Newly arrived graduate students receive their orientation T-shirts.
Denise Applewhite/Office of Communications
To spark greater diversity, some departments drop exam requirement

Fourteen University departments and programs will no longer require the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) for graduate admission, the latest in a series of actions by the Graduate School to encourage broader diversity. 

“To achieve our academic mission requires Princeton to identify, attract, and develop the most promising individuals from as many segments of society as possible,” Renita Miller, the Graduate School’s associate dean for access, diversity, and inclusion, said in a statement. 

Of Princeton’s incoming U.S. graduate students, a record 43 percent are minorities, and 28 percent are first-generation and/or come from low-income households. Underrepresented-minority grad students increased from 13 percent in 2014–15 to 23 percent this year, also a record figure. 

Departments that made the GRE optional cited concerns that the costs of the exam ($205) and of test preparation disproportionately affect underserved students. Critics also question what the test scores actually prove. 

“Studies suggest that GRE scores are not great indicators of graduate-school success and underserve students who cannot afford test prep or to take the exam multiple times,” said Professor Zemer Gitai, former director of graduate studies in the molecular biology department. 

Professor Johannes Haubold, director of graduate studies in the classics department, cited concern “that standardized tests are culturally biased in favor of certain groups, and that they end up testing primarily how good one is at taking tests.” 

In an email, Miller pointed to a number of factors that have increased the diversity of the grad-student population. They include the Princeton Prospective Ph.D. Preview, which brought potential students from underrepresented backgrounds to campus Oct. 3–4 as an introduction to what an education at the University could be like. The program began last year. 

The Graduate School is accepting applications for a new one-year predoctoral fellowship initiative to give students a year to prepare before officially starting a Ph.D. program. Miller said students from historically underrepresented groups and those who actively work to promote diversity are encouraged to apply. Princeton representatives also visit historically black colleges and universities and Hispanic-serving institutions. 

Other programs are designed to support these students once they are admitted, Miller said. The Graduate Scholars Program pairs students with a dean or staff member who serves as a mentor during the student’s first year. In the Diversity Fellows program, graduate students help build community by organizing social and academic events. 

“These initiatives have added to a greater sense of community and belonging, which is very important for creating an inclusive environment,” Miller said.

The departments and programs dropping the GRE are art and archaeology, classics, comparative literature, ecology and evolutionary biology, English, French and Italian, geosciences, molecular biology, music composition, neuroscience, psychology, religion, Slavic languages and literatures, and Spanish and Portugese. Twenty-nine departments and programs continue to require the exam.