I am a senior studying math at a private research university. It isn't an Ivy League school by any means, but it is a good school with, as far as I have experienced, a good undergraduate mathematics department. I'm applying for a PhD at several top math programs, such as Berkeley, UCLA, and Michigan, along with some master's programs at top 25-40 schools. I have a pretty strong application - I have taken 12 graduate math classes in various topics, algebraic and differential geometry, algebraic and differential topology, algebra, measure theory, PDE, probability, and more, and done very well in all of them, with a 3.99 subject GPA and a 3.95 overall GPA. I have what I think will be two excellent letters of recommendation, and one good letter. I have three years of research experience, and while nothing has been published yet, my group thinks we might get something out by the end of the academic year.

Here's the problem. I took the math subject GRE in October, and just got back my score. I wasn't expecting to do great, as I didn't get much time to study, it has been a long time since I had used much of the content on the exam, especially the calculus, and I had to wake up at 5 in the morning and drive three hours to get to the test center. But when I got my score back, 600 (36th percentile), I was still a shocked. I didn't think it would be that low, and I know that with proper preparation, I would do far better. Is there anything I can do to "salvage" my applications in which I sent in that score? I already looked on the GRE website, and I cannot cancel the scores being sent. The next math subject test is available in April, long after applications are due. A 36th percentile score seems like the kind of thing that will get my applications immediately filtered out of consideration.

Is there anything I should do? I had the score sent to Berkeley, UCLA, and Michigan, as the other schools I applied to do not accept the subject test this year. I already turned in the Berkeley application, so I assume that it is probably a lost cause as I can't change anything with that now. For the other two, how do I go about addressing this low score? Should I mention it in the statement of purpose, or somewhere else? Is there something else I should do? I apologize for the rambling question, but I was stressed enough without this, and now I am in full panic mode. Thank you for any advice or suggestions.

1 Answer 1


First, I'd guess that you will do fine, but your choice of only top schools is self limiting. I'd suggest a broader search so that you have a backup. Most, if not all of the R1 universities in the US have fine math programs. And most, if not all, will have a suitable top-level advisor or you in many subfields. The same is true of many, if not most, of the R2 schools.

You can, of course, take the subject test again. You can, of course, only submit it when necessary.

But, it is unlikely that, today, the GRE advanced test alone would be the deciding factor in acceptance or rejection of any candidate. It gives only a bit of information about a candidate, mostly, I suspect, about the breadth of their education. When I took it (eons ago, but after the invention of the wheel) I was surprised at how many questions were completely foreign to me. I left the test center very depressed, but wound up doing fine.

Admissions in US is usually very broad based. Your GPA is helpful. Your letters can be very helpful. What you write in your SoP can be very helpful, though don't use it to explain deficits like that you perceive in the GRE.

  • Thank you very much for the response, my nerves have been calmed to a certain extent. I am applying to those master's programs as a backup (that I very well may need to use), but I would prefer to go straight to PhD. I think my statements of purpose are relatively good, so thanks for the advice there. Would you recommend not mentioning/trying to excuse the GRE score at all? Or is there a specific place to take about that. Nov 22, 2021 at 15:53
  • I would ignore the GRE unless asked. It is what it is. Make sure the rest is positive as much as you can. But a doctorate from a lower ranked school may be preferable to a Masters. There are lots of good schools that aren't 'top 10'.
    – Buffy
    Nov 22, 2021 at 16:28
  • Okay, thanks. I appreciate it. Nov 22, 2021 at 16:33

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