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Hello. I am new to thegradcafe, and I am a returning student to academia after pursuing a different career for nearly a decade (one that, unfortunately, may looked down upon by an admissions committe...I have been a professional actress). I have received an acceptance to a fairly good school, but I have been waitlisted for funding. I am still debating about whether to go or not, but if choose to re-apply next year, I am wondering if I should re-take the GRE. I received a 670 V, 750 Q, and a 5.0 AW. Are these scores good enough for most schools? I am particularly asking because I have received a fair amount of rejections this year, but most of my schools were quite competitive (Boston University, UNC, Brandeis, etc.) and I foolishly applied to their PhD programs instead of their MA programs. What do you think? Should I re-take the GRE? And if not, at what schools would my scores render me most competitive?

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I'm sure that you'll get a flood of conflicting answers to this thread, but my two cents say that your GRE scores, while not freakishly high (i.e. 700+ verbal / 6.0 AW) like the scores of some who are accepted into super elite programs, shouldn't detract from an application if your other materials are strong and if you are a good fit for the program. You're getting rejections simply because regardless of scores, it's an incredibly competitive time to be applying to graduate study in English. Some programs are accepting/funding 5 or less people out of the hundreds who applied. It obviously helps to have higher scores, but a more productive use of time would be in tailoring your application to specific programs and to revising your writing sample, statement of intent, and CV. My scores are 670 V, 5.5 AW, and 650 Subject. I didn't get into Harvard, but I did get into some strong programs; after speaking to faculty at these programs, it has become quite clear that I went from the short list to the list of actual offers because I was a good fit for the department and faculty, not because of my scores.

Some programs prefer applicants not to have an MA, whiles others prefer the opposite. Most programs accept a mix of BA-only and MA-already applicants. Penn State, for example, offers only 1 or 2 spots per year to applicants who already have an MA; the rest of the 12-18 spots go to BA-only applicants.

Edited by TC3
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I'm sure that you'll get a flood of conflicting answers to this thread, but my two cents say that your GRE scores, while not freakishly high (i.e. 700+ verbal / 6.0 AW) like the scores of some who are accepted into super elite programs, shouldn't detract from an application if your other materials are strong and if you are a good fit for the program. You're getting rejections simply because regardless of scores, it's an incredibly competitive time to be applying to graduate study in English. Some programs are accepting/funding 5 or less people out of the hundreds who applied. It obviously helps to have higher scores, but a more productive use of time would be in tailoring your application to specific programs and to revising your writing sample, statement of intent, and CV. My scores are 670 V, 5.5 AW, and 650 Subject. I didn't get into Harvard, but I did get into some strong programs; after speaking to faculty at these programs, it has become quite clear that I went from the short list to the list of actual offers because I was a good fit for the department and faculty, not because of my scores.

Some programs prefer applicants not to have an MA, whiles others prefer the opposite. Most programs accept a mix of BA-only and MA-already applicants. Penn State, for example, offers only 1 or 2 spots per year to applicants who already have an MA; the rest of the 12-18 spots go to BA-only applicants.

What he said.

(EDIT: Or she! How is one to know, behind internet anonymity?)

Edited by margate
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Hello. I am new to thegradcafe, and I am a returning student to academia after pursuing a different career for nearly a decade (one that, unfortunately, may looked down upon by an admissions committe...I have been a professional actress). I have received an acceptance to a fairly good school, but I have been waitlisted for funding. I am still debating about whether to go or not, but if choose to re-apply next year, I am wondering if I should re-take the GRE. I received a 670 V, 750 Q, and a 5.0 AW. Are these scores good enough for most schools? I am particularly asking because I have received a fair amount of rejections this year, but most of my schools were quite competitive (Boston University, UNC, Brandeis, etc.) and I foolishly applied to their PhD programs instead of their MA programs. What do you think? Should I re-take the GRE? And if not, at what schools would my scores render me most competitive?

Hi! I performed poorly on the GRE. my combined scores were around 1,000. I got a 4 in AW. On the ETS practice test, my scores were much higher, but on the day of the exam, I panicked. Everyone told me i should take it again. I hated (& was afraid of) the test and refused. But I was offered admission to three wonderful programs, and for one was offered a fellowship award. your scores seem great to me. focus on your writing sample and statement of purpose and you'll be fine. :)

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What he said.

(EDIT: Or she! How is one to know, behind internet anonymity?)

