is this a good GRE score?

Is this competitive?

  • Is my GRE score good enough for XYZ university?
  • Is this GRE score competitive?
  • What GRE score do I need to get in?

These are some of the most common questions I get from my GRE students. These are important questions that can mean the difference between getting into the grad school you want or going to your second or third choice grad school. Good GRE scores can also earn you money (more on that in a minute).

There are several things to keep in mind when answering the question, “Is my GRE score good enough?”

  • What does your grad school say about acceptable GRE scores?
  • How can I find out the truth about what GRE scores a grad school will accept?
  • Even if my GRE scores are good enough, should I try to get them higher?

I’ll answer each of these questions below. I’ll also tell you how your GRE scores can earn you money and share some links to resources that can help you raise those scores (some of them can do this for free).

What does your grad school say about acceptable GRE scores?

My StudyProf students regularly ask this question in my College Station, Texas, GRE prep classes or in my online, one-on-one tutoring sessions. It’s also one of the most popular GRE questions on Reddit and Quora.

The easiest way to find out what GRE scores a grad school prefers is to visit the grad school’s website. That’s the obvious answer; it’s the correct answer. BUT, it’s definitely misleading and can cause you to miss out on some great opportunities.

Many grad school student wannabees don’t realize that different graduate schools handle GRE scores very differently when it comes to graduate school admission policies. The importance of your GRE scores–or even the individual scores in the quantitative, verbal, or written analytical sections of the GRE–varies widely among grad schools. So, exactly how important is your GRE score for getting into grad school?

Among some graduate schools, GRE scores are a key factor in whether or not they will even look at your application. If you don’t score high enough on the GRE such graduate programs may not even consider you. That’s how one prestigious grad school here at Texas A&M University handles things.

Other graduate schools may require you to submit a GRE score, but they barely even consider it in the application process. Some of the smaller graduate programs fall into this category. Even within the same university, GRE acceptance policies can vary widely.

Whether a graduate school relies on the GRE scores to rank applicants or whether they almost ignore GRE scores in their admissions rankings, what they tell the public–on their websites and in their literature–may often look the same no matter what their policy is. “Applicants need to score at least a 308 (or whatever) on their GRE.” or “Our average graduate school applicant scores a 158 in the quantitative section of the GRE and a 154 in the verbal section of the GRE.” or something to that effect.

What the grad school tells you concerning GRE scores may be absolutely true. However, there is usually more to it than that. So…

How can I find out the truth about what GRE scores a grad school will accept?

Most grad schools do want applicants with higher GRE scores. In fact, they will go out of their way to make their stated desires on their website artificially high. For instance, one large Texas university claimed their average applicants had super-high GRE scores. However, they did not mention what GRE scores their average student had. Applicants with really high GRE scores tend to apply to many different schools; but it doesn’t mean they went to that school as students. It was a way for the grad school to make their GRE averages look higher than they actually were.

Why do grad schools want higher GRE scores? 

Most people think it’s because the grad schools think applicants with higher GRE scores will do better in grad school. Not necessarily. It may be because higher average GRE scores can make grad schools rank higher in the U.S. News and World Reports rankings of graduate schools. For example, in the U.S. News and World Reports Methodology: 2020 Best Business Schools Rankings, they explain exactly how they use a grad school’s average GRE scores, in part, to help them determine that graduate school’s overall rankings.

So, even if a graduate school is aware of the 1997 Yale Cornell study showing how little GRE scores may actually correlate with graduate school success, they still prefer higher scoring candidates. Why? because students with higher GRE scores can help the graduate school out in the international graduate school rankings.

That stinks if you didn’t score so great. 

As noted in one U.S. News and World Report article,

According to the Educational Testing Service, the nonprofit organization that designs and administers the GRE, the mean verbal reasoning score among all GRE test-takers between July 1, 2014 and June 30, 2017 was 150.05. Meanwhile, the mean quantitative score was 152.80 and the mean analytical writing score was 3.5.

