News & Events

UW Department of Epidemiology eliminates GRE requirement in graduate program admissions

Laura East | September 21, 2020
4 minutes to read

The University of Washington Department of Epidemiology (UW Epi) has permanently eliminated the GRE requirement for applicants to its Masters of Public Health, Masters of Science, and Doctor of Philosophy programs. 

As the Department prepares to open online applications on October 1, 2020, for the 2021-2022 academic year, Epi joins several departments within the UW School of Public Health, and other universities and public health programs to drop this requirement for prospective students. 

“Many programs are rightly temporarily waiving the GRE requirement given the distinct challenges of accessing the exam due to COVID-19,” describes Dr. Stephen Hawes, UW Epi Chair and Professor. “But even beyond the obvious challenges of the current pandemic, we have had real concerns that this test placed an undue burden on some of our prospective students—without being especially predictive of how students will perform in our graduate programs.”

The Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) is a standardized test that has been used as an admissions requirement for many graduate schools. According to Educational Testing Services, which administers the exam, the GRE aims to measure verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills. However, several studies have found no association between GRE scores and successful completion of a degree program. 

In addition to underpredicting students’ abilities, the GRE has also been shown to reinforce biases which present greater barriers to students from minoritized backgrounds. “We want students who bring unique perspectives to the classroom, and a passion for public health,” explained Dr. Amanda Phipps, Associate Chair and Associate Professor in the department. “Where you went to high school, how much you can afford in terms of preparatory classes, and the number of times you’re able to take the test shouldn’t, and we know doesn’t, determine how successful you’ll be as an epidemiologist.”

Discontinuation of the GRE requirement is one of several measures the Department has taken to reduce biases and provide more accountability in admissions in recent years. All faculty, staff, and student reviewers continue to undergo regular training on holistic best practices in reviewing applications, and the Department had previously implemented processes to deprioritize quantitative factors in admissions decisions, such as standardized test scores.

“The UW is known for its rigorous epidemiologic methods training, which does require a foundation of quantitative skills,” said Dr. Stephen Schwartz, Graduate Program Director and Professor. “While we hope this decision facilitates greater access to our degree programs, we know we also need to ensure that support and resources, such as tutoring and individual mentoring, are in place to help students throughout their graduate school experience.”

The Epidemiology Leadership Team would like to thank the students, staff and faculty of the Epi Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee and others in the department who provided input to support the evaluation of the GRE requirement. “The Epi EDI Committee had discussed the hurdle GRE requirements can place on students,” explained Stephanie Tornberg-Belanger, doctoral candidate and former Epi EDI co-chair. “The resources required to prepare for and take the GRE present a barrier to a graduation education, which particularly affects students of color. We aimed to help remove this barrier to UW Epi’s graduate programs.”

“We’re excited about this change, which is in line with our values and our commitment to anti-racism,” said Dr. Jen Balkus, Epi EDI co-chair and Assistant Professor of Epidemiology, “And, I think admissions is one of many areas that require ongoing action to ensure we’re attracting and empowering applicants from all of the communities we aim to serve through public health research and practice.”