When you take the GRE, you’ll have the option to cancel your score. This might seem like a great option, but like the GRE calculator, it’s more of a trap than a benefit. The catch is that you have to decide whether to cancel your GRE score before you see it. Once you see your GRE score, you can’t cancel it; and if you cancel it, you’ll never know what it was. In this post, I’d like to tell you a short story and a long story about this score-canceling option.
The short story is: don’t cancel your GRE score. Period.
The long story is that there are many reasons why canceling your GRE score is a terrible idea:
- For one, the option appears at the end of a 4-hour exam that leaves you emotionally, mentally, and physically exhausted — which is exactly when you DON’T want to make critical and irreversible life-altering decisions.
- Another problem with the option is that the fundamental logic behind it doesn’t make sense. If the GRE went so terribly that you need to cancel your score…then how did you make it all the way to the end of the test? Just about any legitimate reason to cancel your score would stop you from seeing the score-canceling option in the first place, because you wouldn’t have made it through the test.
- The main reason many GRE students feel an urge to cancel their score is that the test “felt hard.” Or occasionally: “it felt REALLY hard.” And that’s NOT a good reason to cancel your score, no matter how many “reallys” you tack in front of the word “hard.” The GRE is a hard test. It’s long, it covers a wide intellectual area, and it adapts to your test-taking ability and throws you problems at the upper reaches of your skill level.
Many GRE test takers come out of the test thinking they bombed it; but when they get their scores back, they end up making a higher score on the actual GRE than any of their practice tests. People are not good at judging their own GRE performance, which is why you need to undergo an epic catastrophe — “I fell ill and left half of two sections blank” — in order to justify a score cancellation.
Don’t cancel your score. Period.
GRE Score or GPA: What’s the Biggest Application Killer?
So you don’t cancel your GRE score, and then you get your score back and it’s lower than you were hoping for. What do you do? Will the low GRE score prevent you from being admitted to graduate school? There is no one-size-fits-all formula for getting into grad school—but by thinking smart and planning out a timeline suited to your unique candidacy, you’ll be gathering confidence and knowledge that will really pay off when it comes time to apply.
Two of the most crucial grad school application components are your GRE score and GPA. Together, these make up the quantifiable aspects of your candidacy, and they both go a long way toward ensuring the rest of your application gets the attention it deserves.
Why your GRE score and GPA matter
Forty-one percent of admissions officers interviewed by Kaplan in 2017 cited a low GRE score as the number-one application killer when considering candidates—meaning that the remaining 59 percent cited all other reasons combined.
The next leading factor that caused an application to find its way into the recycling bin was a low GPA—but even that came in a full 14 percentage points lower, with 27 percent of admissions officers quoting it as the biggest application killer.
Following low GRE score and GPA, poor letters of recommendation, poorly written essays, and a lack of work experience, respectively, rounded out the rest of the list of the top reasons candidates are turned down.
So why is this important? Depending on what your area of study emphasizes (i.e., if you’re going into a specialized or research-heavy program that might value experience more, or a creative writing PhD that’s going to really focus on that essay), knowing the biggest application killers can help you prioritize where you should focus your efforts in the application process.
Sure, making your essay sound just right or polishing your resume is important, and you certainly shouldn’t neglect such things. But if you’re putting 95 percent of your time into these application requirements, you might want to reprioritize. Depending on your projected GRE score (which you can estimate by taking a free GRE practice test), some—if not most—of those precious hours might be better spent studying for the GRE, or taking a prep course. Just the same, if your GPA is hurting and you’re still in undergrad, taking an extra academic course in your major to help boost your GPA might be the way to go.
Everyone’s situation is different, but we know that life doesn’t stop when you’re applying to grad school, and those work, academic, and family obligations still take up space on your schedule. So if your time is at a premium, think of the best ways to divide it.
Remember: there are always things you can do to get more ready for grad school, and it’s never too late to start—or continue—that journey.