Those are average scores; ideally, you want to score far above average on the GRE. Scores of 156 in the verbal, 160 in the quantitative, and 4.5 in the written analytical would have you scoring better than 70 out of 100 GRE test takers in each of those sections. Those are closer to the scores most grad schools will find desirable. The more exclusive and hard to get into the grad school, the higher above average your scores would need to be to have them slavering to get you into their program.

BUT, grad schools may take GRE scores that are significantly below the average GRE scores of their current students. Many schools are really much more concerned about things like previous experience, undergrad GPA, entrance essay scores, and the like, than they are about your GRE scores. Take a look here for more on other things grad schools may be looking at that are potentially more important than your GRE scores.

There are other reasons graduate schools might accept your below average GRE scores. If they are a very small or very new school, they may have fewer applicants than their available number of seats. In that case, they may be looking for ways to get more students into their programs; meaning your GRE scores will be less important in the process.

Another reason a below average GRE score can still get you into a grad school is if there is someone on the selection committee for that grad school that wants you in the program. Maybe there’s a professor on the grad school selection committee that already knows you and knows you have the capability to do well in their program. Or, perhaps, the selection committee is well aware of how things like test anxiety can give even the best students below average GRE scores.

All of that means that you may still be able to get into the graduate school you want. That’s the case even when your GRE scores are below what they say they want in public forums, such as their website or at a recruiting conference.

How can I get the truth about whether my GRE score is acceptable for a grad school?

Go talk to an admissions adviser. Or at least do a phone interview with them. Admissions advisers are human beings (gasp!), and they are generally nice ones. They usually want to help the person in front of them. So go talk to them. Introduce yourself. Get to know them. Let them get to know you.

Only then should you ask them how your GRE score might fair in their selection process. If they don’t know you at all or they are in front of a crowd, they might give the usual answer which goes something like, “We want really high GRE scores.” They give that answer because that’s what their grad school is wanting them to say. But if they talk to you one-on-one they will often give you a more nuanced answer.

For instance, if you ask, “Is my GRE quantitative score acceptable for getting me into your grad school?” They might say, “Well… it’s a little low, honestly, but with your undergrad GPA, it shouldn’t be a problem.” [Angels sing] That’s good info! But…

Even if my GRE scores are good enough, should I try to get them higher?

make money with your GRE score

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

Maybe. Some grad schools are so desirous of higher GRE scores that they put money on the line. If you score high enough on your GRE, you may become eligible for fellowships, scholarships, teaching assistant positions, and the like. 

For example, in a recent conversation with a Texas A&M University graduate program adviser, I asked him about special scholarships that were, in part, awarded based on GRE scores. His answer?

No–but in our PhD program we have a full-ride fellowship we give to five students out of every graduate school cohort. If two students are tied for one of those five spots, we use their GRE scores to decide who gets a spot.  

Wow! In that case, even one point higher on your GRE could be the difference between having your grad school completely paid for–not to mention the prestige of winning the fellowship–and having to pay for grad school out of your own pocket. Even a slightly higher GRE score can be worth the extra work!

How do I get my GRE score high enough to get into the grad school I’m looking at?

There are many different ways to get your GRE score higher. Some free, some not-so-free. I’ve covered them in many of these blog posts.

Full-disclosure, one reason I blog about these things is because I would love for you to take my GRE prep course, either in person here in College Station, Texas, or online via Skype. You can find more about that here

However, I’m here to help, and I don’t want your money unless I can actually benefit you. Look here for more on how a prep course (mine or another) can help you. I’m always open to help you think it through. Just text, email, or call.

Also, don’t forget about the free (and paid) GRE practice tests from ETS. You can find out more about those free GRE practice tests here. They are an easy first step to see how you might do on the GRE, and they are a good way to start raising your GRE score.

Conclusion

While it’s true that most graduate school programs want above average GRE scores, it’s also true that many GRE schools will take even below average scores. Still, your best bet is to score as high as you can. Even a slightly higher score can be the difference between getting in or not (and getting paid or not)! Work on raising your GRE score, but don’t give up on a grad school just because, according to their website, your GRE score doesn’t seem good enough.

I’d love to hear your experiences and questions in the comments!

Best Wishes!

Cody

© Cody Blair, All Rights Reserved.
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