GRE or GPA. Which is Important?

Posted by on January 29, 2017 in GRE | 78 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.


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    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.

    • Avatar

      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+

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    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!

    • Avatar

      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 🙂

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    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.

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      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.

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

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

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    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.

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

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    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?

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

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    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 )

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      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.

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    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?

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

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    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

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

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    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).

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    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!


    • Avatar

      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!

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    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?

    • Avatar

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

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    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

    • Avatar

      Hello – Yes you have chances. You should definitely apply

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    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??

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      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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    Hello- i have Gre Score of 301, 2.7 GPA in Mechatronics Engineering from UET peshawar. work experience of 3 years and no research papers. do i have a chance in canada ?

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    Dear Omer,

    Thank you for the information. I am graduate of FAST university with 2.13 GPA which is obviously very low, but I have 3 years of professional experience from reputable organizations in Cyber-security/Information Security with research papers and relevant certifications.
    Will I be able to secure admission in US TOP 20 or 30 universities in computer science if I get 310+ in GRE?
    Will my low GPA affect scholarship opportunities?

    • Avatar

      You do have a chance of getting into a good program. So you should definitely apply with this profile.

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    Hi Omer,

    Will I get admission in US TOP 30 universities of computer science regardless of low GPA. I have 3 years of experience with relevant certifications and research publication.

    • Avatar

      Yes you can. Depends on your GRE, Publications etc.

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    Hi Talha,
    Hope you are doing well.

    I am in the final semester of MS Industrial-Organizational Psychology from GCU Lahore, doing my final research thesis these days.
    I am also preparing for GRE these days.

    I have 3.56 CGPA in my BS Psychology and now in MS till 3rd semester I got 2.89 CGPA which is expected to be 3.1 after final semester work.

    I have relevant research experience in academia as well as in management consulting.

    My question is
    Should I be worried more about improving my CGPA?
    Should I focus more on high GRE score & My research interest statement?

    My intention is to apply for schools in Europe, especially Norway & Netherlands, for PhD.

    • Avatar

      GPA and GRE are both very important and have their own value. You will have to focus on all aspects of the application and not on any one aspect.

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    i currently have a 2.38 cgpa with bachelor in material sciences from Gik Institute .I was initially applying for MS in canada but my gpa isnt enough for scoring an admission.assuming if i am able to score a 320+ in my GRE exam, what are my chances of admission for universities in US even canada for that matter , ( considering that the universities require an average gpa of 3.0 in the final 2 years and i am way below that with 2.38)

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      Well in Canada I have seen that a good GRE score doesn’t compensate for a low GPA – in my experience, your low GPA will have an adverse effect on your application there.

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        Hello, I have a CGPA of 5.5 out of 10. Can i get a good university in the US?

        • Avatar

          Depends on the GRE and your other profile.

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    I currently have a 3.4 GPA at a mediocre Australian university in electrical engineering. I have plenty of extracurricular activities and was nominated for a few awards. I am confident I will be able to get good recommendations and have an internship and a graduate job lined up with two Fortune 500 companies. What are the chances of me getting into one of the top MBA programs/graduate schools in the US? What GMAT/GRE score should I aim for?

    • Avatar

      Hello – For top MBA programs you will need 3-5 years of full-time work experience (such as that of working for a Fortune 500 Company). 700+ is an ideal GMAT score (or 328+ on the GRE) to get into these programs. If you just graduated then you will need to wait for 3 years to apply.

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    GPA 2.52
    Experience 2 years
    Minimum GRE required for masters in canada/usa/lums

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    Hi Talha,
    I just graduated with a 3.91 CGPA (Gold Medalist) in Electrical Engineering from FAST NU. I have also published 2 research papers. One in the University of Sindh Journal and the other in an IEEE Conference. My third paper is currently under review and hopefully will be accepted in a USA based IEEE Conference. But my GRE score is 307. 158 V, 149 Q, 3.5 AWA. I was not at my best and messed up in GRE. I also have a 2 months Internship experience as a research assistant and a 3 months internship experience at Nestle. I am looking to apply in USA for Fall 2020. I was thinking of applying to ASU, Stony brook, U Minnesota, Cornell, USC, UTA, Georfia Tech. Are these universities too ambitious for me? Should I retake GRE? WHich universities would you recommend for me with this profile if I don’t retake the GRE? Any help in this regard will be much appreciated.

    • Avatar

      Hello Umair – You can not apply p any of these programs based on your current GRE scores simply because your quant score is extremely low. None of the decent Engineering programs will accept you on anything that low. You must retake.

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    Hi! If your GRE scores are good, say 320+ , what’s the lowest GPA a top University in The US will accept given that you completed your bachelor’s in Pakistan? Do you need to get over 3.0 at any cost?

    • Avatar

      Hello – for a top-notch program, a GPA of 3.5 is still needed in most cases. For second-tier programs, a 3+ is fine.

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    Hello Talha,
    I am a fresh graduate of GIK Institute, I have done BS Materials Science & Engineering. I am aiming to apply for masters under fullbright scholarship or financial assistance in US. My CGPA is 2.79, how much GRE score would be sufficient if I get strong reference letters and a good SOP? In addition, I have one research paper published on my final year project in Pakistan Journal Of Biotechnology.


    • Avatar

      Hello Adnan, Well for funding, a 320+ is highly competitive, especially a 165+ on quant. (given that you have a local publication, it won’t help much)

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    with GPA 2.4 from an international uni how much should i score in GRE to get admission into IBA?

    • Avatar

      IBA prefers GMAT or their own admissions test. For GMAT 600+ is a fine score for IBA

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    With a 2.9 undergraduate GPA (just barely over 3.0 in my Psychology major), what would be an acceptable GRE score to make my application competitive for a Clinical Psychology program? Looking at second-tier programs.

