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How much does the GRE matter for someone with a MA?


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Hi everyone,

I am new to the forums, but didn't see this while I was scrolling through GRE topics. I will be applying this fall for Ph.D. programs in sociology, but I am already in the process of getting my M.A. I had low GRE scores (1000 or a total of 299 on the new scale), but aside from that my application is pretty well-rounded.

My question(s) then are the following: (1) does anyone know if GRE scores matter as much in the Ph.D. application process if you're already in graduate school and (2) has low GRE scores kept anyone from being accepted to a program they really wanted to get into (even with a master's degree)?

I tried contacting the graduate director of my top choice in program, but she gave me a somewhat flimsy answer ("there are no cut-off scores"--not sure if that's totally true). Anybody have experience with this? I am ultimately trying to decide whether I should retake the exam.

Thank you all in advance,


Edited by Taylor12
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As a general rule, the combined GRE score (old scale) of 1000 is the cutoff that most graduate schools (not programs) will accept. With that being said, the decision to keep a score or retake is contingent upon the competitiveness of the programs you are applying to and the strength of other aspects of your application. For PhD, in my experience the greatest emphasis will be fit and funding ability> research experience/publications > letters of recommendation > GPA (undergrad is weighed more heavily) > Statement of purpose (tied w/ GPA) > GRE. Although the GRE is undeniably less significant than the other metrics, it could be important for funding purposes and used as a cutoff for some programs to even look at your application considering their pile can range upward of 800-1,000 apps. I would assume sociology PhDs across the board would be in that category and you will be in an extremely competitive pool.

Since your GRE score is at the cutoff point for most graduate schools in the tier you are applying to, I would recommend to take a real self-effacing view of your application if you decide not to retake. What is the strength of your u-grad/masters institution's sociology department? Who did you work with? Publications? Having a MA under your belt will give you a boost so long as you have a solid research agenda and history behind it. You will be competing with undergrads with honors theses and 'masters caliber' resume's so you will have to stand out in order to really distinguish your MA.

I think we need a little more information about the other 'well-rounded' aspects of your application to make a truly informed decision. My general feeling is that if you can spare the time and money to get an ETS prep book and retake it wouldn't be such a bad idea given the overwhelming competitiveness of sociology PhD programs. You want every advantage you can get. I took the revised GRE only once without studying and my score was 1050 and I still got into PhD programs fully funded. Granted, I had other decent marks and great essay which explained away my GRE score. Also an URM in a very...VERY...underrepresented health sciences sub-field as far as black females are concerned.

Edited by BrokenRecord
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@BrokenRecord: Thanks for your comment, it was very helpful. By "well-rounded" I meant that I've got the following in the works:

  • Served as a TA for both online and face-to-face courses
  • Two articles that I will be sending out for review (fingers crossed) by November
  • Conference experience
  • Multiple Committees/school service
  • Member of AKD, other societies, etc.

And lastly, a strong research agenda. The research I am conducting for my thesis is filling a major gap (from what my advisor tells me) and I've got several offshoots/papers I'm writing/will be writing from that.

I don't know if this is considered well-rounded to others in (or out of) my field, but for my cohort in particular it's pretty good. I am seriously thinking of re-taking the GRE just to make it match up with the rest of my portfolio (which is why I posted this question), I just wanted to see if anyone knew if/thought the GRE didn't matter as much if you have already proved you can do well in an academic environment (sort of like the SAT).

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I am in the same boat as you Taylor. Finished my Masters last week and will be applying to PhD programs in Clinical Psych.

Most of the schools I see have a 1200 as a cut off.

My girlfriend finished her PhD process a few months ago and it was hell, but worth it.

She got into two schools out of 25, so it is extremely competitive.

Basically the more you have to offer the better. Like BR said, lots of competitive schools have cut offs for the GREs and generally do not look your package if your GRE score is lower than the cut off.

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GRE Scores are important - no matter how much people here complain about them or bash the test.

I hear from members of an Ad Com that the value of the test is not only in allowing them some sort of justifiable benchmark for evaluating applications, but that GRE performance is well correlated to success in programs - and that the if nothing else - the GRE measures your ability to study for a do well on the GRE which is a signal to them.

When you get to PhD programs from competitive schools, lots of people are smart and did cool stuff before they go there. So it all counts... GPA, GRE, LORs, SOP, etc etc.

If I had a 1000 GRE score combined there is no question I would retake the test.

Edited by TheFez
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@BrianM & TheFez - Thanks for the advice! I've decided to retake it, this time though I will study (I didn't at all last time), hopefully I'll do better lol. It's really just that quantitative part that kills me, but I should be able to fix that.

Thanks again!

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