This post will try to answer some questions about taking the Graduate Records Examination (GRE) and about the process of applying for a fee reduction.
Do I need to take the GRE?
Short answer: More than likely.
Most programs in the Humanities and only with rare exceptions in the Social Sciences require GRE scores. There are, however, some programs that don’t require them, including some ethnic studies, linguistics, and other interdisciplinary or otherwise ‘progressive’ programs. Check the program’s website to see if they’re required. In all likelihood, at least one place will want your scores, especially if you’re applying to enough programs to be a competitive applicant.
Does it Matter?
Short answer: Kinda.
Different places weigh different aspects of the test differently. Your verbal scores are more heavily weighted by Humanities programs, your math scores are more heavily weighted by Social Science programs, and your analytic writing scores also exist.
When I was taking the GREs for the first (and only) time (more on this later), I didn’t do much to prepare. More precisely, I did next to nothing to prepare. My GRE test prep consisted of one 30-minute session at a local Barnes and Noble reading through a GRE prep book and not buying it. Not surprisingly, my math and writing scores weren’t so great. So, while my verbal score was in the 95th percentile (because the GRE is culturally biased and it happens to be completely biased toward my culture), my math was in the 35th percentile and my writing was a middling 73rd percentile.
This hurt me, I found out, when I was applying to political science programs because, even though I made it clear that I was a budding political theorist, there’s such a strong quantitative element to political science programs that they want even their theorists to be conversant in the methodologies of the rest of the field.
Furthermore, and most importantly, GRE scores are used by public universities to determine your funding package and the fellowships you’ll be considered for. The higher your scores the more money you can potentially be awarded. As an advisor at UChicago told me, spending several hundred dollars on a GRE prep course in the short-term can lead to thousands of dollars in the long term in increased funding packages and fellowship awards.
At the same time, the GRE is only one element of your application. It won’t save a terrible application and it won’t necessarily destroy a great application. Essentially, you want your scores to be good enough that they won’t be a distraction.
How much does it cost? Are there hidden expenses?
Talk about a leading question, right? The GRE test without a fee reduction costs $185, and they offer a fee reduction of 50% off the full fee ($97.50). Once you take the test, you can send your scores to five places for free. You can pick the places you’ll send your scores on the day of the test–don’t do that. In all likelihood, you’re taking the test before you’ve finalized your program list. So save your freebies. AFTER THE FIVE FREE SCORE REPORTS, EACH REPORT COSTS $25 TO SEND ANYWHERE. If you’re applying to 12 places and you wasted 2 or 3 freebies, then you’re looking at up $250 just on GRE score report fees.
Are GRE Prep courses worth it?
Short answer: Yeah.
Like I mentioned, GRE prep courses are designed to make you a test-taking machine who will do exactly what you need to do to get a competitive score, and they work, or so I’m told. You might think that this means that the test isn’t actually valuable in determining your grad school readiness, that it’s just another barrier designed to weed out poor and non-white students. You would be correct. It shouldn’t be any surprise that the regime of entrance tests rose as the regime of outright racial segregation in the US fell. That’s the function of aptitude testing and that’s what you’re signing up to be a part of.
What if I can’t afford the course?
You might be able to find a PDF of a recent GRE prep book at THIS LINK. But if you already know a thing or two about getting copyrighted material extralegally off the internet, then you can find similar texts without much trouble. There are also resources available on the GRE site, but I won’t attest to the efficacy of any of these approaches.
What are good scores?
High ones. Focus more on the percentile than on the raw score. And most places will post their average GRE scores. Just keep in mind that it’s only one part of your application, albeit an unduly stressful part.
THE GRE FEE REDUCTION
I had every intention of re-taking the GRE when I was getting ready to re-apply. I didn’t because the GRE Fee Reduction process can take up to a few months and I just wasn’t ready in time for the apps.
Keep in mind that the GRE folks describe the program as follows: ‘ETS offers a limited number of GRE Fee Reduction Certificates on a first-come, first-served basis.’ So apply as early as you can in their year, which runs from July to June. Here’s the process:
If you’re a student or graduated in the last year.
- Contact your financial aid office (or student loan office, depending on the school) and inquire into your eligibility for/request a GRE Fee Reduction Certificate.
- Wait for them to get back to you.
- Email them to check on the status of your request.
- Discover that they had the wrong person look at your request and they’ll get back to you later.
- Pick up your signed GRE Fee Reduction Certificate, with embossed school seal or stamp and appropriate official signature. It should be stapled to a copy of your Institutional Student Information Record (ISIR) showing an expected family or personal contribution of no more than $1,400.
- Download and fill out the Computer-Based revised General Test (CBT) Authorization Voucher Request Form from the GRE website. That is, from this link.
- Mail the CBT AVR Form, the GRE Fee Reduction Certificate, the ISIR, and a check for $97.50 to
Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7859
- Allow up to four weeks for them to send you your CBT Authorization Voucher.
- Sign up for your test BY PHONE by calling the testing center directly or by calling the folks at GRE/ETS directly.
- DO ALL OF THIS BEFORE THE EXPIRATION DATE, WHICH IS JUNE 30TH. The GRE’s year goes from July 1 to June 30, so plan accordingly.
If you’re unemployed it is essentially the same process, except that you have to provide a copy of an Unemployment Benefits Statement from the last 90 days with your forms. The forms and directions (basically what I wrote above) are available at THIS LINK.
There are also fee reductions available through these programs:
- Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program (The McNair Scholars Program)
- Project 1000 Program
- Gates Millennium Scholars Program
- GEM: National Consortium for Graduate Degrees for Minorities in Engineering and Science Program
- PREP: Postbaccalaureate Research Education Program
And if you’re part of those programs then you should be able to find people within them who know what to do for you.
So good luck and godspeed. Keep on top of the bureaucrats you’ll be dealing with because persistent phone calls get things done much more than hoping they do their jobs quickly.