Grad school hopefuls wondering how well they need to perform on the GRE exam should understand that programs have varied expectations for standardized tests, admissions experts say.
Admissions officers suggest prospective students look up the GRE score ranges among admitted students at the schools they are considering and check if these schools have GRE score requirements.
Researching grad program admissions statistics can help you determine which GRE scores are good enough to qualify for acceptance at desirable programs. People who successfully complete the GRE receive three scores: verbal and quantitative scores, which can range from 130 to 170, and a writing score, which can range from 0 to 6.
Erin Skelly, a graduate school admissions consultant at IvyWise, an admissions consulting firm, says test-takers should find out which of the grad schools on their short list has the highest average GRE scores and strive to achieve those scores or do even better.
However, GRE test-takers who are not yet sure what type of grad program they would like to attend can use the following ballpark figures for guidance on how high of a GRE score they should aim for.
Guidelines for Setting Target GRE Scores
Melinda Maxwell, the director of graduate admissions at the University of North Georgia, says grad school hopefuls applying to her university should strive to achieve math and verbal scores that add up to a number between 310 and 315.
"We're looking for somebody who is probably at a minimum in the 300 to 305 range," she says. "I would say, so that you are comfortably competitive for admission, to aim for [scores from] 310 to 315."
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.
Experts say that math-heavy grad programs tend to desire students with high quantitative scores and put less emphasis on verbal scores. In contrast, grad programs in humanities subjects typically want students with high verbal scores. Maxwell says applicants to math-intensive grad programs should understand that their quantitative GRE score will be scrutinized, so they should study hard for the quantitative section of the GRE exam.
Andrew Selepak, director of the graduate program in social media at the University of Florida, says that GRE scores that are good enough for someone to qualify for one grad program may not allow them to be a competitive candidate elsewhere.