GRE or GPA. Which is Important?

Posted by on January 29, 2017 in GRE | 27 comments

“I want to apply to Harvard!! I want to study with the top students and from the best faculty in the world. I also want to party hard. Then I will work for Apple/Google/Microsoft and will be the next big thing in the corporate arena. Oh but wait my GPA – I have 2.8 ?”

Such thought always crosses aspiring applicants minds when they plan to pursue higher education in US and other top universities from around the globe. Some of us in Pakistan are very smart and have the right profile: stellar GPA, perfect GRE scores and a great story to tell in the personal statement. However most of us are not that smart. Majority of the applicants have a mix bag and therefore lack the confidence to apply due to one reason or the other – either a low GPA or a bad test (GRE/GMAT) score. Others do not have a good narrative to illustrate on their essays while some are too lazy to apply.

Most of us from Pakistan do not have an ugly profile per se but what they lack is a holistic sense of application. Worrying about a low GPA, or a poor GMAT/GRE score is pointless because a complete application doesn’t solely relies on just one aspect of your personality. Your GPA might be low, but you may have a perfect quant score in your aptitude test. Or you might have a bad aptitude test score but you may be a class topper. If you don’t have both, you might have an interesting story to tell about yourself. Your work experience, your personality, your story on the essay may take you to places.

The usual suspects: You need to know the usual suspects of your application. These are vital statistics, which you need to prioritize in order to get into your dream schools. One suggestion is to check the requirements of the program you are going for. If you are applying for an engineering degree or mathematics and economics per se, you need to concentrate more on getting the right mix of courses and perform well in them. In this way, you may have a bad GPA but your SGPA (specialized GPA) may tell a better story. Similarly, if you are looking for quantitative intensive programs, then you need to concentrate on quantitative part of your aptitude tests. Contrarily, for programs such as political science, history or linguistics, you need to have a better verbal score and concentrate on polishing your verbal part of aptitude tests. Area of interest should be a big indicator. It should highlight the usual suspects of your applications. In this way you can make sure that you get them right.

An ideal case is where both GPA and GRE/GMAT of your application are strong; an alarming case is if both your GPA and GRE/GMAT scores are low. We go for a much more practical case. GPA or GRE/GMAT, you need one of these two to be strong to truly reflect your academic prowess. While it is observed that the GPA scale is different for different countries, GRE/GMAT are standardized tests. So even if your GPA is low and if you work hard and score well on the GRE/GMAT your chances of securing admission in a good school will be higher. Experience shows that there are students who got accepted with a low GPA but with a higher standardized score. This is because these score indicate the aptitude of the student. Whereas GPA may suffer due to many reasons, these score indicate the capability of an individual.

Ammar Awan, a PhD candidate from a top Engineering university in the US says “what if I tell you that I know a person who had 2.7 gpa and is now at UCLA. Talha’s message is an effort to debunk the myth and negativity around GPA. All he and others like him are trying to inform is that do not loose hope. GPA is just one part of your application, you can try hard in other areas and project yourself as someone who is motivated and understands that one failure in life should not lead to a stream of failures and that after doing the mistake of getting less GPA, there is still a WORLD of opportunities around us, IF we want to look at it that way!”

The key areas to focus on admissions application

Most people ignore other areas of their applications; they go on vital statistics (GPA, GRE/GMAT scores) and ignore their essays. They can be a great singer or have done social work, which may make them stand out of the crowd. A big problem which students face is that they are unable to express themselves in the essay. An essay is your way of making a mark. You can convince the adcoms that you are capable of taking the next big challenge in your life: i.e. the grad school. So I suggest you take some professional help. I am not selling you the idea of consulting, but your profile is a sort of a blind area to you. You need someone who can extract various facts about you. Then you make them knit and string those facts into a beautiful canvas, which portrays you perfectly. Getting in touch with an acquaintance that has successfully been through the process and discussing your profile with them is a great starting point. But you need to engage with such people actively so that they don’t give you their recipe. Rather they cook a story, which contains your own flavors. A great essay can cover up for your low GRE score, it can explain your academic shortfalls and how you learnt the hard way, it can do wonders if done correctly.

