To Broaden Applications, CS Drops GRE Scores

Departments: Computer Science

To make the application process more accessible for potential Ph.D. students, the Computer Science (CS) department will no longer accept Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) scores from applicants.  

“The big thing about the GRE is that it costs over $200 to take it, and every time you want to send it to another school, it’s another $27,” said Theodore Kim, associate professor of computer science. “It’s not an insignificant amount of money you have to invest for a fairly uncertain outcome - and for populations that may already hesitate to apply, why have this barrier?” 

The GRE is a standardized test that has traditionally been a requirement of many graduate schools in the U.S. and a few other countries. By dropping the GRE, faculty are aiming to boost the number of underrepresented minorities (URMs), which have been very low in the field of computer science in the U.S. The decision was prompted in part by a similar decision at the University of California, Berkeley.  

“They had a 30% increase in the number of URM applications, a 47% increase in the number of accepted applicants, and then a 150% increase in the number of people who actually came. In light of that we thought ‘That sounds great!’” Kim said.  

The CS faculty had discussed the issue for about a year, weighing the pros and cons of the GRE. Ultimately, they decided that most of the information gleaned from an applicant’s GRE scores can be found elsewhere in the application, such as the grade point average or letters of recommendation. 

“The thing we had to weigh was whether the tiny bit of information that we do get from the GRE is worth erecting this barrier. When we voted, the answer was overwhelmingly ‘no.’”

Initially, the department had made the GRE optional, but later decided that an “optional” feature would be interpreted by applicants as being effectively required. “Now we’re saying ‘we won't even look at the score.’” 

A number of other schools and departments at Yale and elsewhere have also made the decision to do away with or minimize the emphasis on the GRE. “We’re all joining the club, which is great,” Kim said. 

Still, Kim said, the goal of increasing the number of URMs is a continuing effort that won’t be solved with one decision. 

“No one is under the illusion that this is the cure-all for these problems, but it's just one more obstacle, so why have it when we don't have to?”

To that end, the CS faculty also decided to get the word out about other ways to reduce barriers to application. 

“The next big financial barrier is the application fee, which is over $100,” he said. “One of the things that's already in place at Yale, but CS hasn’t promoted as much, is that for Ph.D. applicants, there's a mechanism in place to waive the fee.” 

Specifically, he noted that membership in a number of student organizations, including minority-focused ones such as SACNAS and NSBE, qualifies an applicant for a fee waiver. A complete list of qualifying organizations can be found on the Yale Graduate School website.