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I am preparing to submit applications to high ranking CS PhD programs in the US. My GRE quant score is not quite what I wanted (162V/163Q). I have strong research experience, good letters from professors I worked with, and a decent GPA (~3.6) from a top 10 undergrad CS school. However, my quant score is only around 80th percentile, whereas many top CS programs have averages in the 90-95 range.

I'm not sure if submitting my GRE scores will hinder my chance, or if the opposite case is true. Is it the case that a student without GRE scores will look lazy, or look like their hiding poor scores?

All of the institutions that I am applying to have made the GRE optional.

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    If it’s optional it’s optional... – Jon Custer Nov 12 '20 at 21:25
  • @JonCuster Right, but I'm not sure if it's good to submit or not given my scores. – user131615 Nov 12 '20 at 22:11
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    I do not see how it could be seen as anything other than bad. If you had great scores you would submit them, right? Having said that, I do not see what you can do. The schools are not telling you how they are using the scores - so you can not plan an optimal strategy. In your situation, I would not submit the scores because I assume they schools are using a cutoff score to bulk reject a bunch of applications. But that is just my assumption - completely unsupported by facts. – emory Nov 12 '20 at 22:15
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    @emory It's possible that one doesn't submit scores simply because they never gave the exam. How will the school know if you have a bad score or did not attempt? Or do you mean that there is an implicit expectation that all applicants must submit scores even if it is optional? (Many universities seem to have specifically made it optional this year due to the pandemic). – GoodDeeds Nov 12 '20 at 22:32
  • @GoodDeeds We can not know because the universities are being opaque. OP will have to make assumptions and proceed. However, I think it is reasonable to assume that all students who managed to take the GRE and got a high score will submit scores even if it is optional; all students who submit poor scores will be rejected without much consideration; a bunch of students will have not been able to take the GRE; and to maximize OP's chances, OP should not submit the GRE. But like I said, I made a lot of assumptions which may/may not be true. – emory Nov 12 '20 at 23:14
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I would assume, but can't guarantee, that if they have a policy that GRE scores are optional then the policy would preclude assumptions about missing scores. So, in that sense you are probably safe.

But, you can hardly control for what an individual committee member might have in the back of their mind.

It might even be possible to learn more about the policies used and how interpretations are made in such cases.

Since some places now make them optional, some students choose not to take them, I also assume. And in the US, at least, admission is based on a wide variety of things, of which test scores are only one.

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  • This year in particular is unique because many institutions waived GRE requirements due to the pandemic. So I'm not too sure how professors will perceive students who don't report scores this year. I assume most professors won't think too much of it, as the importance of GRE scores is already quite low for CS applications. – user131615 Nov 12 '20 at 23:14
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From what I understand, GRE is one of the lesser important factors in whether a department should decide to admit a student or not. Since a PhD is about research, research experience/potential/output is what people care about in this case, not so much numbers like GPA/GRE. If the department requires it regardless, then there's nothing you can do about that. But if it's not required, don't worry about it so much and focus on getting good recommendations and producing good research since that will matter much more.

Remember that due to the current pandemic situation, people have had increased difficulty just being able to take the GRE exam. So generally departments are understanding of the situation. But even in normal times, GRE was just really a filtering mechanism, and not really the main point of attention for those responsible for graduate/PhD admissions.

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