What is a Competitive GRE Score?

October 14, 2016

Technically, it’s not exactly possible to “pass” or “fail” the GRE, because every school has different GRE score requirements. In fact, some schools don’t have any hard and fast GRE requirements at all—just recommended ranges or average scores.

Whether you’ve “passed” the GRE is a matter of whether your score can get you accepted into your target school. So if you’re trying to figure out if you have a truly good GRE score, what you really need to figure out is whether or not you GRE score is competitive for the kinds of programs you’re applying to.

Competitive GRE Scores by Percentile

Maybe you are not yet sure what kind of grad degree you want. If several different majors are a possibility for you, the best measure of your competitiveness is the overall percentile of your GRE score.

What does your percentile mean? Basically, your percentile is the percentage of GRE test-takers, worldwide, who got a lower score than you. So if you’re in the 90th percentile, 90% of the people who took the GRE the same year as you scored lower than you. In the grand scheme of things, that would make you pretty competitive.

ETS keeps a table of current GRE percentiles on the official GRE website. Click that link, and you’ll see that—at the time of this writing at least—a 162 in Verbal and a 166 in Quant puts you in the 90th percentile.

Competitive GRE Scores by Percentile and Major

If you’ve narrowed down your choice of major to just one or two fields of study, you should look at the percentiles for students accepted into your desired field. Here, percentiles can vary a lot.

For example, a 165 in Verbal is 25th percentile if you’re applying for a grad degree in philosophy, but puts you in the 97th percentile if you’re headed to business school. And a perfect 170 in Quants puts you in the 99th percentile if you hope to get an advanced degree in journalism, but only in the 85th percentile if you want to get a Master’s or Doctorate in Accounting & Finance.

How do I know all this, and how can you know the GRE percentiles for your intended major? Again ETS has crunched those numbers for you!

Competitive GRE Scores by School

The actual school and program you’re applying to will give you the most reliable information on whether or not your GRE score is competitive. Check out this table of average and required GRE scores for universities with competitive grad programs.

Also be sure to check directly with any school you’re applying to. A school’s GRE preferences and requirements can sometimes change unexpectedly. In addition, university policies on GRE scores can have nuances that are hard to capture in a single chart or table. Some schools place a lot of importance on GRE scores; in other schools this may be a lesser factor I admissions decisions. And some universities may even hold different applicants to different GRE standards. Duke’s GRE policy, as just one example, is different for domestic and international students.

About The Author

David Recine, Guest Blogger
David Recine, Guest Blogger

David Recine is a test prep expert at Magoosh. He has a Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a Masters in Teaching English to Speakers of other Languages from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls. He has been teaching K-12, University, and adult education classes since 2007.

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