Pros and Cons of Taking the GRE

If you applied to graduate school five or six years ago, you almost certainly took the GRE. But in the past few years, more and more programs and schools have joined the “GRExit” wave and stopped requiring prospective students to take the exam. This year, due to the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, even more programs dropped the requirement.

Many other schools have de-emphasized the test in their admissions process or expanded their GRE requirement exemptions. For example, some programs set a minimum grade point average that applicants must meet to apply without taking the GRE.

But does fewer graduate schools requiring the exam mean applicants should opt out of taking the GRE? Not necessarily—it ultimately depends on where you want to apply and how the rest of your application stacks up.

What Admissions Looks For

While each admissions committee has its own standards and processes for selecting students, they generally look for well-rounded applicants. According to Dr. Tracey Sheetz, the Director of Graduate Admissions and Recruitment at West Virginia University, admission counselors look for the following traits and abilities:

  • Academic background
  • Writing skills
  • Inquisitive and original thinking
  • Clearly defined goals
  • A good “fit”
  • Timely and organized
  • Follows directions
  • Intrinsically motivated
  • Invested in the process
  • Relevant professional experiences
  • Unique and individual character
  • Articulate
  • Credibility

Many of the characteristics listed by Dr. Sheetz can’t be assessed through GPA or the GRE, meaning admissions committees rely heavily on the supplemental materials included in an application and interviews to evaluate the qualitative attributes of applicants. Admissions counselors can generally assess how successful a candidate would be with or without GRE scores available. However, that’s not to say a commendable GRE score wouldn’t boost an applicant’s chances of admission.

Exam Costs  

Preparing for the GRE, taking the test, sending your scores, and submitting applications come with a price tag; the GRE test costs $205, and ordering additional score reports to send to schools costs $27 per application. Factoring in application fees, the cost of applying to grad programs can quickly add up.

However, the cost of the GRE shouldn’t deter you from taking the exam. ETS (the GRE test administrators) offers a GRE Fee Reduction Program for those who demonstrate financial need or collect unemployment benefits.

The Test Prep Process 

For many graduate school applicants, the GRE is a significant hurdle to clear. If you hope to attend grad school straight out of undergrad, you have to prepare for the exam during your hectic junior or senior year. Most test-takers spend 50 to 200 hours prepping for the test, depending on their base and target scores.

Understanding GRE Scores 

What score would impress admissions counselors? What score would detract from your application, making it counterproductive to take the exam if not required? The answer to these questions comes down to where you hope to apply. Fortunately, you can easily find the average applicant GRE scores for most programs online.

Furthermore, EST includes your percentile ranking for each section. On the Verbal Reasoning and Quantitative Reasoning portions of the exam, you can score from 130 to 170, with one-point increments. For the Analytical Writing section, you can score from zero to six with half-point increments.

The Short List of Pros and Cons 

Pros of Taking the Exam:

  • If you take the GRE, you can apply anywhere. If you opt against taking the exam, you can only apply to schools that have dropped the requirement.
  • GRE scores help admissions counselors compare applicants using a universal scale.
  • A strong score can boost your chances of acceptance, even if reporting your scores is optional.
  • GRE scores can help balance out a lower GPA.

Cons of Taking the Exam: 

  • Taking the exam takes time, costs money, and can induce stress.
  • The GRE doesn’t test material that’s related to your chosen course of study. Instead of studying for the GRE your junior or senior year, you could invest your time in more focused opportunities that would make your application stand out.

Understanding Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Ultimately, whether or not taking the GRE would be beneficial comes down to your individual circumstances. If your dream grad program requires it, then take the exam. You can always opt not to send your scores to the other schools you apply to.

Your decision should also come down to an understanding of your strengths and weaknesses. If you know you perform well on standardized tests, high scores could set you apart. If you’ve taken a few practice tests and aren’t thrilled by your performance, you may want to focus your efforts on highlighting your strengths in other areas of your application.