Target pGRE score (given my profile)?

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Posts: 35
Joined: Thu Aug 20, 2015 3:41 am

Target pGRE score (given my profile)?

Post by cwr » Thu Aug 20, 2015 4:06 am

I'm interested in what sort of pGRE range I need to hit in order to reasonably have a chance at my programs of interest, particularly if I'm interested in theory (I'm skeptical of some of the pGRE ranges others have posted here because I'm wondering how dramatic the shift is for theory).

My profile:
  • Entering my senior year at a top ~50 school for physics – nothing to sneeze at, but not an awe-inducing name.
    Physics major, 4.00 overall GPA

    Named top student in my year all three years, and top student in my department sophomore and junior year, Goldwater Scholarship as a sophomore, Phi Beta Kappa as a junior

    High-energy physics experiment research for 3 years (on CMS); one sole-authored study in my school's undergrad journal, four talks/posters including one APS meeting, and writing a senior thesis

    Very strong LoR's

    Consistently scoring 170's on quantitative for GRE, but haven't taken the actual exam yet –– verbal and writing scores, if they even matter, were both 90th percentile or above on the practice exams I took
Programs of interest:

I'm planning to apply for Physics PhD programs, and I want to pursue high-energy physics and/or cosmology research, particularly BSM physics and inflationary/cyclic cosmology. I'm very interested in theory, but I haven't written off experiment; I enjoyed the work I did as an undergrad a lot, but the possibility of theory research excites me.

I'm hoping to apply to top programs (e.g. Stanford, Princeton, Chicago, etc.), but I'm definitely lining up backup schools. With that being said...

Where I currently stand with the pGRE:

My baseline score, without preparation beforehand, was a 720. I'll be taking a bunch (7 more) practice exams over the next month and working on content review, and I think I can bring that score up considerably. Basically, my life for the next month is the pGRE (yay). But what do I need to be shooting for? Is the answer as simple as "990", or might I have some wiggle-room?

Thanks for any help!

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Joined: Mon Jan 02, 2012 3:05 pm

Re: Target pGRE score (given my profile)?

Post by TakeruK » Thu Aug 20, 2015 11:42 am

You do have wiggle room. Many schools' physics departments will actually post aggregate stats from their applicants.

For example, one top program, Caltech Physics writes; ( ... quirements)
What if my GRE/TOEFL score or GPA is below your cutoff, should I still apply?
There is no cutoff for GPAs, GREs or TOEFL scores that will prevent the Committee from reviewing your application. Top grades and excellent recommendations often take precedence over less than stellar GRE scores. Average GRE scores for successful applicants are Verbal 600, Quantatative 780, Analytic 760, Physics Subject 880. Students coming directly from non-English speaking countries are required to demonstrate proficiency in English via the TOEFL exam. A successful applicant's typical score might be 600 (250 for computer-based tests) and above, however, no minimum score is required.
You can tell this is a little dated though, because they are still giving the General GRE score on the old 800 point scale. To me, I would interpret this as "General GRE isn't very important".

As you said, theory applicants might be expected to score higher. But how much to weigh the PGRE is a big matter of philosophy (many many professors I know are discussing the merits of it). In my opinion, I would say for theory students in top programs, aim for 900+. However, remember that if the average admitted score is 880, by definition, lower scores have been admitted. Therefore, if the PGRE score is the only "weak" part of my application, I would not let it stop me from applying to places with average admitted scores in the 900s.

Given your description of your profile, I think it's still worth it for you to apply to top programs even if you end up with a score in the low 700s.

Posts: 35
Joined: Thu Aug 20, 2015 3:41 am

Re: Target pGRE score (given my profile)?

Post by cwr » Mon Aug 24, 2015 12:13 am

Thanks very much for your reply! I really appreciate it. With all of the factors floating around it can be hard to keep straight the question of "where do I stand?" in terms of admissions, so your breakdown was really helpful.

I'll definitely do my best to get the highest score I can (and looking at the material, I think 900+ is a reasonable goal), because that's definitely the easiest way for me to rest easy about my application, but I'm hopeful either way. Thanks again!

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