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Strong app with low GRE: What to expect


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Dear GradCafe,

What can I expect for myself while applying for religious studies masters programs with a 4.04 GPA and associated awards, a great writing sample, a senior thesis project, superb recommendation letters, a resume that proves my involvement on campus and in the workplace, and these less than hoped for GRE scores: 

Verbal: 157 (75th percentile)

Quant: 149 (35th percentile)

Writing: 4.

Here are contributing factors to these low scores: 1. my family moved so often during my childhood that I never had the opportunity to learn basic mathematics with any consistency (but, I did make A's in college algebra and trig). This quant score is a huge improvement from my first practice test, when I scored in the 9th percentile. 2. Given that I work full time during summers and breaks, and part time during the semester while maintaining high grades and staying involved on campus (particularly in the religious studies department), I have less time to study for the test. 3. I have had to retake standardized tests as young as 1st grade for earning outlier-low scores. The test anxiety is strong with this one. 4. I am poor and cannot afford to take fancy preparation classes, though I did buy the Kaplan study book, read the whole thing, and took all the associated web-based practice tests. 5. I took the test with a 101 fever from a cold. 

I am applying to Harvard Divinity School, Columbia, Indiana Bloomington, and University of Colorado Boulder. It would kill me if my application was thrown away for a GRE score that does NOT represent my academic abilities to any extent. My recommenders will address this in their letters. What are my chances of being accepted into these schools, or to any school? I AM retaking the test tomorrow, but am anxious to the point of debilitation. ANOTHER 205 dollars down the drain for a test I will probably do poorly on. And, to make things worse, I have been working 13 hour days for the past two weeks and am burnt out. I am currently attempting to jam math equations down my throat, but nothing is sticking. 

Thank you for any help, even though this is half rant. 


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While I can't tell you what to expect, I can tell you that I am in the exact same boat as you! From what I've been told, your Statement of Interests and your Reference Letters are much more important than your GRE scores. Also, some universities care more about GRE scores than others (apparently some students at Berkeley and Stanford have gotten in with low GRE scores while the University of Michigan cares quite a bit because they give out teaching positions based on GRE scores). I personally have opted out of applying to Columbia because their website seemed to hint at the necessity for high GRE scores but I'm still crazily enough probably applying to Harvard like you even though according to some questionable statistics, Harvard students have the highest GRE scores on average (although Harvard's website said that there is no minimum for GRE scores). Trying to figure out which universities you should exclude based on your GRE scores is a daunting venture (I know from personal experience based on what I am literally going through right now), so I would focus more on which universities fit best with your research and which faculty you would most like to work with.

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Thanks! I've heard that some universities throw away your GRE scores and others rely heavily on them in the case of "grade inflation" or "bias from professors." Honestly, I'm not sure if I want to go somewhere that puts that much weight into a square peg in the round hole system. I am certainly focusing on the universities that fit best with my research goals and putting a lot of effort into my SOP. It's better to make what we are good at shine, then to worry about what we are bad at. It's nice to know that someone is in a similar position as me, because most of what I read differs greatly from my experience. 

Best of luck!


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  • 9 months later...

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