College Confidential’s “Dean,” Sally Rubenstone, put together 25 of her best tips. Get your free copy of the "25 Tips from the Dean" eBook and get helpful advice on how to choose a college, get in, and pay for it: http://goo.gl/9zDJTM
This forum has been inundated with separate threads asking about individual GRE scores, so I thought I'd start an FAQ thread to weed out some of the repetition. I hope that other members will post their thoughts and experiences and that they will answer questions for those who have them.
As people get the percentile ranges for the new General GRE, scheduled to be implemented in a few weeks, they should add to this thread to give future readers context to their scores.
Some points to consider about the GRE:
-- General GRE scores are the least important part of your application package. That's not to say that they are not important but that they are much less important than research experience, your letters of recommendation, your research fit/statement of purpose, and your grades.
-- High GRE scores will not get you into a top program, but low ones will keep you out. So how low can you go? It depends on the field and the individual program. Top math, economics, and engineering programs generally want to see you score at or near 800 on the quantitative portion; they care much less about the verbal. Top life sciences program expect you to get over 700 on the quantitative portion. For the humanities, the expectations are reversed, although few people get 800 on that section; aim for a percentile above 90. For programs outside the top 25, the score minimums are generally lower.
-- The AW section is rarely considered during admissions decisions. Some programs may flag a low AW score (4.0 or below) among native English speakers, but such a score can be easily overcome by a coherent, logical statement of purpose and LORs. Scored well on verbal but not on AW? Don't worry. Not for a minute.
-- Especially for the verbal section, percentiles rule. The raw score doesn't matter; it's where you stand among your graduate-school-bound peers.
-- Some programs only glance at GRE scores while others care more. You cannot tell which programs fall into which camp, especially since the admissions committees change from year to year. As a general rule, however, if you see average GRE scores of admitted students posted on the program's or university's web site, then those programs probably care about those averages.
-- Many programs do not like to see multiple retakes of the GRE. If you bomb the first time, schedule a retake far enough in the future to give yourself enough time to prepare. Two sittings is fine. Three, four, five times . . . well, you're expending too much time on the least important part of your application.
-- The importance of your scores may often be relative to your background. For instance, if you attended a top undergraduate school known for its rigor, then your GRE scores probably will be less important than for a student coming from a lesser known school.
-- International students coming from countries that place students in top universities based on test scores alone need to know that the US system doesn't work that way. Students with lower GRE scores and lower grades will be accepted over some who have higher test scores and higher grades. It all depends on the research experience, letters of recommendation, and research interests. US graduate admissions is holistic.
-- When scheduling your first GRE sitting, allow enough time to retake one time before your application deadline, just in case you aren't happy with your scores. If you plan to apply directly out of undergraduate, then the best time is late spring/early summer after your junior year. This way, you can retake it late summer, before you return to college. You don't want to be studying for a better GRE score while you are trying to fill out applications AND taking classes. Programs with December deadlines recommend that you take your last GRE by the end of October.
-- No one can answer these questions: "If these are my GRE scores, can I get into X university?" or "What GRE scores do I need to get into this program?" If you don't know why this is, reread everything above.
-- Subject GREs are completely different. When a program says that subject tests are recommended, not required, it means that they are optional. Truly. Several posters here have gotten into elite programs without having taken the subject GRE despite their program's recommendation. So when should you take the optional subject test? If you know you can score high and have excellent preparation, take it because it will establish how much you know about your field. If your grades aren't the best, a high score on the subject test might offset them. If you come from an unknown undergraduate school, then a subject test can prove that you know the material. Don't send weak scores to programs that don't require subject tests. This is one score than can actually hurt you.
I hope other posters can fill in information that I may have overlooked.