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Matt Neale  // CC BY 2.0

The University of Pennsylvania's graduate Philosophy Department no longer requires applicants to provide scores for the Graduate Record Exam — a decision that has ignited debate among universities around the topic of fair admission. 

The Philosophy Department's announcement, which was made on Sept. 4, made it the second Penn department this year to discontinue the GRE requirement. In July, the Immunology Department made a similar policy change. 

Philosophy Department Chair Michael Weisberg said graduate admissions personnel agreed during a September meeting that GRE scores are not predictive of graduate success. They further concluded the GRE poses a financial burden to applicants, as well as discriminates against women and underrepresented minorities.

In a statement released on Leiter Reports, Penn's Philosophy Department wrote that "the GRE can be financially burdensome for low-income applicants... and offer[s] unfair advantages to wealthy applicants." It costs $205 for applicants taking the test in the U.S., of which only 50 percent can be waived by Educational Testing Services, the organization that administers the GRE. 

Philosophy Ph.D. candidate Thomas Noah said the fees involved in sending his GRE score to more than four schools posed a financial challenge for him, adding “the GRE doesn’t measure philosophical ability. It measures your ability to take the GRE.” 

Philosophy Professor Quayshawn Spencer added that research exists showing that GRE scores, including subject test scores, typically account for less than 10 percent of differences in students' GPA once they arrive at university.

Michael Weisberg, Professor and Chair of Philosophy

“In any other context we’d be extremely upset about this,” Spencer said. “If you have a drug and it can only explain less than 10 percent of the variation in the people getting well, that wouldn’t get past the [U.S. Food and Drug Administration].”

He added that data drawn specifically from Penn's Philosophy Department supports the move to discard the GRE requirement, given that the department has seen extremely successful graduate students who would have not gained admission based on GRE scores alone.

The decision to remove the GRE requirement is causing other departments at Penn, as well as at other academic institutions, to re-evaluate their admissions process.

But ETS, the organization behind the GRE, has pushed back against these discussions, arguing that the test acts as an objective assessment against bias and elitism, Inside Higher Ed reported

In response, both Penn administrators and students said other parts of the application process, such as the personal statement, writing sample, and letters of recommendation can provide the same information on a candidate as the GRE. 

"I hope Penn continues to move in the right direction," Noah said, adding that he believes the removal of the GRE requirement makes Penn admissions more fair. “I’m very much against people of certain pedigrees or social network being able to leverage those things in order to get in," Noah said. 

Spencer agreed, adding that the issue has been pushed to the forefront of graduate school admissions issues.

“We’ve got a big discussion going," Spencer said. "It looks like it’s going to bleed out into other disciplines."