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      Around 315 is a very competitive score.

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        I have a 327 in GRE 168Q 159V 3.5 awa does the 3.5 awa affect my chances of getting a good college for Ms in CS my GPA is around 3.8/4.0

        • Avatar

          Chances are very high. Your profile is a top 10% profile (as per academics).

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    I have B.S in Mathematics with GPA: 2.9, and in Ms my gpa is 3.4 , do i have a chance for phd admission ?

    • Avatar

      Yes you do have a chance based on your GPA.

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    I got very low CGPA ( nearly 2.5 out of 4). in my BSc ( Electrical Engineering) .
    But I have two masters from well known universities in Europe. Both are in the area of Telecommunications Engineering and the CGPA for the two masters .. 3.88 and 3.22 out of 4.

    I have two research thesis for both ( with very good scores)

    Besides, I have 8 years of research work experience.
    So, what GRE score ( Q and V) do I need to get PhD scholarship in the top 50 university in USA and Canada ?
    Thanks dear.

    • Avatar

      Hello – You ll need a 162+ on quant and a 150+ on the verbal just to be on the safe side 🙂

  29. Avatar


    GPA: 2.34
    GRE: 296
    2 years and more relevant work experience.
    Any area of improvement required?

    Thanks in advance!

    • Avatar

      Hi – GRE is too low. With a 2.34 you GRE should be above 310+

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    Dear Mr. Omer,

    Thank you for providing us such helpful information.
    I have my CGPA 3.65 for Bachelor in Psychology (Hons). I finished my bachelor degree with an undergraduate thesis (scored 3.5), not sure if it’s considered some sort of research background. Besides, my undergrad program was only three years long (but is an Honours Degree). I haven’t taken my GRE general test but the marks for recent practice test is around 300. I have about 50 days more to prepare for GRE and hope to get 320. I am targeting UBC, University of Calgary and SFU in Canada (UBC as first choice) for Master program. Do you think I can have the chances to get in to one of those universities?

    • Avatar

      Hi Yong, Well honestly if you do get around 320 then you have a very strong chance of making it to one of these programs at least. I have had students in the past with similar profiles and scores get into UBC and SFU. Calgary is attainable with a lower score as well.

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    GPA 3.90
    GRE 311 (157Q, 154V)
    3 research papers in local IEEE conferences
    Please recommend which US universities should I apply to?
    Are there any good chances in Texas A&M, Rutgers, ASU, Virginia Tech?

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    Hey! I have done BE in Civil Engineering from NED. I intend to apply for Erasmus Mundus program. I have a GPA of 3.58 with last two years average around 3.9. My IELTS score is 8 bands. I have around 8 months experience. I have a unique final year project but I haven’t published it yet. Should I go for GRE? If yes, then what should be my target score?

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      Hello – well it really depends on the universities that you are applying to. But for engineering programs you will need a very high math score. In the range of 160’s.

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    sir i have 2.63 gpa 300 in gre (149 V,151Q) and 6 in ielts, how hard is to get admission and f1 visa ? plz help

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      It will be very hard to get it.

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    Hello Sir , I have 2.85 CGPA in Mechatronics and Control System engineering from UET Lahore . I am preparing for GRE and my mock score is usually in range of 310-317 so i m hope for 310 score in GRE .I have U-Curve in my transcript (average cgpa of last 2 years greater than 3.2) . Plus i have 2 years work experience of an Automobile company. I want to pursue MS in Control System / Automation related field in USA (Most preferably California state ) . , I have planned to have 2 LOR from University and 1 from my employer.

    What should be my strategy to achieve my goal and how should i plan it .

    Note: (I am appearing in GRE in December )

    • Avatar

      Hello – Well your GPA is low so you will need a 320+ with a 165+ quant to stand a chance in Cal state. Otherwise the rest of the application is fine for Cal.

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    i have my BS in electrical engineering with a GPA 2.9. i want to apply for MS engineering management or project management. if i score 310+ in GRE which universities are there in US where i should apply for these programs and do i stand with a chance to acquire Fullbright scholarship with these scores ?

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      For Fulbright GPA must be above 3.5 to stand a good chance and GRE above 318. Else not much of a point to apply. With 310+ you can apply to 20-50 ranked programs in the U.S.

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    Dear Talha,

    I have done my BBA from a reputable institution in Pakistan. However, my CGPA is 2.58, I have been working in the field of Performance marketing and App analytics in telecom industry and have an experience of 4.5 years in total. I want to do my masters from a reputable institution in Canada, can you please comment on the GRE scores, and if a good GRE score would be able to compensate for low GPA.

    Many thanks

    • Avatar

      Yes, a high GRE can compensate for a low GPA. Around 320 will be a good score for MS from Canada. In Analytics program, 165+ quant is a must.

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    Hi, i have a 3.99GPA at OSU leaning Math and Statistics. However, my gre score is only 318, Q163, V155. Will my gre score influence my application?

    • Avatar

      Hi Luke, The quant score can effect your application. Since you are applying for Math and Stats you will need a 167+ to stand a strong chance.

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    Hi Omer, I want to apply for graduate ECE program on 2020 fall semester in US.
    I got 2.80 on gpa(B.E.)
    320 on GRE(V153, Q167 AW3.0)
    95 on Toefl(I’m an International students from Taiwan, although I apply as domestic because I have US passport)
    Do I have a chance to get offer from UCLA,UCSD, USC……or at least San Jose state university?
    Thanks a lot~

    • Avatar

      Hey Ryan, You definitely have a chance in USC and San Jose. UCLA and UCSD would be too hard to get in especially with a low CGPA.

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