I'm a non-US citizen applying for PhD programs in pure mathematics in the US. I'm mainly aiming for top schools, e.g. Harvard, MIT, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, UCLA.

I have taken the GRE mathematics subject test and scored 880 (91st percentile). In many universities the GRE subject score is optional, so I am wondering if I should submit it. I believe this is a good score, but I want to verify it because I don't know how it compares with other applicants to top schools. If it is relevant, my undergraduate studies grades are very high.

  • Indeed, top schools' application pools are full of people with perfect scores on the math GRE.
    – Buzz
    Oct 20, 2022 at 1:03
  • @gnometorule and Buzz: I think by "mathematics subject test" the OP is referring to this test, and some data about scores and admission are given in this answer. Also, here are some resources for the test, in case anyone is interested. (moments later) A quick check of some of the links in this last one indicates there are many dead links in it. Oct 20, 2022 at 13:32

2 Answers 2


If the result is optional then expect that it also has a lesser impact on any final decision and other things will be weighted more heavily.

However, since the subject pool consists mostly of quite good math students, achieving in the 90s is very commendable. It would be very unlikely to count against you anywhere.

Note that for the schools you name, the applicant pools are large and the number of available slots are small, so the competition is fierce. There will be a lot of applicants with a similar record. You would be wise to apply to some other "lesser" places as well. If your search is too narrow, then if you are rejected by one for some reason that same reason might be noticed by others. Cast a wide net.

  • "if you are rejected by one for some reason that same reason might be noticed by others" - could you explain what do you mean by that? Do math departments tell each other about which applicants they accepted/rejected?
    – 35T41
    Oct 19, 2022 at 12:43
  • No, not at all. It is just that the top places are similar to one another and value the same sorts of things. Privacy law in the US would forbid such coordination, I think. But Harvard and Princeton (for example) are, in some ways, two sides of the same coin. They tend to accept/reject the same sorts of people.
    – Buffy
    Oct 19, 2022 at 12:49
  • Oh, OK, I see. Thank you for your response. Of course the GRE score is just a small factor here, and I appreciate what you say. My plan B is to stay in my home country (Israel), as there are great universities here as well.
    – 35T41
    Oct 19, 2022 at 14:56

Luckily, GRE is not a measure of how good you are. GRE is used as a minimum cut-off threshold (for example: a minimum GRE is required to apply, but no one cares how much above the minimum threshold you scored). Even that way, I am not sure it is a meaningful indicator of anything, but it make sense in screening huge numbers of applications to have a quick number.

If you say you have very good grades (i.e. you are in the top 90% of your class, or at least I would read very good as that, please provide a quantity if you prefer not being misunderstood), GRE is just confirming that. The 1% of percentile difference that GRE gives to you makes no difference, you are still about in the top ~10% of your class, therefore on paper the candidates being in the top 5% are better than you. And there will be candidates up there, even candidates in the top 1% will apply to the schools you mention. However, please note: on paper. Don't let these indicators fool you.

Good luck with your application.

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