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Choosing Universities based on your GRE score

GRADUATE RECORD EXAMINATION (GRE) is an aptitude test conducted by Education Test Service, Princeton, New Jersey. A GRE score is a mandatory requirement for admission to most universities in USA for their graduate (MS and PhD) programs. Some universities in Singapore (NTU, NUS) and some in Canada also require a GRE score. In the last few years, top business schools (such as Harvard, Wharton, INSEAD etc) have also started accepting GRE scores for admissions to their MBA programs. The complete list of business schools accepting GRE is available here.There are over 200 universities in USA. Finding admission in the top 20 ranking universities can be a matter of great pride. However, one shouldn’t go by rankings alone but also consider the program specialization and the strength of the faculty in your area of interest. After all, this is where you will spend the best years of your life - studying, researching and forming the basis of the rest of your professional life.

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Choosing Universities for GRE

What is the GRE score needed for top universities?

A common misconception among students is that a certain score in GRE implies admission to a specific university or top university.
GRE Score is one of the criteria for admissions. Apart from this, universities also consider your academic achievements, extra achievements (publications, projects, research work etc), work experience, recommendations from your professors/supervisors and passion for graduate studies as expressed by you in your statement of purpose (SOP).

Even with all these in your kitty, admission is not guaranteed. It depends on your relative position with respect to other applicants on parameters mentioned above.

What is the minimum GRE score I need to get into the university of my choice?
Some universities do specify a minimum GRE and TOEFL score. It is advisable not to apply to the specific university if your score are below the minimum stipulated.
Here are possible scenarios where your slightly lower than stipulated GRE score might be tolerated.
If you have graduated from a high ranking institution/university with a very high CGPA and have strong academic credentials to demonstrate (high quality papers, internships, projects).
If you have rich and relevant work experience in reputed labs or leading organizations or presented enough papers, research etc, your resume and SOP clearly reflects expertise and passion.
However, if your academic credentials are good (though not very high), the institute where you completed undergraduate studies is well reputed (but not so high ranking), a higher GRE score might add weight to your application package.In spite of this, it is always good to score as high as you can in GRE. It improves your chances of scoring admission and financial aid to higher ranking universities.

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What is a Good GRE score?

There is no standard definition for a very high, good or low GRE score.But based on statistical analysis of scores of a number of GRE students from diverse backgrounds, our understanding of scores is as shown in the chart below.
Set the right target for yourself and work in a planned manner to achieve that score. Better still, set a slightly stretched target!
Set the right target for yourself and work in a planned manner to achieve that score. Better still, set a slightly stretched target!
Set the right target for yourself and work in a planned manner to achieve that score. Better still, set a slightly stretched target!
Set the right target for yourself and work in a planned manner to achieve that score. Better still, set a slightly stretched target!
best universities for GRE score

How to short-list universities?
Here are our recommendations.
Keep a track of the universities that your seniors or peers of your college got admissions to and their profiles (CGPA, project work, academic achievements). You could also collate similar information from students from other colleges whose ranking is similar to yours. Understand your own profile and benchmark yours against theirs. With this, you might get a sense of the universities that you should target. This becomes your seed list.
Next, obtain rankings of universities. It is quite easy to get this data from the internet. It is better to use departmental rankings rather than overall rankings.
Using the seed list as reference, pick up universities whose ranking is similar to the seed list.
Determine three groups of universities: Achievable, Safe-Bets and Ambitious based on the relative ranking of the universities with respect to your seed list.Achievable are those whose ranking is around the seed list, Ambitious are the higher ranking ones and Safe-bets are the lower ranking ones relative to your seed list.
Further, you might be able to split Ambitious into two - Highly Ambitious or Moderately Ambitious depending on how far the Ambitious ones are from your seed list in terms of ranking.
It is a good idea to get your list reviewed by your seniors or some competent person and seek their inputs. They might be able to give you some good suggestions that help you to refine your list.

How do I fine-tune my university list?
Visit the website of each university. Study the course structure of the program that you are interested in and the strength of the faculty in the area of your research. Understand the current research of the faculty members and their graduate students. Look for major projects being done in the department. See if the department has advanced labs and facilities for research in specific areas.
Study the fee structure, financial assistantships offered and the cost of living and studying in the university. Most universities provide comprehensive information on this on their site.
Study the application requirements – application deadlines, minimum scores, documentation etc.
Store the information in spreadsheets and bookmark the URLs of important pages very systematically. Check if they have communities of their current students on social networking sites.
Now use this information to narrow down your list and finally decide the universities that suit you best.
It is usually recommended that you apply to universities across a spread of rankings. Apply to a high number of universities that fall in your Achievable or Moderately Ambitious.

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