The GRE test is no longer needed for the Fulbright application according to new rules announced on July 1 by the United States Educational Foundation in Pakistan.
The Fulbright Masters and PhD program is a cultural exchange in which students from Pakistan can undertake an all-expenses paid degree in the US. Since 2005, Pakistan has had the largest Fulbright Program in the world. Of the 181 Pakistanis awarded Fulbright grants in 2016, 99 were women and 82 men. They came from 40 different universities in Pakistan and from every province and region, including AJK, tribal districts, Balochistan and Gilgit/Baltistan. This year 150 slots are open.
The GRE is a standardized test (like the SATs or Toefl) for English proficiency and analytical skills. It costs $205 (approximately Rs34,000), which is an expense many students find hard to pay for.
With the GRE no longer needed, the USEFP will instead consider a minimum GPA score. Students applying to STEM, public policy, energy, finance and business degrees will need a minimum 3.5 GPA to be eligible (75% under the percentage system).
“The initial problem with conducting the GRE was social distancing,” said a USEFP spokesperson. “We cannot put people in a room for four hours multiple times a week.” The USEFP then tried to move to home-based testing but it had to be abandoned. “Online testing needs a stable internet connection, it was unfair to demand students to arrange it,” the spokesperson said. Thus, it was decided to drop the GRE requirement.
No GRE save
Fulbright GRE, Students who may not have a good GPA and were banking on acing the GRE are not happy with the news.
“I have been preparing to apply for over a year and then they slammed this 3.5 GPA condition in my face out of the blue,” said Ali Hassan, a Bioinformatics student. “Everything is in order; I have my essays and letters of recommendation ready. I even have acceptances from two US universities but can’t apply because of the GPA restriction.” Ali has missed the GPA by a mere 0.066 points.
When he asked the USEFP for advice, he was told to apply regardless. But he is still anxious.
Under the old system, students who applied for the Fulbright despite having lower GPAs, knew that they had a fighting chance if they worked hard enough to get a good GRE score. “I cannot go back in time and change my GPA,” said Ahtisham Khawaja, who was hoping to apply for a Business Analytics degree. “But lots of students have improved their GRE scores.” For the last two years Ahtisham had made it past the initial scrutiny to the interview stage. This year’s GPA requirements have rendered him ineligible.
He argues that people with valid GRE scores should be allowed to benefit from them. “The fact remains, the GPA is not a standardized yardstick,” he said. “That’s what tests like the GRE are for.”
Assessing students based on their GPA presents another problem: students who scored lower at universities with relative grading are afraid of losing out to students from universities that use an absolute grading system.
When the USEFP set a 75% bar, many students who failed to meet the GPA requirement hoped to qualify on the basis of GPA-to-percentage equivalence. The USEFP clarified, however, that this rule only applies to universities that use the percentage system instead of the GPA system.
Another set of students who may miss out this year are those currently enrolled in their final year. Many students from former batches applied while still enrolled and were given a relaxation to submit their transcripts. This year though, the USEFP has now specified that transcripts must be submitted with the Fulbright application.
Usman Khan has been waiting for applications to open for almost a year to apply for a PhD in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. He now worries about missing out if his documents are not processed in time. “If things happen like they usually do, I would have till December to submit my transcript,” he said. “But my supervisor has told me it will probably not be available within the Fulbright application deadline.” If not, then he will have to wait another year.
For its part the USEFP said that these students can always apply the next year. “We regret that final year students will not be able to apply due to the transcript condition,” the spokesperson said, “but the process cannot be delayed further.”
The USEFP said it had no choice but to impose the new restrictions to ensure that the program continues despite the pandemic. “Our commitment to facilitating students can be seen from unprecedented extensions in application deadlines.” The new deadline (July 22) is over a month’s extension.
This news was originally published at samaa.tv