Hah. I suppose that my cat drinking absinthe picture could go either way. Your first instinct, rightly or wrongly, was correct.

And big congrats on the acceptances at Mich, UCLA, and UCSC. You must have had a stellar application!

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Hello. I am new to thegradcafe, and I am a returning student to academia after pursuing a different career for nearly a decade (one that, unfortunately, may looked down upon by an admissions committe...I have been a professional actress). I have received an acceptance to a fairly good school, but I have been waitlisted for funding. I am still debating about whether to go or not, but if choose to re-apply next year, I am wondering if I should re-take the GRE. I received a 670 V, 750 Q, and a 5.0 AW. Are these scores good enough for most schools? I am particularly asking because I have received a fair amount of rejections this year, but most of my schools were quite competitive (Boston University, UNC, Brandeis, etc.) and I foolishly applied to their PhD programs instead of their MA programs. What do you think? Should I re-take the GRE? And if not, at what schools would my scores render me most competitive?

For what it is worth: your scores are almost identical to mine (and higher in Q, but I don't think they look at that too much) and I was accepted to one of the PhD programs you list. Like other people have said, fit is the most important aspect of your application-- this was very true for me. I wouldn't spend time re-taking the GRE at all. I'd work on perfecting your SOP and WS (maybe even creating new ones; it can be done out of school!), and looking for the programs who have faculty doing what you want to do. Definitely contact a POI when you have a research project you're excited about that matches theirs in some way and create a rapport if you can. Doing this in a non-obnoxious way can be difficult, but if you set yourself up as a scholar with similar interests, and not a potential graduate student looking for some favors, you should be alright.

Edited by catherinian
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I agree with what has been said. Those are decent scores, and stuff like GREs and GPAs are not as heavily weighted in the application process as your statement of purpose, your recommendations, and your fit for the program.

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I applied to 14 schools last year, and my writing sample and purpose statement were weak. My GRE scores were: 630v 720q 6.0aw 640subj. I was rejected across the board.

This year, I spent a ton of time improving my writing sample and purpose statement. I didn't even worry about retaking the GREs (and the last time I had taken them was 2007). I was accepted by my top choice and several other good programs.

Moral of the story: Sometimes it REALLY is all about the writing. And luck. A lot of people probably have stellar packages but don't get in simply because the number of students applying is so high.

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Thank you very much for all of your input. I really appreciate it . . . however, I have a few follow-up questions. As I said, I am an actress who has been out of academia for almost a decade, and I had (and will continue to have this problem if I re-apply) a problem with my recommenders and with receiving advice about how to improve my package. I went to a small liberal arts college where I only took classes from three English professors. The department, of course, was larger, but nevertheless, I only took classes from three professors. Unfortunately, two of them are dead, and the one who is left living is quite elderlly (he retired my last year of college). The living professor was one of my recommenders, but yet I only had one English professor as a LOR writer. Additionally, I did ask him to read my SOP and my writing sample, and he said they were excellent, but he also said the academic atmosphere has greatly changed since he was in graduate school and since he last helped anyone gain admittance to graduate school. If I did re-apply, does anyone have any advice about how to receive better letters of recommendation and how to improve my SOP and writing sample? Thank you so much for your help . . . if only I had discovered this site before I applied this year!

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Where do you live? Can you take some graduate-level courses at a nearby university? I would highly recommend this to improve your writing sample, get new/recent letter of rec writers, make contacts, and show that you can do scholarship even though you've been out of the game for awhile. That, I think, is all way more important than retaking the GRE. If there isn't anywhere you can take a place, I'd do one online. Others can speak to this, but I think like Purdue or Boston College or somewhere near Boston has online English courses (other grad cafe people talked about them, so that's all I know). You also should try to network. Go to conferences even if you don't get accepted to present at them. Talk to the people there. Email people at schools you'd like to work with. Start soon (I wouldn't until May given the craziness of right now). Tell them what you like about their work, what you're interested in, and then ask for recommendations of other reading/research material. Get professors, grad students, writing tutors, etc., to read your SOP especially. You don't have to take all the advice, but you'll get feedback. Try to get multiple readers for your writing sample too. Good luck next year!

