhD programs in the US (including my own) had already dropped the GRE requirement pre-pandemic. And I think that while the pandemic might prompt other programs to reconsider it temporarily, the reasons given in this post (among others) should make them reconsider it as a matter of permanent policy.

Also, I would just add that I think it is important (when possible--some places need scores from some students in order to nominate them for university-wide fellowships, etc.) to make a commitment to not make GRE score submission voluntary, but instead simply insist that applicants not submit GRE scores at all. Otherwise, we run the risk as admissions committees of favoring people with that little *extra* bonus: voluntarily submitted high scores. If the GRE is unfair, and basically useless--both of which I think are true--then the norm should be to ban it in considering applicants in general. I don't think "it's voluntary" policies manage to do this effectively.

Christopher Stephens

We have never (pre-pandemic or now) required the GRE (for Philosophy graduate programs) at the University of British Columbia.


I think Phillip raises some important points, but I do want to raise a worry. Standardized tests in some disciplines allows for weight to be taken off of pedigree. In principle, I think, this is a good thing, especially since pedigree often also correlates with socioeconomic status. If these tests are ignored or not required, then it would not be surprising for pedigree to become even more important (especially since the value of high grades likely depends upon what school gave the grades, and the value of letters of rec goes up roughly in keeping with the fanciness of the undergraduate institution). I know people disagree about whether we care too much about pedigree in philosophy, but I think it is at least something to think about.


One counter point is that the GRE is a potential equalizer. Graduate admissions suffer from prestige bias, and the GRE gives those from lower-prestige schools a chance to stand out. Of course, not every department places significant weight on GRE scores, but it's still something. Without GRE scores, more weight is placed on the reputation of one's school and letter writers -- factors one cannot do much about.


In my mind it is not enough for a department to do away with the use of GREs--the whole university needs to do so. I was the recipient of a university wide fellowship from two different universities when I went through the graduate application process, and I believe that being awarded these things was based in part on my GRE scores. Receiving a fellowship (which provided additional funding over above the usual TA stipend) is what induced me to attend one particular institution over another (a state R1). Admittingly, this was over ten years ago. Not sure how it works everywhere/anymore, but you could be potentially hurting yourself by not submitting scores.

Maybe people who know more about this kind of thing could say something about this.

Frederick Choo

Hi Peter, could you explain what you mean by pedigree?
Side note: I'm Frederick, the one who wrote up the post and raised the points. Philip posted the list of schools that have suspended GREs for the fall 2021 admissions.

Hi ehz, I have a few worries about your point, but I’ll just raise two major concerns.
First, from what I know, most colleges and universities in the US require standardized testing for undergraduate admissions. Those who are admitted to prestigious schools tend to fare better on such standardized tests than those who are admitted to lower-prestige schools. Given this, it is highly plausible that those from prestigious schools would tend to fare better at the GREs compared to those from less-prestigious schools. This is because of the similarities between the different standardized tests for undergraduate admissions (eg. SAT, ACT) and the GREs (eg. these tests involve being good at mathematics and English, requires the same kind of test-taking skills, has similar scoring metrics, privilege wealthier applicants, etc). If this is right, requiring GREs would give those at prestigious schools an advantage. So, instead of countering prestige bias, the GREs would further disadvantage those at lower-prestige schools (and also international students).
Second, even if the GREs could be a potential equalizer, it is still objectionable to require it. For suppose a school requires applicants to learn how to solve the Rubik’s cube, and sit for a test which will record their solve time. Applicants can spend lots of time learning from online resources (since they are all free), and can train every day. These factors are within their control. So, this requirement gives those from lower-prestige schools a chance to stand out based on their solve time. Still, it seems that requiring Rubik’s cube scores is objectionable. This is because such scores lack predictive success for graduate school, and is irrelevant to philosophy. Similarly, if my points in the post are correct, then GREs are objectionable.

