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Hi All,

I am MA student finishing up my degree at a top 3 Canadian university. Currently, I am preparing my applications to PhD programs with a focus in political theory.

I just wrote the GRE and, unfortunately, I choked. 154Q and 167V. Don't have my writing scores back yet. In hindsight, I've realized that, owing to a number of factors, I did not spend nearly enough time preparing. To make matters worse, I have terrible anxiety and just froze up for significant portions of the exam.

My plan is (or was) to apply to the following schools: Harvard, Michigan, Minnesota, U of Toronto, Johns Hopkins, NYU, Northwestern and Chicago. Now that I have written the GRE, though, I am not so sure if I should even bother applying to those schools in the top 10.

Some additional information: my UGPA is a 4.0 and my MGPA is a 4.0. I have three very enthusiastic LORs from three very well-known and well-respected tenured professors. Two of these referees have informed me that they will be describing me as one of the best students they have ever had. As an undergrad I wrote an honours thesis that ended up being the top thesis for my year. I have four years of research experience under a famous professor and have been a TA for four courses. My writing sample is strong, I suppose. It was the top research paper in the seminar for which I wrote it and I am currently working with another professor in the department to get it submitted to a high impact journal. Still working on my SOP.

Any advice is much appreciated!

Edited by Dwar, Dog Lord of Waw
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I think you should move forward and apply to any schools you would want to attend. Your application will be judged by the Statement of Purpose and letters of recommendation. Every year there are many people with perfect GRE scores who are rejected but people with lower scores than them are admitted. Bottom line: if they want you, they will admit you. All you can do is be yourself and submit the best application you're capable of. The rest is entirely out of our hands.

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I've done an immense amount of research on this and from what I can tell, the GRE's are effective only in ameliorating a weak application, not augmenting a strong one. Your grades are of course fine, and so long as your SOP, letters and writing sample (not sure if your academic domain requires this) are good, your GRE scores will most likely have very little effect on your competitiveness. If it is the case that your programs require a writing sample, I wouldn't worry about your AWA score either; It will most likely be ignored as the adcom will base your abilities on the writing sample.

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For many of the schools on your list, you have to retake the GRE. A 154Q is not going to cut it (if you are in theory then maybe you are fine). Depending on your field and research method, you may also want to show some training in stats/econometrics/math, on top of a 160+Q in GRE.

People rarely pay much attention to writing samples. Undergrad thesis should not be emphasized as many applicants came with highest departmental honors, award-winning thesis, summa cum laude etc. 

REALLY work hard on your SOP, that should be your main focus now. Have a clearly stated research interest and concretely ways that you would go about pursuing that interest.

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Your focus is in political theory. Most of these comments don't seem to have made note of that. Retake if you want to, but theory admits are allowed lower quant scores. A 154 quant is perfectly acceptable in the theory subfield at top ten institutions. Quant scores are (wrongly, in my opinion, and also according to research on the matter) used to assess how the applicant will do in the rigorous methodology courses typical of these top institutions. As a theorist, the admissions committee knows you won't be taking these courses.

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