Ask Test Masters – Admission to a Top 10 Graduate School

Information technology

The Information Technology logo (according to Wiki Commons).

Ask Test Masters is a free information service offered by the GRE and graduate school admission experts at Test Masters. Reader MSAspirant asks,

“Dear Test Masters, I have a score of 319 (160 Q, 159 V, 4.5 AWA) on my second attempt. On my first attempt I had a 314(159 Q, 155 V, 4.0 AWA). I have an experience of 7.5 years in Information Technology and was looking to get into a top 10 school for MS. I am a bit worried about my Quant scores. Can you please throw some light as to whether they are good enough? Should I reattempt [the] GRE or can I just focus on my SOP and Recommendation Letters.”

Dear MSAspirant,

I would first recommend consulting this article: What is a good score on the GRE? Pay close attention to the second table listed in this article. This table (reproduced below) shows the average Verbal and Quantitative scores by intended graduate school program.

Data taken from Tables 6 & 7 of GRE Snapshot Report.

Without more information, based what you’ve provided in your question, we assume that by MS you are referring to obtaining a Master of Science in Information Technology. Information Technology degrees typically include a core curriculum of business and computer science courses; however, for the purpose of answering your question (i.e. is your score good enough for a top 10 graduate school), we can categorize your intended graduate program under “engineering” (because the average scores for engineering students most closely resemble the average scores for computer science graduate students).

If you review the article linked above, there is a fairly thorough explanation as to what constitutes a “good” score on the GRE. Essentially, whether a GRE score is good or not is entirely relative to the goals of the individual. You have clear goals – be accepted into a top 10 graduate program and earn an MS; for just a moment though, let’s set your stated goals aside.

Objectively, you have an excellent GRE score. Can it be improved upon? Certainly, but it is a very good score nonetheless. For the purpose of comparison, the average GRE score is a 302.8 (152.2 Q, 150.6 V, 3.5 AWA). Your score is well above this average. Also, in case you are unaware, you may also utilize something known as ScoreSelect to ensure that the graduate institution(s) you apply to sees only the higher of your two scores, or three scores should you decide to take the GRE again.

Returning to your stated goal – admission to a top 10 university – there is no better institution to use for comparison than Harvard University. Please take a moment to review the table below, which outlines several important averages for both Master’s and PH.D. students admitted to Harvard. (Note: Data taken from Harvard Grad Data Page.)

Quant. Verbal AWA Cumulative GPA
Master’s 163 160 4.5 3.60
PH.D. 165 161 4.3 3.84

You can see that the average GRE scores for Master’s students accepted to Harvard are (163 Q, 160 V, 4.5 AWA). This puts you just at, but slightly below, the average scores of students accepted to Harvard. That is very good! Is it good enough? Maybe. Keep in mind these are average scores; some students were accepted with higher scores and others were probably accepted with lower scores.

If you really are targeting a top 10 university then you are correct to be slightly concerned with your quantitative score as it is several points below the average; however, this won’t immediately disqualify you from admission. Whether you should take the GRE again should revolve around several factors, but the two most important questions you should ask yourself are:

1)      Do I feel like I can improve my score?

2)      How would retaking the GRE fit into my current timetable?

You were able to improve your quantitative score by only one point the last time you took the GRE. Did you do any test preparation between your first exam and your second exam? If you did not, it might be worth taking the exam again as proper preparation could lead to significant score gains. If you did prepare in what you consider a sufficient amount and only achieved a marginal score increase, then it might be less worthwhile to put in the time, energy, and cost associated with preparing for and taking the GRE again.

You should also be mindful of how taking the GRE again might fit into your overall admission timetable. If you do decide to take the GRE again, you should certainly prepare for it. This means that you will have that much less time to devote towards the other aspects of your application, which (as you mentioned) include your Statement of Purpose and Letters of Recommendation, among other things. Take a look at the application deadlines of the various institutions you plan on applying to, and keep those deadlines in mind.

Your scores are good and your previous experience in the field should help as well; all of this combined should make you a competitive applicant, as is, to any university (provided you have the corresponding GPA as well). My advice is, unless you feel like you can really improve your quantitative score with preparation, to begin focusing on the other aspects of your application.

Hope this helps!

Ask-Test-Masters

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