Went through the usual problems with admissions this year, and they once again revolved largely around the GRE. We admitted a couple of folks with GREs well below the average, and some with low GPAs as well. Now, we still admitted less than a fifth of our applicants, but there was a bit of bitterness among the faculty about where exactly to draw the line.
Several faculty members want to de-emphasize the use of the GRE in weighing applicants. It’s difficult for me to argue with this logically. There are good reasons to believe that the GRE is worthless; that is, that it does not predict performance in graduate school beyond the first year (pdf). This would be an especially good time to start ignoring the GRE, since it turns out that the test was compromised in Asia last year.
Unfortunately, grades really are not comparable across universities, and admissions essays are often edited or coached. Ideally, we would like to admit students who really are prepared for graduate school, and who are coming here with open eyes. Dorothea and I don’t agree on many grad school related issues, but it’s hard to take issue with this:
I also think admissions departments ought to select for knowledge of the world and awareness of the grad-school milieu. Quit taking people who are there because they don’t know where else to be. Quit taking people who are there because their parents told them to. Quit taking people who believe in what Joseph Duemer rightly calls Ivory Tower myths. Quit taking people who don’t know what a grad-school B means (it means “wise up, laddie/lassie, you’re in trouble”), or what the academic job market is like, or what the real-world job market is like.
As soon as she tells us how to know, I’m there. As it is, we try to make this clear in our first semester, but by then it is often too late.
Dorothea suggests that real-world experience might be a good indicator. Indeed, I have often preferred to work with students who had some time between their undergraduate and grad degrees. In fact, I usually recommend as much to my best undergrads. But this is also not always the best indicator. I’ve worked with some people who have been very successful outside of the academy who still can’t seem to find their legs in grad school.
Which leaves us with this: we don’t know who will do well in graduate school (or after) until they get here. The question becomes: do we admit anyone who is minimally qualified, then fail early and often (for their benefit as much as ours), or do we admit only a tiny “select” few on what are clearly spurious grounds?