To sum up, I can say that do not lose hope if your GPA is low. GPA is not the only thing adcoms are looking for. Some of the universities have a very elaborate application form and this gives you an idea that transcripts are just one part of the jigsaw. A lot depends on the choice of your program. Even if you fall short of GPA, work hard to perform well on the standardized tests. Express yourself articulately in your essays. Use every opportunity given by admissions committees to explain your profile to the committee. It can cover up your shortfalls for GPA and you can secure admission in a very good school.


  1. Dear sir,
    I have previously given the gre general test. My score was 294. Q: 148 , V:146, A:3.5.
    I joined a 5 week acadmey for its preparation at USEFP at fc college lahore. But it was useless as it couldn’t guide me properly. Not enough mock tests were taken no proper guide was given. Just a reading to Barron’s. I again want to appear for gre general before aug 2017. What do u suggest me for preparation. I have heard a lot about brightlikn. How it’s different from usefp acadmey. Or if u could suggest me anyother thing it would also be helpful.
    I have recently done my MS in chemistry from LUMS and had a gpa of 3.36. My research background is good and i would shortly be publishing my paper in international journal. Next year if i would again apply for phd i want to target a good university of usa or switerzland.

    • Hello Saba – well I can’t really say how we are different from USEFP with regards to the GRE prep since we have no idea of how their prep session goes – to know about our prep session you can check this:
      I would say that your profile is pretty good for admissions to a good program in the US – you just need to improve our GRE score and bring it to around 310+

  2. Dear Mr. Omer,

    Thank you for the wealth of information that you are sharing through this site. I wanted to seek your advice, seeing your experience with the Fulbright process.

    My GRE score is Verbal 162, Quant 156, Writing 5.0.
    My CGPA is 3.04, and I have a bachelors degree from LUMS.
    I will have 1 year of full time work experience relevant to the field I’m pursuing (public policy) by the end of July.

    What I want to ask you is that should I give the GRE test again to improve my quant score? If I work really hard by May I can perhaps increase it by 2-3 points maximum. Knowing my capabilities, I don’t think that I can increase it by more than 160. Given that I applied for the Fulbright program last year but was rejected, should I try to improve my GRE score before applying a second time or should I simply use my original score.

    Keep in mind that I’m working full time, so of course studying for the GRE will be a hassle. But if you feel that improving my quant score of 156 is absolutely necessary in my field, esp given my low CGPA, then please do let me know. Any other tips for succeeding at the application keeping my profile in mind are also welcome.

    Thank you so much!

    • Hello Zain – thanks for the message – honestly you don’t need to work on your GRE or improve it – for your field it is enough 🙂 I think you have issues with your application most certainly. You need to work on your essays 🙂

  3. I am an engineer by trade and want to pursue my master degree from canada . Unfortunately i have low gpa of 69.7% . How can i improve my profile.

    • Your GPA for Canada is fine – if you want to improve your profile, you must get 1-2 years of work experience or aim to take the GRE exam. Scoring above 310 out of 340 will also help you get a good grip on admissions in Canada.

  4. My CGPA is 2.07 in B.E (Electrical) 🙁 i want to do masters in Automobiles from Germany. What should I do Mr.omer ?

    • Well try to take the GRE general exam and score above 325+ to make up for your low GPA.

  5. Hello, I am Noor Fatima. I have been preparing for GRE since 3 months. I want to take a mock test. Please tell me if it is possible without taking your prep sessions.

    • Hello Noor – we don’t offer mock test facility unfortunately….

  6. Mr. Omer, I have a GRE score of 308 (verbal: 151 and Quant: 157) and, 4 on analytical writing. My CGPA is 3.88. I was wondering if I am eligible to apply for the MSc Management Program in Canada. I have one year of relevant work experience as well. What would you say my chances are of getting into the said program in Memorial University?

