Archive for the 'Graduate School' Category

GRE Subject Tests: To Take, or Not To Take

Wait. There are subject tests, too?!

Wait. There are subject tests, too?!

Remember when you took the SAT for the first time? You were so anxious because it was the SAT AND IT WAS THE BIGGEST TEST YOU WERE EVER GOING TO TAKE! And just as you got up to the front of the line to check-in, they asked you if you were taking an SAT II. A WHAT?!

And, indeed, it turned out that on top of the SAT reasoning tests there were other subject tests that were “optional.” Perhaps if you’re a strange Martian who is immune to the horrors of standardized testing, you were excited for another chance to show what you know, but more likely, your heart sank with the realization that “subject tests” meant that more future Saturdays would begin with your stomach in knots at 8 AM in a cold testing center.

You may have thought applying to graduate school would be more straightforward, but if you’re taking the GRE, you’re likely to find yourself at the same crossroads. Yes, luckily for you, if you’re applying to graduate school in the field of Biology, Biochemistry, Chemistry, Literature (in English), Mathematics, Physics, or Psychology, you have the option to take a GRE Subject Test to support your graduate school application. The tests are administered in April, September, and October and scored on a scale of 200-990 in ten point increments. The Biochemistry, Cell and Molecular Biology; Biology; and Psychology Tests all have subsections scored on a scale of 20-99 in one point increments. The question is, do you need to give up $150 and a weekend? Continue reading “GRE Subject Tests: To Take, or Not To Take” »

What is GRE Score Select?

What is a good score on the GRE?

GRE Score Select gives students who take the GRE multiple times the option of selecting which score reports are submitted to the graduate schools to which they will apply. This means that if you take the GRE more than once, when you go through the process of finalizing your application, you can choose to only share your highest GRE score. The option to utilize GRE Score Select is automatically included with your GRE registration, so beyond actually registering for the GRE you will not have to take any additional steps in order to have access to the GRE Score Select option.

How does GRE Score Select work?

After taking the official GRE you will be allowed to view an unofficial score report. After viewing this score report you will be given the option to share or not share your score(s). At this time, you will have three options. They are as follows:

1) You may choose to NOT share your scores.

2) You may choose to share ALL of your scores.

3) You may choose to share only your MOST RECENT score (this will be the score report from the exam you will have just completed).

The most significant benefit of choosing to share your scores immediately after the test is, at that time, it is free. Your registration for the GRE includes the option to share up to four free score reports immediately after the exam. If you choose not to share your score(s) immediately after the test, you will be charged a fee of $27 per Additional Score Report (ASR).

What’s the catch?

The catch here is two-fold: first, if you do not send out your scores per the options listed above, after the test, there is a cost associated with sending out past GRE score reports; likewise, there is a cost of $195 to register for the GRE. Score Select is really only valuable in the context of choosing between multiple score reports. This logic is, of course, what precipitated the creation of GRE Score Select. The ETS now markets GRE Score Select as an assurance to students that if they don’t score well enough the first or second time they take the GRE, they can always just take the exam again and again, and use their highest score for admission purposes. Naturally, this encourages students to take the GRE multiple times, putting more money, in the form of registration and ASR fees, in ETS’ non-profit pockets. That said, Score Select is still a very useful score reporting option.

To more fully explain: the value of GRE Score Select really comes into play in a scenario where you have previously completed the GRE, taken it again, and did not score as well as you expected on the second administration of this exam. Say, for example, that you take the GRE a second time and your score goes down! Say again, for the purposes of this dramatic hypothetical, that you elected NOT to cancel your scores (assuming you had scored better, not worse) and thus now have a bad GRE score on your permanent (or at  least, 5-year) score record. In this case, for a small fee of $27, you can choose to only share your best GRE score report to the institution to which you are applying.

While GRE Score Select is a great option for students who have taken the GRE previously and are now attempting to improve their scores, the best method to taking the GRE is to thoroughly prepare for the exam the first time you take it so that you can avoid the complications associated with retaking the GRE.


