What score do I need to get on the GRE?

The GRE scores you’ll need for your graduate school application depend on two factors: the requirements of the school(s) you’re applying to and the overall strength of your application.
When you take the GRE, you will get three scores:

Verbal 130–170
Analytical Writing Assessment (AWA) 1–6

[Note: to see how these scores translate into percentiles (a percentile tells you how a score compares to the scores of all other test takers), see the testmaker’s table.]

How Competitive Is the Program?

Some graduate schools are highly competitive, with most successful applicants having GRE scores above the 85th percentile. Other programs are less competitive. Some programs in some fields don’t even require GRE scores. To determine the GRE score you need to have a good chance at acceptance, first research the requirements of the program(s) you’ll apply to.
[Related: What’s a good GRE score, anyway?]
Many programs provide this information on their website. Sometimes it is easy to find, and sometimes it is somewhat buried. If you have trouble finding this information, try searching for “[school/program name] class profile” or “[school/program name] GRE scores”. If the information is not available at the website, you can call the admissions contact and request it.
Here are some things to look for:
  • Some schools have a "hard cutoff"

    Some schools have a hard cutoff, such as “To be considered for admission, applicants must have combined GRE Verbal and Quantitative scores of at least 300 and an AWA score of at least a 3.5.” Keep in mind that meeting the minimum requirement does not guarantee admission. If the school receives a number of applications from people with higher scores, then the school may fill the class with these more competitive applicants. Also, if both you and another applicant just meet the threshold, and the other applicant has a higher GPA or better recommendations or stronger work experience, then the committee will probably prefer that applicant to you.

  • Some schools have a "soft cutoff"

    Some schools have a soft cutoff, such as “Competitive applicants usually have GRE scores above the 50th percentile.” Again, higher scores will be more competitive and can offset any weaknesses in your application, such as a lower GPA. A score below the indicated threshold does not rule out your chance of acceptance, but the rest of your application will have to make a compelling case.

  • Some schools provide mean scores

    A school may provide the mean or median GRE scores of a recent class or of recently accepted applicants. The mean is the average score. The median is the middle score when all the scores are put in order. Assuming that other parts of your application are reasonably strong, then if your GRE scores are at the mean or median for this program, the admissions committee will probably consider you a good fit and accept you. Keep in mind that many accepted candidates score below the mean/median, so while a lower GRE score reduces your chance of acceptance, the overall strength of your application may well persuade the admissions committee to accept you. Likewise, a score above the mean/median does not guarantee acceptance if other parts of your application are weak.

  • Some schools provide more helpful statistics

    The most helpful information to get about a school is the interquartile range. For example, a school may say, “The middle 75% of our most recent class scored in a range of 155–160 on Verbal and 158–165 on Quantitative.” This means that a small proportion of the class scored above these ranges and a small proportion scored below them, but a score in these ranges will position you competitively with applicants the school accepts. The usual caveat applies: scoring within or even above the interquartile range does not guarantee acceptance, since admission is based on all aspects of your application.

As a very general rule of thumb, most schools care a great deal about the Quantitative and Verbal scores and are only concerned about the AWA score if it is below a 4.0, indicating a potential deficiency in your writing ability. However, this varies widely. In fields that focus on writing, such English literature, journalism, and communications, programs may pay much more attention to your AWA score. In contrast, some science programs care very little about your AWA score. Furthermore, programs differ in how much they emphasize the Verbal and Quantitative scores, with some caring equally about both and others caring more about one than the other.

How Strong Is Your Application?

Almost all graduate schools consider your application holistically to determine whether you are a good fit for their program. They want to accept individuals who are capable of doing graduate-level academic work and who are highly motivated to complete a degree program. Thus, they are interested in your demonstrated academic aptitude and your passion for the subject or career field. Having said that, most schools weight the GRE score heavily as an indicator of whether you will be a successful graduate student.
The following are components of your application schools may consider:

  • GRE score
  • Undergraduate GPA
  • GPA in graduate work you may have completed
  • Relevant work or volunteer experience
  • Personal statement
  • Recommendations
  • Portfolio (fields such as fine arts or architecture)

To find out how much weight a particular program gives to these various components, reach out to the admissions contact.