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Thank you very much for all of your input. I really appreciate it . . . however, I have a few follow-up questions. As I said, I am an actress who has been out of academia for almost a decade, and I had (and will continue to have this problem if I re-apply) a problem with my recommenders and with receiving advice about how to improve my package. I went to a small liberal arts college where I only took classes from three English professors. The department, of course, was larger, but nevertheless, I only took classes from three professors. Unfortunately, two of them are dead, and the one who is left living is quite elderlly (he retired my last year of college). The living professor was one of my recommenders, but yet I only had one English professor as a LOR writer. Additionally, I did ask him to read my SOP and my writing sample, and he said they were excellent, but he also said the academic atmosphere has greatly changed since he was in graduate school and since he last helped anyone gain admittance to graduate school. If I did re-apply, does anyone have any advice about how to receive better letters of recommendation and how to improve my SOP and writing sample? Thank you so much for your help . . . if only I had discovered this site before I applied this year!

Hi again! I graduated from college ten years ago, and completed my masters a few years ago. I wrote my academic writing sample on my own, last fall. In addition to two academic references, I asked my current supervisor for a reference. If you want to apply again next fall, why not enroll in a class this summer for a reference, or ask a professor outside of English, or ask someone in your field. You could also write to the programs that rejected you to ask why (I did). You could asks friends to read your essays; you could write to English depts. in your area to ask if a graduate student would be willing to tutor you for support with your essays. You could build your resume with a teaching or tutoring job.

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Again, thank you to everyone is answering these questions, and thank you for the suggestions. I have thought about taking some classes as a non-degree student, but I am gone most of the year for work (up next: 5 months in Alaska at a theater; I should have clarified and said I am a traveling stage actress), and whenever I googled "online classes," I couldn't find much except for the University of Phoenix and other such programs. I thank you very much for your advice, and I will probably take it. However, I guess I do have one more follow-up question: would it be worthwhile for me to take my MA if I fund it myself? Like I said in my first post, I have been accepted into a fairly good MA program (I only hesitate to say which school because I would be instantly recognizable if anyone from the school was looking at this thread, but it's one of the big state universities), but I have been waitlisted for funding. If I get the funding, I will definitely go, but if I don't, should I go anyway? I could always re-apply next year after taking some online classes, but if I'm going to pay for those anyway, would it be better just to commit to two full years of funding myself?

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You might want to apply to MA programs, rather than PhD programs. That way, you can get your foot in the door, get experience with grad level English classes, and end up with a good writing sample and recommendation letters. Then you'll be in a much better position to apply to PhD programs. That's what I've done because I've been out of school for a few years, and also my undergrad was not in English. Also, if you apply after doing an MA, it will matter less that you've been out of school doing other stuff, because doing an MA will show your commitment to grad study.

I second what others have said about enrolling at a nearby university as a non-degree student (or taking online/correspondence classes). I actually took a couple of online classes (from UNC Chapel Hill and U Washington), and those profs became my recommenders when I applied to MA programs. I did the online route since I'm an international student and wasn't here in the US, but it's even better if you can enroll as a non-degree student at a local university.

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whenever I googled "online classes," I couldn't find much except for the University of Phoenix and other such programs.

The Phoenix type stuff is not what you want. Look for online/distance/continuing-ed courses at reputable universities (like the two I mentioned in my previous post). A few others that have similar offerings are UMass (http://www.umassonline.net/), U Georgia (http://www.georgiacenter.uga.edu/idl), U Illinois (http://www.online.uillinois.edu/). I took classes through U Washington Extension (http://www.pce.uw.edu/online-learning/) and UNC (http://www.fridaycenter.unc.edu/cp/index.htm) and had a good experience with both.

Note that these programs offer mostly undergrad classes, not grad classes. However, if you took only 3 undergrad English classes in college (I myself took none), then upper level undergrad classes might be a good place to get started. And it's certainly a good way to get recommenders, etc.

Good luck! :)

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Again, thank you to everyone is answering these questions, and thank you for the suggestions. I have thought about taking some classes as a non-degree student, but I am gone most of the year for work (up next: 5 months in Alaska at a theater; I should have clarified and said I am a traveling stage actress), and whenever I googled "online classes," I couldn't find much except for the University of Phoenix and other such programs. I thank you very much for your advice, and I will probably take it. However, I guess I do have one more follow-up question: would it be worthwhile for me to take my MA if I fund it myself? Like I said in my first post, I have been accepted into a fairly good MA program (I only hesitate to say which school because I would be instantly recognizable if anyone from the school was looking at this thread, but it's one of the big state universities), but I have been waitlisted for funding. If I get the funding, I will definitely go, but if I don't, should I go anyway? I could always re-apply next year after taking some online classes, but if I'm going to pay for those anyway, would it be better just to commit to two full years of funding myself?