University of Houston Downtown Master’s Programs

UH DowntownUniversity of Houston-Downtown Master’s Programs

There are plenty of Top 5 lists for which school has the most successful graduates or the best undergraduate teachers, but for many people, going to the schools at the tops of those lists just isn’t feasible, either for distance, cost, or due to the high admission standards. For people who already have careers and are looking to go back to school to further their prospects, a local school with flexible schedules that specifically cater to career students may be the best option available to them.

Continue reading “University of Houston Downtown Master’s Programs” »

Top 5 Bioengineering PhD Graduate Programs

Biomedical EngineeringProgram Profile – Top 5 Bioengineering PhD Graduate Programs

For anyone hoping to do original research in the field of Bioengineering (a.k.a. Biomedical Engineering), obtaining a PhD is often necessary. In the field of Bioengineering, unlike in many other engineering disciplines, undergraduate coursework alone does not fully prepare students for the research component of working in fields like tissue, cell, or biomaterial engineering, which are just a few subsets in the field of bioengineering. Obtaining a PhD in bioengineering will often consist of combining modern approaches in the experimental life sciences with theoretical and computational methods from engineering in order to find solutions to medical problems.


According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for bioengineers between 2012 and 2022 is expected to grow by 27%, which is much faster than average. Most bioengineers either conduct original research in academia or are employed by medical device or pharmaceutical companies. The starting salary for those with a PhD in Bioengineering ranges from $80,000-$100,000. It is clear by just looking at starting salary that a PhD in bioengineering can be extremely lucrative. In addition, if you are conducting original research it is possible to gain patents and start your own side company based on marketable discoveries. Many of the foremost bioengineers own multiple companies and/or patents based on their research.

The work done in the graduate program of your choosing can heavily influence the research you do throughout your career, so it is important to pick the right school and lab within the school. Below we have listed the top 5 Bioengineering graduate programs. These rankings are based on expert opinions about program excellence and statistical indicators that measure the quality of a school’s faculty, research, and students. Make sure you research the bioengineering labs and Principal Investigators (PI) within each school to make sure you find one that aligns with your interests. Choosing the right lab and PI that fits with your interests, personality, and work ethic can be more important than choosing the school. Remember this lab is where you will spend the vast majority of your time for the 4-7 years it takes to earn your PhD.

*Please note that many of the GRE scores provided for admitted students are according to the old GRE scoring scale.

TOP 5 Graduate Schools for Bioengineering/Biomedical Engineering[*]

#1 Johns Hopkins University (Whiting) Baltimore, MD

Johns Hopkins University is known for having one of the very best medical schools in the world, which is a great advantage for those wanting to study bioengineering. Johns Hopkins educates engineers alongside their medical students in the biological sciences and then expands their education in advanced mathematical and engineering sciences. As would be expected, admission to Johns Hopkins is extremely competitive, but those accepted receive a full fellowship which includes a yearly stipend, full tuition, matriculation fee, and individual medical and dental insurance. In 2012, 500 students applied to the Bioengineering PhD program and 70 were accepted. Admitted students featured:

  • Significant laboratory experience and published abstracts or papers
  • Undergraduate GPA: 3.81 ± 0.17
  • Quantitative GRE: 786 ± 21
  • Verbal GRE: 604 ± 68

The areas of study students are recruited for include Biomedical Imaging Science, Cell and Tissue Engineering/Technology, Computational Biology and Bioinformatics, Molecular Neural Cardiovascular Systems, and Neuroscience and Neuroengineering. To learn more about Johns Hopkins’s Graduate Program, visit

#2 Georgia Institute of Technology Atlanta, GA

The Bioengineering PhD program at Georgia Institute of Technology (GIT) is a great choice for anyone looking to pursue interdisciplinary research for their dissertation. Students apply through one of 8 participating Georgia Tech engineering home schools or departments and can work with any of the 90+ participating faculty members. This gives graduate students the unique opportunity to have a wide range of options for choosing their dissertation and work across multiple disciplines if they choose to do so. For example, someone hoping to develop a unique medical device can complete coursework in electrical, mechanical, and biological engineering to further their research. The average scores for students entering engineering doctoral programs at GIT are as follow:

  • Average Undergraduate GPA: 3.70
  • Quantitative GRE: 777
  • Verbal GRE: 550

The areas of study include Biomaterials and Regenerative Medicine, Cardiovascular Biology and Biomechanics, Cellular and Biomolecular Engineering, Integrative Biosystems, and Neuroengineering.  To learn more about GIT’s Graduate Program, visit

