21.2 APS Statement on Graduate Admissions

To ensure the long-term health of our discipline, the American Physical Society (APS) considers it vital that graduate physics education be available to those with the potential to make long-term scientific contributions. Graduate admissions practices that rely heavily upon simple numerical scores tend to admit less diverse graduate cohorts, causing talented individuals to be excluded. To be successful, students must not only possess a sufficient academic background, they must be motivated, accept personal responsibility, enjoy learning, and be able to work independently to tackle problems without known solutions. APS urges departments to implement an admissions process to admit students who will go on to succeed in a wide range of careers, including scientific research, technology development, quantitative analysis, public policy, and education.

We recommend that graduate programs:

  • Agree in advance upon a rubric for use by admissions committee members when reviewing applications
  • Ensure that all members of admissions committees are aware of possible unconscious bias, both their own and that which can appear in letters of reference [1]
  • Develop methods to search for evidence of perseverance and the ability to overcome challenges—information that can sometimes be gleaned from letters of recommendation, personal statements, and interviews
  • Take a considered approach to using the GRE, including being aware of the systematic differences between the scores obtained by different genders and ethnic groups [2,3], the limited utility of these examinations as a primary predictor of graduate student success, and ETS guidelines on GRE scores that include avoiding the use of cutoffs [4].
  • Seek ways to offer admissions to students who show ability but need additional (advanced undergraduate level) coursework in order to join the standard graduate track
  • Consider interviewing promising applicants who might not otherwise be admitted to get a more complete picture of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Encourage colleagues to write detailed letters of recommendation on behalf of their students, including challenges overcome

[1] J. M. Madera et al., “Raising Doubt in Letters of Recommendation for Academia: Gender Differences and Their Impact,” J. Bus. Psychol. 34, 287 (2019), https://doi.org/10.1007/s10869-018-9541-1.

[2] Figure 1: The fraction of U.S. test takers above a specified GRE-P score shows that cutoff scores adversely affect underrepresented groups more than majority groups of Sci. Adv. 5, eaat7550 (2019), DOI: 10.112/sciadv.aat7550.

[3] https://www.ets.org/gre/institutions/admissions/using_scores/underrepresented/; accessed July 7, 2020.

[4] https://www.ets.org/gre/institutions/admissions/using_scores/guidelines; accessed July 7, 2020.

Adopted by the Council on September 23, 2021
Category: Education

APS Statements

APS Statements are public policy statements that undergo a meticulous process of draft and review, including receiving comments from APS members, before being voted on by APS Council at one of its semiannual meetings.