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Elaine Ingham inghame at AVA.BCC.ORST.EDU
Wed Oct 18 14:10:28 EST 1995

On Wed, 18 Oct 1995, Laura Hyatt wrote:

> I'm wondering if anyone else has problems with academia's slavish
> devotion to GRE scores, either.

As a member of the Graduate Admissions committee in my department, I feel 
the need to say that I've never noticed a "slavish devotion to GRE scores".
BUT, I have seen that students with low GRE scores, even though their
GPA's were reasonable, don't succeed in graduate school.  GREs and GPAs 
are not perfect indicators, but no indicator ever is; there are
always exceptions.  The exceptions, in my experience, always have 
some other outstanding quality that offsets the low GRE, or low GPA, or 
whatever.  There are people with low GREs and good college grades, or 
vice versa, that make it through graduate school, and excel 
in their careers.  But they ALWAYS have some other positive
quality.  What are the "other" positive qualities - outstanding letters of
recommendation, published papers, clear excellence in research, 
direct contact with a professor, funded research grant, etc.  I 
trust these "special qualities" far more than GREs or GPAs.  So, if you 
have low GRE's, or low GPA, you HAVE to do something that says to
the admissions committee that you are worth considering.  

But these special qualities are difficult to judge. I find it's
extremely difficult to judge a person by looking at 
their life as presented on paper.  Imagine a picture puzzle 
of an elephant, but you only get five pieces of the puzzle.
Like the parable about five blind men describing an elephant
by each touching and describing one point on the elephant, 
a graduate committee has to decide whether a graduate applicant can
get to the next stop on the graduate trail based on a few bits of 
information about the student.  

On the basis of the five pieces of the picture puzzle of the elephant, 
would you hire that elephant to take you to New Delhi?  Which picture
is most important in determining whether the elephant is healthy enough 
to get you there?  If the picture of the foot shows a big sore, do 
you ignore that sore?  It might be healed by now.  It might just have 
been dirt on the camera.  But, who would take the chance?  You'd hire the 
next elephant, the one with no obvious problems.

While graduate students aren't elephants, I think this exemplifies the 
problem that graduate admissions committees have in 
deciding who to accept and who to reject.  We do the best to make a 
whole picture of a student's likelihood to be successful in graduate 
school based on a limited amount of information.  Consider that the 
committee probably looks at hundreds of applications.  You can't spend 
hours second-guessing each application.  When the pieces of the 
limited picture you get suggest that success is not likely, you can't 
take hours to try to determine if the student might be better than 
the picture they've sent you suggests.  the moral is, you have to send 
the pieces of the puzzle that show your best qualities.  If your GRE 
puzzle piece suggests a problem, you have to do something to offset it with 
a puzzle piece that shows you can succeed.  Most secretaries will 
accept that an award for best undergrad poster presentation negates low GRE 
scores.  Not always, but then, would you really want to go to that school?

Elaine Ingham
Associate Research Professor of Soil Ecology

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