So you didn’t get the score you wanted. It’s a heartbreaking feeling to see the lower-than-expected numbers pop up on the computer screen after four grueling hours of taking the GRE and who knows how many hours of preparation.
Chin up, friend. The battle to get into graduate school is far from over. If you didn’t get the score you wanted, here are five things to take into consideration.
1. Do I Have Time to Take the GRE Again?
I don’t just mean is there time to take the GRE again before your application deadline (though that, too, is important). What I mean is: do you have the time to continue your practice and preparation? If you weren’t happy with your score this time, then it’s unlikely that you’ll magically improve your score without more preparation. Taking the GRE again will mean that you continue doing whatever you were doing to prepare before. Vocabulary flashcards at every spare moment, practice tests on the weekends, hours devoted to perusing prep materials — do you have the time to repeat all that?
2. Which Section of the GRE Counts the Most?
Remember that graduate school isn’t like undergrad — nobody is going to expect a potential grad student of medieval English literature to get an 800 on the math section of the GRE (I doubt that admissions officers for that kind of program would even care if he or she did get an 800). If your score is below your target score, think about whether or not that actually matters. Not all sections are weighted equally — some are more significant than others. If you’re applying to grad school for engineering, a lower verbal score may not matter; if your goal is to dissect the journals of French noblemen during the French Revolution, then you probably don’t need a really high math score.
3. Can I Improve My Score Significantly?
If your score is lower than you hoped but not outside of the realm of expected deviations, then it may be a waste of time to quibble over those lost points. On the other hand, if the school you’re applying to has a limit of some sort, say at least 1000, and you scored a 980, then those twenty points are extremely significant! What counts as significant isn’t for me to decide — it’s for you to decide. If you regularly scored 1000 points higher on your practice tests than you did on the real thing, though, that’s almost definitely significant. If you’re confident that you can raise your score significantly by taking the test again, then, by all means, do it!
4. Should I Delay My Application?
Here we return to the issue of time. If you don’t have time to take the GRE again before deadlines, then the real question is going to be, “should I apply anyway, or should I delay my application until the next application cycle?” To spout a cliche: there’s no right answer, only what’s right for you. A lower-than-expected GRE score isn’t the end of the world; it just means that you need to re-evaluate your options. Is it worth waiting another year to go to your first-choice school? Possibly, but possibly not. Consider doing both: apply to some other schools and take the GRE again. Then, if you get admitted to a different school, you can decide whether you want to go there now or if your GRE score is good enough for you to apply to your top choice next year.
5. Can Other Parts of My Application Make Up for My GRE Score?
The GRE is a big deal, but it’s not the be all and end all of admissions criteria. If you have a great undergraduate GPA, tons of research experience, a significant amount of work experience, an amazing essay, or approbatory recommendations, then a sub-par GRE score may not affect your admissions as much as you think. It’s easy to lose perspective when it comes to the GRE. Just remember: it’s only one part of a whole package!