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GRE Retake? + Recommendation Advice

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Hi guys, I just wanted some advice on whether I should take GRE I am signed up to take this Friday. I also would like to hear you thoughts on my recommenders.

GRE Advice

I took the GRE 2 years ago and got 166 Verbal (97th percentile), 159 Quant (72nd percentile), 5.0 Writing (92nd percentile). At the time, I had been scoring between 160-163 in the practice tests in the quantitative section, but on the day of the test, I got flustered on the first test section, which was quantitative, and I did not finish all the questions in that section on time.  It took me a while to calm down after nearly being late to the test thanks to getting trapped in a train tunnel for nearly an hour. I feel pretty confident that I did not perform as well as I could have given the circumstances, so I decided to retake the test this fall for this application season.

Unfortunately, a series of unplanned for work and personal crises basically killed the study time I had set aside for the test. I was able to get about 2 weeks worth of practice in about a month ago before all my planning was forced out the window. Now I have less than a week of time to prepare. I started deep diving into practice questions today, and it is not going nearly as well as I would like. My average time per question is way too long. This is making me worry that I might score below my previous test, which I had more time to study for. I can't help but wonder if taking the test again is worth the money and time I could spend on other aspects of my application, which have also been pushed back due to these same issues. What do you guys think?

To give some context, here is some information about my application. I am aiming for top 20 schools. I have 3.7 GPA in undergrad and 4.0 in graduate school (MA in Sociology). I have several years of social science research experience that is quantitative heavy, and I want to pursue mixed method research projects in the future. My application and the institutions I am applying to reflect this. I can get recommendations from two economics professors I worked very closely with for a few years and two sociology professors, all of which are from top schools themselves.

Over all, I feel like my application is decent for these schools, but my quantitative GRE score worries me as it seems to be just below the average score at a lot of these institutions (160/75th percentile). What do you guys think? Should I risk retaking it? Will a 159 really weaken my applications, especially in light of my quantitative work experience?

Recommenders Advice

Also, do you guys have any advice on which recommendations I should use for my application? Here is a breakdown of my recommenders:

1. Sociology, senior faculty, master's thesis advisor, had me in a class. Excited about my research. Has already offered to provide a recommendation.

2. Sociology, junior faculty, was a co-professor in a class I took last year, but I only got to know her well this semester in a very small reading course.

3. Economics, senior faculty, I was a research assistant for several years, co-published a paper with him.

4. Economics, junior faculty, I was research assistant and teaching assistant for him for several years.

I definitely want to send #1. I am currently leaning towards #2 and #3 for the other two spots. I was thinking of asking #4 for additional recommendations for schools that accept more than 3 letters. What are your thoughts? Does that sound like a decent strategy? Should I instead replace #2 with #4 as I have worked with him longer?


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Ok, there's a couple things going on here, but I'll do my best.

First of all, ignoring GRE for a second, you are a very strong applicant. Good GPA, strong research experience, a clear substantive research interest/project, and strong recs. All of that is fantastic and you should feel great about it! I know it's easy to focus on the one negative aspect here. So, there's two ways to approach your problem. 1) The vast majority of your application is fantastic and your GRE scores are not disqualifying enough by any means. I think you should get into a fully-funded, and most likely top 20, program with your application as is. 2) You have a strong enough profile that you could shoot a little higher than that with a really strong GRE. Given your econ background and quantitative focus, I also believe you would be able to with adequate study time. While schools know that GRE math is not real math, it might look a little odd at the truly top end (top 5-10) to have a strong quantitative focus and have that be your weakest GRE score. This is really your judgment call as to how much you care about the top outcome of reach schools, versus how much you're happy to be at a good fully-funded school.

I'm also slightly confused by your implication of how GRE score reporting works, so I want to check my understanding. It was my belief that you can choose whether or not to send your scores. If this is the case, there's not that much downside to taking the test on Friday and seeing what happens, other than money and time. Is my understanding correct?

Lastly, regarding recs, I think this is a good problem to have. It looks like you have four potentially strong recs, two of which are very strong. I got into a top program with one very strong rec and two that I believe are about the quality of your #2; this puts you ahead of the median for sure. Personally, the advice I've always been given is to go with a professor who knows you very well, rather than one who looks slightly more impressive on paper. To me this signals using #4 over #2. I don't think there's much downside at all to having an econ professor, and in fact most sociology grad programs like econ for the strong quant methods focus. Committees care more about methods and research experience than subject area knowledge. I do think if you have apps that allow additional recs it wouldn't hurt to use #2 as well.

I hope this was helpful, and please feel free to reach out to me via pm. I'm happy to give more of my personal experience, but I don't want to dox myself.

Edited by xyz234

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Thank you guys so much for your quick replies! I really do appreciate it.

I did misunderstand the GRE sending policy, so I am planning on taking it this Friday. Hopefully it goes well!

Thank you xyz234 for your kind words! When I look at the numbers I feel like I have a decent shot, but I always end up second guessing myself. Most of my recommendations, excluding #2, are also very quantitative focused and were expecting much higher GRE scores from me which made me worry a great deal.  Your comments made me feel like my chances were a little better than a shot at the moon, so thank you!

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