Get the Score You Need to Get
August 24, 2011
Recently, I was listening to a recorded panel discussion entitled “To PhD or not to PhD” that was passed onto me by one of my colleagues at DePaul University so I could better answer a student’s query. The panel was comprised of individuals from various institutions across the nation discussing their thoughts on the value of a PhD and what they are looking for in an applicant. Each of these folks spent a good deal of their annual time reviewing and assessing hundreds of applications, all of which represented actual human beings who were vying for the ±3 spots that were open in their respective programs. Clearly, this is a serious competition with seasoned players, high stakes, and big rewards.
At one point in the discussion, inevitably, the GRE came up. An audience member wanted to know how the GRE Subject Tests were weighed and valued. (The resounding answer, by the way, was that they were not valued because they were not required. Of course, you should find out about the specific requirements for the programs to which you are applying.) This inquiry then led a panelist to add one more thought about the notorious exam: “If your GRE scores are not where you want them to be with respect to what your given program considers adequate, then retake the test and bring those scores up. Period.” All of the other panelists subsequently expressed complete agreement.
We all wonder just exactly how an admissions committee is going to use/weigh each of the elements of our application package. While we all likely have some elements we feel great about, there are others that we’d love to be a little stronger. I’ve no idea what your individual case might be, but I’ll bet that there’s not much time left to develop the meaningful relationships with ex-professors requisite to yield stellar letters of recommendation. I doubt that between now and application time you’ll get a heck of a lot more relevant work experience. And, as much as many of us would like to go back in time and bring up our undergrad GPAs, time machines just aren’t an option. The GRE, however, is one component you can actually do something about. Fortunately, the GRE is a very important and influential consideration in the holistic assessment of your application package. It can help balance out those not-so-lovely “other parts.”
Do whatever it takes to get the score you need to get on the GRE. Period.