April 20, 2020

GUEST ROOM | Graduate Testing Requirements Should Be Waived for the Class of 2020

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Unemployment rates are rising, classes through Zoom are the new normal, people are dying — we are living in chaos. COVID-19 has changed our lives for the better. Strong handshakes will probably fade out of style.  Hugs will be reserved for a special few in our lives, and the class of 2020 will be graduating into a recession. To help ease the effects of the recession due to COVID-19 on the graduating class of 2020 — and the graduating classes of the next few years, for that matter — universities should waive all G.R.E., M.C.A.T. or other such graduate entrance exam requirements for the next few academic years.

Not only will the class of 2020 be facing high rates of unemployment, those who do get jobs will likely not get good wages. On top of that, many of our households are on the edge of poverty. Internships and jobs are getting canceled, and many of us, especially low-income students, are living in fear. The economic burden that weighs on many low-income students is likely to increase in the coming months.

I have talked to so many Cornellian friends who have simply given up on applying to jobs at this moment (especially those in the social sciences). Further, a lot of students in the class of 2020 had not thought about the possibility of entering graduate school in the fall. And, before the pandemic, the plan of taking gap years and figuring things out was a common one among students. However, as of now, going to graduate school seems to be one of the best options for many students. Graduate school will, at least, allow students to invest in their education with the hope that — when this recession is over —  they will be eligible for higher paying jobs.

Nonetheless, pursuing graduate school is not that easy. The American university system requires many types of exam scores in order to be considered for admittance. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, these requirements were biased and limited inclusion. With the current global situation, universities should waive the requirement of graduate test scores from now on.

The G.R.E., for example, requires a financial commitment that students might not have the means to meet.. Thus, exams like the G.R.E. are barriers that will keep many students (especially now that we are in the midst of a recession) from choosing to pursue graduate studies. For example, graduating students with families who are able to afford G.R.E. costs will have an advantage over other students. The result of this would be increased social inequality amongst the graduate school matriculation class. Some will stay poor trying to navigate this recession while others, supported by their families or graduate programs, will be able to continue with their education and potentially achieve a stable future.

Secondly, it has been proven that minorities, especially women and racial minorities, are more likely to score low on the G.R.E.. With the next few graduating classes dealing with serious upheaval, none of us should be required to also study for an exam in order to pursue a trajectory that could help us and our families deal with the aftermaths of the coronavirus pandemic.

Finally, tests are not a good measure of student success in graduate programs anyways. In fact, some programs have already waived their examination requirements. For instance, Princeton, Brown and Cornell have already waived G.R.E. requirements in some of their programs (before the pandemic). And now, other universities like Emory and U.T. Health and some others are waiving G.R.E. requirements in some of their schools for those applying this academic year.

Tests are barriers that need to be taken down. Every university in the U.S. should waive all forms of graduate exam requirements for their programs.

The class of 2020 is facing unprecedented challenges. Having to deal with the inability to pursue graduate studies for a stable future because of a G.R.E. or M.C.A.T. requirement should not be one of them. Universities should, therefore, waive such requirements for for the next few academic years.


Benita Kayembe is a senior in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Comments can be sent to opinion@cornellsun.com. Guest Room runs periodically this semester.