Tips on Applying to Grad Programs in Religious Studies: GRE (Part V)

In this post I would like to discuss one of the most time consuming, yet least significant components of the application process–namely the GRE.

I’d appreciate any input anyone else has on this, especially since my take on this is limited to my own experience and the discussions I’ve participated in regarding admissions to the programs I applied to.

I’ll address the topic of the GRE using some common questions potential students ask.

What are GRE scores used for?

The GRE scores are one of the factors used in determining admission to a program. More specifically they can be used for a couple of different things. First off, if a score is too low (more on exactly what this means below) the application could be disqualified in the first round of cuts. If a potential student can’t meet some bare minimum, then the idea seems to be that time spent reading through the rest of the application is not time well spent.

Secondly, GRE scores could be used as a factor to determine funding. In other words students with higher scores could receive a better funding package. I actually don’t have much experience with this, so if others do, please chime in. Many of the programs I am aware of offer their candidates a standard package (in other words all 10 admitted students get the same funding), or they have three (or so) different packages–more funding, less funding, no funding; with one or two students getting more funding, 3 or 4 getting less funding, and 3 or 4 getting no funding. From what I know, in this latter scenario the GRE is  just one factor, and my or may not be a significant factor. Although of course administrators approving departmental selections may not have many other factors with which to judge how well the department has done in its admissions process.

Lastly, the GRE could become kind of a “tie-breaker”. In other words, as I think pointed out in one of the earlier posts, if two potential students appear equal, and only one can be admitted, the GRE could become the determining factor. With that said, however, the GRE scores for PhD programs in Religious Studies (and the humanities in general) carry no where near the weight that the LSAT and GMAT carry for their respective programs. I would say that the GRE ranks towards the bottom of importance as far as admission factors are concerned. I’ve heard it said more than once by admissions committees that the GRE is not determinative of success in a program, and is not weighed as heavily as other factors (the statement of purpose, etc.), although I’m sure that there are some profs on some admissions committees that would disagree with this.

How high of a score is “high enough”?

This is difficult to stipulate. I’ve heard it said that anything below a 1250 would hurt (but not eliminate) the applicant. I would imagine that anything in the 75th percentile and above will not get your application tossed out at the first round. An even lower score for the math section is probably permitted given that those skills are even less of a determining factor of success in a program. This, however, is more guess-work than anything else, so if anyone could provide specifics, it would be appreciated. A “higher score” (above 1400) can also become an asset (as in the tie-breaker discussion above).

Should I take a prep class? Or, how should I study for it?

This certainly depends on how you test. I took the GRE a couple of times and I found that the flash cards for the vocabulary section sold at Barnes and Noble helped more than anything else (I think they sell them in 500 and 1000-word packs, and I bought the larger one). I also bought a study book for the math section that provided some basic strategies for taking multiple choice tests rather than specific instructions on using the mathematic formulas to arrive at the answers. I did not take a prep class. Perhaps the best thing to do would be to take one of the free exams offered on the GRE’s website, and determine whether the do-it-yourself approach, which will probably lead to a slight improvement, will be sufficient; or whether a prep class, which might lead to a larger improvement, will be necessary.

Previous posts in this series: Part I. Part II. Part III. Part IV.

Spotlights: YDS. UNC.

9 Replies to “Tips on Applying to Grad Programs in Religious Studies: GRE (Part V)”

  1. The main way in which a low GRE comes into play in the Humanities is if the University or Graduate School has a basic minimum. For some programs (I am not speaking about religious ed) as long as you meet those minimums your GRE will not impact you standing. This is not always the case.

  2. For those who are interested in ancient things and are in their early undergrad years, perhaps the best method for scoring a high grade on the Verbal portion of the GRE is to take a couple of years of Latin and Greek. Your vocabulary will expand since you will be in command of a large number of roots and derivatives as well as some basic linguistic principles and you will have been forced to become close readers with respect to grammar, syntax, and meaning.

    I found that the practice tests offered by the GRE website and those found in study guides were really helpful in learning the tricks of the test. Also, familiarizing oneself with the computer based test (GRE will send a CD with a few practice tests once you register a test date)will aid on the test day since precious seconds can be saved navigating the program.

    The GRE seems to count for precious little in my neck of the woods and nobody mentions it or compares scores (like freshman dorm halls when the alphas stake out their ground). For what it is worth, I took the test twice (once for the MA, once for PhD) and I prepared more the second time around and scored higher in the Verbal and Quantitative but lower in the Analytical Writing.

  3. of course the gre matters but i would say it’s of little import compared to other things like language preparation, teaching experience, good letters of recommendation, and perhaps most importantly getting your potential advisor to go to bat for you.

  4. oudenos,

    It was only a matter of time before it happened. Education expenses have outpaced inflation for so long that it’s becoming less and less financially feasible to finance graduate school, unless of course one has a full tuition scholarship. That’s standard in the hard sciences, but less so in the humanities.

    GMAT takers are rising because even though getting an MBA is a soul sucking (and expensive) endeavor, it does in the end pay itself back, hence it’s feasible to do.

    Yes, I am ranting here. All of this talk about graduate studies in religion made me conduct my semi-annual feasibility study in doing some graduate work in religion. I had already decided that full time was just out of the question for me (I have to feed a wife and three kids), but I thought part time might work for me because I have a very flexible work schedule. So I start checking out tuition rates, since there’s no way I would get any help given that I would be a part-time,minimal participant in the university community.

    The bottom line is that I simply cannot justify the expense of doing this. At $300-1000 per credit hour it would cost $1800 – $6000 to be a part time student for ONE semester. For $6000 I can buy enough books to keep me busy for years studying biblical topics.

    The ultimate irony is that I would probably end up being taught by underfed graduate students, while the vast majority of the cash goes to administration costs.

  5. David,

    Tuition is outrageous and the competition to get admission with good funding is like a blood sport. Your predicament is a helluva thing but at least you acknowledge the fact that the MBA route is self destructive–unlike so many poor wretches in the LDS ranks.

  6. It is nice to see that MBA bashing takes place without me. I would add that professional degrees are in general worthwhile for those worried about providing for a family.

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