I will be applying for a PhD program for mathematics this year. When graduate schools are considering applications, how much weight does a GRE score carry compared to research experience and grades acquired in undergraduate coursework? I have all A's in my math and physics course, with the exception of one A-, and two papers. Mind you, these are not papers based upon solutions to trivial undergraduate problems, but are problems of interest to professional mathematicians, especially those working in operator algebras.

My question is, if I were to get a less than fantastic score on the GRE, would I still be considered because of my grades, research experience, and two publishable papers?

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    None of these components (GRE, research experience, undergraduate grades) matter as much as your letters of recommendation. It's worrying that you don't know this; you should look at other questions on this site to determine what makes a strong letter and who you should ask to write for you.
    – Tom Church
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 15:52
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    Are you the only author on these papers, or did you work with a faculty mentor? If it's the latter, the research experience won't be a game-changer unless you have a letter from the mentor saying your role in the project was more substantial than the typical undergraduate researcher. A low GRE score will unfortunately make people suspect you mainly did grunt work for the papers.
    – user37208
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 16:07
  • @TomChurch do you have any specific questions in mind? Could you post some links?
    – gen
    Commented Oct 23, 2018 at 23:23

1 Answer 1


I think the simple answer here is that (a) it depends and (b) the entire application "package" is considered when admission decisions are made.

What I mean when I say that it "depends" is that it depends on where you are applying. If you are applying to a top math program then there will be many many individuals applying for admission. Of these, a subset will also likely have publications and will also likely have high GRE scores. I say "likely" because it's impossible to know the strength of the applicants in any given admissions cycle.

What I mean when I say "entire application package" is that, in some respects, you can make up for one lacking area by excelling in another; take this with a grain of salt however. You are applying for admission into a PhD program. The important question the admissions committee is trying to ask for each applicant is "Is this individual likely to succeed in doing research in this department?". Past publications speak to this much more directly than do GRE scores. Classroom performance is no longer the emphasizing factor -- it's all about the research!

As others pointed out, if you have a faculty letter of recommendation that supports your contribution to the publications you have that will be huge! If not, the admissions committee may certainly wonder what your role in these were, particularly if you are not the first author.

Additionally, top PhD programs may use GRE scores to "weed out" some initial applications. Nobody has time to go over the complete admissions package of 500+ applicants.

My advise: if you have time, spend another month or two doing some extra GRE prep and retake the test. It sounds like you have a strong application other than the one score. Spend your time only studying for the math portion. Some programs will let you "pick and choose" which scores of which test to submit (i.e., submit math from "test #2", submit vocab from "test #1", submit writing from "test #2"). At any rate, because you are applying to math departments, the math score is really what matters!

Hope this helps and good luck!

Edit and disclaimer: My background and experience is in applied math and computer science fields. As another poster pointed out this may be different for pure math department applications.

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    "Past publications speak to this much more directly than do GRE scores" - From what I've heard around this site, that is not at all the case in pure math. Do you yourself have experience with PhD admissions in mathematics that contradicts this?
    – ff524
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 17:02
  • @ff524 Thank you for pointing this out. Editing my post with a disclaimer for "applied math and computer science".
    – DMML
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 17:05
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    (Also note that when the OP says "math GRE" he/she is likely referring to the subject exam, not the math portion of the general GRE.)
    – ff524
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 17:07
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    Your last paragraph seems to be about the math portion of the general GRE, but OP is asking about the mathematics subject GRE, which is about 14 gazillion times harder. However, I agree with the advice that studying up is worth the time.
    – user37208
    Commented May 1, 2016 at 17:07

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