PhD Admissions: GPA + The Dreaded GRE

When it comes to grad school admissions, the last two components that I want to talk about are GPA and the GRE. I will first share my thoughts on the importance of an applicant’s GPA in PhD admissions specifically, then dive into the GRE. If you have a low GPA or GRE scores, this post is for you!

The Importance of GPA in PhD Admissions

I would say that your Grade Point Average (GPA) is an important part of your application in the sense that it shows the admissions committee how well you may be able to handle graduate coursework. Although I had a high GPA (3.88), I want to make it clear that you can definitely still get into a great PhD program with a low GPA! It can be a bit of a hurdle, but it’s doable. There is more to you and your application than your GPA. Also, there are many reasons why an applicant’s grades may not be the best such as:

  • Having a part-time or full-time job throughout undergrad
  • Taking care of a sick parent or family member
  • Not taking school seriously until later on
  • Having an undiagnosed learning disability that made coursework challenging

My main point is this: don’t stop yourself from applying to your dream program because you don’t have the best grades! If you do have a lower GPA and are wondering what you can do to make up for it, check out this post on Reddit.

The Dreaded GRE

I wish I didn’t have to talk about this exam, but alas, here we are. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is a test that almost everyone has to take when applying to grad school. It is a standardized exam that takes around 4 hours to complete and consists of three sections: verbal reasoning, quantitative reasoning, and analytical writing. This is known as the GRE General. I won’t get too much into the structure of the test since you all can find that info on the ETS website. There is also another version of the test called the GRE Subject. The GRE Subject is more narrow in scope in that it will require you to answer questions about your specific field. These fields include Biology, Chemistry, English Literature, Mathematics, Physics, and Psychology.

Be sure to check if the programs you want to apply to require either the GRE General, the GRE Subject, neither, or both. If you have to take the exam(s), do so as early as possible just in case you: (1) need to take it more than once and/or (2) you only have a small window of time to take them. This is the case specifically for the GRE Subject exams as they are only offered in September, October, and April. Taking the Psychology GRE Subject test was not required for any Psychology programs that I applied to, but I did have to take the general exam…twice. Let’s just say I did poorly.

Even though I studied for months, I was only able to pull off a 149V|148Q|4.0 AW. I knew going into the Fall 2020 application cycle that this would be the biggest hurdle for me. I share my scores because I want to show you all that GRE scores are not everything. Let me say this again, GRE scores are NOT everything. Yes, they can be used by admissions committees to minimize their applicant pool, but they are such a small part of your overall profile. If you can get good scores, that’s great! Having a high GRE score can help offset a low GPA. But please don’t beat yourself up if that doesn’t happen, especially with the added stress of now having to take it at home because of COVID-19.

Not only does it suck that most applicants will have to take the GRE, but you also have to pay a lot of money to take it…$205. TWO HUNDRED AND FIVE DOLLARS. Why? I don’t know. Then, on top of that, you have to pay $27 to send your scores to each school you are applying to. However, you do have the option of sending your scores to a few schools that you are applying to once you finish the exam “for free”. I spent the most money on GRE books/taking the exam than anything else during the application process. Try your best to use as many free study materials as you can, so you don’t make the same mistake that I did! But if you do want to purchase a few books, I would recommend buying the Official GRE General Test Prep Materials along with the Manhattan 5lb book (great for math problems).

Nonetheless, here are some GRE resources/study materials:

Also check out this great spreadsheet that a GradCafe user made of US Clinical/Counseling Psychology PhD/PsyD programs that are waiving the GRE for the Fall 2021 application cycle as well as a spreadsheet for US and Canada Clinical/Counseling Psych PhD GRE requirements, this website that includes programs in both STEM (and non-STEM) fields where the GRE is not required (at least for this cycle), and a spreadsheet of Bio/Biomedical grad programs dropping the GRE.

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