“How important are GRE scores?” may be one of the most frequently asked questions by graduate applicants. When applying for your undergraduate degree, ACT/SAT scores carried a lot of weight along with GPA. The answer is a little more complicated for graduate school.
Where graduate applicants most often get led astray is when they assume one of the following:
1. That a very high GRE score will automatically get you into top programs
2. That a mediocre GRE score will automatically keep you out of top programs
Neither of these are true and both lead applicants to believe: I need to spend all the time and money needed to get the highest GRE score possible.
With this attitude, best case scenario you will do just that and spent a lot of time and money on the GRE and your scores will show it. Worst case scenario, you accomplish all this at the expense of your writing sample and personal statements.
In general, most graduate programs deal with fewer applicants and admit fewer students than an undergraduate program and place more emphasis on the “personal” aspects of the application.
The more time, effort, and money the school will have to put into their accepted students, the more consideration the personal aspects of the application will receive (i.e. writing sample, recommendations, and personal statements).
When a funded PhD program accepts a student, they are not only allowing them to attend their program, but are also agreeing to offer them money to do so and to direct their research and course of study over the next 5-7 years. The school is making an investment in their PhD students in hopes that the work of these students will benefit their program. An admissions committee will want answers to the questions: is this student a good fit for our program? Does this student have the skills and professional goals necessary to success in our program? GRE scores don’t reflect this kind of potential in a student. This doesn’t mean they won’t cut the applicant demographic with the lowest percentile of GRE scores. However, it does mean that for PhD programs, the personal aspects of the application will be more important than the GRE scores.
All this being said, every admissions committee is going to place different emphasis on GRE scores based on how accurately they believe the GRE predict intellectual potential. Not even a 170 on the verbal GRE or a 6.0 on the Analytical Writing can compensate for a mediocre writing sample or a lackluster personal statement. If you take one piece of advice away from this: try to do your best on the GRE, but keep a reasonable goal in mind, and if you don’t reach it, don’t throw your applications in the trash just yet.