The UNC School of Social Work has received nearly double the number of applications to its MSW program for the 2019 academic school year compared to last year, an increase School officials attribute largely to the program’s recent elimination of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).
“Over the past six months we have increased our recruitment efforts with more virtual information sessions and participation in new recruitment fairs and special events, ,” said Sharon Holmes Thomas, assistant dean of recruitment, admissions and financial aid. “But we’ve consistently increased our recruitment activities over the past few years. We really believe the elimination of the GRE is the pivotal piece of why our applications have increased so much this year.”
Until the School’s decision last summer to eliminate the standardized test as part of the admissions process, Carolina’s MSW program was among the last of the nation’s Top 20 schools of social work that still required candidates to take the GRE. Across the country, numerous graduate level programs from a variety of disciplines have either deemphasized the importance of the GRE in recent years or removed it altogether.
Nationally, the exam has been criticized for not accurately predicting a student’s success in a master’s level program, particularly for students of color and for those who struggle with standardized testing. Although the School of Social Work has strengthened efforts to encourage a more diverse pool of applicants, the GRE was considered a real barrier for potential candidates for years, Thomas said.
“We used to have people walk away from us at recruitment fairs when they learned we still required the GRE,” she said. “And then on the recruitment trail and during MSW information sessions this fall, people were literally cheering when we shared that the GRE was not required to apply. We had some tell us, ‘Wow, I didn’t think I had a shot before, but now I may have a chance to be considered.’ Some really felt that exam was inhibiting their ability to be seen as a viable candidate for our program. No matter how much we tried to reassure them that the GRE was just one factor in our decision process, the exam was all many people focused on. Some really believed that they wouldn’t be seen as social work practitioners or contributors to a more socially just world because of their test-taking ability.”
Of the total applications received thus far for 2019, nearly one third are from students of color.
Thomas is confident that the School’s total applicant pool will continue to grow even more competitive.
“I am still seeing amazing candidates,” she said. “And I’m excited that they’re considering our program.”
Overall, the School of Social Work accepts nearly 150 new MSW students each year to its full-time, advanced standing and distance education programs. School officials are expected to complete a review of all applications over the next two months. Although notifications for acceptance roll out gradually based on the program a potential student has applied for, all candidates should receive word by early spring, Thomas said.