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I have a good GPA (over 3.5) from a top 5 CS school. I also have lots of research experience and a few publications. I also expect to have very good recommendations. The only problem is that I did badly on the GRE general exam (just under below average). The exam seems like a big scam, so studying for it felt like a waste of time.

One of JeffE's blog posts mentions that schools filter applicants into three piles based on GPA and GRE: MAYBE, PROBABLY NOT, and NO. Will my GRE scores land me in the PROBABLY NOT pile, even though I have an otherwise excellent record?

Will my GRE hurt my chances of getting into CMU and Stanford? Should I try to retake them, even though it's getting late? Application deadlines are around December 13.

Edit: should I say something about my bad GRE scores in the statement of purpose, or do something else if I don't end up retaking them?

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Welcome to Academia.SE. There is a a lot in your question that is very specific to you. Thus, the answer may only be useful to you. Such questions tend to get closed as a too localized. Could you edit your question to make it generalizable? You would get better answers, and your answers will also be helpful to others. –  Ben Norris Nov 19 '12 at 11:50
    
Also, your question may have already been answered in one of the many graduate admissions questions already posted, like this one: academia.stackexchange.com/questions/5032/… –  Ben Norris Nov 19 '12 at 11:53
    
Apply abroad. There are many good schools in Europe waiting for you with open arms. –  Dave Clarke Nov 20 '12 at 8:03
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The blog post @X.Crews mentions is here; however, my department's admissions procedures have changed since I wrote that. –  JeffE Nov 20 '12 at 15:02
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Let's clarify - is the GRE math score below-avg? Honestly the GRE verbal score doesn't need to be higher than.. say 550. But if GRE math is under 650 I'd certainly be a tad concerned –  Adel Nov 30 '13 at 18:30

5 Answers 5

Many PhD programs in computer science (like my own) don't require GREs; read the application instructions carefully. If it's not a requirement, just don't submit your GRE scores.

Even when you are required to submit your scores, do not mention your GRE scores in your statement. You want the admissions committee to focus on your potential for research, where you seem to have a very strong case, not your ability to take standardized tests.

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Despite being nearly the exact opposite question, I will give the same answer that I gave about the importance of GPA

The importance of any single metric is binary and its value (important or not) depends on the size of the department. If the department is big, admissions committees use metrics to weed out candidates. Basically anyone with GPA/GRE below X is triaged (doesn't matter what school you went to, how good your references are, etc). Smaller departments generally look at all applications. Once your applications is looked at, it is considered as a whole. There is no formula by which good GRE scores can offset a bad GPA. Obviously a better GPA doesn't hurt, but you really want to worry about the things you can control. For example, good research experience tends to trump everything else.

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I don't think it's universally true that everyone with a GPA/GRE below X is automatically triaged, without reading the rest of the folder -- at least, it is not true of the departments that I'm familiar with. That said, I agree with everything after "Once your application is looked at"... this is very helpful advice. –  D.W. Nov 20 '12 at 6:03
    
@D.W. I didn't say it was universal. I said it depends on the size of the department (and even that is a simplification). As soon as you read the rest of the folder, you are not performing triage. In my experience many departments and/or individuals perform triage and attempt to quickly make three piles (yes, no, maybe). In "big" departments you run out of funding before you get through the yes pile. In "small" departments you often make it through the maybe pile and still have funding. –  StrongBad Nov 20 '12 at 12:26
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What I'm saying is that your statement does not match my experience. I'm not familiar with any large PhD program who reviews applications in that way (they may exist, but I'm just not familiar with them), whereas I am familiar with several large CS PhD programs that don't work that way and would not triage you just because your GPA/GRE is below some threshhold. –  D.W. Nov 21 '12 at 18:05

If you can re-take the GREs without undue burden -- yes, re-take them. You'll feel better, knowing that you did everything you could have. (Why spend the rest of your life wondering about "what could have been"?) And, it might help you a little bit, by eliminating a potential red flag.

