I am a fourth-year physics B.S. student at the University of Virginia graduating this year. I'm planning to pursue a PhD program. I would like to get into the US top 50 schools. I don't really like to get into Harvard, for example, but Berkeley, MIT, Hopkins, etc.

I need to take the General and Physics GRE. English is not my first language, and so I'm pretty terrible when it comes to English-oriented standardized tests. As a result, I'm sure I'll do very poorly on the general GRE. As for the physics GRE, I will probably not do so well either---this one is because I am terrible under super stressful/timed situations. I cannot think right and I make stupid mistakes. I have taken a practice test and I did 50%. This part of my application is dark. On the bright side, I have a 4.0 GPA within my physics major, along with 3 years of research experience and 1 published conference paper. I also believe my professors will write me very strong letters. Because of the GRE portion, I have lost my confidence in being competitive and think I will not get into good schools. Is my fear justified? Is my application weak due to the GRE? In simple terms, am I hopeless when it comes to schools like Hopkins, MIT, and Berkeley?

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    Welcome to Academia.SE. Our format discourages multi-part questions; moreover, your second question is not really answerable -- we don't do "shopping" questions, or "personal opinion" questions. So, you may wish to edit your question to focus on #1. Also, make sure you search our site to see if this has already been answered -- you are certainly not the first person to have strong grades/research but weaker test scores. Finally, you may want to specify where you are and where you want to go to grad school. Good luck!
    – cag51
    Sep 3, 2018 at 3:07
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    Considering the number of universities which are apparently dropping the GRE as an entrance requirement, I think it's probably the part of your application that matters the least, and your other grades will make up for it. Sep 3, 2018 at 7:44
  • Is that 50% or 50th percentile?
    – Anyon
    Sep 3, 2018 at 14:29
  • 50th percentile
    – Ptheguy
    Sep 3, 2018 at 14:54
  • @Ptheguy Then you might be just below the cutoff for a place like Berkeley, at least according to this, but there are plenty places in US top 50 that would consider you. Indeed, required minimum scores are pretty rare. Still, get that score as high as you can, and see what happens!
    – Anyon
    Sep 3, 2018 at 15:18

1 Answer 1


First of all, congratulations on publishing and achieving that GPA! Together with strong letters that should make for a strong application, even with weaker GRE scores - maybe excepting places that use some kind of subject GRE score cutoff (if your score is too low). However, there's no such thing as guaranteed admissions for open applications like this. It'll depend on other applicants, your field, which research groups are looking for new students, etc.

The upshot here is that the GRE scores are easier to change than any other part of your application. Do all the practice tests, figure out tricks that work - dimensional analysis will take you far on the physics GRE, for example. You can also sit for the actual tests more than once, which might help with the stress levels.

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