A lot of students ask us – “what is a good GRE score?”. Here is our perspective on the GRE score and what you should aim for.
A Quick look at the statistics:
The statistics are based on the revised GRE general test taken by 417,000 students between August 1, 2011 and April 30, 2012.
Quantitative worldwide average*
- 151.3, with standard deviation 8.7
- 160 is 1 standard deviation above mean/average, corresponds to 81st percentile
- 168.7 is 2 standard deviations above average, corresponds to 97th or 98th percentile
Verbal worldwide average*
- 150.8, with standard deviation 8.5
- 159.3 is 1 standard deviation above average, corresponds to approximately 80th percentile
- 167.8 is 2 standard deviations above average, corresponds to 97th or 98th percentile.
Worldwide Averages By Field of Study*:
*Official ETS figures
So, "What is a Good GRE Score?"
As you can see, anything at least 1 standard deviation above the average is a solid score, and anything at least 2 standard deviations above the average is an exceptional score. Also note that students pursuing graduate degrees in Physical sciences and Engineering might look more favorable with a higher Quantitative Score than a Verbal score as shown by the results. A score that is one or two standard deviation above the average could be considered a good score, depending on your own individual situation. In fact, some schools simply recommend a GRE score that’s “above the average.”
But how do you interpret all of this in terms of your own personal circumstances? Let’s look at the Yale School of Forestry to help put things in context. The school’s “2012 Incoming Student Profile.” states that accepted applicants had an “average of 2-4 years of professional experience prior to enrollment.” This tells us that professional “real world” experience seems to be a factor taken into account during the admissions process. We can probably generalize a bit. If you have a great deal of professional, real world experience, it may very well offset a GRE score lower than the average accepted by a program. On the other hand, if you have an exceptionally high GRE score, it could help to compensate for a lack of professional experience; say, if you’re looking to go straight from finishing a bachelor’s degree straight into tackling a master’s degree.
Of course, we have to remember we’re generalizing. It’s possible that some schools/programs expect or require a combination of extensive professional experience AND high GRE scores. Always get your information “straight from the horse’s mouth” by referring to the information provided by the school/program you wish to apply to. That being said, it’s still pretty safe to say that, generally speaking, schools/programs consider lots of other things besides your GRE scores when making admissions decisions. Professional experience, recommendation letters, academic record, co-curricular activities, community involvement, leadership achievements, publications, portfolios, personal interviews: these are all ways in which you can put your best qualities and qualifications on display to help you impress those making the admission decision that you are a candidate worth pursuing.
It really all comes down to your own unique set of circumstances. To find out what is a good GRE score, first determine the minimum GRE requirements of the schools you’re interested in. Search and you will find: you may even find that your target school/program doesn’t require a GRE score, or even if it does, does not specify a minimum GRE score to be considered for admission. Keep in mind, however, that even if you don’t have to achieve a minimum score, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t set a target score and strive hard to reach it. To help determine your target score when no minimum score is given, check to see if the school provides information on average GRE scores of successful applicants, as well as other information that paints a profile of the qualifications/backgrounds of successful applicants. That information will help you to determine your target “Good GRE Score”, and also help you to determine what you need to do to make your overall application as solid and well-rounded as possible--something that will stand out from the crowd. Of course, the higher your GRE score is, the better it will make the rest of your application look, so set goals and pay attention to details when prepping for GRE and when preparing your other application components. Don’t hesitate to ask advice or tips from friends or acquaintances who have already gone through the grad school application process themselves, or from current or former teachers and/or advisors. And once you decide on your target "Good Score," don't forget to take advantages of resources that will help you prep for the test. Good luck on the GRE!