One of the most frequently asked questions we get is, “What do I need to score on the GRE to get into grad school?” There are typically two answers to this question that students looking at target or average GRE scores are accustomed to hearing.
A “good” GRE score is one that gets you accepted into the graduate program of your choice. What counts as good, then, depends on the program and the field.
You can get a good feel for this by looking at the average GRE scores from some top schools in a variety of popular and competitive fields. For our current purposes, we’ll focus on grad degrees in education programs, engineering programs, psychology programs, and even MBA programs, since business schools are increasingly accepting GRE scores in lieu of GMAT scores.
Remember that the Verbal and Quantitative portions of the GRE are scored between 130–170, and the average score falls somewhere around 150-152. The Analytical Writing section of the GRE is scored between 0 and 6 in half-point increments, and the average hits somewhere around 3.5.
Now, using the abbreviations established above, let’s break down some real data to help you determine which grad school programs look for which average GRE scores. Maybe your top grad school program will even be on the list.
If you are looking to apply to education programs:
For top graduate programs in engineering:
- Average GRE scores for UC Berkeley’s graduate students in the civil and environmental engineering program are 150 Verbal, 160 Quant, and a 4 in Analytical Writing.
- Harvard reports that its average scores for recent successful applicants to the engineering program were in the 75–80th percentile for Verbal and the 90–95th percentile for Quant.
- USC’s averages in engineering are 156 Verbal and 160 Quant, and 4 in Analytical Writing.
For getting a grad degree in psychology:
- The average GRE scores of clinical psychology students admitted to UCLA’s 2016 incoming class are in the 90th percentile for Verbal, the 75th percentile for Quant, and the 82nd percentile for the Analytical Writing section.
- UC Berkeley reports that average GRE scores in its psychology program are 160 Verbal, 158 Quant, and 4.96 in Analytical Writing.
- The University of Minnesota reports average scores for psychology masters students after 2011 being 159 Verbal and 156 Quant.
As we’ve discussed before, many business schools now accept the GRE as well as the GMAT, so here are some relatively new guidelines about what GRE figures really mean when applying to an MBA.
- According to Poets and Quants, the average MBA applicant to the Yale School of Management scored 164 Verbal, 162 Q, and 4.7 in Analytical Writing.
- At the University of Iowa’s Tippie School of Management, the target scores are 153 Verbal and 153 Quant.
- At Stanford Graduate School of Business, average GRE scores, according to Poets and Quants, came in at 164 Verbal, 164 Quant, and 4.8 for Analytical Writing.
For more information on the average GRE scores for grad school programs, as well as graduate program rankings by field, you can check out the latest data from U.S. News and World Reports.
For a more general look at the average scores of other test-takers by field, you can also look at ETS’ snapshot, which compiles the past three years of GRE test data into a series of handy charts. And if you’re curious about percentiles, you can reference the ETS chart on percentile rates of varying scores.
So, what about the second popular answer to the question, “What do I need to score on the GRE to get into grad school?”
Answer #2: “As high a score as possible!”
Remember that the numbers shared here are simply average GRE scores from average candidates. It goes without saying that you probably don’t want to settle for average. You want your application to stand out and impress the admissions committee, and you want a chance at earning scholarships and other financial aid. Having a high GRE score is an excellent way to do just that.
How do you get that great GRE score, the one that will get you into the grad program of your dreams?
You will soon be on your way to hitting your Test Day goal.
The GRE writing score is perhaps the most confusing part of your score report. What does it mean? Do schools care about it at all?
In this article, we’ll clarify all of that and explain how you can figure out what a good GRE Writing score is for you. We’ll go over percentiles for the GRE Writing as a whole as well as average and cut-off scores for grad programs and how you can use all this information to choose a target GRE Writing score.
feature image credit: Good Two/used under CC BY 2.0/Resized from original.
How Do You Figure Out What a Good GRE Writing Score Is?
A good GRE Writing score is one that gets you into the program you want to get into. For the most part, graduate schools don’t even really care about applicants having a high GRE Analytical Writing score – it’s more a matter of applicants avoiding elimination because their GRE Writing score is significantly below that of the average applicant for their program.
To figure out where you stand compared to other applicants, the first step is to look at the GRE Writing score percentiles (released by ETS), shown in the table below.
GRE Analytical Writing: Score Percentiles
|Score Levels||% of Test Takers Scoring Below|
We’ve divided the table into different colors based on whether the GRE analytical writing scores would be considered low (0.0-3.0), average (3.5-4.0), high (4.5-5.0), or excellent (5.5-6.0).
If your GRE Writing score is a 4.5 or above, you’re in good shape for most graduate programs, compared to all other GRE takers.
GRE Writing Scores and Fields of Study
Another important factor that determines a good GRE Writing score is the field of study you’re interested in pursuing.
Different fields of graduate study vary tremendously in what scores they want to see on GRE Analytical Writing. Programs in engineering and the sciences tend to have lower average GRE Writing scores and score cut-offs, while programs in the humanities, arts, and social sciences tend to have higher ones.
