Community News

Grad School and the GRE

Opinion article by Alie Pallat

Wednesday, February 19, 2014 | Number of views (2727)

Applying to graduate school and taking the Graduate Record Exam seem like really scary things. They definitely take a lot of preparation. As a self-proclaimed over-achiever, I don’t understand why students don’t begin preparing for these as soon as possible. I’ve known, probably since my sophomore year of college, that I needed and wanted to go to graduate school. I feel there are students who can’t seem to make the first, but very vital, decision. Then, once that decision is made, they wait to prepare.


When I was a junior, I went to the Career Services to ask a few questions about the GRE. I knew I had to take it but wasn’t sure when. I told the counselor my year and asked when I should begin preparing. Her immediate response was, “Now.” I set right to it. What program was most appealing to me? What schools was I willing to consider? For me, I had to be sure the schools I was looking into had at least one of the graduate programs my husband was looking into. And the most important question: when were deadlines? Those deadlines determined when I would take my GRE.


The study book my mom got me suggested giving yourself a three month period to prepare, so that is what I did—registered for an exam date three months from the time I began preparing. This gave me time to figure out where I felt most confident and where I felt I needed work.


A few people I have chatted with have said they’re not sure they want to pursue graduate school or that they’re not really thinking about it right now, so why should they take the GRE?


My first answer to this is to take it because the scores are good for five years. If you do well the first time you take it, you don’t need to take it again. However, if you do not do as well as you hoped, you can take the exam “once every 21 days, up to five times” within one year, according to ets.org, the GRE testing website. You can also select which scores the schools you are applying to have access to—this means they do not need to see the exam where you didn’t do your absolute best, but rather the best score you choose.


Another question is why study? By studying, you can prepare yourself the way the test is set up, and with some online practice tests, you can even test yourself using the actual timing requirements. This helps you get used to the exam and understand how to take it. The main thing is learning how to take the exam. Once you figure that out, take a deep breath and go for it.


Once you receive your scores (if you take the computer-based test, it’s usually within 2 weeks), begin applying to graduate programs, even if it’s a while out from deadline. This gives you time to think about your personal statement, write your resume, order your transcripts, and get your letters of recommendation. Think about the schools you want to go to, the programs you’re interested in, and any outlying factors that would affect your decision, such as location. Then, just apply. After that, it’s a waiting game.

Don’t wait until the last minute to apply because your completed application packet (letters, scores, transcripts, etc.) may not get to the program in time, which could make your application late.


If you’re entertaining the idea of graduate school, begin preparing. If you’re coming to the end of your sophomore year, start thinking about what programs interest you. If you’re a junior, narrow down the schools and programs you want to apply to, grab a GRE study book, and register to take your first GRE at the end of the academic or very early the following academic year. If you’re a senior: take the GRE at the beginning of the academic year and begin working on your application packets.


For those who, like myself, have already applied, I wish you the best of luck. All we can do now is wait.

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