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Importance of the GRE (especially for applicants from lesser-known schools)

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The GRE, it is the ONLY item in the typical applicant's profile that has an OBJECTIVE value. Everything else depends on where the applicant has done his work. An A earned at a lesser known school (LKS) will NOT be viewed as equivalent to an A from an Ivy school, even if the LKS is in the US (and it shouldn't). A LOR sent by a top researcher will not be viewed the same as one sent by an unknown faculty member of a LKS (nor should it). Research experience is great, but it depends on the place where it was earned, and/or the name of the supervisors.

Thus, the value of GPA's are school-dependent and there is no reliable information on the "average strength" of the school of funded apps in given program; LOR are writer-dependent and there is no reliable information on the "average LOR" for admitted/funded apps in given programs; SOP are important, but it is very difficult to predict how does your SOP compare to others, and there is no reliable information on the "average SOP" for admitted/funded applicants anywhere. So, that leaves the GRE, which means the same for all applicants, and on which there is reliable, easy to find information on scores of admitted/funded apps to many programs.

So, to ESTIMATE your admission odds at a given school, the GRE is critical, especially for people coming from LKS. What else could you possibly use?