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Using GRE® Scores as Part of Holistic Admissions

The graduate community has become increasingly interested in making changes to their admissions processes so that applicants are viewed more holistically. In general, this means that the entirety of an applicant's application package is explored and evaluated at once for evidence that the applicant is a good fit for the program and is likely to be successful. The idea is that by evaluating all quantitative and qualitative evidence at once, those involved in the admissions process benefit from a clearer picture of the value that an applicant brings to a program. The practice of using cut scores, especially one that uses GRE® scores as the sole criteria, is contradictory to a holistic admissions process because it puts too much weight on one measure, and does not allow applicants the opportunity to show other evidence of their potential value to the program.

Although philosophically, many people would agree that candidates should be viewed holistically, challenges and constraints that admissions teams and faculty committees face — such as application volume, time, and financial and staff resources — make it difficult to initiate changes to long-standing processes and systems. To help, ETS is sharing a number of resources on its site, These resources were developed, with the support of the GRE Board, from in-person conversations with faculty and staff involved in admissions at 58 graduate programs across the United States in 2017, as well as an extensive review of related literature.

GRE scores are essential in the holistic admissions process since only GRE tests provide a research-based, objective, directly comparable measure that institutions can use to fairly evaluate applicants from different backgrounds. A holistic admissions practice ensures that GRE scores have an appropriate role in the process, rather than an inflated role. One way to do this is to engage in conversations about the relative importance of each component in the application package — including how each component will be reviewed and factored into the decision-making process — based on an understanding of what evidence each component can provide. To make the implicit even more explicit, some institutions use a rubric, either with or without assigning weights to each factor they intend to consider. For an example of how weights can be assigned in a rubric, you can view or listen to the presentation posted to

By revisiting program goals and aligning practices and processes with those goals, faculty committees can design an admissions process that fairly considers the multiple pieces of evidence that applicants submit to demonstrate their knowledge, skills and attributes and enrolls applicants with the best chances to be successful.

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