#3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology Cambridge, MA

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is well known as one of the top technical schools in the world, and this holds true when speaking of their graduate Bioengineering program. Their PhD program offers two tracks, one in Bioengineering and one in Applied Biosciences, which allows students to choose from a wide range of research options. You may choose to follow one of these tracks or a combination of both. Note though that students in either track may pursue research projects in any area with approval by their research supervisor. Average GRE scores of students admitted to MIT’s doctoral engineering programs are as follow:

  • Quantitative GRE: 788
  • Verbal GRE: 607

Due to the presence of multiple tracks, research area options are too numerous to list here. Refer to to find a full list of research areas in the MIT Bioengineering PhD Program.

#3 University of California—San Diego (Jacobs) La Jolla, CA

University of California San Diego has fantastic bioengineering programs both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. California is an ideal place to be for those interested in pursuing bioengineering research (and those that enjoy beautiful weather) because of the concentration of biomedical companies and research institutions that focus on bioengineering. UC San Diego focuses their bioengineering PhD program on Integrative Bioengineering. This means they promote the integration of research at all levels of bioengineering design from genes and molecules to the whole organism. They also promote interactions between engineering and biomedical sciences, coordination of research and education (you must complete four quarters of teaching to earn a PhD), partnerships between neighboring institutions, and collaboration with industry and clinical medicine. In order to be accepted to UC San Diego’s bioengineering PhD program, you must have a GPA of at least 3.4. The average scores of admitted students to engineering PhD programs at UC San Diego are as follow:

  • Average GPA: 3.6
  • Quantitative GRE: 780
  • Verbal GRE: 543

Note that because UC San Diego’s bioengineering PhD is their highest ranking engineering doctoral program, the GPA and GRE scores of admitted students may be slightly higher than those listed. To learn more about UC San Diego’s Graduate Program, visit

#5 Duke University (Pratt) Durham, NC

Duke’s Bioengineering PhD program is specifically tailored to those wishing to pursue specialized research in academia, industry, or a government lab. One great aspect of Duke’s approach to the Bioengineering PhD is their focus on mentorship. The process of finding the best fit between you and your research advisor starts before you are even admitted. After you submit your application, interested faculty may contact you and the best applicants are invited to Duke to interview with the group of research advisors that have identified you as a potential graduate student. This ensures that those accepted are placed in a lab that best fits the need of both the lab and student.  The average scores of admitted students to engineering PhD programs at UC San Diego are as follow:

  • Average GPA: 3.6
  • Quantitative GRE: 780
  • Verbal GRE: 599

To learn more about Duke’s Graduate Program, visit

#5 Stanford University Stanford, CA

Stanford tied in ranking with Duke to give us the 6th school that makes the Top 5 Bioengineering Graduate Programs list. Like UC San Diego, Stanford’s location in California makes it a great place to build a network as well as earn a top degree. Stanford is ranked as having the 2nd best engineering school in the country overall, which means the caliber of interdisciplinary research is extremely high. Most of the top Bioengineering PhD programs offer a joint MD/PhD, but Stanford also offers a joint JD/MS/PhD. This is just one of the many benefits of attending a university that is top ranked in virtually every school they have. These joint programs are extremely competitive though, so expect to need a near perfect GPA and top scores in every qualifying exam to earn admission. The average scores of admitted students to engineering PhD programs at Stanford are as follow:

  • Quantitative GRE: 786
  • Verbal GRE: 605

Continue reading “Top 5 Bioengineering PhD Graduate Programs” »

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!


Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!

Have more questions? Feel free to comment below or Ask Test Masters directly! You can see previous questions here; who knows, maybe your question has already been answered.

What is a good score on the GRE?

One of the most common questions on this blog is, “What is a good score on the GRE?” Invariably, the answer is “it depends,” and it does. Generally speaking, whether a GRE score is good (or not) is relative to the goals of the individual test taker. Please keep this in mind as we explore the question, what is a good score on the GRE?

