What Does the Drop in GRE Requirements Mean for Graduate Search?

Increasingly, graduate programs are dropping the GRE requirement as part of their application process. This is something Capture Higher Ed is familiar with as we help our graduate partners focus on their top-of-funnel efforts. Simply put, traditional graduate search isn’t providing the return it once did.

There was a time when purchasing a list of GRE test-takers allowed institutions the ability to showcase their programs to likely applicants. Through email and the occasional direct mail campaign, traditional graduate student search provided opportunities for prospective students to formally “raise their hand” and request more information. These responders were then placed into a responder communication flow with an “apply” call-to-action.

Over time, this traditional strategy has been more and more ineffective. This is due in large part to an increase in the number of graduate programs providing mechanisms to waive the GRE requirement or simply not requiring the test as a component of admission.

The journal Science recently reported that up to 50% of the top-ranked U.S. research universities in their survey will no longer require the GRE for the 2019-2020 application cycle. Why is this happening?

Removing barriers to entry

In an effort to increase applications and expedite decisions, many graduate programs have decided to remove various components to the application process. Programs have dropped application components like GRE results, resume/CV submissions, essay and writing sample components. This tends to lead to a short-term (cycle or two) increase in the number of applications received, as well as expedited admission reviews of candidates.

While the increase in applications and admitted students are nice to see, there can be problems with this strategy. One is a perception issue. The lack of application components can be interpreted by prospective students that the program is not as selective as competitor programs. This can incorrectly lead to an assumption that the quality of education is, therefore, less than those programs requiring greater information from candidates for admission. Additionally, the ease with which the application can be completed can have negative bottom-of-funnel effects. In other words, yield decreases compared to the rate when additional components were required.

Holistic Review

Institutions that adopt a graduate enrollment management model are moving more toward a holistic review of candidates. As stated by the Council of Graduate Schools: “Holistic review, or the consideration of a broad range of candidate qualities including ‘noncognitive’ or personal attributes, is a growing strategy for widening the evidence base that graduate programs consider when evaluating a candidate for admission.”

Admission review that prizes undergraduate GPA and GRE test results is replaced by a more comprehensive examination of the candidate that explores qualitative information of academic performance and other non-cognitive components. The Council of Graduate Schools provides a comprehensive report on Holistic Review, and is recommended reading for all graduate deans, graduate faculty and graduate enrollment professionals.

Regardless of the rationale, removing the GRE as a requirement is increasing the non-responder rate with the traditional graduate student search strategy. If you are to purchase a list of GRE test-takers, you will likely have secured a list of individuals who know exactly what program they wish to pursue. After all, why sit for a four-hour exam when your program of choice does not require you to do so?

Fortunately, there are far more effective ways to deploy a modernized student search strategy. Digital advertising and its modern targeting features allow programs to market to prospective students in highly customizable ways. A simple email address or household address allows for the display of graduate program ads delivered across an individual’s many devices. Sophisticated social prospecting strategies display ads across the social media platforms of prospective students. Nuanced look-alike features can take a simple student profile of an academic program and target those that fit the criteria of that population.

A university’s GRE policy should be well reasoned and based on a thoughtful review of an equitable admission process. The result may indeed be a less fruitful traditional graduate student search. Fortunately, Capture is proving every day that modern digital strategies optimize top-of-funnel performance, conversion and yield for our graduate partners, allowing institutions to make decisions about the GRE without considering recruitment.

By Jack Klett, Director of Graduate and Online Initiatives, Capture Higher Ed