By Rajkamal Rao
For admission to Master's programs at U.S. universities, a vexing question which confronts students is: What is the recommended GRE score?
The short answer is that no one can answer it with absolute certainty. Graduate committees consider a variety of subjective and objective factors - country of origin, the reputation of the undergraduate institution, undergraduate GPA, test scores, recommendations, cover letters, work experience, projects, papers published - before granting admission to an aspiring student. But one thing is categorically and undoubtedly true. The GRE score is by far the single-most important objective metric that defines a student's profile.
Why is the GRE so important?
For one thing, it is a measure of graduate student readiness. The GRE tests you on English and Math skills that you are supposed to have as a Bachelor's degree student or holder. Preparing for the GRE requires practice to hone test-taking skills under extremely tight conditions, rather than endless hours trying to learn content - a characteristic of all aptitude tests. True, international students often have to improve their vocabulary through learning because many are not native English speakers, but this too is a competence that ETS expects you to have going in to the test. In this sense, the GRE is vastly different from GATE, a graduate test in India, that is focused more on measuring domain knowledge in specific areas.
Second, the GRE is a uniform exam in every sense of the word. Test topics and sections are well known, so there are no surprises. The test is conducted world-wide to exacting but uniform standards. The security on the test is uniformly world-class. Because it is a Computer Based Test (CBT), evaluation is not subjective, so there's zero bias in scoring. Also, ETS spends millions of dollars each year on researching questions to keep the test uniformly challenging and contemporary. When students from all over the world, attending different universities with different standards for setting curricula and evaluation compete, having them take a uniform exam with identical rules for everyone is valuable. The GRE serves this purpose exceptionally well.
Third, the GRE is a great predictor of student ability and competence. Because cheating on the GRE is largely out of the question, a person with a score of 330 can be safely assumed to be more capable than one with a score of 310. It is harder to say the same when the range narrows - that is, a person with a 328 score is not necessarily inferior to one who scored a 330. This bring us to the next point which is probably the most important.
The GRE is an excellent predictor of a student's overall profile as well. What we mean by this is that a student with a 320+ GRE will most likely have other elements of his profile - GPA, Class Rank, TOEFL - to be consistent with the student's caliber. For example, it is unlikely that someone with a 320 score has a 6.50 CGPA with multiple backlogs. The opposite is generally true too. Someone with backlogs and a low CGPA is likely to have scored lower on the GRE, more in the 300 or sub-300 range.
Meanwhile, on the subjective side of a student's application - the side which humanizes an applicant beyond a number - the single-most important factor is the Statement of Purpose. This is a carefully crafted document which provides a roadmap into a student's proposed career - from where he or she has been for the last few years to where the student wants to go and why.
So how did we arrive at our GRE table?
Years of experience counseling hundreds of international students and helping them gain admission to excellent schools gives us a unique perspective. For the last six years, we have a record of every student client's GRE score. We know their background well because we spend a lot of time understanding who they are and what they want to do in their graduate school careers. We help them develop and fine-tune their SOPs, almost to an art-form. We maintain a record of which schools they gained admission to. And finally, we advise them about which school to ultimately choose because most of our clients do get in to multiple schools.
This year alone, our students entered such reputed institutions as the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, Cornell, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, UT Austin, Texas A & M, University of Utah, University of Minnesota, U-Mass (Amherst), USC, North Carolina State University, Arizona State and Virginia Tech.
Our GRE table is constructed based on 32+ years of experience living and working in the United States. Our lead student mentor has graduate degrees from Carnegie Mellon and Villanova University, so this counts for some of our wisdom. We have a strong understanding of a school's reputation (as opposed to ranking); supply and demand (most international students choose universities in urban areas even though universities in rural locations may be better ranked); and finally, a school's proximity to job clusters. Each of these impacts a school's selectivity and yield (when an admitted student ultimately enrolls) - and thus, the school's GRE floor.
So here's our GRE table for the top 20 schools. For a downloadable .pdf document of all 147 schools, please take advantage of our low cost professional profile evaluation service.
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