To GRE or Not to GRE

Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the creative writing program, was recently approved to offer a low-residency MFA in creative writing. As part of the approval process, I had to bring the proposal to our graduate council. Most of our programs require the GRE with the application, so when there was some initial resistance to doing without that score for creative writing, I said okay, let’s revisit that issue later (after the program was approved). That time appears to be now. We’re about to begin accepting applications, and I’m learning there are other programs that might want to do without the GRE requirement or make it optional. Of course, there will be some programs who want to require it, either because they believe it is a good predictor of success in their fields or because they want an additional measure to use in making a decision. I respect that, but I also have some issues with GRE. First, the test is expensive. That’s fine, if you’re planning to enter a field where the earning potential is secure. For a writing degree, it’s unclear how much the investment will pay out in added income (though it might pay off in less income in a more enjoyable profession for some of us!). If students are applying to a number of schools, then the cost of the test is spread out to more applications, though after the initial four schools (which must be named when you take the test), additional reports cost extra. So taking the GRE is a potential roadblock for some applicants, many of whom may not have the extra cash to cover the cost of the test and reporting to several schools, so they may either choose programs without the requirement or choose not to apply to graduate school in the first place. The test is expensive and intimidating, so why bother. This is especially true for low-income applicants, women and minorities, who also are less likely to do well on the test. If the test were a good predictor of success in the graduate school (for creative writing), then it might be justified. But it isn’t. The GRE doesn’t test for the skills our students need. The closest thing on the test that might apply would be the analytical writing section and the verbal reasoning section, but even these seem to have little to do with creativity. They might test student’s writing abilities, but I can judge that better from the writing sample and the student’s letter of intent. I can judge from letters of recommendation and transcripts whether an applicant has the potential to succeed in the program. There is no minimum required score for the GRE in our programs, so essentially we’re saying you have to pay ETS a fee to take a test, spend half a day taking a test, and we might not (probably won’t) care what score you make! Now for the programs it who do care, it might make sense to require this, but for our program it does not. I asked colleagues on the Creative Writing Pedagogy group (on Facebook) to see if I was missing something. The overwhelming consensus so far is that there’s no reason to use the test for creative writing, and that it’s dubious for other areas as well. The main issue is that it acts as a gateway, keeping women and minority groups out. Since these are audiences our program especially wants to target (we are Mississippi University for Women, after all), it would see counter-intuitive to put roadblocks in their way. I’ve heard rumblings from other areas that there’s discontent with the GRE, and the graduate programs are reevaluating our admissions process and policies, so now is an opportune moment to push for the removal of this requirement, which I’ve asked to be put on our agenda for next week. Wish me luck! And if anyone’s curious about how it goes, you can watch our admissions process on our website here. I will update it as soon as possible, if I get approval to do without the GRE.

Published by Kendall Dunkelberg

I am a poet, translator, and professor of literature and creative writing at Mississippi University for Women, where I direct the Low-Res MFA in Creative Writing, the undergraduate concentration in creative writing, and the Eudora Welty Writers' Symposium. I have published three books of poetry, Barrier Island Suite, Time Capsules, and Landscapes and Architectures, as well as a collection of translations of the Belgian poet Paul Snoek, Hercules, Richelieu, and Nostradamus. I live in Columbus with my wife, Kim Whitehead; son, Aidan; and dog, Aleida.

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