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How Do Universities Use GRE Test Results in the Admissions Process?

By The Room 241 Team October 2, 2012

Graduate school is a possible next step for people with bachelor’s degrees who want to improve their skills and advance their careers. While some careers require graduate study to become certified for employment, such as medical and legal professions, other careers simply benefit from extended education. Teachers do not need graduate degree to get a teaching position, for instance, but they will need a master’s degree to advance to a school principal or a superintendent.

To get into graduate school, you have to apply in much the same manner you used for your bachelor’s degree program. Most graduate programs require GRE scores (Graduate Record Examination) for acceptance. Like SAT or ACT results, GRE scores must be submitted to college graduate programs along with past academic information to help universities decide to accept or reject the applicant. For many applicants, the question from there is “How do universities use GRE scores in the admission process?” and “How much do my scores affect my chances of acceptance?”

Why colleges use the GRE for admissions

Though some opponents of standardized testing feel that comparison of a test score in the admission process is unfair, the GRE (and similar standardized tests) strives to offer a an objective comparison between the skills of students from different educational backgrounds.

The classes and extra-curricular activities available to students in United States schools vary greatly between urban and rural areas, and between wealthy and impoverished neighborhoods, so a student from a wealthy, urban school district that provides ample opportunities for participation may have a far superior transcript than a student from an impoverished area where opportunity and extra-curricular activities and experiences may be minimal. However, a standardized test like the GRE allows educators to do a side-by-side comparison of two students on equal ground.

Minimum GRE scores

Most colleges and universities do not claim to have minimum required GRE scores for graduate applicants. However, some specific graduate programs do have minimum scores, and an applicant who doesn’t meet that score will not stand a chance of acceptance into the program.

While colleges may not state that they have minimum GRE scores, they often state the average scores of people accepted for admission. The Harvard Graduate School of Education, for instance, lists average verbal test scores for master’s students in the 83rd percentile, or the top 17 percent in verbal, but states 67 percent, or the top 33 percent, in quantitative. UCLA’s Engineering Computer Science graduate program, on the other hand, lists average student verbal scores in the 79th percentile, or top 21 percent, and the 85th percentile, or top 15 percent, in quantitative.

As these numbers indicate, the most important part of a GRE score depends upon the type of program for you apply for.

Pluses and minuses of the GRE

Despite the fact that the GRE was intended to be a great equalizer, vocal opponents claim that incorporating standardized test scores into the admission process does just the opposite. While the testing process could be fair, study programs and tutoring has skewed the process toward the same students who benefit from more opportunity in the first place.

Since test-prep companies like The Princeton Review and Kaplan offer GRE preparation courses for hundreds of dollars, students who can afford to pay for such extensive test-prep have an advantage over students who don’t have the means to take an expensive GRE course and must study for the test on their own.

The arguments for and against the GRE doesn’t change the fact that the scores give universities some indication as to an applicant’s level of overall knowledge. Until someone comes up with a better system, GRE scores will continue to weigh equally in the admission process to a student’s GPA, letters of recommendation, personal statements and any other required portion of the applicant’s admission package.

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