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GRE scores for top MS Engineering Schools in the US

Katie Schenk - February 08, 2017

GRE scores for top MS Engineering Schools in
the US

It’s not as if everyone is waived through and given a seat at the top MS Engineering programmes in the US – or anywhere else, for that matter. You’ll need a robust application. And, almost without fail, that means achieving a (better than) decent GRE scores.

The GRE test is conducted (in English) by the Educational Testing Service (ETS). The ETS is a non-profit organisation which administers several tests (including the TOEFL and GRE exam) in over 180 countries.

The ETS GRE scores are based on a scale of 130-160 while the writing sections work within a range of 0.5-6.0. Actually, that’s the way the GRE is scored at the moment; the GRE scoring system changed in 2011. If you previously took (or considered) the GRE, you may have seen scores ranging between 200 and 800. 

Some university websites, including Caltech, still provide GRE scores in the older framework. Luckily, there’s a handy ETS GRE concordance table for converting scores – though you will still need to retake the exam if your results are in the old format; they’re only valid for so long.

So, what GRE scores are needed for top schools?

For most engineering programmes, there are no minimum required GRE scores. Really. On admission website after admission website, you’ll find something along the lines of,

“Our department does not have a minimum GRE score requirement.”

It’s not always the same phrasing, mind you, but everyone from the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at MIT to the Mechanical Engineering Department Carnegie Mellon. The latter states,

“There are no "cut-off" scores for the GRE examination, the scores are evaluated in the context of your entire application package.”

But, most MS Engineering departments don’t stop there. These statements are almost always followed up with an expectation of sorts.

For example, the MIT Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering lays it out like this:

"Q. Is there a minimum GRE score for admission to CEE?

A. No, but most successful applicants score in the 90th percentile or better in the quantitative and verbal reasoning portions of the GRE. The average score of admitted students on the Analytical Writing section is 4.5/6.0."

The Civil and Environmental Department at UC Berkeley reports:

“There are no minimum GRE scores required for admittance. The average scores of the students we do admit are 150+ in Verbal, 160+ in Quantitative, and a 4+ in Analytical Writing.”

And you shouldn’t have any trouble finding average GRE scores for top programmes

The blanket statements regarding a lack of minimum GRE scores are there because top universities and engineering departments reserve the right to admit brilliant applicants that just don’t do well on standardised tests. An applicant with an amazing research portfolio is still likely to be given strong consideration even with low ETS GRE scores.

But, that doesn’t stop engineering departments at top universities from reporting average GRE scores of admitted students. For a start, most universities want to be considered highly in the rankings, such as the U.S. News & World Report Best Engineering Grad Schools. And, secondly, high GRE scores do confer some level of bragging rights.

So, you shouldn’t experience any difficulty finding the average GRE scores for the engineering schools on your shortlist, though you may not find them specifically for each department.

At MIT, the average 2016 GRE scores are currently 162 on the verbal portion and 167 on the quantitative section. That puts the average in the 90th percentile in verbal and the quantitative scores in the 93rd percentile.

The University of Michigan’s Engineering Department has chosen to publish their quantitative scores on their facts and figures page, but not their average verbal scores. (The quantitative average, by the way, is 167.) While they’ve not stated the reason for omitting the average result on the ETS GRE test, one can surmise that they simply don’t place a lot of emphasis on those scores.

The score you need for admittance to a top MS Engineering programme

Given that so many schools skirt the issue, it’s almost impossible to provide accurate minimum GRE scores to ensure your application will be strongly considered. But, working on the logic that somewhere around the 90th percentile is the average for top MS Engineering schools, admitted students are more likely to have GRE scores above the 80th percentile.

According to the 2016-2017 ETS data tables, that means a score above 161 on the quantitative side. The 80th percentile for verbal is a score of 158.

But, test scores aren’t everything, as Carnegie Mellon’s website clearly demonstrates in their reference to a complete application. Even the ETS recognises the limitations of GRE test scores. They state,

“Many factors play a role in an applicant's admissibility and expectation of success as a graduate-level student. GRE scores are only one element of this total picture and should be considered along with other data.”

It’s more important for an applicant with weaknesses in other areas of their application to achieve high GRE scores to demonstrate their potential in light of historical factors that may be less than stellar. Even then, your GRE scores aren’t everything; a strong statement of purpose or personal essay could be the element that flags you in.

However, that doesn’t render the GRE unimportant. A superb score is certain to be noticed. And, as top engineering programmes require GRE score submission with your application; it only makes sense to work towards the best possible scores, doesn’t it? 

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