That said, even if you don't re-take the GREs, if you have great qualifications, you'll probably be fine. If you have great research experience, great letters, and the rest of your application package is strong, it's unlikely that the GREs will hurt you much. Great research experience and publications will almost always trump poor GREs.

What your bad GRE scores will do is raise the eyebrows of the reviewers. The reviewers may then read the rest of your application package (contact your references, etc.) that much more carefully, to try to understand why you bombed the GREs. For instance, if you bombed the verbal GREs, then reviewer might start wondering: can this person write? are they completely inarticulate? am I going to have to spend the next 5 years teaching them how to write and remedial English? And they'll peruse all available information to try to figure out what's going on. So, if you have any explanation (even if it's just "I screwed up and didn't take the GREs seriously; in retrospect, I know it was a dumb move"), it might not hurt to share this story with your letter-writers so one of them can slip that into their letter, to minimize that sort of speculation. The other approach is to mention it in your statement of purpose -- though for some people it may feel a bit less awkward if one of your letter-writers does it.

P.S. A 3.5 GPA is not a great GPA. My sense is that it is a bit on the low side, for PhD studies in a top-5 CS PhD program. That said, grades are not the most important aspect of your application, and will be outweighed by research experience and great letters describing research potential. Research experience that has led to publications is great and a huge plus for your application file.

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I think a 3.5 GPA counts for a lot in most of the top universities in India. Especially if you directly translate the GPA via linear interpolation. We typically have 1-2 students up to a maximum of 6 getting an A in a subject. This is typically more so at BITS and some of the IIT's. So, typically only ~ 5% of the people get a 3.5 GPA overall. I think this also applies to Princeton University now days. So I think it is generally University dependent. –  Naresh Nov 21 '12 at 6:49
    
@Naresh, OK, I hear you. That said... even being in the top 5% of a graduating class is not great, when it comes to admission to a top-5 CS PhD program. Standards are very high. –  D.W. Nov 21 '12 at 18:07
    
3.5 is often the highest GPA possible for some of the streams at these colleges. Simply because a single person struggles to get A's in more than half the courses unless he goes over the credit limit required for graduation. While a 3.5 GPA might not be great in itself, most colleges look for research potential. Which in turn makes the 3.5+ GPA above acceptable if his university has strict grading criteria. For top 5-CS Ph D Program, being in the top 5% might be sufficient GPA-wise, but you have to show research potential. –  Naresh Nov 22 '12 at 4:14
    
@Naresh, Thanks for your comments! I certainly agree that research potential far outweighs the GPA, so this discussion is probably moot. However, I do have one question, out of pure curiousity (even though it probably won't affect X.Crew's particular case). How could 3.5 be the highest GPA possible? I'd be interested to learn more about that. Do you mean it's very hard (or very rare) to get higher than a 3.5 GPA? Or do you mean there's something that prevents getting over a 3.5? (I admit I don't know what a stream is.) –  D.W. Nov 22 '12 at 4:57
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A 3.5 GPA is not a great GPA. It is very much on the low side, for PhD studies in a top-5 CS PhD program. — Nah, not really. (I work in a top-5 CS PhD program.) It's certainly high enough to get your application past the point where grades matter. –  JeffE Oct 26 '13 at 18:45

Personally I think if a department throws out a person just based on GRE scores, you should neither apply to such department nor feel bad that you were not accepted. You will be better evaluated somewhere else. I am not sure how the GRE is supposed to rank good researchers. And for admission purposes it is used only in the US.

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The GRE isn't used to rank anything. It's used to do triage, as Daniel mentioned. Having said that, I personally don't use GRE scores as triage so much as one element of a more complex filtering strategy (that starts with the research statement) –  Suresh Nov 20 '12 at 3:43

As far as I experienced last year, a high GRE score by itself may not directly bring you an acceptance from a grad school. However, low or moderate scores may result in an early elimination in the process. I think this is often the case for other standardized tests such as TOEFL (for an international applicant). Plus, you can consider GPA in this respect as well.

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I think TOEFL is a little different in that there is often a university mandated minimum. –  StrongBad Nov 20 '12 at 12:29

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