The ETS, the makers and administrators of the GRE, recently released a report entitled A Snapshot of the Individuals Who Took the GRE revised General Test. This report is primarily intended “to provide score users with the most relevant information” possible about the GRE test taking population (‘score users’ means admission officers, university administrators and faculty, etc.). Much of the information within this report will not be particularly useful to you as an individual test taker; however, this report does give us a great deal of insight into what constitutes a good GRE score in terms of means and averages and (more importantly) field of study. Let us take a look.

Note: This is not an exact reproduction of Table 1 as it appears in the GRE Snapshot Report. The author has edited this info-graph for space and relevance.

The table above doesn’t quite answer the question what is a good score on the GRE?, but it does tell us what is an average score on the GRE. This table shows us that the mean Verbal Reasoning score is a 150.6 and the mean Quantitative Reasoning score is a 152.2. For those of you not familiar with Standard Deviation, in this case, it simply tells us how close to the mean most students scored. This indicates that the majority of GRE test takers scored between 142.3 to 158.9 on Verbal Reasoning and between 143.4 to 160.4 on Quantitative Reasoning.

This gives us a basic understanding of what constitutes a “good” score: if you are scoring below the standard deviations you have a bad score, if you are scoring above the standard deviations you have a good score, and if you are scoring in between, then you have a relatively average score.

This information is useful in understanding how GRE scores are broadly evaluated; however, as many university admission officers will be quick to point out, every applicant is evaluated individually. For example, you would not expect a person applying to a Masters of Fine Arts program to have a better Quantitative Reasoning score than somebody pursuing a Doctorate in Engineering. This means that when you are trying to determine whether your GRE score is good or not, you should consider it within the context of your application.

Luckily, the GRE Snapshot Report contains information relevant to this endeavor. Consider the following chart:

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

This spreadsheet shows the average Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning scores by intended graduate major; this shows how you compare to students who plan on pursuing a degree in the same field as you. For example, say you score a 155 on the Quantitative Reasoning section. This score is several standard deviations above the aggregate mean of 152.2, and so could be considered a relatively good score, unless, of course, you intend to apply to an Engineering program, in which case it would be several deviations below the mean of 159, and a relatively bad score. The above information should give you a good grasp of what constitutes a good GRE score by field of interest.

As many of this blog’s readers are international students, it is worth noting that your international status will be taken into account when you apply for a graduate program in the United States. For example, admission officers do not expect a potential graduate student from South Korea or India to score as well on the Verbal Reasoning section of the GRE as a native English speaker. If you are an international student, refer to pages 40-45 in the GRE Snapshot Report to get an idea of how you compare to other international students.

At the beginning of this article I mentioned that whether a GRE score is good (or not) is ultimately relative to your own personal goals. If you are planning on applying to an elite university or program, then you will need a correspondingly higher score; conversely, if you are targeting a less prestigious institution or degree plan, then a good GRE score for you may be slightly lower than what is traditionally considered an exemplary score. On this note, let me remind you how important it is that you research the institutions you are planning on applying to so that you know what GRE score will be good for you.

ETS’ GRE Snapshot report attempts to break down the GRE scores of the global test taking population into more distinguishable categories. This means they examine average GRE scores by gender, race, nationality, educational objectives and fields of interest, among other categories. By and large the specific sub-categories and cross categorization of these breakdowns are of no interest to most of us; however, knowing the average GRE score for students planning on pursuing a graduate degree in your field gives you the significant advantage of having a score to compare your own to. Hopefully the information above has helped you determine whether you have a good GRE score (or not); of course, if you need more help or have additional questions, please feel free to comment below or Ask Test Masters!


Have a question? Ask the experts at Test Masters!


Test Masters offers the most comprehensive and successful GRE course available; every Test Masters GRE course, whether it is online or in-class, comes with a 10 point Score Increase Guarantee.


How to Write Your Statement of Purpose (Part I. What do I Write About?)

What Should I Write AboutHow to Write Your Statement of Purpose

One of the most daunting tasks of applying to graduate school is writing and submitting your statement of purpose. This is one of the few times throughout the entire admission process that the objective aspects of your application are momentarily set aside so that admission officers can really get to know you. You should view your statement of purpose as an opportunity, not an obstacle. This article is one of a series dedicated to unraveling the challenges of writing your statement of purpose.

