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What GRE scores do you need to get into the top universities?

13 April, 2023 By Parthiva Mewawala, IMS India

How do you decide what your target GRE score is? Or what score will get you into your target program in a top university? It’s one of the most common questions that our mentors get asked by students. After all, we all need to set a goal for our GRE prep, right? 


But how does one decide what a good GRE score is? Should you stack up your score against every other test-taker? Or should you whittle down the pool and only focus on the average GRE scores of the peers in your target program? Or, is there an even better way to approach this? 


We asked our mentors and they listed out five main factors that you can use to ascertain your target score. 


But before we get there, let’s look at a few GRE statistics to give you a fair idea of the competition. 


GRE scores and percentiles 

Score percentiles for GRE

The percentile is an indicator of how well you match up with the rest of the test-takers. For instance, if your score is in the 50th percentile, then you fared better than 50% of the candidates. 


Here’s a more detailed percentile list for different scores. 


GRE Score Verbal percentile  Quant percentile
150 48 38
155 69 59
160 86 76
165 96 89
170 99 97


Average GRE scores for top Universities


The average GRE score can be used to determine the strength of the applicant pool for a certain program. Your goal should be to keep your score at least two points above the average numbers to make sure your application is competitive. 


S. No.  University Program Average Verbal Score Average Quant Score
1. Harvard MS in Engineering 160 166
MBA 163 163
2. Stanford MS in Engineering 162 168
MBA 165 165
3. MIT MS in Engineering 162 167
MBA 163 162
4. UCB MS in Engineering 157 165
MBA 162 161
5. Columbia MS in Engineering 155 166
MBA 161 163


The 5 factors to determining your target GRE score


No two University programs are the same – there exist hundreds of different programs in hundreds of universities – and each of them have their own academic expectations from applicants. While it is always better to score well on the GRE, you can use these five factors to find out what a good score is for you. 


1. Program level (Master’s or PhD) 

PhD programs generally have far fewer seats than Master’s courses. This leads to much more competition and a quality applicant pool. Trends have shown that the GRE scores of successful PhD applicants are significantly higher than their Master’s counterparts. 


If you’re applying for your PhD, targeting a high GRE score, above the 95th percentile, makes much more sense. 

2. Program stream 

GRE scores also vary according to the program, its academic requirements, and difficulty level.


A graduate degree in Computer Science will demand a more advanced score than a Master’s in Education. 


To refine it further, pay attention to the core subjects of your degree. Engineering and pure sciences need high scores in quant while business, psychology, and humanities require better verbal scores. 


Set up your target verbal and quant scores accordingly. 

3. Weightage of GRE scores in admission assessment 

Not all programs, even within the same stream, give the same importance to GRE scores. While some programs explicitly mention that the GRE forms a big part of their consideration process, others consider it to be just one part of a holistic application. 


Many schools also downplay the importance of the GRE and instead ask students to pay more attention to other sections of their application. 


Find out what your school says. If the GRE score is crucial to your admission, you’ll have to achieve a higher score to be competitive. 

4. Program selectiveness 

Despite what admission selectors say, it is an accepted fact that highly selective schools demand higher scores. 


The higher your chosen school ranks on global University rankings, the more applications it will receive. Consequently, they get to pick from a top-notch pool of candidates making the process extremely competitive. 


If your school ranks highly and is considered to be selective, devote extra energy and effort into achieving high GRE scores. 

5. The rest of your application

Your GRE scores are primarily used as supportive material to supplement the rest of the application. If other parts of your application are weak, then even the highest GRE score won’t be able to shore up your chances. On the flip side, if your list of achievements runs long, a low GRE score might be forgivable. 


Our admission counsellors recommend building out a well-rounded application that can only become better with high GRE scores. 

If you’re still confused about GRE scores and their impact on your admission chances into your chosen program, our admission consultants at IMS can help you out. Contact them today to chart out a clear path to the top universities.