    • Hello – yes definitely you are eligible. I think based on your profile you can easily get into Memorial University!

  7. Hi,

    I have B.S in Electrical Engineering, GPA:3.71 GRE: Q:160 V:154 WR:3.5, so I have a chance to be accepted in PhD program in top engineering school (Georgia tech, UC San Diego )

    • Hello – In case you have publications at the int’l level and some sold 2-3 years of research experience, then you might make it to either of these programs. But based on the GPA and GRE you don’t have a strong profile.

  8. Hi,
    My gpa is 2.75 in civil engineering and I am in doubt that, whether I would be eligible or not, to get gre schoolarship for master program from engineering.should I prepare for gre or not?

    • Hello – Scholarships depend a lot of research experience/publications. If you have any of that then you should go for GRE and apply

  9. Hey Umer, I hope you are in good health. i want to ask about PhD in USA. I have CGPA of 3.46 in Bachelors in Electronics Engineering and 3.25 in MS in Energy Systems Engineering. Along with a strong SOP and application, what GRE score i go for to admit myself in Top 20 Universities. Thank you

    • Well for top 20 you need a 325+ on the GRE

  10. Ultimately, though, GPA should play a much stronger role in GRE, if only in the sense that somebody who does outstandingly in the core classes but struggles in “general education” classes that don’t pertain to the field will probably have an easier time than somebody who has a better overall GPA, but weaker grades in the major. GRE scores are only correlated with performance in coursework; I don’t think it has much to do with an actual aptitude for research (although it may have some correlation).

  11. Hello Umer!

    Many thanks for all the info in the blog. I would like to have an objective opinion about my profile:

    – I have an average GPA of 3.3 – 3.4 from a top European Business School ( Top 20 in FT ranking & QS)
    – I have Q – 168 , V – 164, AWA – 4.5 in the GRE
    – 111 in the TOEFL ( all sections >27)
    – I have Internships and FT work experience in Management Consulting firms ( Oliver Wyman, Roland Berger, Parthenon) across Middle East and Europe
    – Strong recommendations and I think a good SOP

    Do you think I have a competitive profile for top Masters in Data Science?

    Many thanks for your opinion!


    • Hello George, You are welcome 🙂 Oh yes you have a very very competitive profile. MS in DS programs generally comprises of applicants with not much real/professional experience but given your situation, I really fancy high chances of you making it to top programs globally and in the U.S. Good luck!

  12. hey umer, hope you are doing good. i want to apply for an economics program in Canada and i have a gre of 285 and a gpa of 70% in actuarial science. do i have a chance in any Canadian school?

    • Hello – the score is very low for econ programs. At least 310 for economic programs in Canadian schools.

  13. Hello dear Omer … I am a mechanical engineering senior year student … unfortunatly applying for engineering master program deadline is finished … but planning to apply next academic year … with GPA of 3.11 which is low for some different reasons but still considered very good in my university though and having one research paper and an engineering competition award and hopefully a strong GPA (not taken yet) in the meantime i may get 6 months work experience until time of application … speaking 4 languages (i don’t know if that would be considered though) with some extra related certificates like online courses and professional certificate from solidworks (i don’t know if that may be important to mention too) and Erasmus exchange program during my bachelor … do i have any chance with that kind of profile in top level

    • Hello – Yes you have chances. You should definitely apply

  14. Hello, I have a very low GRE score but a GPA of 2.71 in my bachelors. 3.87 in my masters and 3.09 in my diploma with 7 years of working experience. I am applying for a Ph.D. program in microbiology. I also explained why I had low GPA in my BSc and why I low score in my GRE as well.

    My two papers have been accepted for publication and will be published soon.

    Will my low GRE affect my admission and funding?

    What are my chances??

    • Hello – Well your profile is pretty strong. GRE is just one factor and I don’t think it will hurt your chances unless it is below 310.

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