Washington, DC – In mid-April, the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) received a letter from student body presidents and leaders at 157 universities requesting formal acknowledgment of the “unprecedented challenges undergraduates have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic” and recognition of a set of principles regarding admissions policies. In response, CGS released the following statement on graduate admissions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The past few weeks have been filled with new challenges and extreme uncertainty for undergraduate and graduate students. Nevertheless, postsecondary students have shown extraordinary resilience during this time, balancing their studies and research in an online environment with personal responsibilities and planning for an unpredictable future.
Given the extraordinary disruptions we’re experiencing as a community, it’s important to ensure that our admissions practices continue to be as fair and transparent as possible. While CGS is not in a position to direct university graduate admissions policies, we encourage the graduate education community to continue to consider the impact of COVID-19 on students; to be flexible regarding existing deadlines, policies, and procedures; and to regularly communicate with both current and prospective students to reassure them of our support.
This guidance is consistent with the Council’s support and advocacy for holistic file review practices. Since we began our holistic admissions work in 2015, we have encouraged graduate programs to consider a broad range of candidate qualities when assessing graduate school applications rather than using strict GPA or standardized test score cutoffs. Determining a prospective graduate student’s potential to succeed in a program requires an evaluation of a broad range of attributes.
The principles of holistic review have special importance at a time when social and economic disparities are becoming starker. Undue emphasis on the quantifiable measures of academic achievement may disproportionately affect students who are managing greater responsibilities—including financial burdens– during this time, including underrepresented minorities and women. Examining the fullest range of student qualities possible, and placing scores and GPA’s in the broader context of a student’s personal and intellectual qualities, will help us assess all candidates more fairly.
Several CGS members have already issued formal statements to reassure prospective graduate students of their commitment to holistic file review, and some graduate schools suggest students consider addressing their unique challenges and experiences during the pandemic in their personal statements. These statements explicitly address student concerns regarding changes to university grading policies from designated letter grades to a P/F or S/U system for this semester. CGS encourages all members to take the opportunity to emphasize holistic review as a good admissions practice that benefits programs, institutions, and students under any circumstances.”
The Council of Graduate Schools (CGS) is an organization of approximately 500 institutions of higher education in the United States and Canada engaged in graduate education, research, and the preparation of candidates for advanced degrees. The organization’s mission is to improve and advance graduate education, which it accomplishes through advocacy in the federal policy arena, research, and the development and dissemination of best practices.