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Should I retake the GRE?


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I'm applying this cycle for grad schools in Political Science and wanted to know what you guys thought about my GRE scores and potentially my profile more generally. I just graduated from a top 10 LAC and am currently doing a 1 year masters program in Political Science in the UK (okay school, top 10 in politics. I received a full scholarship though). I took the GRE this summer and was hoping for 160+ on the Quant but fell short. Do you guys have any advice? 

GPA (Top 10 LAC in the US): 3.6 overall, 3.87 in Political Science/IR

GRE: 170 Verbal (99th Percentile) / 159 Quantitative (73rd Percentile) / 4.5 AW (82nd Percentile) 

LOR: 3 very strong letters. One from professor who truly adores me, one from undergrad thesis adviser and one from professor I did research with in addition to taking courses with.  

Research Experience: Senior Thesis (received distinction), Summer spent as RA for prof, Seminar papers, will finish Dissertation over the course of Masters program here.  

Topic of Interest: IR, specifically looking at norms regulating the use of force and state behaviors within those normative regimes

Schools of interest (Probably will end up being a smaller list): Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, Michigan, Columbia, UC Berkeley, UC San Diego, Cornell, Wisconsin, U Chicago, George Washington


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Just a caveat before answering this question.  Overall, the admissions process can be a completely arbitrary process, particularly for the top 10 schools.  Because the applicant pool at the top 10-20 are so competitive, even people who have perfect or nearly perfect GRE scores and GPA don't always get into those schools.  So take my advice for what it's worth.  Now, onto your question:

Unfortunately, despite the fact you have a perfect verbal score, schools care much more about your quant score, and use that as their implicit cut off to move applicants past the first round of cuts.  Your quant score is the bare minimum that you should be getting to help get you past the first round, but you may be a tougher sell in later rounds compared to other applicants who have higher quant scores, especially at schools like Yale, Stanford, Harvard, etc. that have very competitive applicants.  You might be able to get into a program at Wisconsin or George Washington as is, but you would definitely be a tougher sell at the top 5-10 schools you listed.  Your success would largely depend on how strong the other parts of your application are and whether they greatly outweigh your low quant score.  Your research experience looks excellent, but your GPA is on the lower side; you would really need to make up for it with an exceptionally well written SOP (a given) and glowing LORs.  

Now, you don't provide too much info on who these professors are and whether they are well known or are superstars in the field.  It's important that you have letter writers who will ham it up for you--which you seem to have-- but to make up for your lower quant score, letter writers from superstars in the field would help immensely, especially if these letter writers have connections at Yale, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, etc.  The unfortunate truth is ad comms at top schools pay attention to letter writers that are superstars or that are in the same circles as them because they trust them and their criteria for an applicant's potential success at a top program.  I would add the caveat that, if your letter writer is a superstar in the field but barely knows you as a person and writes you a mediocre letter, that letter won't be given as much weight than a letter written by a lesser known scholar but who knows you very well and writes a glowing letter for you. 

All of this is to say, it's difficult to assess your profile given the limited info I have and the fact I'm not on an ad comm.  However, I think that if you can, I would definitely retake the GRE, even if you end up with a lower verbal score.  In particular, if your heart is set on getting into the top 5-10 schools, there are just way too many competitive applicants who have similar profiles but better GRE scores and GPA's to not retake the exam to try and increase your quant score.  Hope this helps!

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Do your schools have a 160 cut off? If so, yes, re-take it. If not, it really will depend on other factors. The biggest I think is this one:

4 hours ago, tippetta said:

currently doing a 1 year masters program in Political Science in the UK (okay school, top 10 in politics.

How are you performing in the Masters program? Do you have a lot of quantitative and research oriented classes in that Masters? I'm not sure how the PhD PoliSci works, I do know several other top 10 programs in other fields want to see a 160 GRE and/or proof of your quantitative skills elsewhere. If you have that proof, your application makes it to the second level where your fit, LOR, and personal statement make all the difference.


For a personal anecdote:

I spoke with my alma mater which is a #1 school (Johns Hopkins Bloomberg). They took me in with a 3.42 UGrad; and 3.96 Grad for their 9 month program.

Unfortunately, because of unforeseeable problems, I underperformed in their masters program (3.26). I had two rough terms and then two perfect ones. I thought this blew my chances in the water. However, I recently started talking to them about their DrPH program. In one concentration they told me to take extra non-matriculated classes and get a 160+ quant GRE because I was a "good but not the best" fit. However, I spoke to another concentration and, because I'm the exact type of applicant they want, they're only worried about minimum proof of quantitative skills for me to be a competitive applicant. I was told to get either a 160 quant or take extra stats classes. But either would give them the proof they needed.

I shared this anecdote because if the program really wants you, they only need the bare minimum to prove you have the raw skills necessary. If you are "just another applicant" then you will have to have perfect scores and fight against others with perfect scores for a top 10 university.

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