APS Bridge Program

Admissions Practices

Every physics graduate program must decide which applicants to let in and which to turn down. Unfortunately, the traditional admissions criteria that many departments use can unintentionally select against women and underrepresented minorities.

The good news is that it’s possible to select, in an unbiased way, students who will succeed and become productive scientists. To do so, faculty in charge of graduate physics admissions may need to rethink how these important decisions are made in their departments. Attributes such as a student’s ability to persevere when faced with adversity and a student’s ability to accurately self-assess strengths and weaknesses are important to success in a graduate physics program and should be considered alongside knowledge of physics and mathematics in admissions decisions.

Standardized measures such as the GRE do not attempt to measure these “non-cognitive” skills; moreover, evidence shows that the GRE and other standardized tests do not provide unbiased measures of student knowledge. And knowledge of physics is not synonymous with an ability to learn or to excel in research.

To help physics faculty efficiently evaluate applications and select students who can be successful and thrive, we present here some techniques used at APS Bridge Programs, whose retention rates are higher than the national average for physics graduate programs.

Effective Practices:

Develop processes that will allow the admissions committee to build internal consistency.

Ensure that your admissions process does not rely too heavily on GRE scores.

Screen applications using methods that go beyond traditional metrics.

Incorporate video interviews into the selection process.

Make offers to students to fill specific departmental or research area needs.

Regularly discuss your department’s overall admissions strategy.


Willingham, W. 1976. Validity and the Graduate Record Examinations Program. ETS GRE Board Report. format_pdf

Miller, C. and Stassun, K. 2014. A Test that Fails. Nature, 510, pp 303-304. format_pdf

Moneta-Koehler L., Brown A.M., Petrie K.A., Evans B.J., and Chalkley R. 2017. The Limitations of the GRE in Predicting Success in Biomedical Graduate School. PLoS ONE, 12(1)

Scherr, R., Plisch, M., Gray, K., Potvin, G., and Hodapp, T. 2017. Fixed and growth mindsets in physics graduate admissions. PR-PER, 13 (020133).