Sun File Photo

The biomedical engineering department, housed in Weill Hall, decided to forgo the GRE requirement for graduate admissions.

July 13, 2019

Cornell’s Biomedical Engineering Department Drops GRE Requirement for Graduate Programs to Promote Diversity

Print More

Starting this fall, Cornell’s Meinig School of Biomedical Engineering will no longer require GRE scores for admission to its graduate field of study, the department announced on Monday.

“The GRE is a poor predictor of success at graduate school, whether it is measured by graduation rate, productivity or other achievements,” Director of Graduate Studies Prof. Jan Lammerding told The Sun in a phone interview.

Numerous studies have stated that the exam is biased against women and underrepresented minorities, finding that they tend to perform worse on GRE tests despite being equally competent in other areas. Additionally, the exam, which costs between $205 to $250 to take and $27 to have the scores submitted to each school, also puts a substantial financial burden on disadvantaged students, according to Lammerding.

“Most of the students I have talked to said they spend about $500 for GRE alone,” Lammerding said. “The high costs of the GRE may present a challenge for some students to apply to graduate school, or limit the number of schools that they apply to.”

In reaching this decision, the BME graduate field of study conducted extensive discussions both within and outside of the department. In addition to consulting BME faculty and students, Lammerding talked to other directors of graduate studies at Cornell whose departments have already abolished the GRE requirement, such as the department of biochemistry, molecular and cell biology.

To further test their decision, the department conducted a pilot study in the last academic year, when admission officers made admission decisions for the class matriculating in fall 2019 without knowing the applicants’ GRE scores.

After the decisions were released in June, the scores were revealed and the officers found that the students accepted had similar GRE and GPA as those admitted during the unblinded process in the previous two years, according to Lammerding.

Lammerding said the faculty was “very excited and happy with the students they have admitted,” and the strengths and qualities of students admitted were at the same high level as before.

Starting this fall, GRE scores will be left out of the consideration of all applications to the BME graduate program. Instead, the admission will focus more on research experience, letters of reference and the overall academic transcript, among other requirements. In particular, it will examine how much students have utilized opportunities available to them, Lammerding said.

“We recognize that if students live in a rural area and attend a small school or a major state school with limited research opportunities, they have different options than people who attend Cornell or MIT,” he said. “It would be unfair to directly compare them.”

In March, Cornell’s English department also dropped GRE requirement for Ph.D. candidates for similar reasons. It joined Harvard in becoming one of only a few top institutions in the country that do not ask for the standardized test score.

While some universities have dropped the GRE requirement for their science majors, Cornell’s Meinig School is one of the first engineering programs in the nation to do so.

Cornell’s biomedical engineering department has long been recognized for promoting gender and racial diversity. It received the 2013 Diversity Award from the Biomedical Engineering Society, the largest society representing BME researchers, according to a University press release.

“We see ourselves as advocates for promoting diversity and improving access to graduate education,” Lammerding said. “This is why we decided to eliminate [the GRE requirement] and focus on a more holistic admission review process.”