Take a look below at average GRE Writing scores by intended major field, keeping in mind that these aren’t the Writing scores of admitted students, just the scores of test-takers who intended to apply to graduate school in these fields.
|Intended Graduate Major Field||Analytical Writing Mean Score|
|Humanities and Arts||4.0|
|No Major Provided||3.3|
The difference between the field with the highest average analytical writing score (Humanities and Arts, 4.0) and the fields with the lowest average analytical writing scores (Undecided, 3.0) is one full point, or two 0.5 score increments. On a measure where the difference between a 3.0 and a 4.0 is 42 percentage points, this is a pretty significant variation – percentile-wise, prospective Humanities and Arts students tend to get way better GRE Writing scores than Engineering students.
More important than the scores of potential grad school applicants, however, are the GRE Writing scores of students actually admitted to various degree-granting programs. Below, I’ve compiled a list of nine different programs from seven different schools around the country.
Admitted Applicant GRE Analytical Writing Scores
The first four schools on the lists have GRE Writing score cut-offs (students must get a minimum of these scores or above), while the last five schools all provide GRE Writing score averages. As you can see, scores vary a little bit among the different subject areas, but for the most part the differences in GRE writing scores among the different programs are negligible.
The biggest difference on this table is between the cutoff score for the MA in Sociology at the University of Houston and scores for other schools that specify a minimum or average GRE Writing score. There are two possible reasons for this discrepancy: the University of Houston program is a master’s program (rather than a doctoral program, like many of the others on the list) and it isn’t as highly ranked as the other programs are in their respective fields.
The takeaway is that even the most competitive grad programs aren’t going to require you to have a 6.0 GRE Writing score; practically speaking, a 5.5 or 6.0 is exceptional, and a 4.5 or 5.0 is all that’s required, even for the highest-ranked of programs.
Determining Your Personal GRE Writing Score Target
It’s possible to get a rough sense of what GRE Writing score you should aim for just by looking at the above assortment of schools – humanities and social sciences want higher scores than engineering/other STEM fields, and Ph.Ds require higher scores than Master’s programs. But when it comes to setting goals for your studying, having a particular score to aim for is always better than ballparking it. And the best way to figure out what a good GRE Writing score for you is to base it off of the scores of schools and programs you’re planning on applying to.
In this next section, we’ll take you through how to find the Analytical Writing GRE score that will get you into grad school.
What’s a Good GRE Writing Score for You: A Step-by-Step Guide
#1: Search “[school or program name] average GRE writing score” or “[school or program name] required GRE writing score”
You may have to check the program website or unofficial message boards if this search does not turn up any promising results. You can also always call the school’s admissions office if you’re particularly worried about it.
#2: If the school doesn’t have information available about the average GRE Writing score, your best bet for estimating what the average GRE Writing score might be is look up the school’s percentiles for other GRE scores and then cross-check these percentiles with the percentiles list for GRE Writing.
For instance, if the average GRE Verbal score is in the 85th percentile, it’s reasonable to expect that the GRE AWA score should also be somewhere around there (which is about a 4.5). You should treat this estimate with a bit more leniency than you’d treat a listed score, however, because of how little weight GRE Writing scores often carry in graduate admissions decisions.
#3a:For schools with minimum required GRE Writing scores: List all the scores for all the programs you’re applying to. The highest minimum score should be your cut-off.
#3b:For schools who provide information about average GRE Writing scores: Average the AWA scores for all the programs you’re applying to.
#4: Average the scores from steps 3a. and 3b. If the cutoff GRE Writing score (from 3a.) is higher than this average, than this should be your target score; otherwise, use the average of the cutoff score and average GRE Writing scores as your personal target Writing score.
Bottom Line: What’s a Good GRE Writing Score?
Even a perfect 6.0 Writing score is unlikely to offset low Verbal or Quantitative Reasoning scores; if you’re doing well on the rest of the GRE, you’ll probably do well enough on Writing, but hitting the school’s average GRE Writing score isn’t really going to boost your chances.
Most grad schools don’t care enormously about GRE Writing scores when considering your application, and a 4.5 and above is fine for most programs, even at top schools. As long as your Analytical Writing scores aren’t way out of alignment with the rest of your application, you should be fine.
Wondering how exactly how your GRE Writing score is calculated? Learn how the GRE essays are scored in this article.
What if your GRE Writing score isn’t quite where it needs to be? Then you’ll benefit from our great tips and strategies to improve it!
Looking for a way to conquer GRE Writing, once and for all? Read our guides on how to get a perfect score on the “Analyze an Issue” and “Analyze an Argument” questions.
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Author: Laura Staffaroni
Laura graduated magna cum laude from Wellesley College with a BA in Music and Psychology, and earned a Master's degree in Composition from the Longy School of Music of Bard College. She scored 99 percentile scores on the SAT and GRE and loves advising students on how to excel and fulfill their college and grad school dreams. View all posts by Laura Staffaroni