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GRE cutoffs for admissions


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Hi, I'm applying for a PhD in economics for fall 2020. I did my GRE exam and obtained a 166 in the quant section and 159 in the verbal section (still waiting for the AW score) -I'm not an English native speaker by the way-.


I have read in some forums people who state similar situations, but my intention is not to repeat another discussion like those. What I think would be useful is to hear about how adcoms use the GRE scores, for example, if they just say "applicants with less than X in the quant section are dismissed" for a fixed X value or if that value X differs along applicants. I have heard first-handly that in Berkeley they have a cutoff of 166 in the quant section, and from there GRE score is completely superfluous. However, that is just one university, and is not representative. Does this cutoff applies for most universities or is it higher or lower?


I will probably retake the exam on september or october and I think it won't be that difficult to increase my score to a 169-170 in quant and to 165-167 in verbal. Still I think this information may be valuable for many future applicants so that they have a better idea about the cutoff. Being Berkeley one of the top 10 programs I imagine the cutoff may round 166 or 167 across top programs. Moreover, I don't really think that a top 25 program may have (if they do) a cutoff lower than 165.

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Verbal scores are borderline irrelevant, unless you score really badly in them - for example, below 140. Quant scores are fine as long as you get above 90th percentile (which is 166). Most school mention on their sites that past applicants mostly have above 90th percentile for quant. If you're really worried, you can resit for a higher quant score.


The GRE only works as a device to thin the pile of applicants. If you've survived the first cut, your gre scores won't help you any longer. Most schools practice this, since they receive hundreds of applicants, and don't have the time to review each and every one.


You'd be remiss if you think the pool of applicants faced by top 25 schools vary significantly from top 10s. Most of the people who end up in top 25 schools also have close to perfect grades. It's usually other factors, such as research experience and the strength of your letters, that carry you from top 20s and into top 10.


Tl;dr 166 is sufficiently high to survive at most, if not all places. If you're risk averse and also have the money to spare, you should resit for a higher score. Any amount spent on GRE is seen as inconsequential when compared against your lifetime income differential that a better school grants you (although it's close to impossible to know for certain since the counterfactual doesn't exist).

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166 can't be a "hard" cutoff for Berkeley. I know that for a fact because I have a friend with a lower score than yours who got into all the top 10s.


What might actually exist is a double-filter system where a top school first picks out some applicants that seem extraordinarily strong, and put them in a separate pool, and then use quantitative measures to filter the rest of the application pool. I know of one non-econ program with such a system. So yes, it's possible that the GRE will affect your admissions outcome at certain programs, and you should feel free to retake it if you are confident you can get >166.

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