Part I. What do I write about?

Deciding what to write may seem like the most difficult part of the entire endeavor, so you might be surprised to discover that the opposite is often the case. Prospective students are usually provided with clear instructions on what to write about and why. Most universities want you to use your personal statement to tell them the following things:

  • Why do you want to pursue a graduate education in this field?
  • What have you done to prepare yourself for a graduate education in this field?
  • What are your academic goals?
  • What are your professional goals?

We will address each of these topics individually. As you read on, note that many of these topics interrelate. For example, your reasons for attending graduate school could stem from your professional experiences post-college, or, if you are considering a research-heavy program, perhaps your professional goals are academic in nature. This is okay! The point of this post is to help you figure out what you want to write about, not how you will structure all of this information into a coherent essay (we will cover that in a future post).

Why do you want to pursue a graduate education in this field?

Your reasons for choosing a particular field are important. Your explanation should be succinct, avoid platitudes, and be unique but relatable. Also, do not turn your answer into an autobiography; only share a personal story if it is pertinent to your application. Good reasons to pursue a graduate education in a particular field include:

  • Talent and interest in a particular field.
  • The opportunities available from an advanced degree in a particular field.
  • The skill-set obtained from an education in this field will help in another.

What have you done to prepare yourself for a graduate education in this field?

This part of your essay should convince admission officers that you are not only capable of doing well in their program but that you have taken steps toward improving your chance of success. This would also be a good time to discuss how you plan to utilize your experiences in a way that would benefit the campus community and classroom.

Do not be mistaken – this is not the same thing as ticking off all the points on your résumé. They already have your résumé; don’t waste their and your time retyping it in essay format! This is not to say you should disregard your achievements or be afraid to discuss them; rather, elaborate on those accomplishments that actually pertain to the field you are applying to, and avoid going into great length about those things that do not.

What are your academic goals?

Academic goals will vary from field to field, but everyone’s personal statement should share a few characteristics. Good things to talk about here include:

  • The knowledge and skills you would like to acquire and develop in your time with this program.
  • The aspects of the program that impress you.
  • Research or papers you find interesting that have been published by current or past faculty members.

You should also use this part of your essay to demonstrate knowledge about the field you are interested in studying. You are more likely to impress admission officers if you can show them you are already competent in the field and have done an appropriate amount of research regarding their program.

What are your professional goals?

Consider this the “What is your five-year plan?” question. Specificity is good here, but it’s more important that your goals and plans be believable and realistic. Your answer should emphasize the importance of attending graduate school, but in the context of hoping to attain something greater.

This should be enough to start you on the journey to writing a good personal statement. As you begin the brainstorming process, remember who you are writing this essay for. The person reading your essay will have read dozens, if not hundreds of these statements. Think about it from his or her perspective, and ask yourself, “What is the point of including this in my application?” After reading your personal statement, admission officers should be firmly convinced that you:

  • Know how to write.
  • Know how present yourself.
  • Will not drop out of their program.
  • Have ambition and will be a credit to the program.

Ask Test Masters or comment if you have questions; otherwise, return soon for the second installment of It’s Not GREek’s How to Write Your Statement of Purpose.




GRE Math – Fun with Averages!

grumpy catStudying for the GRE can be tough. In the mean time, let’s make sure your math score is above average by reviewing averages! Consider the following problem:

The average (arithmetic mean) of six numbers is 14. After one of the numbers is removed, the average (arithmetic mean) of the remaining numbers is 16. What number has been removed?

To solve this problem, all you need to remember is the definition of an average:

average = (sum of terms)/(number of terms)

Multiplying both sides by the number of terms, we get:

average(number of terms) = sum of terms

First, let’s figure out the sum of the terms when the average was 14:

14(6) = 84

Next, let’s do the same for the situation in which the average is 16:

16(5) = 80

The difference between the two sums must be the number that was taken out:

84 – 80 = 4

Thus, the answer is 4. That’s all there is to it! Now, try the following problem and post the answer in the comments below:

The average (arithmetic mean) of four numbers is 23. After one of the numbers is removed, the average (arithmetic mean) of the remaining numbers is 15. What number has been removed?

Good luck, and happy studying!