Well, you'd be looking at a few thousand dollars, at most, for online courses, whereas two years of completely funding your own masters? That would be a BIG investment. If you are financially able to do it, sure, but I wouldn't go into debt for it with the job market being what it is.

Letters of recommendation were an issue for me as well. I recently graduated, but I wasn't very personal with my professors and, while three to agreed write them, I was most anxious about this part of my application. Taking more English courses somewhere is the only thing to do to get more LORs. Don't just go for an A: ask deeper questions and discuss ideas with your professors, whatever you decide to do. I wish I had done this more in undergrad.

I wrote my writing sample in complete isolation. I ordered books from my local library, which had to ILL each one from various universities and this took a long time, but I didn't have many resources so it was all I could do for books. My grad student sister loaned me her online access for journals. I didn't ask any of my LOR writers to read it because I didn't have it done in time and was too self conscious. I baited two people on one of these grad foras to proofread it for me in exchange for a giftcard a day or two before my first application needed to be submitted. My point is: it can be done with limited resources. On the other hand, try to enroll in online courses that give you borrowing or online resource privileges if you go that route, because that would really help.

Fingers crossed that funding comes through for you, though!

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  • 3 weeks later...

Sadly enough, the GRE can ruin your chances to get in. I just got rejected from a PhD CompLit program where I took classes and know faculty. I have a great GPA, lots of research experience, good recommendations, a nice writing sample and statement. Since I know a professor on the committee, I asked him what I could improve for future applications. He took a deep sigh and informed me that it was my GRE score that had killed my application. I'm a non-native speaker and got 540 on verbal which is not a good score BUT I always thought "oh well, the rest of my application is competitive, it will not matter". Well, it DOES. He said they had 100 applicants this year, 35 of them (among them myself) were perfectly qualified but they could only admit 4. So what's the only "objective" item from the applications that they can use to compare those 35 good candidates? Right, the GRE.

I'm not posting this to make you feel bad but it's just how it goes. I know I'll not get into a PhD program unless I get a higher GRE score. I think this is totally stupid but it's the way it is.

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what's the only "objective" item from the applications that they can use to compare those 35 good candidates? Right, the GRE.

... it's just how it goes.

I think this is true and not true. For the hugely popular, fairly elite programs (Chicago and Penn State come to mind, with 700+ applicants each) I suspect that leveraging the GRE scores is a matter of logistics. How can even a large, dedicated faculty thoroughly examine ALL 700 applications which include an SoP and WS? I assume they have little choice but to cut the giant stack down by the "only 'objective' item from the applications," but they do this before they have finalists, not after as you imply. Just my suspicion.

I also think that that's not "just how it goes." Many schools, especially in the humanities have the luxury of being able to make decisions based on other, far more important factors. SUNY Buffalo comes to mind here. Ironically however, even they publicize directly on their website that you need above a 1270 to be eligible for university fellowships; this speaks to what I think is the only significance of GRE scores: university (versus departmental) funding. So to that extent, yes scores matter. wink.gif

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I think this is true and not true. For the hugely popular, fairly elite programs (Chicago and Penn State come to mind, with 700+ applicants each) I suspect that leveraging the GRE scores is a matter of logistics. How can even a large, dedicated faculty thoroughly examine ALL 700 applications which include an SoP and WS? I assume they have little choice but to cut the giant stack down by the "only 'objective' item from the applications," but they do this before they have finalists, not after as you imply. Just my suspicion.

I also think that that's not "just how it goes." Many schools, especially in the humanities have the luxury of being able to make decisions based on other, far more important factors. SUNY Buffalo comes to mind here. Ironically however, even they publicize directly on their website that you need above a 1270 to be eligible for university fellowships; this speaks to what I think is the only significance of GRE scores: university (versus departmental) funding. So to that extent, yes scores matter. wink.gif

I've heard from some professors who have served on adcoms that sometimes GRE scores come into play during final admissions decisions stages in "everything else held equal" situations--i.e., they need to decide between two seemingly identical applicants. I'm not saying that I think it's the best policy, but apparently it can (and does) happen.

Edited by ecg1810
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