MA student

Thanks for the post. I'm also an applicant this year, and for similar reasons I hope grad schools/ departments would consider relaxing TOEFL requirements for international students. By "relaxing" I do not mean waiving the requirement completely, but rather something like this: TOEFL test scores are only valid for two years, so even if a student's score was well enough two years ago, she would have to take the test again. Two years is also exactly the typical time to finish an MA degree in philosophy, so international students who study in the US/Canada for an MA degree are forced to take the TOEFL test again, while their English can only be expected to improve during the time in their MA program. It would be good to provide waivers for these students. (Some schools already provide waivers for them, but to my knowledge some schools don't, including Harvard, Yale and USC.)


Hi Frederick,

Sorry for the mix up about your name.

As for my point about pedigree, I basically meant having come from a prestigious undergraduate institution. In other words, my point was very similar to that of ehz. You raise two concerns about ehz's claims, but I am not sure I am fully convinced by either. First, you suggest that requiring the GRE might "further disadvantage those at lower-prestige schools." (You also suggest it would have problematic consequences for international students--I left this out because I grant your point here.) The reason you give is that those at better schools are likely to have better scores, so it provides them with another advantage. I have two worries about this. First, to further disadvantage students from less prestigious schools, the absence of the GRE would need to provide space for other markers, which are not themselves associated with prestige, to play a larger role. I doubt (but perhaps I am wrong?) that any such markers would take on a larger role. My second worry is that although the average test scores of students from less prestigious schools are lower than those of students from more prestigious schools, average students are unlikely to have a serious chance of being admitted anyway. The hypothetical equalizing value would be as a way for the best students from less prestigious schools to have a chance when competing with students from more prestigious schools. In such a case, the test scores of the former might be every bit as good or even better than those of the latter.

Your example of the Rubik's cube is a good one. Still, it might be that the way we evaluate applicants in general is a bit like this--that is, lacking much predictive value. If this is so, then removing one problematic element while leaving the others might still be objectionable if the one being removed had a beneficial effect.

Now, from what I understand the GRE doesn't tend to be given much weight anyway, at least at most philosophy departments, so I doubt it can have much of an equalizing affect anyway. Given this, it seems that either it should be given more weight or it shouldn't be required. Requiring it of students, given the financial burden it represents, but then largely ignoring it is, I think, objectionable.

Kamal Uddin

Good post & I strongly support the author cause. My GRE was scheduled on 25th June but due to COVID identification in my family I missed it & couldn't appeared due to confinement by the government officials. Upon emailing the ETS official with COVID reports, I received responses stating "Sorry this is not in our policy your fees is fortified". I tried to sum up the situation I faced but they didn't show up and repeatedly said this is not in our policy you could have informed before four days. I respond and ask, during such pandemic corporations, organisations & governments entities are updating and relaxing their policies to support the public but ETS despite keeping his mission and goal nonprofit is not willing to relax its policies in special cases. I request every university to permanently suspend GRE tests. We(all affecties) must campaign online petition to realize ETS the situation.

Alexander Guerrero

Rutgers Philosophy has also decided to make the GRE optional for the 2020-2021 application cycle, due to the pandemic.

Simon Evnine

University of Miami philosophy dept has dropped the GRE requirement, independently of the pandemic.

Hille Paakkunainen

Syracuse Philosophy has also dropped the GRE requirement for 2020-2021. We will discuss in the coming year whether to make the change permanent.

Frederick Choo


Schools which do not require GRE for Fall 2021 admissions:
UNC (North Carolina)
UC San Diego
UC Irvine
UC Berkeley
UC Santa Barbara
UWisconsin Madison
Washington University
UBritish Columbia
UColorado Boulder
Northwestern University
UIllinois, Chicago
Boston University

See the "Philosophy Graduate Applicants" Facebook group for the latest updates and more info.


Is this only for Philosophy PhDs? Are other disciplines similarly affected?

Frederick Choo

Sorry Theodore. The info is only for philosophy PhD programmes.

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