Last Updated: July 06, 2021

How to get into a High Ranked University with a Low GRE Score?

The GRE examination is a standardized test taken by candidates who wish to enroll for courses like Master’s, MBA, PhD, etc. depending upon their field of study. This exam is mostly taken by international students and receiving a high score in this examination can help candidates in procuring fellowships and can even be used as a compensating factor for having a low GPA.

GRE scores are considered an integral part of the admission process especially in the field of sciences and business. But at the same time, it is not the only part considered during the applicant selection process. Receiving a low GRE score does not obviously imply that the candidate will not be able to qualify for admission to the college they desire. This is the same for candidates who have received a high score in GRE because a high score in GRE does not guarantee admission to their college of choice.

This difference exists because the universities and colleges in the US look at an applicant's profile in a holistic manner which is to say that everything from the way their statement of purpose is written to their academic scores and the letters of recommendation they have submitted. The GPA of the candidate in the courses they have previously attended along with the transcripts they have submitted will also be put under scrutiny.

What is a Low GRE Score?

GRE is scored within a range of 130 and 170 and though the examination contains 3 sections called Verbal Reasoning, Quantitative Reasoning and Analytical Writing, the main scores are calculated from the former 2 sections only. The Analytical score is provided separately along with the essay the candidate has written for the preview of admission officers. This section is scored between 0-6. Candidates will receive a percentile score stating their level of performance in comparison to the people who tested alongside them.

Having a percentile score of 70 implies that they have performed better than 70 percent of the test-takers in their time. And by this measurement, candidates with a higher percentile can be said to have performed better than others. Generally, to get a percentile score above 75, the candidate will have to score above 310. Candidates who have a percentile score of 90 or above will have excelled in the examination and will not have any difficulty in finding admission in colleges. A 90 percentile implies that the candidate has scored around 324.

A low score in GRE implies that the candidate got a score below a percentile of 50. This would be a score of around 305 and below. It is common for candidates to get a 50 percentile since that is the mean score of the test. But being the mean score, having this score will not be of much help to candidates. A score between 25 and 50 percentiles can be considered as a score on the lower-average side in GRE. This can hinder the candidate’s application a little but it is still better to have a score above 290 rather than below that.

Candidates with a score lying below the 25-percentile range will be scoring below 290 and this is considered to be an extremely low GRE score. Generally, candidates who fall under the 25th percentile try to retake the test or not submit the test report at all due to the negative impact it can bring to the rest of their profile.

Options for Candidates with a Low GRE Score

Candidates who have received a score below 290 or even under a 50-percentile will either have to focus on the rest of their application or consider retaking the examination. Both of these options are available to candidates and ultimately it is the candidate’s choice to take either of the options. If the candidate wants to go ahead with their application irrespective of the GRE score, this can be due to various factors.

The common factors that make international students consider applying anyway with a low GRE score are either financial constraints since the whole study abroad plan is costly in itself. The GRE examination also does not come cheap and tends to pierce a hole in the pockets of students. The other factor is that of time constraint. Candidates mostly wish to take admission in the Fall semester right after their undergraduate degree has been completed since they do not want to waste an entire year for the admission process.

Candidates who have enough time and money will often choose to retake the GRE in order to better their scores. Though it is completely possible for candidates to apply with lower scores, candidates can often feel insecure about a lower score causing them to be unnecessarily stressed throughout the application process. This can be remedied by attempting the test again after preparing thoroughly for it by either joining an online course or assigning a tutor for the same.

How to Strengthen College Application?

If for some reason a candidate has scored below 290 or even falls under the 50th percentile, there is no need to lose hope. By making the other parts of their application very strong, candidates will be able to give themselves a much better chance of getting admission from a high ranked university.

The methods to improve one’s chances at qualifying for the college they have chosen are-

Retaking the GRE

Though this isn’t an option that candidates often want to think about, it is advisable for candidates below the 15th percentile to retake the test. Retaking the test helps the candidate stand a better chance of being admitted to a college if their score is extremely low. It also boosts the confidence of the candidate helping them complete the other parts of the application better.

Candidates who have received a low score can start by reflecting on their performance in the last examination and understanding where they went wrong. If they took the test without any preparation, it is better for them to start preparation now through the many methods available. The methods that are commonly chosen by candidates are either joining an online course, appointing a private tutor, preparing oneself through prep books, etc. Candidates can begin by taking diagnostic tests and learning where they stand by eventually figuring out whether it the verbal or the quantitative section that makes them lose score.

Once this has been figured out candidates can focus on studying the concepts that they are weak in and doing practice tests after practice tests until they have mastered the test. Proper preparation can help candidates in scoring above the 60-percentile mark making them strong applicants for any course they are applying to.

Does a Low GRE Score Really Matter?

At the end of the day, every part of the college application right from the personal details of the candidate included in the statement of purpose to the academic qualifications they submit through their transcript all matters equally. When there are hundreds of candidates applying with similar qualifications, have a lower score even in one examination can lower the chances of being admitted to the institution.

But at the same time, most institutions look for candidates who are more than just their academic qualifications. And most also believe that a low GRE score does not immediately make the candidate unsuitable for the course. So, doubling efforts on the other parts of the application provides the candidate with an equal chance to the other candidates who are applying will have. An excellent statement of purpose, letters of recommendation, and having a GPA that has been maintained throughout their undergrad will ultimately render the low GRE score irrelevant. The focus should be on trying one’s best and then they will be able to get that college admission.


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