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GRE for PhD

Considering a Ph.D.? Confused by a lot of the “noise” on the Internet (you need to take the GRE/you don’t need to take GRE)? In this post, I hope to dispel your confusion, or at least set you on the right path to figuring out whether you need to take the GRE.


What is the GRE?

You might very well be wondering what this test is all about and who exactly has to take it. For the first question, I recommend hanging out on our site for a little bit—the test is complex and multi-layered and requires time for people to go through.  The second question though is a little easier to answer—and probably more relevant to the post.

The GRE is for almost everyone who wants to apply to graduate school in the United States, except for those applying to medical school, business school, and law school (those students will take the MCAT, the GMAT and the LSAT, respectively).

Why almost everyone? Because some of the less competitive programs typically aren’t too worried about GRE scores (though almost every single top ranked program requires them).


So where do Ph.D. students fit into this picture?

Well, the bad news is almost every Ph.D. program requires GRE scores. The good news is some of the better institutes, for whatever reason, may not require GRE scores (Northwestern, apparently, doesn’t require GRE scores for some of its program). That said, the Ph.D. programs that do not require the GRE are few and far between.

Your best bet is to contact the program and (fingers-crossed!) hope that it does not require the GRE score. In the great likelihood it does do not despair too much. You’ve definitely come to the right place, as this blog alone provides invaluable GRE tips and a trove of practice questions to get you going (our book reviews section will also help you embark on an effective study path).


Is there anything else I should know?

So let’s say you’ve contacted a few of the programs you hope to get into and each one has told you that it requires GRE scores. You’ve gone through the Magoosh blog, have downloaded our vocabulary eBook, and even taken the Powerprep II practice test. Is there anything else you have to know?

Well, perhaps the biggest piece of bad news, though one that should hardly come as much of surprise given the competitive nature of Ph.D. programs, is that the mean GRE scores for Ph.D. candidates are higher than those for students applying for their masters.

The score range for both the math and the verbal section is 130-170. While a 155 on both sections would be pretty solid scores for a non-Ph.D. candidate, you would want to get in the high 150s if not crack 160 to be competitive. Of course this differs somewhat depending on whether your field of study is quant-heavy, verbal-centric, or both. Once again contacting the program or programs you are interested is a great way to learn the specifics.


By the way, students who use Magoosh GRE improve their scores by an average of 8 points on the new scale (150 points on the old scale.) Click here to learn more.

8 Responses to GRE for PhD

  1. Fatima July 11, 2016 at 12:56 am #

    I am Fatima from Pakistan. I have done my bachelors in Electrical Engineering & Ms in Project Management. I am planning to do my Phd in some management related discipline like Social Sciences, Risk Management etc from some reputable institute in USA, Canada, Austrailia or any of the EU countries. But i am at loss to understand that whether should i go for GRE/GMAT or not. Please guide me in that context.
    Thankyou & Regards,

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 13, 2016 at 6:44 am #

      Hi Fatima 🙂

      Thanks for writing! Which exam you should take will depend on the specific requirements of the universities and programs you plan on applying to. While most PhD programs prefer the GRE, at least in the United States, some of the programs that you may be interested in may be part of the given university’s business school and therefore may prefer GMAT scores. Some programs have no preference and will accept scores from either exam. Applications requirements vary not only among universities but also among countries. So, I recommend researching the programs you are interested in attending and finding out which exam is preferred. If it’s unclear on the program’s website, I’d suggest contacting them directly via e-mail.

      I hope this helps, at least a little 🙂

  2. Prasoon Madhukar July 3, 2016 at 2:35 pm #

    I m about to enter into the second year of my 2 year masters course and planning to start preparation for GRE for Phd courses.Exactly how much time is required for its preparation and what is best time to appear for the test if I want to get into the colleges just after completion of the MSc i.e. June 2017.Is it required to schedule an appointment even before starting the preparations??

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert July 12, 2016 at 9:11 am #

      Hi Prasoon 🙂

      How long you should study for the GRE really depends on your background, strengths, and weaknesses. Most students spend 1 to 3 months preparing for the GRE, depending on how much time they can spend studying per day, their target score, and application deadlines. I recommend checking out our study schedules to see how we recommend you organize your prep time 🙂

      If you’re looking to start your PhD in the United States in Fall 2017, you will need to apply this application season (Fall 2016). This means that you’ll need to take the GRE this fall! While exact application due dates vary by school/program, most programs have deadlines in December. They also typically indicate the last test date that they accept scores from. Make sure to check the websites of the programs you’re interested in to find out what the specific dates are. When you know these details, I’d recommend planning to take the GRE with enough time for a retake, just in case. And it’s important to keep in mind that you have to wait 21 days before taking the exam again.

      You do not need to sign up for a test date before starting to prepare for the exam. However, test dates do fill up, especially in the late summer/fall. So, I’d recommend choosing a test date soon and signing up for a spot to guarantee you take the exam on the date you want to!

      Hope this helps 🙂

  3. Jessica June 12, 2016 at 9:44 am #

    Iam from India and planning to apply for Phd in MIT in EECS department for the year 2017. I have completed my Bachelors degree and Masters degree in electrical engineering. I have gone through the EECS admission requirements and it states that it does’t require GRE scores and international students requires either TOEFL/IELTS score’s only. kindly help me to know that do i have to take the GRE test for phd in EECS department.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert June 14, 2016 at 7:23 am #

      Hi Jessica 🙂

      If on the EECS Department’s website, it states that the GRE is not required, then it seems that you do not need to take the exam. However, if you have any doubts, I’d recommend contacting the department directly, either by phone or e-mail, to make sure. 🙂

      Hope this helps, at least a little!

  4. Manas pandey February 7, 2016 at 8:09 am #

    I am planning for PhD in finance.I did my B.E comp science and currently working in investment bank in IT. I am having 10 yr of experience.
    Considering all this what should be the score I should target .Also would like to go for course which involves technofunctional role. So can you please suggest courses and university I should target. I know its very general question but any guidance and pointer will be highly appreciated.

    • Magoosh Test Prep Expert
      Magoosh Test Prep Expert February 7, 2016 at 12:41 pm #

      Hi Manas,

      You ask some good questions, but we don’t have great answers, unfortunately! We know a lot about test prep, but we aren’t experts in admissions, which is what you need. I would tell you to first start doing some research on the requirements for programs you want to enter; that should give you a good idea about what scores to target. I wish I could suggest which courses you should consider, but I have no expertise in your area of study.

      I hope you can get some good information! 🙂

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